Review: yuktsi’s TGR Alice (B-Stock)

Introduction

If you know anything about high-end custom keyboards, you know that owning a TGR gives you clout second only to owning an OTD. TGR boards regularly sell out in a matter of minutes (or 41 seconds in the case of the Jane V2) and fetch astronomical prices in the aftermarket. It’s not just that yuktsi, the Malaysian designer behind TGR, is an established community member with a proven track record, TGR boards also tend to be released in extremely low quantities in relation to the number of people who like the designs.

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While I’ve always seen myself as a practical person when it comes to keyboards who prioritizes performance above all else, I wanted an Alice because unlike a lot of custom keyboards out there, it wasn’t a keyboard you could just get. Sure, there was a bit of national pride thrown in there (I’m also from Malaysia), and sure the layout and shape of the keyboard was something I could intuitively appreciate. But. That. Clout. So, when I had the chance to pick up a B-stock Alice, I sure as hell did exactly that.

Specifications

Case Material: Aluminum

Weight Material: Sandblasted Brass

Plate Material: Sandblasted Brass

PCB: Proprietary TGR PCB

Case Construction: Two-Part Case with Seam

Elevation Angle: 8 degrees

Plate-Mounting System: Top-Mounted

Layout: 60% Ergo

Price: $463 (+$60 shipping + fees)

Link: https://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=95054.0

Unboxing

The unboxing experience of the Alice, while extremely barebones, is very well done. When you first get the package, you’re presented with a cardboard box with the TGR logo emblazoned across it. Opening that up, you see the Alice nested firmly in a custom-cut piece of foam that fits the board perfectly.

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As a community, we have never expected Apple levels of design thought in the unboxing experience of a custom keyboard. As the premium product that TGR boards make themselves out to be, I would have preferred a more designed, unboxing experience similar to what Norbauer or RAMA does, but I’m okay with this. It does its job of protecting the keyboard completely as it travels halfway around the world perfectly.

Building the Keyboard

This is a hot take for sure, but the Alice has been my favorite keyboard to build, ever. The years of experience yuktsi has owning and designing keyboards really shows through here as all the small details like hole sizing, tolerance and spacing are done really well. This made building the Alice a smooth sailing experience with zero hiccups.

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The switch plate, a common cause of stress for me when building keyboards, came warp-free with perfect switch hole sizing for the retooled Cherry MX Blacks I was using. All the switches snapped in securely, but they never felt too difficult to remove when I had to. The PCB was also easy to work with as the PCB-mounted Cherry switches went in firmly with little wiggle room. I’m glad that yuktsi designed the PCB holes for Cherry switch stems because I use Cherry almost exclusively, but this could be a problem for you if you’re using Gaterons (Gateron, pls fix).

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Even the best of us screw up sometimes. Check out that 1u Code mistake.

One mishap with building, which was of my own doing completely, was that I didn’t test the layout before building. On the bottom row, the right most two keys on the left side of the central blocker supports either a 2u-1.25u or a 2.25u-1u configuration, but I very stupidly soldered in a 2u-1u setup, leaving me stuck with an awkward hole between left ‘Spacebar’ and left ‘Windows’ until I made the trip back to the Maker Space. Always check your layouts before soldering, even if you think you’re a pro!

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Both the plate and the case screw in together with M3-sized screws, with 4mm variants holding the plate up to the top case and 6mm ones constraining the entire case together. Because the Alice has a two-part case construction with a seam that runs around where the cases meet, I had to do the look-super-closely-and-run-your-fingers-across-the-seam-while-holding-everything-still thing to make sure everything lined up perfectly. Some people call it the LSCARYFATSHES, but I say the full thing because I’m hardcore like that. I’m not a fan of boards with seams as I think more thought could be put into designing around them, but at this point, that struggle of feeling everything out before screwing the case together is essential to the keyboard building experience.

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The Alice is also fully programmable through the Bootmapper Client — my favorite out of the remapping methods available. The GUI was straightforward and easy to use, which made flashing and reflashing layouts a walk in the park.

Case Quality

Something I want to dispel immediately is the rumor that ‘TGR B-stock keyboards are the equivalent of A-stock boards from (insert any other designer)’. While my unit here is free of physical damage on its exterior, there are very clear reasons as to why it is labeled B-stock. What’s B-stock for TGR would also be B-stock for all but the scummiest makers in our hobby.

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Perfectly aligned left seam feat. some anodizing discoloration/yellowing

On two-part cases with joining seams, the most obvious demarcator of quality is the tolerances on those said seams. After spending an hour making sure the seams are as flush as possible and running my finger across the seam, I found that the top and bottom cases don’t fit perfectly. While the front and back seams are flush, one of the sides always ends up sticking out just a tad. This is not that big of a deal as it plagues most (if not all) keyboards with this style of construction, but it’s not perfect.

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Chamfers and edges done right.

The chamfers and edges on the interior of the bezels are done right — sharp at the protruding angles and chamfered everywhere else. Bezel spacing is also done right here with even spacing both horizontally and vertically between the keycaps and the bezels. This not only makes the keyboard look symmetrical, but it also makes keycap removal easy. If we were to standardize spacing dimensions on keyboards, we would base it off the Alice; it is that good.

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Mini-USB connector sticking out from the back.

One tolerance issue that needs to be addressed is the mini-USB connector that sticks out slightly from the back of case. In my opinion, this is unacceptable as it’s a clear design oversight that should have been caught during the prototyping phase. This mistake could potentially create additional wear and tear on the USB connector that could have been avoided completely.

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While the exteriors were free of flaws, the interiors on the Alice were full of machine marks — one of the reasons why it was sold as B-stock. These don’t bother me too much because they’re out of sight, but if you’re a perfectionist, you might find these unacceptable. Check these photos out:

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Machine marks below the chamfers.
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Some scratch marks that change the anodizing color.

The sandblasted brass weight that rests at the bottom of the keyboard is the sleeper hit for me. The dirty gold, almost olive-brown tone of the brass weight is very different from the typical golden-hued variants that I think most people would prefer. But, I think it’s cool that it stands out from the pack. The weight is also engraved with that beautiful cursive ‘Alice’ insignia that’s flanked by the TGR logo and ‘R-01’.

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The main reason my board was considered B-stock is the anodizing. As you can see in the photo below, something went horribly wrong with the dyes during the anodizing process, resulting in some yellowing at the seams. I was able to rub off some of the yellowing when I first got the board, but some of the yellowing still remains.

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Some yellowing at the seam. The yellowing is present on all four sides.

If we ignore the yellowing — and yes that is difficult considering how bad it is — the anodizing on the Alice is one of the best in the business. The texture is as smooth and consistent as I’ve seen come across my review table. Upon close inspection, the board exhibits none of the typical ano/machining flaws like streaking, pitting, dark spots or color inconsistencies. While this doesn’t excuse the anodizing flaws, it makes me hopeful that A-stock designated boards have the top-tier anodizing you’d expect from a board at this price.

Layout

The Alice’s layout is not new by any means. It draws very heavily from Lin3x’s EM7 keyboard but with a few changes, the most significant of which is the removal of the arrow cluster and the two extra keys on the right. Yuktsi decided to remove the arrow cluster because his palm would end up pressing the arrow keys during typing. Also, with the Alice’s setup the homing rows are almost perfectly centered for that symmetrical #setupgoals.

From a purely functional standpoint, a layout is only as good as the efficiency at which you type on it. Personally, as someone who doesn’t type with proper form (don’t laugh, but I use my right pointer figure for ‘Spacebar’), adjusting to this keyboard was a very difficult process, and one that is ongoing. When I first got the Alice, my WPM was a disastrous 20WPM. I slowly but surely found my groove, but I still type about 10WPM less on the Alice than on my other keyboards. Even with the slower WPM, I still find myself wanting to use this layout because I appreciate the design thought put into creating it. I mean, just look at that:

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There are some other stuff about the layout that are worth mentioning. For one, the big holes between keycaps at the point the layout tilts, while necessary, breaks cohesion and will play a big role in deciding what keycaps you put on the Alice as the brass plate shows through in an obvious way. Additionally, don’t let the 60% ergo layout fool you — the Alice is almost as long as a standard TKL due to its center bezel and extra left column.

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Brass plate showing through the keycaps.

So is the Alice actually ergonomic? Kinda, but not as much as you think. It is slightly more ergonomic than a keyboard with straight rows because you don’t have to twist your wrist to get it lined up, and the homing row now fits the curve of your fingers much more naturally. However, I don’t feel like my wrists hurt any less using the Alice over regular keyboards, even after long typing sessions. I’ll let y’all know in 5 years if I get an RSI, though.

Typing Feel and Sound

The Alice, with its top-mounted 1.5mm brass plate and dense case, types like a dream. In my opinion, the hard plate setup found on the Alice complements the heavy retooled Cherry MX Blacks I have in them well. The very stiff brass plate gives no give when bottoming out, making for a consistent typing experience that is pure and unobstructed. A good feeling of oneness with cup rubber pronged sliders, if you will.

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I wish the Alice (and Jane V2, for that matter) came in an aluminum plate option for keyboard enthusiasts who prefer that in-between amount of flex that’s still metallic unlike plateless/half plate but not hard like brass/stainless steel. In my opinion, an aluminum plate option should be a standard offering for all top-mounted keyboard kits because it complements the additional flex that top mounts provide over sandwich mounts.

Sound-wise, the combination of brass plate and dense aluminum/brass case mean that the Alice produces a very singular, warm and clacky bottom out. As far as hard plates (aluminum, brass, stainless steel) go, brass is king for me as the sound signature of it just makes me feel all warm and cozy inside. Paired with the ABS of GMK sets, the ‘dampened clackiness’ of it absolutely sings when I type at full speed.

I do like variance in sound, soft plates and reverby bottom-outs, but the Alice’s typing feel and sound are perfect for me as my daily typing board. For how I like my keyboards, the Alice is top 3 in terms of typing feel for linears and my favorite board of all time in terms of sound. As such, while some of the cosmetic flaws do irk me, this keyboard performs like the best of them and that’s what’s most important.

Conclusion

I’m conflicted. As a reviewer, I find my job is to educate the consumer’s purchasing decision and side with the consumer over the manufacturer. As such, it feels weird reviewing a board that you not only can’t actually buy at list right now, but also is prohibitively expensive in the aftermarket. At the same time, this review can act as a written guide about this keyboard so people who don’t have the opportunity to own one can experience it vicariously through my terrible writing. This also provides a jump-off point for people who want to know what to expect from joining a TGR board.

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Me questioning my life choices aside, the Alice is fantastic. I’m still working on getting used to the layout, but during the 10% of the time I get into my stride typing on this thing, it feels and sounds amazing. The kit was easy to build and the keyboard goes together extremely well, too. It’s no wonder many people in our community put this board in the running for ‘Board of the Year’.

When I was first offered the opportunity to purchase the B-stock board and was shown the anodizing flaws, I felt perfectly fine with it. Strangely, now that I’ve come to really enjoy typing on it, I’m kicking myself wishing I had gotten in on an A-stock one instead. I know I’m going to keep this around for a long time, so I wish I have one that’s perfect.

For all you people with money thinking of picking one up, the Alice is NOT a $900 keyboard, market factors and intangibles notwithstanding. But, we cannot just ignore clout and supply/demand; this keyboard is selling at a higher and higher price with every passing day. Most of the Alices have delivered to customers and the market is flush with new units, so if you’re gonna get one anyways, get it now.

6 thoughts on “Review: yuktsi’s TGR Alice (B-Stock)

  1. Another top review. I ignored Alice since she was just too expensive for me, but as you said, I feel like I have to own a TGR board at some point. B-stock issues aside, yours looks great, especially with those IMSTO keycaps.

  2. Have you considered getting this re anodized at a coating shop? Asking since I’m thinking of doing so myself for a used Rama M60 that has white spots/chips in the aluminum.

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