Review: yuktsi’s TGR 910RE (Polycarbonate)

Introduction

The TGR 910 series of keyboards has had multiple spinoffs since its inception in 2015, and the polycarbonate-cased TGR 910RE is the latest in that line. Initially ran as a limited friends and family only group buy, only 30 units of the TGR 910 RE were made, making it rare even for a TGR.

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While there were a few custom keyboard kits before that were made in polycarbonate (the Duck Unicorn comes to mind), the TGR 910RE was the board that brought the material to people’s radar.

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Subtle but necessary TGR flex

I have never tried a polycarbonate-cased keyboard before, so when I was offered to build this keyboard for a reader of the blog, I jumped on that opportunity.

Specifications

Model Name: TGR 910RE

Case Material: CNC-ed Polycarbonate

Plate Material: Sandblasted Brass

Weight Material: Sandblasted Brass

Case Elevation: 7 Degrees

Layout: Modified 65%

PCB: Proprietary TGR Unicorn 1.2

Building Process

To my surprise, building the polycarbonate 910 was not a fun experience. In my experience building TGRs, the plates and PCBs have always been easy to work with. However, the sandblasted brass plate that came with this kit had extremely tight switch holes, making snapping the switches into place a real chore. In some instances, the switches would not go all the way in even after the snap. I had to do a bit of extra contorting and forcing of the switch before they could go all the way in.

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Switch that didn’t sit flush on the plate even after the ‘snap’

Another gripe I had with building the polycarbonate 910 (and all other 65% boards that try to do too much) is that the large switch cutouts for multiple layout support made building up the bottom row difficult. This is because the PCB mount holes don’t hold the switches in snugly and because the plate doesn’t constrain the switch on all 4 sides. I would have preferred if the keyboard only supported 6.25u and 7u spacebar layouts, but this is easy for me to say as I don’t use split spacebars on my boards unless I have to.

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Through-cut TGR logo on the plate

Apart from those two major issues and a few minor ones like the plates screws not being the same size and the case screws, building the TGR 910CE plate/PCB up was problem-free. The PCB was pre-flashed out of the box and the plate/case screwed in without issue.

Case Quality and Design

The TGR 910RE is essentially a TGR 910CE with a polycarbonate shell instead of an aluminum one. This means that it comes with a T-shaped back, a 2-part case construction with seam, and the iconic 65%-with-top-right-blocker layout.

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Side-profile shot, with semi-see-through view of the brass plate, brass weight, blocker and PCB

As you’d expect from a board designed by yuktsi, the TGR 910RE has excellent keycap-to-case spacing and usage of fillets/edges. There’s only so much a designer can do on a micro level when it comes to keyboard design, but I agree with all of those design choices in the TGR 910RE.

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You’d think the case is light because of its polycarbonate shell, but the huge brass through weight on the underside adds a lot of weight to the case. Heavier than a lot of the 60% customs. Weighing in at 2.3kg, the polycarbonate 910 is only 200g lighter than the aluminum 910.

 

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The massive brass weight

The top right blocker houses a removable polished brass insert that, if not constrained to the case, just shakes around in the cutout. I would recommend using clear tape to hold it down (or up, I guess) so as to not show through the opaque polycarbonate case, but other methods work fine too. It’s a nice touch as it completes the poly-brass look with a brass accent on the top side, but I wish the brass piece was constrained a bit more ‘professionally’.

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Brass insert at the top right blocker

 

About Polycarbonate

The pièce de résistance of the TGR 910RE is its polycarbonate shell, which I have mixed feelings about. One thing about the polycarbonate top-mounted case here is that there are many points around it where discontinuities break up its visual cohesion. For example, the grain and opacity of the top case are different from those of the bottom case, making for a mismatched look at the seam. Also, because the TGR 910RE is a top mounted keyboard joined at seams, the screw holes and threads are visible from the outside. This is particularly annoying when looking at the keyboard head-on as the screw holes manifest themselves as 16 light spots grouped in pairs around the bezel of the case. The tray-mounted KBDfans Acrylic Tofu, an $88 dollar keyboard case, pulls this look off much better as it doesn’t have those visual discontinuities on its exterior.

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See through screw threads and mismatched top/bottom cases that break the cohesion of the case aesthetics

Additionally, I have concerns about the durability of the polycarbonate case. The frosted polycarbonate case attracts scratches, dust and dirt more easily than its aluminum counterpart. The flimsy and very bendable polycarbonate case also doesn’t inspire any confidence. When screwing on that monster of a brass weight onto the light polycarbonate base, I was fearful that the weight would snap the bottom case into half. Polycarbonate screw threads also just aren’t durable — the threads on this 910 already make sandy/scratchy sounds when screwed into.

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Top case warped in the z-axis

From a designer’s standpoint, polycarbonate as a material is a pain in the ass to work with, too. The success rate of CNC-ed polycarbonate is low because of how soft a material. While this increases its perceived value I guess,  it means that even the better-made cases are still pretty bad. For this board in particular, the top case came warped on all three axes — and this was the top case that passed quality control! As a result, the top and bottom cases just wouldn’t be flush at the seam no matter how much aligning I did. The CAD file that yuktsi designed could very well be perfect, but the material limits how good this case can be.

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One thing I will say about polycarbonate cases is that they look great. While polycarbonate is a plastic, it doesn’t look cheap at all (unlike the HHKB, for example). The best angle of the keyboard is definitely from the bottom of the case as the sandblasted brass weight and PCB seen through the opaque polycarbonate looks amazing. I wish there was a way for that ‘see through technical’ aesthetic could be replicated all around the case, but that would be a feat of engineering for sure.

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Now that’s just pretty

Typing Feel and Sound

If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you’d know that I prefer a hard plate setup for my linears. This keyboard is built just the way I like it. The high Young’s modulus of the brass plate in combination with the 8-point top mounting make for a stiff bottom out feel that complements the vintage blacks inboard very well. Even when smashing on the keyboard, there is no perceptible flex to the plate/PCB combo — just the way I like it.

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Top-mounted screw holes

As for sound production, which would be the most interesting part of the review because of the polycarbonate case, I cannot comment with any certainty as to how the TGR 910RE compares to custom keyboard kits. This is because the TGR 910RE is a customer build with Krytox 205g0-lubed vintage Cherry MX Blacks for switches instead of the customary Superlubed retooled Cherry MX Blacks that I use to keep this section consistent across multiple kits. While Krytox 205g0 makes switches smoother and more consistent from switch to switch, it also makes the switches mushier and more muffled-sounding, very different from the scratchy but full-sounding Superlubed switches.

What I can say about the sound production is that it does sound every so slightly more reverby than other 65% aluminum customs I’ve tried. However, the difference in reverb is basically negligible, probably because of the sheer amount of brass present in the construction. That brass weight does a lot more for the case’s typing feel and sound production than you would think by adding that much more material for vibrations to travel through, as I’ve mentioned in my article on keyboard construction.

Conclusion

Is the TGR 910 RE overhyped? Yes a hundred times. I understand that rarity, novelty, TGR name brand and the iconic status of the TGR 910 RE all contribute to its staggering >$700 aftermarket price. However, unlike other >$700 keyboards, this keyboard probably won’t stand the test of time. I have serious doubts about polycarbonate’s durability long-term and as such it doesn’t appeal to me on an intuitive sense like aluminum custom kits do.

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Its saving grace is that the frosted polycarbonate look makes it an excellent display piece. As such, if it’s the frosted look that you’re after, and you’re not interested in clout, I’d recommend you save a couple hundred bucks and get a frosted acrylic Tofu from KBDfans with a dremmeled-off center mounting post instead.

 

6 thoughts on “Review: yuktsi’s TGR 910RE (Polycarbonate)

  1. A very nice read as always! Just a small question:

    > The TGR 910RE is essentially a TGR 910CE with a polycarbonate shell instead of an aluminum one. This means that it comes with a T-shaped back, a 2-part case construction with seam, and the iconic 65%-with-top-right-blocker layout.

    Didn’t you mean bottom-right-blocker layout instead? I think that’s the most iconic thing about 65% keyboards, perhaps you got confused and mixed it up with the 910 little thing from the top right?

    1. Hey MiTo!

      Thanks! Means a lot coming from a prominent community member like yourself.

      What I meant was the 910’s take on the 65% layout is iconic. I probably should have written it differently!

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