Typing purists maintain that the IBM Model M keyboard will always be the standard to compare modern keyboard designs to, particularly for the satisfying "clack" made by the switches underneath and the fast response from those switches that loyalists claim increases speed and accuracy. The recent popularity of mechanical keyboards has led foreign manufacturers like Topre (formerly Tokyo Press Kogyo) to introduce new versions like the Realforce 103UB 55-gram keyboard. Priced at $245, the 103UB costs substantially more than competitive models like the Das Keyboard or the Rosewill RK-9000, but uses proprietary sensors instead of the standard Cherry key switches to maintain the mechanical typing experience without the clicking that tends to annoy others.
Topre also highlights its extra-tough build quality compared with the cheap keyboards you get with store-bought computers, but we still wish for a few more extras given the cost. We recommend the Realforce 103UB to hard-core keyboard jockeys with extra cash and sensitive ears, but others will find the equally responsive, less expensive Rosewill RK-9000 and Das Keyboard more viable options.
The body of the Realforce 103UB feels sturdier than the Das Keyboard or the Rosewill RK-9000. We're not worried about the failure rates of those competing models, but the Topre board may have more appeal if that's a particular concern for you. At a little more than 3 pounds, the Topre's heft ensures that it stays in one place on your desk.
The keyboard uses the classic QWERTY layout with a row of F1 through F12 keys across the top, a numerical keypad on the right, and three LED lights built into the board to indicate Number Lock, Caps Lock, and Scroll Lock. The back of the device features two rubber feet that add even more grip, and two tabs on either side flip up to vary the angle of your wrists in relation to the keys.
The 103UB we tested has 103 keys that weigh 55g each, but Topre also sells a version of the 103UB that uses varying 35- and 45-gram switches to reduce the effort of typing pinky-stroke characters that take more force to actuate and can often lead to fatigue over long typing sessions.
The keycap shapes vary by the rows on the board to accommodate the ideal typing angle for your hands. You can't use generic keycap replacements as a result, but Topre includes a key puller, alternate colors for the W, A, S, and D keys, a red escape key, and additional Caps Lock and Ctrl keys for programmers who want to swap the two.
Each key label is formed using dye-sublimation print methods instead of traditional laser printing, which tends to wear off quickly. The subtle gray-on-gray finish also adds extra texture that lightly grasps your fingers while you type.