When I first heard that Topre was going to update the Realforce TKL, I was extremely excited as I felt like the old design was getting stale. I also thought that with a few minor upgrades to the keyboard, it could be that one prebuilt that I could wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who wanted a solid keyboard with all the bells and whistles, but without the fuss of having to build up a custom kit.
I got to try the Realforce TKL R2 when it just launched way back in the summer when I was in Japan and I really enjoyed my initial time with it. I didn’t buy it then because it was only released in the JIS layout at the time, but I have made up for that by purchasing one on Amazon the day it released. Now that I’ve had a chance to use it for an extended period of time, here are my thoughts on it.
Model Name: Realforce TKL R2TL-US5-IV
Case Material: ABS Plastic
Plate Material: Stainless Steel
Elevation Angle: ~4.75 degrees (~10 degrees with flip out feet)
Keycap Material: 1mm dye-sublimated PBT
Switches: Topre 55g Uniform
Case Quality and Design
Writing reviews on plastic-shelled prebuilt keyboards is not in my wheelhouse by any means, but from my experience with entry boards, the Realforce TKL R2 is built better than most off-the-shelf boards that I’ve come across. It is up there with the Filcos and KUL ES-87s of the world, and definitely better than your average Razers and Magicforce 68s. Its case doesn’t flex or creak when force is applied, whether linearly or rotationally. It is made of plastic, yes, but very good plastic at that.
The Realforce TKL R2 sports a pared back case design that is in line with the modern prebuilt case designs. Moving away from the curvy, forehead-and-chin-heavy R1, the R2 is angular all-around with even bezel sizing all around the key clusters. While many people still prefer the R1’s design, I like the refreshed aesthetic of the R2 just as much. Because the R1 and R2 are fundamentally similar keyboards, I’m hoping that both the R1 and R2 can coexist in the collection in some form. As Taylor Swift once said, “two is better than one”.
Another significant change from the R1 to the R2 is the addition of a semi-transparent grey accent on the top right of the keyboard surrounding the ‘Print Screen’, ‘Num Lock’ and ‘Pause’ keys. The accent allows for the LED indicators to shine through and adds an additional visual element when looking at it upfront. I personally could do without it, but at this point I’m so used to it that I can’t imagine the keyboard without it.
The sides of the keyboard feature two-step recesses that makes the keyboard easy to pick up — a feature that I have championed and will continue to champion. Visually, though, the side profile is nothing impressive. I’m not really sure what the designers were going for with this, but I think that it could have been done with a lot more thought.
The slight chamfer to the chin of the keyboard is a welcomed addition as I find my palm resting on it pretty often. Where it would usually be sharp on a custom kit, it is angled here so as to not dig into my palm.
The textured rubber feet on the underside of the keyboard provide a lot of traction, which is extremely important for a keyboard as light as this one. Unfortunately, while the flip out feet lock in place with solid detents, they are not finished in that same textured rubber. As such, there is no additional friction between the keyboard and the surface it’s rested on when in the flipped-out position. I haven’t found a difference in slideability when fully flipped out — probably because changing the angle of the force changes how much friction is needed to move the keyboard — but it is a talking point that could have been avoided if they just put some damn rubber on the flip out feet.
As with many prebuilts, the Realforce TKL R2 has three-way routing channels on the underside for your choice of either a left-aligned, middle-aligned or right-aligned cable position. Having three options for where the cable comes out from is a feature I sorely missed when using custom keyboards as all three can be viable depending on the aesthetics and functionality of your setup. As an example, I prefer to have a middle-aligned cable when the keyboard is the only thing on my desk, and a left-aligned cable when using the keyboard over my laptop keyboard.
Speaking of the cable, the non-removable rubber cable on the Realforce TKL R2 is evocative of peripheral cables back in the old days. Insert ‘back in my day’ comment. Old memes that should die aside, it’s a nice cable that will probably last, but I personally would have gone for a more modern-looking braided cable to match the updated aesthetics of the R2.
The 1mm-thick PBT keycaps that come stock with the Realforce R2 TKL are decent enough and get the job done, but are nothing to write home about.
The reprisal of PBT keycaps is one that I fully welcome as the deeper bottom out sound of PBT complements the naturally deep Topre switch well. The sculpted Topre profile found here is also nice to type on as it’s similar to Cherry profile — my singular favorite profile. Furthermore, the keycap surface is nicely textured, though it has that skin-like texture similar to what’s found on MT3 keycaps.
The quality of the plastic is, in short, not great. Most glaringly, at least 30% of the keycaps have burrs (little protruding plastic bits) on them. This is one aspect of keycap quality that most people overlook, but is something I find annoying. With simple quality control checks, these burrs could have been avoided. They could very easily be filed off, too. However, to most keycap manufacturers, burrs aren’t even a thing that crosses their mind in the quality inspection process. From all the keycaps I’ve seen so far, only the MT3 keycaps get it right.
The dye-sublimated legends don’t fare too well, either. Across the board (ha!), the keycaps have inconsistent kerning, bad centering and mismatched thicknesses. Most of these errors are carried over from the R1, so the refreshed R2 is a huge missed opportunity to right those wrongs. Check these photos out:
On the bright side, it seems as though the dye sublimation process has improved slightly from the Realforce R1s and HHKBs. While the dye subs on older Topre boards were heavily feathered and blurry, the dye subs on the Realforce R2 TKL, while still not as good as the dye-sub legends from the likes of Hammer (think IMSTO and BSP), are very acceptable.
Typing Feel and Sound
It’s publicly known that Topre is my favorite switch, and as with other Topre keyboards I’ve tried, this is the section where the Realforce TKL R2 really shines in my opinion.
With the 55g Topre switch inboard, like on the stock 45g Topre found on the HHKB, the tactile event is relatively subtle. There is a slight amount of resistance that you need to get through right at the top of the depress, but clear that and you’ll bottom out onto the plate with little force. While the slightly more tactile 55g Topre is perfectly fine to type on, I still prefer the more subtle 45g.
As I’ve mentioned in my review of the Hacking Keyboard Professsional 2, Topre’s tactility is different from that of other tactile switches because of its ‘return tactility’. Essentially, return tactility is the feeling of tactility when the switch is moving back up. In MX-style tactile switches, the return tactility is felt at the same physical position as the depress tactility; in Topre, the return tactility is felt right at the bottom, opposite from the depress tactility. Here’s a diagram explaining that because words are hard sometimes:
The sound profile of the Realforce TKL R2, like most other Topre keyboards, can be described as a reverby ‘thock’ upon bottom out followed by a higher-pitched clack on the upstroke. That higher-pitched clack is more pronounced on this board as the steel plate makes for a higher-pitched sound. Here’s a sound test to demonstrate what I mean:
There are some drawbacks to the Topre system on both the typing feel and sound production fronts, though. For one, the ‘Backspace’, ‘Enter’, left ‘Shift’, right ‘Shift’ and ‘Caps Lock’ keys sound and feel rattly upon bottom out as they’re longer keys that aren’t stabilized on multiple points. Even with the stabilizers lubed, these sounds cannot really be removed as most of the rattle comes from the keycaps shaking on the plunger-like stems they’re mounted on. Bad stabilizers were one of the main critiques most people had of the older Topre boards, so I thought that a refresh in design would also bring and improvement in this area. Unfortunately, that is not the case here.
The Realforce R2 TKL is an update to the exterior shell above anything else. Without the design change, I feel as though the Realforce R2 TKL has nothing much that’s new over the old R1. There were so many shortcomings on the first Realforce that they should have known about with the years of community feedback they should have gotten, but yet they decided to do nothing about most of them. The stabilizers are still rattly and the legend quality is still mediocre.
One thing I will say is that I like the new design a lot. Head on, it’s a great looking board and I think it sits better on a modern desk setup than the old one does.
Like with other Topre keyboards, if you’re used to the perfect and exacting quality of custom keyboard kits, you would probably be disappointed by the Realforce TKL R2. The stabs are trash, the plastic shell is, well, not metal, and the keycaps aren’t even as good as EnjoyPBT (and that’s saying something!).
Ultimately, though, the Realforce R2 TKL is still my to go recommendation for a prebuilt keyboard. Topre as a switch is just too good, and the rest of the prebuilt space is just a terrible mix of disappointment and compromise. This is the board for only the Topre lovers and for the people who want a good enough prebuilt. If you’re deep into the custom game though, look elsewhere.