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REALFORCE R2 TKL Keyboard Review

By Christopher Coke on December 06, 2018 | Hardware Reviews | Comments

REALFORCE R2 TKL Keyboard Review

For ages, getting your hands on a genuine Topre REALFORCE keyboard in the United States was a challenge. The dark ages have ended thanks to our friends at Fujitsu who have officially brought the REALFORCE and Happy Hacking brands to the states. Today, we’re looking at the REALFORCE R2 TKL. Loved by enthusiasts and programmers around the world, let’s take a look at just what makes this keyboard so special in our official review.

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Specifications

  • Current Pricing: $258 (Amazon, Fujitsu Store)
  • County of Origin: Japan
  • Key Layout: US Layout
  • Number of Keys: 87
  • Key Switch Type: Electrostatic Capacitive Switch
  • Actuation Force: Mixed
  • Key Travel 4.0 mm
  • Sound (Silent / Not Silent) Not Silent
  • N-Key Rollover: Yes
  • Interface: USB
  • Dimensions (W x D x H): 15.6" x 5.6" x 1.2"
  • Weight: 2.43 lbs
  • Supported Operating Systems: Windows 7 (32-bit/64-bit), Windows 8.1 (32-bit/64-bit)
  • Windows 10 (32-bit/64-bit), Mac OS X

If you’re new to the wider world of keyboards, the REALFORCE, produced in-house by Topre Corporation, brand is just about legendary. Visit any keyboard forum and you’re likely to find a vocal contingent of keyboard enthusiasts who swear that there are simply no better feeling keyboards on the market. Just as likely, however, is that you’ll probably be wondering just what makes them so special since most of us in the United States will have never used one before.

The biggest reason for this is that they’re just plain rare, but it’s not for a lack of popularity. In the East, and particularly Japan where they’re manufactured, they’re hugely popular with many different varieties filling electronics markets. Historically, getting one of your own in the U.S. has meant either importing one, buying through an importer, or lucking and nabbing one from SeaSonic like we were able to with the REALFORCE RGB last year. Even so, you won’t often find one in the wild due to their specialized build and higher-than-average cost.

REALFORCE keyboards aren’t traditional mechanical keyboards; instead, they’re what’s known as an electrostatic-capacitive keyboard using Topre key switches. Rather than rely on traditional mechanical contacts found in Cherry-style switches, EC switches function by depressing a rubber dome under which is a spring. Under the spring is a sensor that actuates the key switch without actually requiring mechanical contact. They’re more expensive to produce, which accounts for their higher price, but have their own unique feel and sound that sets them apart from the masses of mechanical keyboards on the market. 

The REALFORCE R2 sets itself apart further by featuring variable weights across the entire keyboard. This is completely different from other keyboards on the market and is frankly glorious to use. Across the keyboard, the actuation force shifts from 35g to 55g. The keys you use most - the letter keys tending toward the center - are the lightest in weight.  The lesser-used keys get progressively heavier. The thinking here is that by lightening the keys you use most, you reduce the amount of finger strain you experience, allowing you to work longer and more productively. Topre keyboards are particularly popular amongst programmers and writers for just this reason.

What’s really amazing, though, is that the tactility provided by the collapsing domes is enough to prevent all of the misclicks and typos you’d find on linear Cherry MX Speed switches. These switches are without question better for gaming than Cherry MX Speeds. I bold that because if you’ve ever used a Corsair RapidFire switch and found it too sensitive, the REALFORCE switches give you the same lightweight touch with a far greater sense of control.

They’re also much quieter. Thanks to the damping effect of the dome sheet underneath the keyset, your keystrokes are much more subdued than a mechanical keyboard. I’ve taken to using the REALFORCE R2 in my classroom since I know it won’t bother my students when they’re hard at work. If you share your computer space with someone, this is definitely something to consider.

Taking a closer look at the key switch, you’ll see two things. First, that Topre has opted for a high quality PBT with a thickness of about 1.3-1.4mm. These feel great under the finger and substantially better even than the pricier REALFORCE RGB we reviewed that used doubleshot ABS. The downside, however, is that it doesn’t use the usual MX-style stem which will limit your keycap choices if you ever decide to upgrade.

Since this is a TKL keyboard, it doesn’t have the number pad found on a full-size board. Instead, we have those functions, as well as a number of others, included on a second layer, seen above through side-legends. This is a nice middle-ground to keep the functionality of a full-size board and the placement makes them easier to access. Embedded behind the function row (not indicated in side legends) is the ability to open your browser, email, calculator, or control your media. The PFU versions of this board also allow you to change the actuation distance from 1.5mm, 2.2mm, and 3mm, which is helpful for customizing the key feel for gaming, writing, or other uses you may have. You can also change the color of the indicator lights which is a nice touch.

Final Thoughts

Taken as a whole, this is a really, really nice keyboard. It feels great to use, has an addicting sound, and is built very well. It’s nice and heavy, features cable routing in the back, and doesn’t require any setup. It’s nice.

That said, it’s not a gaming keyboard. That much should be obvious by now: there are no macro keys, no RGB lighting, no launching batch files with flashy software. Instead, this is a board for people who want a something they can use at work and at home, for gaming, writing, and whatever else they might throw at it. If you want those advanced gaming functions, we’d recommend downloading AutoHotKey, which will let you program to your heart’s content.

For the price, though, I do wish they’d included just a bit more in the box. Right now, there’s nothing more than the keyboard and Japanese language documentation. No keycap puller, no braided cable, no USB pass-through. For $258, it’s fairly barebones and competing in a crowded market of customers that may not understand what makes it special. Now you know, but will the average shopper on Amazon? That’s hard to say.

Still, if you love keyboards and want to treat yourself without going full-on rainbow light show, or need something that’s quiet but but feels absolutely smooth and delightfully unique, this is a serious option to consider - if you have the money for it.

Pros

  • Topre switches and variable key weight feel great to use
  • Less finger strain over time
  • Fewer typos thanks to solid tactility - my WPM went up by ~10!
  • Solid construction with PBT keycaps
  • Number pad is present on secondary layer (and a number of other functions too)

Cons

  • Still very expensive
  • No included accessories (though keycaps choice is inherently limited)

The product discussed in this review was provided by Fujitsu for evaluation purposes.

Christopher Coke / Chris has been a fan of MMOs since the mid-1990s when he cut his teeth on MUDs. These days he scours the internet for the latest and greatest multiplayer gaming experiences.