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Topre's Realforce R2 tenkeyless keyboard reviewed


Pleasure domes

I'm a coffee obsessive, and my passion for the roasted bean has led to a few purchases that could kindly be described as irrational. Among these, I own a Takahiro pouring kettle, widely considered to be the finest of its type by the coffee cognoscenti. Should anybody spend $100 on a kettle that merely holds water for later dispensation on ground coffee? No. Does it make brewing coffee more of a pleasure in the mornings, just by dint of the fact that it is an obsessively crafted object dedicated to one and only one purpose? Yes.

So it might go with Topre's Realforce keyboards. Few input devices might be spoken of in the same breath as IBM's eternal Model M, but Topre boards have a similar legendary status, perhaps thanks to the fact they're both pricey and hard to obtain in the United States. On top of the occasional shipment available through EliteKeyboards, prospective buyers of these unique input devices now have another option. Fujitsu Computer Products of America is bringing Realforce boards and the related family of Happy Hacking products to our shores through its own storefront.

The style of the Realforce R2 board I have on hand is, in a word, understated. Topre uses a deep matte gray primary color for the board and its PBT keycaps, and the legend for each key is dye-sublimated in black. The overall presentation of this board is incredibly stealthy as a result, and the keys might even appear blank to the casual observer. If you're not a touch typist and need to see those legends, you'll want to get a Realforce R2 in the contrasty ivory finish, as Topre's key caps use proprietary stems that are not Cherry MX-compatible. You won't be able to put a different set of caps on here without getting a pricey custom set made with Topre stems, presuming such a thing exists to begin with.

The underside of the Realforce R2 has left, right, and center-exit routing channels for the permanently-affixed USB Type-A cable. This cable comes sheathed in the standard black rubber, so it's functional but hardly luxurious. At least this wire is pliant and easy to route, and Topre puts a branded hook-and-loop tie on the cable to keep it tidy when it's not plugged into a system. Topre also puts the usual pair of flip-out feet on the front edge of this board, although its prominent slope and variable-height key caps already provide a rather more sloped-feeling design than the usual keyboard.

The company also sticks four waffle-textured feet on the bottom of the Realforce, and for some reason, these are the grippiest rubber feet of those on any keyboard I know of. I can usually move mechanical keyboards around with a gentle push, but the Topre board has more staying power than average.

The Realforce isn't backlit, but that doesn't mean it lacks RGB LEDs entirely. Using Fn+Insert changes the color of the Num Lock, Caps Lock, Scroll Lock, and Key Lock indicators among seven different possible shades, and pressing Fn+Delete will vary the brightness of those indicators among three different settings.

Unlike other tenkeyless designs I've perused, the Topre board features a num-pad layer on some of its right-hand keys. This virtual pad won't replace a dedicated number-entry block for the hardcore, but for the occasional entry of a price or alt-code combination, this layer is quite handy and finally saves me from having to keep a 104-key board on my desk to rescue me when I need to get deep into some Excel work.