I first touched a RealForce keyboard at an electronics shop in Japan and knew instantly that I had made a mistake. I'd come for — and left with — my 6th keyboard: the cheaper, smaller, Japanese-layout Happy Hacker Keyboard I'd accounted for in my budget, and which I love. But those few fleeting keystrokes on my way out the door left me with a forbidden knowledge of exactly what I was missing.
Now, with both 'boards on my desk, an unthinkable scenario is dawning on me: I think the RealForce R2 might just might be the last keyboard I'll ever need.
The Futijsu RealForce R2 is a popular object of lust among keyboard nerds for a few reasons. First, is the out-of-reach price. Its jaw-dropping $348 pricetag is eye-watering even to fairly experienced typing nerds. Yes, we'll buy sets of plastic keycaps for $100+, or individual keys for $50 and more. Sure, bespoke ground-up keyboard builds can easily reach into the $300+ range, but in drips and drabs of one part at a time. A RealForce is easy to want, but hard to justify.
Then there's the mechanics. Unlike traditional mechanical keyboards, which rely on switches make of rigid plastic held in tension by springs, the RealForce uses a proprietary tech called "Topre," which substitutes plastic bits for rubber domes supported by springs for extra bounce. It's a combination that, on paper, makes it much more similar to cheap, mushy "membrane" keyboards than its clicky kin. Is it really "mechanical?" Be careful who you ask, unless you're looking to start a fight.
But ultimately only one thing truly matters: It feels incredible.
Instead of the hard clacks that many mechanical keyboards deliver -- in both feel and sound -- the RealForce provides a sensation more like a clean "snap." Each key puts up stiff resistance to your finger that satisfyingly breaks away in an instant and springs back on you without ever feeling harsh or, best of all, sounding particularly grating. The RealForce retains all of the tactile pleasure of typing on a mechanical board, but paired with a more subdued, satisfying, "thuddy" feeling and sound.
Some of this is characteristic of Topre switches, and so is shared by more affordable boards like the Happy Hacking Keyboard, but the Realforce is a superlative example -- which it better be, for the price. Constructed primarily of metal, both in body and in the "plate" the switches are attached to, the RealForce not only stays planted on your desk like the workhorse it is, but the sensation of its keys is also sharper and crisper than its plastic kin. You might not notice until you've had your hands on both, but it's dangerously, expensively apparent once you have.
Every nerd with Collector's Disease knows about the dream of the "endgame," that theoretically perfect item that will end the definitionally never-ending quest. I expected the RealForce's appeal to accordingly pale as soon as it settled on my desk. But this quiet, satisfying, timelessly stylish beast is everything I want and more. And the price? Well, at least it's cheaper than buying a half dozen new keyboards.
Is this what endgame feels like? Only time will tell...