Review: Rolex Explorer II 16570 Polar

Introduction

Along with the Milgauss collection, the Explorer collection has always been the most underappreciated collection in Rolex’s repertoire. The Explorer watches have great designs, come from valid histories and and are steel sport watches — with the latter being the main reason Rolex is so popular. Yet, it doesn’t have the same pedigree that a Submariner or a GMT Master II does in the eyes of collectors. There are many reasons as to why that’s the case, but none of them are because Explorer watches are bad watches, or even necessarily worse watches than the Daytonas and Submariners of the world.

I was given the chance to borrow the Rolex Explorer II Polar review and I’ve found that while it’s dated, it remains a great watch at a great size. It represents the era of Rolex watches that just does it for me and I’ve been since drawn to this watch.

Case

The Rolex Explorer II’s case is assembled in a three-part case construction consisting of the bezel, the middle case and the caseback. This is typical of Rolex tool watch construction and is a tried and tested method throughout the industry.

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The different types of finishing throughout the case make this watch really glisten in the light. With the radial brushing on the bezel, curved brushing on the lugs and high polish on the flanks, the watch under natural light is an amazing sight to behold. A little detail Rolex added is the very slight beveling between the brushed lugs and high polish flanks. It’s such a small detail, but it catches the light so well and is that ‘one more thing’ that elevates the case to greatness. It’s something that Tudor still does on their heritage watches, but it’s something that Rolex has taken away from its current line up — a damn shame.

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Wearability is a huge component of how a watch looks and it is where this watch really excels. At 40mm in diameter and 12mm in thickness, the watch is at that perfect average size for a modern tool watch. While the caseback does protrude out a little from the case, the Explorer II sits on the wrist really well and doesn’t flare out (I’m looking at you, Apple Watch). The slim shape of the crown guards and strong taper on the thin lugs also help make this watch wear smaller. This is unlike the modern Super case Rolexes with their chad-like chunky lugs and masculine crown guards.. If you’re the type to fly under the radar with your watches or wear your Rolexes underneath a dress cuff, this watch is perfect for you.

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One thing I will note about the Rolex Explorer II’s case shape is that because it has a relatively flat profile and non-arching lugs, it may look out-of-place on smaller wrists because the caseback bump will be accentuated. This watch does work with a wide range of wrist sizes, but may not work if your wrists are too small.

I won’t claim to be able to distinguish the 316L stainless steel on this Explorer II from the 904L on the newer models, but the 16570 I have here definitely doesn’t feel as solid or well-built as newer Rolexes. It just doesn’t have the same heft and rigidity to it that the 42mm Rolex Explorer II’s have. However, for me, it rests at that perfect point of Rolex’s case construction in that it’s not as flimsy as the ‘vintage’ models, but also not as overbearing as the modern ones.

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The coronet-embossed crown is present and done well in typical Rolex fashion. It is a good size for gripping, it doesn’t stick out of the crown guards too much and has a nicely detailed embossing. One nitpick I have with the crown is that it’s a bit too sharp for my liking so gripping on it can hurt, but it’s a small issue in the grand scheme of things.

Bezel

The fixed 24-hour bezel dons in-filled black arabic numerals and is brush-finished radially. The non-moving bezel means that you can only read up to 2 time-zones at a glance unlike the 3 of the GMT Master II. But, this also means that the watch can be made to fit under a cuff better than the GMT Master II — a tradeoff I will easily take.

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Durability is a big issue on the bezel as it loves to show off its wear and tear marks. This is because the brushed finish makes any scratches it has more obvious. There is no way to refinish the bezel in a way that retains the original look because any polishing you do will make the numeral engravings less pronounced. The glossy black enamel in-fill on the numerals also rubs off pretty easily, but unlike the brushed finish, it can be easily repainted.

One design choice that perplexes me to this day is the presence of a ‘crevice’ between the bezel and the middle case pictured below:

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The crevice is finished in high polish, which is a nice touch, but I would prefer a more integrated bezel design as I find that it clips onto my shirt cuff sometimes and is a space where dust can settle in.

Dial

The polar dial base on the Explorer II is one of the cleanest dial bases you will ever find on a watch. Looking at it up close, there are no grains or textures to it — it’s white and that’s all it is. On a tool watch like the Explorer II, that sterile dial base can feel spare and boring sometimes. However that same boring dial base is what sets the stage for the rest of the dial details to really stand out.

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The simple-looking black circular indices are actually made of glossy black-painted white gold. It’s a superfluous detail for sure, but one that I welcome. Embedded in the indices is the excellent Superluminova lume that holds up for 8-12 hours in my usage — very impressive for an 18 year-old watch. In comparison, my personal Bond Seamaster from around the same period only holds up for 3-4 hours these days.

The 3 main hands are made in the same way the indices are and work really well to tell the time. They are distinct enough shape-wise to be able to tell them apart, and have the perfect lengths as to point towards the indices well. Rolex is really good with its hands.

All of this monochromeness sets the stage perfectly for that sweet, sweet, red GMT hand. Traditionally, Rolex has been very restrained with its usage of color in its watches. Think the Submariner and its black dial. Iconic, yes, but oh so boring. However, every time Rolex uses colors in its dials, it’s sensational. That bright, glossy red GMT hand on the Explorer II is so beautiful I’ve now forgiven Rolex for their decades of holding back colors.

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Excellent typography is par for the course as far as Rolex goes, but this watch still has some flaws that I cannot overlook. For example, the ‘ROLEX’ text below the crown has some serious kerning issues. This is not to overlook the perfect symmetry of the ‘Swiss Made’ at the bottom of the dial, the excellent serifs Rolex uses, and the feather-free printing present throughout the dial. However, Rolex is usually perfect with their typography and thus it is disappointing seeing errors.

Crystal

The flat sapphire crystal on this Explorer II does an alright job showing the dial head-on, but fails dramatically from an off-angle. Under natural light, this thick, AR-coatingless crystal creates a lot of glare on the dial and makes it flat out unreadable. The cyclops eye, on the other hand, is a welcome addition as it increase date window visibility substantially. I use the date window a lot and I’ll take all the criticism from purists for that with open arms because it’s a functional upgrade in my opinion.

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The sapphire crystal is raised slightly above the bezel, making for a vintage-esque aesthetic which I have come to appreciate. But, because it doesn’t sit flush with the bezel, there is a chance the crystal gets clipped onto something and gets cracked. It also interrupts the taper of the bezel when sliding it over a dress cuff which is mildly annoying.

Bracelet

The quality on the Oyster-style 316L stainless steel bracelet is pretty good overall, but is obviously lacking when compared to the competition. Out of the box, the tolerances between links on the Explorer II’s bracelet are tight. This, together with the relatively small number of channels, mean that the bracelet doesn’t pull hair easily. Also, running my fingers along the flanks of the bracelet, I noticed that the 20mm to 18mm taper does not flow continously. It’s close enough and probably fine for a watch at this price point, but no cigar.

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The Explorer II’s bracelet isn’t the heftiest bracelet, either. It’s charming for sure, but nowhere near as solid as modern bracelets, or even old Omega bracelets from the same time period. The quality on the links are good enough, but the friction-fit clasp on the Explorer feels rattly and weak. The spring bar-style microadjustment is also a very antiquated feature that doesn’t inspire confidence. While it has never failed on me, I always get the feeling that it could pop out at any time.

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The finishing on the bracelet, on the other hand, still holds up decently to this day. The bracelet sports brushed polishing down its length on the top side and high polishing on its flanks. Being the tool watch the Explorer II is, this is a good setup as the bracelet doesn’t attract too much attention by being shiny and flashy, but still retains some detail and contrast when viewed against the light.

Movement

Rolex movements are boringly reliable and the caliber 3185 found here is no different. When I received the watch, it had not been serviced in 15 years, but yet it ran smoothly with minimal time deviation. It has since been serviced and is extremely accurate and precise, staying well within COSC specs throughout my 2 months with it. To me, boring movements are amazing as everyday wearers as they’re easily serviceable (both watchmakers and service parts are readily available) and just work with no fuss.

The movement setting procedure functions as you’d expect on a GMT watch. There are 3 pull-out positions on the crown: the first position is the manual winding function; the second position moves all the hands and hacks the seconds; the third position moves just the regular hour hand and changes the date. As such, to set the time on the watch, you first pull to the second position to set the home time on the GMT hand, then pull to the third position to set the local time and date. This is, of course, assuming that you’re a frequent traveller and use the GMT hand more as a constant reference back to where you’re from. For sedentary people like myself, I set the regular hour hand to my home time and the GMT hand to the timezone of the place I wish I was at.

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Sapphire crystal casebacks have become a must have feature recently, and it’s a feature the Explorer II lacks, but I would argue that the watch is better off this way. Rolex movement finishing, especially compared to other watches at this price point, is nothing special. Most parts are industrially finished and lack the special touches other watches in this price point have, making a see-through caseback moot. Some omissions include the beveled bridges, countersunk screw holes, polished balance bridges and embellished Côtes de Genève — details that the Jaeger LeCoultres, IWCs and Zeniths of the world have.

Conclusion

There are many things that this watch does well in my opinion. However, as superficial as it sounds, what I like most about the watch is that it looks good on my wrist. It wears well size-wise, sits well on the wrist, sports that beautiful polar dial and has a sporty yet elegant case shape. A few gripes I have with the watch include the AR-less crystal that glares too much, the cheap-feeling clasp and microadjustment, and the mediocre movement finishing for the price. But, because of how good it looks on my wrist, I can look past those shortcomings.

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At between $4000-$5500 depending on condition, box/papers, service history and year of production, the 16570 is an excellent value play. Relative to other Rolex watches, especially a GMT Master II from that era, the Explorer II represents great value. However, I would caution against buying one as an investment piece as while it punches way above its price point, quality isn’t strongly correlated to price and I don’t think this watch as much more to grow price-wise in the aftermarket.

All-in-all, the Rolex Explorer II Polar is an excellent watch to get into the Rolex brand through. It’s a stainless steel complicated sports watch at a great size and a great price. If it strikes your fancy, you shouldn’t hesitate to get one.

Long Term Review: Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional 2

Long Term Review is a series through which I take a closer look at a product that I’ve used for an extended period of time. Because of my experience using these products, I believe I have a unique and more detailed perspective on it. This allows me to provide insight on the product that would not be illuminated if only given a week or less with it.

Introduction

The Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional 2 (HHKB) is either the best keyboard ever or the worse keyboard ever for a lot of people. I personally attribute this polarized opinion of the board to the meme exposure it has had over the years. All those ‘rubbreh domeh’ and ‘oneness with cup rubber’ memes over the years definitely had something to do with it.

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While this keyboard has been reviewed multiple time by many forum users, there is a lot about it that has yet to be said, or is just wrong in general. Also, as someone who operates primarily in the MX custom world, I think my opinions on the HHKB are different enough from what most people have said that I’m still adding meaningful points to the discussion. As such, here is my take on the HHKB.

Case

The HHKB has a matte ABS case that’s decently durable, but not great. As my go-to to-go board for the past few months, it has picked up a few nicks, scratches and dirt marks. Many of those marks are now permanent and impossible to fully wipe away. I’ve also found that the case has started to shine a little in some areas. Personally, the marks and the shine are non-issues as I’m really into the whole wabi-sabi thing, but it might be a problem for you.

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The case has a two-part construction that consists of the top case/integrated plate/PCB combo and the bottom case. Separating the two parts is a seam that runs across the entire flank of the case. The tolerance on that seam is very bad on every HHKB case I’ve come across, mine included. The seam is super obvious to the touch, sometimes even bumpy depending on where you’re running your fingers across. On a ‘premium’ product like this, I wish they would have done something to the seam to make it look and feel less obvious, closer to how it’s done with aluminum customs.

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The design intention of the case is to have as minimal of a physical footprint as possible, while having some flair to it that it isn’t just a simple slab. The top bezel (4Head) is slightly larger than the side and bottom ones because room on the top is needed for the USB connectors. They could have easily made the sides and bottom symmetrical, but chose not to for the sake of the design. The case also has rounded-off/filleted corners, edges and interior angles all over that makes it appear smaller and comfortable to hold.

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The added flair of the design comes in the curved top edge when viewing the keyboard from the side. This is similar to how some ALPS keyboards like the AEK, AEK64 and Lunar 65% does it and it is a nice touch. Another thing is the printed logo on the bottom right bezel that adds some visual interest to the otherwise bland-looking board. Don’t confuse visual interest with good aesthetics though; I would have preferred the case without the logo.

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Anthony Ooi from 001Keyboards once described rubber feet as the great equalizer of custom keyboards. From what I understand, he meant that custom keyboards can come in all forms and sizes, but one thing that stays consistent is the rubber bump-ons. I wish this were true in the case of the HHKB, as the rubber feet on them are the worst I’ve seen on any keyboard, period. They don’t provide enough traction and that problem is made worse by how light the HHKB is. The result is a board that moves around while typing if not placed on a high-friction surface.

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The flip-out feet are no better. The flip-out feet have 3 positions: closed, one-opened and two-opened; I find all three positions comfortable to type on. However, the flipping action is lackluster and flimsy. The detent (stopping mechanism) on the feet is also not assuring and contributes to how cheap the feet feel. Honestly, they are a joke for feet that’s supposed to go on a $250 keyboard.

Overall, the case is trash. Even the most passionate of HHKB fanboys would not be able to defend this. The only upside to this is that because the case is so light and made out of plastic, it’s a very easy board to carry around. Ever since I got the keyboard, I started bringing it with me to classes, the library and coffeeshops without any extra burden to my back. Other than that, PFU, please step up the build quality on this board in the next iteration. Even a fucking Magicforce has better build quality than the HHKB. This board deserves better.

Layout

When this board was made, keyboards were largely large in largeness. There were smaller boards around like the M0110 (that the HHKB drew inspiration from) and the F62 Kishsaver, but smaller form factors were more exception than norm. There’s an interesting interview with Eiiti Wada, the inventor of the HHKB that talks about his design choices with the layout that I highly recommend reading.

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When this board was released way back when, it introduced several changes to what was the ‘standard’ layout at the time:

  1. Splitting of the 2u ‘Backspace’ into 2 1u keys
  2. Moving ‘Backspace’ to the ‘Pipe’/’Backslash’ key and moving the latter up to a 1u key
  3. Removed ‘Caps Lock’ and moved the ‘Control’ key there
  4. Used an asymmetrical bottom row with a 6u ‘Space’ key
  5. Removed the function row, navigation cluster and numpad (that’s like, 40+ keys LOL)
  6. Split the right ‘Shift’ key into a right ‘Shift’ and a ‘Function’ key to create another layer of keys

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This spawned what is now considered the ‘HHKB layout’. Love it or hate it, most of those changes were revolutionary and some of ’em are still the preference of many keyboard users to this day. Personally, I’ve learned to adopt the ‘Pipe’/’Backslash’ key as ‘Backspace’ and prefer a split right ‘Shift’ on my 60s unless I want to use OG Cherry/BSP on them.

However, there are a few things about the layout that I think could have been done better. For starters, I would have prefered a 1/1.5/7/1.5/1 bottom row for symmetry instead of the left-shifted 1/1.5/6/1.5/1 layout it has. As geekhack user jacobolus described in this post, the spacebar is shifted to the right to center it with the homing row. This also creates enough room on the bottom-right bezel for that atrocious HHKB logo. While functionality is important, I would take the far-improved aesthetic of the 7u spacebar over just a slight increase in spacebar performance that the 6u one has.

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Another thing I have a problem with is the arrow key implementation. I get that they wanted the arrow keys to be accessible with one hand, but I would have vastly preferred a k-l-;-‘ VIM-style setup instead of the diamond-style it currently has. I got used to the current diamond-style arrow keys eventually, though.

All-in-all, the HHKB layout is alright. The 60% layout is far and away my favorite layout (though I prefer standard 60 over the HHKB layout) so this is right up my alley. I would personally make some changes, but they’re not dealbreakers by any means.

Topre Switch

For many, this is the main point of contention when talking about this keyboard. The reactions to this range from ‘it’s the best tactile switch ever made’ to ‘this is a rubber dome and so it’s shit’ and everything in between. Personally, the 45g Topre switch found on the HHKB is my favorite switch to type on bar none. I love the rubber dome-esque tactility that the switch provides and it’s one of the very few reasons I still use this keyboard over my customs. As such, this is going to be a really long section so try to stay with me here.

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Topre is known for having a tactile bump right at the top of the depress action. This is because the tactility comes from the dome flattening. On the stock 45g domes, the tactile bump is very subtle, similar to the Cherry MX Brown’s. After passing through the tactile bump, the dome collapses and bottoms out onto the plastic plate immediately, creating the famous ‘thock’ sound of the HHKB.

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One thing I don’t really hear mentioned about Topre switches is the ‘return tactility’ when letting go of a depress. 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. Check the diagram below:

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Topre is also a naturally scratchy switch. Even with some lubing, the switch has a high amount of feedback throughout both the depress and the release. This comes from the sliders rubbing against the plastic housing and is generally unavoidable because of how close the tolerances are on the sliders. You can also hear the scratchiness when typing on it, too.  On the bright side, this means that the switch doesn’t wobble a lot throughout its actuation.

The sound produced by Topre (and more specifically the HHKB) is, in my opinion, out of this world amazing. It’s the complete opposite of how a lubed linear on an aluminum custom (my other favorite switch sound) would sound. The lubed linear has a singular, clean, sharp, high-pitched sound that’s consistent with every depress. On the other hand, the HHKB’s Topre has a deeper, reverby, cushioned and musical ‘thock’. This is because when sound travels through materials that are less dense (eg. the plastic case on the HHHKB), it has a slower speed and thus a lower, deeper frequency. The HHKB sound could potentially be replicated in MX with a plateless, plastic-cased build, but probably not to the degree of the HHKB.

On the upstroke of the HHKB’s Topre, you hear the slightly higher-pitched clack that defines the sound profile of the keyboard so much. That sound is much louder than the sound produced on the downstroke and is what makes the HHKB sound so special and different from any MX-style switch out there.

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Compared to other Topre boards like the Realforces, FC660C and FC980C, the HHKB is the much more fun-sounding and clacky. This is because of its plastic integrated plate design vs the tray-mounting or case-mounting on the other Topre boards. The Leopolds in particular don’t sound anywhere close to the HHKB as they have a much higher-pitched bottom out and less significant upstroke sound. The feel solid to type on, but don’t sound nearly as special as the HHKB or even the Realforce.

A very key element of how the switches feel is the stabilizers on the longer keys. Topre stabilizers are very bad out of the box. They rattle out of control, are unstable and are very wobbly in general. As such, I would HIGHLY recommend that you lube your stabilizers with dielectic grease or something similar like you would with your customs’ Cherry stabilizers. This removes all of the rattle and makes it feel much better, but don’t expect it to be as good as a well-tuned Cherry Stabilizer.

Overall, the HHKB’s Topre switches are fucking amazing. In my opinion, it is something that everyone should try (even if you’ve tried Topre on other boards) because of how special it is. As of right now, 45g Topre is my joint favorite switch with lubed vintage blacks and I don’t see myself changing my mind anytime soon.

Keycaps

The stock keycaps on the HHKB are of the PBT dye-sublimated kind in a sculpted Topre profile (in between OEM profile and Cherry profile). As some of you may already know, PBT dye-subs are my favorite kind of keycaps as they produce a deep bottom-out sound, feel nicer to the touch and are more durable. However, the stock keycaps on the HHKB are a pile of flaming hot garbage compared to what’s available in the MX market.

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To start on a positive note, the stock keycaps have very good typography throughout. Every single legend on the keycaps are properly positioned, have no kerning issues and have very clean lines. The quality of typography is at least as good if not better than those of most third-party keycap makers in the MX world like EnjoyPBT, GMK and Signature Plastics.

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However, the dye-sub quality on the keycaps are absolutely terrible. Feathering/Bleeding is rampant all throughout the stock keycaps on the HHKB, making the legends look very blurry. This isn’t something that is immediately noticeable when looking at the keycaps from a regular typing distance, but is very obvious when you look at it even semi-closely. This also affects all Topre keycaps that I’ve experienced like the Realforce replacement sets and Hi-Pro donor keycaps.

This is very disconcerting as it is more of a tooling/machinery issue than a mistake on their part. The typography on the keycaps is already excellent, so upgrading their dye-sub process would make the legends some of the best in the market. Instead, the great typography on these is a waste because of the weaker dye-subbing and they look terrible when compared to even midrange MX dye-sub sets like EnjoyPBT. For a closer look at how the HHKB keycaps stack up to some MX PBT ones, check out my review of the EnjoyPBT 9009.

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As for the keycaps themselves, they’re a very thin PBT. I definitely prefer a thicker PBT for better bottom-out sound, but it’s honestly fine. One thing that is a known problem because of how thin the keycaps are is that they crack really easily when pulling them out. This is because Topre keycaps go on to the keyboard with a click mechanism instead of purely friction like in MX-style keycaps. So make sure your pull out game isn’t too strong.

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Another negative with the stock keycap set on the HHKB is that it comes with an ABS spacebar instead of a PBT one like the rest of the keycaps are. A PBT spacebar in this case would be a huge step up as they generally sound better and have better durability. I recognize that it’s difficult to get a straight PBT spacebar a lot of the time, but move gives me the impression that they’re cutting corners here. Not a good look for what is supposed to be a $250 keyboard.

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The stock colorway on the white printed HHKB I have here is a blue-gray modifiers, beige alphas affair. The colors are understated and fit complement the aesthetic of the keyboard very well. Personally, I prefer the more muted gray of BSP, EnjoyPBT and OG Cherry, but I definitely do not mind this colorway. One thing I would change, though, is the color of the top-right-most key to match the blue-gray of the modifier for symmetry purposes.

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Last but not least, aftermarket support for Topre keycaps is garbage compared to MX. You’re pretty much stuck with donor keycaps from other Topre keycaps and the limited run of replacement keycaps for Realforce keyboards. There was that KBDfans run of the Topre 9009 that I wrote about here, but it’s unlikely that there’ll be another run of those because of how little sales they got.

Looking through some of the reviews out there, I see some people saying that the stock caps on the HHKB are excellent. Maybe it’s a case of inexperience or ignorance, but I definitely don’t agree with that sentiment. They’re aight. I also cannot believe how ridiculous the prices of the Realforce replacement keycap sets and Hi-Pro sets have gotten. Maybe if you’re the hypebeast type who buys stuff to flex, it makes sense. But functionally, the keycaps aren’t great and the dye-subbing is terrible.

Internals

The internals of the case consists of the main PCB, the daughterboard PCB, conical springs, rubber domes and a fuck ton of screws. The internals are fine overall, though. I’m gonna keep this section short so there are just 3 things I wanna touch on.

Firstly, the number of screws that attach the PCB to the integrated plate is too damn high. It does make for a solid connection I guess, but I’m really trying to avoid spending 15 minutes unscrewing just to lube my switches and stabilizers. I decided to keep a few of them removed so that I don’t have to deal with this, and I advise you do too if you plan on tinkering with the internals often.

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Secondly, the daughterboard implementation on the HHKB is horrendous and potentially damaging to the keyboard. When you unscrew the bottom 3 screws and try to open up the case, you’ll see a cable connecting the daughterboard to the main PCB that restricts the complete opening of the case. If you’re not careful, you might even snap the cable in the process. I would have preferred if the designers found a way to put the daughterboard on the top case instead of the bottom to avoid this. From my understanding of how the keyboard mounts, it’s definitely something that could have been designed for so I’m not sure why they didn’t think of that.

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Lastly, the rubber dome and spring implementation is bad. Basically, the domes and springs are sandwiched between the PCB and plate and held in only by the PCB/plate screws. As such, when you remove the PCB, there’s a chance of the rubber domes and springs flying all over the room, which happened to me the first time I disassembled it. This is because the springs rest within the domes and the domes are not all in one big sheet but in separate domes. I would prefer a more integrated approach, like a housing or something to hold all of that, but we don’t always get what we want I guess.

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Conclusion

I hate how badly built this keyboard is and I hate the bad tolerances on the seam around the keyboard. I hate how thin the PBT keycaps are and I hate the dye-sub quality on them. I hate the internals and the layout could definitely be better. The HHKB is also ridiculously overpriced at $250 a pop. For about the same price of the HHKB, you could get a KBDFans Tofu kitted with lubed retooled MX Blacks, an EnjoyPBT keycap set and cash to spare for an assembly service if you need it. Going that route, you get a keyboard that’s better than the HHKB in almost every aspect.

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However, with custom keyboards, I find myself nitpicking every jagged seam, machine mark, anodizing flaw and hole placement. As for the HHKB, because it does all of the build quality stuff so absolutely horrendously, I find myself focused purely on the typing experience on it instead. That is a refreshing experience and one I’ve learned to cherish when using it.

Ultimately, the HHKB has taught me to love keyboards for the joy I get from typing on them and the sound they produce above all else. It is a trash board by all metrics but typing feel and sound. But, because of how much I like the HHKB for those two things, it has become one of my favorite boards, even in my collection of high-end customs.

Holy Trinity of Kustoms Part 1: TX by kin25

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Introduction

If you know anything about custom mechanical keyboards at all, you probably would have heard of TX keyboards. TX is a custom keyboard brand based in Korea that has been active since 2014. The man behind TX is kin25 (or KI-N25), a prominent community member in KBDLab, a famous keyboard builder and owner of one of the best custom keyboard collections in the world.

Kin25’s goal with TX is to produce cheap, accessible and good keyboards for the custom keyboard enthusiast who isn’t willing to pay LZ and Duck money for them. Because TX is known for being one of the most accessible Korean custom kits you can get (you can actually buy one from them right now, unlike Duck, LZ, Lyn etc.), many custom keyboard enthusiasts have owned a TX keyboard. In fact, I would argue that a rite of passage into custom keyboard superfandom is through owning a keyboard from them.

If you can’t tell already, I love TX keyboards and I love the good work kin25 and LZ have been putting out. While many others would believe that TX is the keyboard maker most likely to get booted from the Holy Trinity when a new challenger comes in, I’d argue that they have the safest position out of the three. TX/Kin25 had a shaky start when they first entered the western keyboard market, but since then TX has developed into one of the best keyboard makers around and is well-deserving of the acclaim.

History

In 2014, kin25 ran an interest check on KBDLab (later cross-posted to Geekhack) for what was TX’s first custom keyboard, the TX-1800. The TX-1800 was a full aluminum custom keyboard kit modeled after the Cherry G80-1800, and was announced at a time when larger keyboards were more the norm than the exception. The keyboard (and all the keyboards up to the TX-1800v2) was designed together with LifeZone of LZ keyboard fame. According to kin25 himself, the 1800 layout of the alpha cluster, function row, arrow cluster, numpad and the additional 8 keys above the numpad was his personal favorite, and that inspired him to produce the TX-1800.

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The group buy was eventually run both in Korea and on geekhack for the western market (one of the earliest Korean group buys offered directly to non-Korean customers) for $335 (+$70 for NA shipping) and was sold alongside a PBT dye-sublimated to set by LYN3. Instead of collecting the full amount upfront like most group buy runners do, kin25 decided to only collect a $100 deposit to start.

Unfortunately, there were many issues caused by the factory that happened out of kin25’s control like dents, anodizing flaws, scratches, machine marks and stains. As such, kin25 decided to sell the boards without flaws at the full initial price, and the boards with some slight flaws (B-stock) at a discounted $225. Kin25 also offered the option of a full refund if anyone in the group buy wanted to opt out.

It was all fine and dandy and most geekhack users were appeased by that decision, until kin25 disappeared from geekhack for a 7 month period (August 4th, ’15 – March 1st, ’16) while still remaining active on the Korean-only KBDLab. This caused a lot of distress among the people who joined his GB, with some even straight up calling him a scammer.

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While that was all happening, kin25 ran the TX-87 ($308 for the aluminum-bottomed version, $275 for the polycarbonate-bottomed version), TX-84 and TX-Pad ($154 for alu bottom, $137.5 for PC bottom) in a Korea-only group buy. The order collecting and fulfillment period of that group buy happening in the months that kin25 was away from geekhack and that angered many a geekhack user.

It wasn’t until yuktsi (back then a notable geekhack member, now known as the person behind TGR) got involved to facilitate the group buy that people were feeling better about the process. Yuktsi essentially took over the group buy process, helping kin25 collect the money as an escrow and only sending money to kin25 after the board has been shipped out. As a token of apology, kin25 shipped the TX-1800 with an updated PCB that had RGB support.

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Eventually, everyone (supposedly except one person who disappeared from contact) got either an A-stock board, a discounted B-stock board or a full refund. However, there was still some resentment in the community for the long delay and kin25 decided to stay away from geekhack for a bit.

A few months later, on behalf of kin25, yuktsi ran the group buy for the TX-CP ($320 + $75 shipping) on geekhack for the non-Korean market. People who knew about the TX-1800 problems took to the reply section to warn about TX, but the buy ran smoothly with very few hiccups.

Learning from the TX-1800 buy, kin25 decided to change the way his board was to be distributed. Instead of the typical group buy style, Kin25 chose to front the money first to produce the boards, then have them in-stock to sell. This ensures that the keyboard he sells all are up to par and the ‘X60 problem’ of forcing group buy participants to pick from defective boards doesn’t reoccur. Using this method, kin25 ran the TX-75 ($280 + $70 shipping) and TX-87/TX-84 for the non-Korean market very successfully with yuktsi’s help.

EDIT: Changed ‘Xondat Problem’ to ‘X60 Problem’ as I felt that the problem wasn’t necessarily with the person but with the group buy.

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After those successful, back-to-back buys, trust in kin25 was generally restored. Following that, kin25 produced and sold keyboards like the TX-1800v2 ($375 + $80 shipping), TX-CP R2, TX60 ($350 + $68 shipping), TX65 ($360 + $68 shipping) and TX84se ($500 + $95 shipping) through the same keyboards-in-stock method, this time without yuktsi’s help. This brought the number of successful buys kin25 has done to a total of 9.

The TX60/TX65/TX84se buy was slightly different from the buys that came previously as they were generally more expensive and they were designed with BOK’s help instead of LZ’s. You can see the physical manifestations in the change in those boards through the removal of the iconic TX lip.

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The latest TX buy (as of time of posting) is one for the antique and white finishes of some of his existing keyboards like the TX60, TX65, TX87, TX84SE, TX-CP, TX-1800 and LZ Iron. This buy was done slightly differently in that there was a preorder form released while the keyboards were already being produced. Based on how I understand the situation, the preorder form was used to gauge interest and to have a better idea on how stock should be managed.

As of right now, TX/kin25 is known as the most reliable group buy runner in the space. Recently, he transitioned away from being a full-time teacher, part-time keyboard dude to a full-time keyboard vendor. Right now, he has new PCBs, springs, stabilizers, keycaps, keycap trays, cables and wrist rests in the works. As for keyboards, he plans on moving away from using designs from LZ or BOK and design his own keyboards instead.

Notable Characteristics & Advancements

Iconic Lip Design

If there is one thing that people associate the most with TX keyboards, it would be the prominent case lip design. In most of the older models, the lip would run across the entire case, creating what community members affectionately refer to as the ‘keyboard in a keyboard’ design. In the newer models like the TX60, TX65 and TX84SE, BOK and kin25 did away with the all-around lip design and went for just an angled recess on the sides.

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As iconic as this design is, it is a point of contention between collectors as some people prefer a more understated and minimalist design on the flanks. The fact that this design element permeates through the entire product line also means that the keyboards end up looking the same, just with different sizes. Personally, I like the lip design very much, but I understand why other collectors are not too fond of them.

‘Sandwich’ Mounting System

Another recurring feature with TX keyboards is all of them but the TX-1800s and TX84se (those have top-mounted plates) use a sandwich-style plate mounting system. Essentially, what a sandwich mount is is the top case and bottom case securing a switch plate between them and then tightened with screws. You can check the diagram below for a visual representation of what it is:

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Custom keyboard enthusiasts have argued for eons about what the best plate mounting system is, and whether certain plate mounting styles are better for certain type of switches (example: conventional wisdom states that stainless steel plates work best with linears, even though I disagree completely).

I’ve not tried all the plate material/plate mounting system combinations under the sun with the same switches to figure out what I like best, yet. What I do know, though, is that sandwich-mounted plates do not flex as much when bottoming out, and provide a stronger, more rigid connection to the rest of the case compared to top-mounted or bottom-mounted plates. This is because the plate is compressed on by the top case and bottom case all around its exterior, whereas top-mounted plates are only constrained on the 8-10 screw points. In theory, this will provide for a higher-pitched, more singular bottom out sound.

Because kin25 prefers the harder bottom out that a sandwich mount provides, he decided to have this feature in as many of his boards as possible. This is also the reason why kin25 has forgone aluminum plates seemingly for good and now only sells brass plates with his keyboards.

Sandwich-mounted plates also require a fewer number of screws to fully assemble the keyboard as there is no need for both case screws that screw the bottom case to the top and plate screws that screw the plate to the case.

‘TX-Style’ Isolated Bottom Weight

In TX keyboards, the way the bottom weight is executed is that it doesn’t show all the way through the bottom part of the case, like say a Keycult No.1’s weight is. Instead, the weight is screwed in from the bottom of the case and only shows through the bottom when fully assembled. In the pictures of the TX60 below, notice how the gold-colored brass weight is that huge slab at the bottom, but doesn’t show through the base of the keyboard when looking through the brass plate.

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In the custom keyboard community, this is commonly known as a ‘TX-style’ weight and is found in many different boards that both precede and follow the TX keyboards. But, the fact that this style of weight is attributed to TX keyboards is proof of how universal this feature is across the TX line.

TX Bags

Not much to say here but kin25 has single-handedly brought those thick, padded EVA cases to the mainstream. It is now the standard for keyboard storage cases (for good reason) and the world is now better for it.

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Best QC in the Business

You can love the design of TX boards or you can hate them, but you can’t deny the fact that the machining, tolerances, anodizing quality and color matching on kin25’s boards are top notch. As a result of this amazing quality control, many keyboards still sit in kin25’s warehouse and remain unsold because of the high standard he has for his boards. As roughed up as they could be, I find it sad that these keyboards don’t reach the hands of keyboard enthusiasts, but I respect kin25’s high bar for his products.

They also come with amazing packaging that is well padded and will survive the bumpy journey from Korea to wherever you are.

Aftermarket Performance

Disclaimer: This section is based on the aftermarket prices of TX boards as of posting. Do note that prices of these boards may change over time. 

Korean custom keyboards tend to do amazingly well in the aftermarket, with higher-than-retail aftermarket prices more the norm than the exception. TX keyboards, while Korean-made, do not always have that luxury. Some keyboards like the TX-1800, TX-1800v2, TX-CP and TX84 (non-SE version) currently sell for higher than their sale prices in the aftermarket, whereas the other keyboards sell at or below sale prices.

There are many factors that contribute to the relatively low aftermarket performance compared to the Ducks and LZs of the world, the most important of which are the high number of boards in-stock and the huge production runs. Kin25 currently has many of his boards in stock to purchase directly from him without a wait period. Kin25 also tends to make a high number of boards per production run, with some runs having up to 300 units made.

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Because of their relatively low price, TX keyboards represent great value in the custom keyboard aftermarket. Models like the TX87/84, TX75 and TX-CP are priced below what I think they’re worth in the aftermarket. In particular, the TX-75 is one to look out for as only 95 units of them were made in total, putting them second rarest behind the TX-1800v1. SELLOUT: A review on the TX75 should be coming out shortly so subscribe to my website!

Conclusion

Recently, there has been a taking-for-granted of TX keyboards. TX boards generally have the best quality control, above-average-to-great anodizing and a solid typing feel that rivals boards by makers that most people would consider ‘more premium’. However, instead of recognizing TX Keyboards as one of the best series of boards made, many people don’t give TX the love it deserves and sometimes bash TX for being ‘shit’.

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In my opinion, if you’re looking for your first truly high-end custom keyboard kit, look no further than TX. They are amazing boards that perform well in every category imaginable and have a hassel-free buying experience to boot. You can pick one up now at txkeyboards.com or by emailing kin25 directly at 225ozzy@naver.com.

To follow kin25’s latest work, you can check him out at his blog here if you can read in Korean. Huge thanks to kin25 for letting me use his photos and answering some questions I had about TX.

Review: Matt3o’s /dev/tty MT3 R1 Keycap Set

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Introduction

Okay. /dev/tty MT3 is one confusing ass name. After doing some reading on Matt3o’s blog, /dev/tty (apparently pronounced Device Terminal) is the colorway of the keyset, whereas MT3 is the name of that fully-sculpted and spherical profile that the keycaps have.

Now that we got that out of the way, the keyset. I was super interested in /dev/tty when it was first announced because I too bought into the Topre Hi-Pro/spherical top hype that this keycap set offered (I have since seen the light — all hail Cherry profile). I did not end up joining the Massdrop buy for these, but I did pick up a set on /r/mechmarket in the Triumph colorway to see if I liked it.

So here we are. After about 3 months of typing on /dev/tty, I’m prepared to share my thoughts about the keyset in this review.

Specifications

Designer: Matt3o

Keycap Profile: MT3 (high profile, spherical top, fully sculpted R0-R1-R2-R3-R4-R4/R5)

Colorway: Triumph (White Alphas and Blue-Green Modifiers)

Material: Dye-Sublimated PBT

Thickness: 1.8mm

Pricing: ~$100 for TKL Compatibility

Where to Buy: Massdrop

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Colorway

The /dev/tty set I have here for review is in the Triumph colorway, which has white-colored alphas and bluegreen-colored modifiers. Blue-green is a color I enjoy a lot; it’s the color that’s always inked in my EDC Lamy Dialog 3 fountain pen. While the Triumph color here is a nice shade of blue-green, it’s not a color that works well with other existing colors in custom keyboards.

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I understand why Matt3o and Massdrop went for the granite grey (the other colorway offered) as it is a basic, unoffensive set that many people can buy into. But, if they HAD to release another color, why this green? I would have greatly preferred a fully custom colorway by established makers like the Zambumons or the Oblotkys of the world. Hell! Even Matt3o is an accomplished keyset designer himself!

Overall, not too big a fan of the blue-green because of how out-of-left-field it is and I feel it’s a missed opportunity to show off the full capabilities of the MT3 production line.

Keycap Quality

Keycap quality on the /dev/tty is top notch across all the major categories I personally look at. The keycaps come in a thick-with-two-Cs 1.8mm PBT — the GIRTHIEST keycaps I’ve seen in the flesh. This is thicker than all other PBT sets like ePBT/Gateron/IMSTO, BSP and PBT SA, and falling short only to the ABS Devlin K-series caps.

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In terms of the PBT itself, the keycaps have very good quality control. Out of the 100-ish keys I got in the Base Kit and TKL kit, I have exactly 0 keys with significant burrs or defects. There are some here and there with small dangling bits (that’s what she said ha got ’em), but when compared to ePBT it’s practically a non-issue.

Warping is a serious issue that most PBT keysets face. If a key were warped enough (and it doesn’t take too much warping to be ‘enough’), it would cause an uneven depress and as such cause the stabilizer to rattle. Fortunately, warping is not a problem with the /dev/tty. On all 5 of the ‘Backspace’, ‘Return’, Left ‘Shift’, Right ‘Shift’ and spacebar keys, there is no visible warping.

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What impressed me the most is the lack of warping on the 6.25u spacebar. Warping issues are usually amplified in the spacebars as they are the longest keys in a set, but as seen in the two photos above, the 6.25u spacebar in the /dev/tty is almost perfect. This could be a luck thing as I may have gotten a good batch of long keys, but this still deserves my commendation.

The texture of the keycaps leaves something to be desired, though. (EDIT: By texture in this section, I mean the appearance of the texture, and not the physical texture) Looking at the keycaps up close, I see that the caps have a skin-like texture to it. They look wrinkly and are covered in pores which, not gonna lie, creeps me out a little. You can see this to greater effect in the picture below:

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The texture on the keycaps itself, on the other hand, are decent enough. They’re slightly rougher to the touch than ePBT and BSP keycaps, which could be a good thing for some folks. Personally, I like my keycaps slightly smoother like how the Gateron/ePBT keycaps are, but the texture on the MT3 caps are quite alright.

Legend Quality

For this part of the review, I would usually judge the quality of the legends by comparing them to other keycaps. However, in this case, there is no point doing so as the /dev/tty legends are by far the worse of the ones I have with me. You can check out some of the side-by-side comparisons in my review of the EnjoyPBT 9009 here. As such, I’m going to keep this section short(er).

The biggest issue that bogs this set down is the horrendous centering and straightness of the keycaps. Just looking at the 87 keys on my TKL, there are 15 keys (if not more!) with either tilted or off-centered legends. The worst offenders of this would definitely be the tilted keys in the nav cluster and the right-shifted *ha* right shift as seen in these photos:

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Feathering is a phenomenon in dye-subbing whereby the ink doesn’t transfer perfectly onto the keycaps, causing a halo effect around the keycap that reduces line sharpness. In the case of /dev/tty, the feathering is some of the worse I’ve seen on PBT keycaps. In this next photo, we see that the sharpness on the left key (ePBT) is significantly better than the one of the right (/dev/tty), and that’s not just because the /dev/tty is out of focus.

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This feathering issue hits the keys with loads of curves the hardest as seen in the following close-up of the ‘G’ key:

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Personally, I’m used to feathering on  my keycaps as my daily driver is an HHKB and the feathering on all Topre keycaps (your very expensive Hi-Pro included) is bad. However, in the MX world where more than 3/4 of the keycap sets are ABS (zero feathering every time) and where EnjoyPBT has stepped up their game so much, this is just unacceptable. Another case of decent absolute performance but very bad relative performance.

The one redeeming quality of /dev/tty’s dye-subbing is the good typography throughout the set. While severely tilted, the navigation cluster, which is usually a hotbed of kerning issues on other sets, are done very nicely here on the /dev/tty. The correct spacing between each of the letters show that Matt3o was dilligent with his work on the typography. Well done.

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Overall, the legends are really bad. This was also an issue that many people on reddit brought up as seen here, here and here so it’s not just an isolated issue. It’s a damn shame as it really hamstrings the set from ever being great.

MT3 Profile and Typing Experience

Going into this keyset, the thing I thought I would hate the most would be the profile. I’ve been using cylindrical, medium-height, sculpted profiles like Cherry (GMK, ePBT, BSP) and OEM (Topre, other stock keyboards) for many years now. I was not too impressed by SA or Topre Hi-Pro (though I only typed on Hi-Pro for a short period of time) and I thought this would be the same.

Now that I’ve used the MT3 profile for 3 months, I found that it isn’t too bad. For one, the high-profile keycaps look absolutely amazing. The way the keycap sides and spherical tops catch the light make the keyset glisten.

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The finger cupping effect of the spherical tops are VERY comfortable and inviting to the fingertips. The MT3 tops are slightly more sinked in than that of SA and Hi-Pro, which I find increases the comfort on the fingertips when just resting them on the home row. I constantly find myself resting on the keycaps when idling and the bottom lip of the keycaps catch my fingertips perfectly. Very nice.

However, it is that same spherical tops that cause clipping issues when moving my fingers between and within rows. Clipping happens when your finger catches on the edge of a keycap when moving your fingers around the keyboard to type non-homing row keys. Personally, clipping is something I dislike heavily because I only use linears when typing with MX style switches so any small force on the keycap will depress and actuate the switch. On tactiles and clickies, the high resistance needed to overcome the bump/click bar before actuation will prevent accidental actuations by clipping.

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When moving up rows, say from homing to the Q/T/Y/P keys, if I don’t consciously type with an arched hand, I find myself clipping onto the keys around the ones I’m going for. I also sometimes clip onto the keys I was coming from when typing with the same fingerstwice in a row (an example would be the ‘j’ followed by ‘u’ in the word ‘juice’). There is also some clipping (albeit to a lesser extent) when moving within rows (for example from homing to Left Shift/’/Enter keys). These issues mean that I make slightly more errors when typing on the MT3 profile when compared to Cherry or OEM.

Because MT3 caps are tall in size, they also suffer from keycap wobble like SA does. I find that it doesn’t affect my typing experience too much, but it could be a big problem when using switches with siginificant stem tilt like Kailh BOX switches.

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These problems aside, I find it fun typing on this profile for short bursts of time. The sculpt on the MT3 profile is comfortable and pleasant to type on. It’s also nice taking a break away from Cherry sometimes. To me, MT3 is that one person who’s out-of-this-world attractive, but has that lousy personality and other flaws that I won’t be able to live with. I feel like I understand what it means to be a married man cheating on his wife.

But when typing for longer durations (like I’m doing with this review, typing on MT3), the constant need to Backspace my errors is interruptive and fatiguing. Silly me thinking it’s romantic and shit to type on the keycap set I’m reviewing. Ultimately though, all roads lead back to Cherry, the wife I’m tired of but still love deep inside.

Sound Profile

The sound on the MT3 is hands down the best on any set I’ve typed on. Period. Because MT3 is made of PBT, super thick, tall and heavy, it produces a bottom-out sound like no other. The bottom-out sound is deep, thocky and just oh so wonderful when paired with my lubed vintage black switches. That spacebar thock is straight up the best sound I’ve heard coming out of a keyboard.

I described it as sounding musical in my ePBT 9009 Review and I stand by it. It’s not the most consistent sounding thing in the world due to the difference in mass between rows, but goddamn does the variation in sound make it sing.

Conclusion

/dev/tty is a keyset with a high potential to be good. It has excellent keycap quality, a decent profile and amazing sound going for it over the competition, high-profile or otherwise. However, in its current R1 iteration, there are too many flaws in the legends that make it difficult to overlook its other issues. At this moment, other than for the people who want to give this profile a try, I cannot recommend this keyset.

Fortunately, Matt3o posted an article about a month back saying that the R2 drop of /dev/tty will have far improved legend quality in terms of the feathering (Matt3o used the term ‘color bleeding’) and centering. If these issues really do get fixed in R2, /dev/tty will shoot straight up to my list of recommended keysets. However, until that day comes, stay away.

Long Term Review: Nomos Tangente 35

Long Term Review is a series through which I take a closer look at a product that I’ve used for an extended period of time. Because of my experience using these products, I believe I have a unique and more detailed perspective on it. This allows me to provide insight on the product that would not be illuminated if only given a week or less with it.

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Introduction

The Nomos Tangente 35 is a watch that I fell in love with ever since my first encounter with it. As a shameless wannabe minimalist, I’ve been drawn to its bauhaus-inspired aesthtic and ‘form follows function’ marketing mantra. I mean, look at all those kids with their fancy pourover coffee setups and I-just-got-out-of-bed hairdo. It’s not wrong wanting to be them, right? I thought, y’know, if I had one of these here hipster watches I could be cool!

Anywhos, I’ve worn this watch for an extended time and I’ve developed a lot of thoughts about it. Like 3000 words a lot. So here’s my take on this wonderful little watch!

Specifications

Model Number: Nomos Tangente 35 Reference 139

Movement: Nomos Alpha (modified ETA/Pesaux 7001)

Case Material: 316L Stainless Steel

Glass Material: Sapphire Crystal

Caseback Material: Sapphire Crystal

Lug Width: 18mm

Diameter/Height: 35 mm/6.6 mm

Water Resistance: 30 meters

Price: $2180 including free 5-day shipping

Where to Buy: Nomos Store

Case

The Tangente 35’s case is 35mm in diameter, slighly less then 7mm in height and made from 316L stainless steel. The case itself is very svelte and sits very low to the wrist, an aesthetic I’ve come to enjoy among the sea of giant watches. The case is light on the wrist and very comfortable to wear for an extended period of time.

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As seen in the picture above, the case is a three-part construction (tripartite) that consists of the top case (bezel and crystal), middle case (case flank and lugs) and the sapphire caseback. This construction style means that there are two seams on the case between each of the parts. The seam that goes around the case plays the role of breaking up the visual mass of the case and and adding a detail on the case, but the tolerance on the seam is not great. Running my fingers along the seam from bottom to top, I found that there was an obvious bump. This means that the top case is ever so slightly larger than the middle case. I’ve never actually seen a tolerance problem on a watch I’ve handled ever so this is quite worrying.

The case is finished in high polish all over. This makes the watch stand out on the wrist despite its size as it reflects light very easily from the case flanks. However, because the whole thing is polished, the watch attracts micro-scratches very easily that tarnishes the polishing. The relative softness of 316L steel does not help this either.

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The lugs are a twice-angled affair with the first part sticking straight out from the case and the second bending downwards to better fit the curvature of the wrist. Because the lugs extend far out from the case and are finished in high polish, the Tangente looks much bigger on the wrist than its 35mm diameter would indicate. The two separate angles of each lug also means that they reflect light in different ways from different angles, making the watch stand out despite its small stature. However, the long and slim lug design means that the lugs may bend easily when a force is applied on them. That has not been my experience, but it’s something to be wary about.

The simple, thin, and bezel-less design of the Tangente makes it adapt to different strap options very well. It’s near-Daniel Wellington (and I mean that in a good way) ability of matching with any strap you put on it makes it a very versatile watch to wear. Want a hipster aesthetic? Put a suede strap on. Need it for business? The black cordovan strap is perfect for that. Want to look like you’re wearing a Daniel Wellington? Put a nato on that. I kid, but this aspect of the Tangente is very useful, especially if this watch is your only watch. I’ve personally worn this watch in many occasions but I’ve never felt the watch was out of place.

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Speaking about straps, the Tangente’s lugs use a pin hole spring bar system that makes it easy to change straps on the fly. All you need is a toothpick (or similar tool) to compress the spring bar from the outside to get the spring bar out. No need to fuss with a spring bar tool that may scratch up your lugs. This feature helps a lot when cleaning the dust off the crevices between the case and the lugs (which you will be doing a lot of if you want to keep your watch clean). However, this spring bar system means that there is a small hole through each lug which ruins the visual coherence of the lugs. Not that big of a deal for me — I take strap changeability over that minor aesthetic gripe any day — but it could be for you.

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Because the lugs and the case has that sharply-angled aesthetic, their edges (of which there are many) are easy to ding and nick. I’m usually very careful with my watches, but my Tangente has already developed a few nicks on the top case bezel. Chamfers or rounded edges which would fix this issue would look out of place in a watch like this. It’s just something Tangente (and Nomos in general) owners will have to live with.

Overall, the case while plain, has just enough detail to make it attractive. Durability is an issue though, and you can only polish that thin of a watch so many times.

Dial

The Tangente’s dial base is made out of galvanized steel plated in silver, which gives it a sparkly texture when viewed from certain angles. Looking at the dial closely, I don’t see any flaws to the plating; the texture is consistent throughout the dial. This choice of dial is much welcomed compared to a plain white dial found on many dress watches as it creates a visual interest on the dial base. I find myself rotating my wrist to see how the Tangente reacts to light in different angles. I don’t get that same enjoyment from other white dials like the one on the Rolex Explorer II. It’s an excellent dial base that the rest of the dial builds upon.

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The silver dial base is printed with a nice and glossy black for the arabic numerals and stick markers. The typography on both the numerals and text is generally excellent, with all the printing well-spaced, well-sized and well-centered. You can tell that significant thought was put into designing every part of the dial to make it aesthetically pleasing, and aesthetically pleasing it sure is.

All three of the hours, minutes and seconds hands are also real heat-blued hands and not the chemically-dyed kind. The hands have a nice shade of blue that adds a dash of color to the otherwise monochrome dial. It’s also nice knowing that the Nomos watchmakers went through the effort to heat blue the hands as it adds value to the watch. A completely superficial reasoning, but I like knowing that a lot of time was spent on making my watch.

The hands also have just the right length, being just long enough to pass over their respective glossy black markers, but not too long as to obstruct them. This makes it easy to make out the time at a glance and shows that the minor details were not afterthoughts even on a budget-friendly watch like this one.

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The thin and flat crystal is low to the dial, making enjoying that wonderful dial from at angles distortion-free during the day. However, there is no lume on the dial and the hands do not reflect light so reading the dial in the dark is practically impossible. This is not a big deal for me because I have a phone for that, though it may be a feature that is sorely missed for some folks. Come to think of it, I have a phone for daytime time reading too. Why do I wear a watch again?

Existential crises aside, one thing I would say about the dial design is that it is a distinctly Nomos one, unmistakable for any other brand and instantly recognizable by watch geeks the world around. While not an original Nomos design, Nomos has done a good job designing then marketing this dial to make it their own. It’s an iconic dial design that is timeless and will stand the test of time. Bravo, Nomos.

In my opinion, in determining the aesthetic qualities of a watch, the dial is the most important part. This is even more true in the case of the Tangente where the dial is 90% of what you see in the watch headon. Thankfully, while sterile, the dial is well thought out, iconic and detailed enough that it’s worth staring at from time to time. I’m a big fan of the dial design (if you can’t tell already from this strangely positive section of the review).

Crown

On a manual watch like the Tangente, the crown is a very important part of the watch as it is the part you will interact with the most. As such, the combination of good size and comfortable ribbing of the crown has to be just right to make it a fun daily experience.

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In the case of the Tangente, the crown is very small. It is just big enough for me to to grip the crown and wind it, but any smaller and that would be too difficult of a task. I would have preferred if the diameter were slightly larger, but too much that it ruins the minial aesthetic of the watch. This is a serious issue though. They claim to be a company that abides by the ‘form follows function’, bauhaus-esque philosophy, but the crown size is clearly not that.

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Another (albeit small) complaint I have with the crown is that the Nomos signature on the crown is laser engraved in a way that disappears in certain lights. At this price point, I would have preferred a stamped signature instead of the laser engraving we have on the Tangente. If other brands in this price range like Oris, Sinn, Tudor and Longines can do it, why can’t Nomos?

The ribbing on the side of the crown, on the other hand, is very nice. It’s sharp enough to create a grippy surface, but not too sharp that I hurt my fingers winding the watch. No complaints here.

Strap

The stock strap is a black Horween shell cordovan strap that tapers from 18mm at the lugs to 16mm at the buckle. The buckle is a tang-styled one with a laser engraved Nomos insignia. The strap is stitched together with a matching black thread that blends in with the strap’s black color. While nice, the stitching is a bit too tight as some points, but that’s not too big a deal.

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Shell cordovan is well-known (and overhyped) in the shoe collecting community for having superior toughness, nice aging and a high-shine look. The application of cordovan here is a welcomed one. The strap is soft, pliable and molds to the wrist very easily like a suede strap would, while still holding its structure unlike suede. The leather loops are also not too thick as to add pressure on the underside of the wrist. A watch’s strap plays a huge part in the watch’s wearability and comfort, and Nomos did it right with this one.

The glossy black shell also makes for a nice business/dress strap that would go well in more formal occasions. In more casual settings though, I found the strap to be out of place and incompatible with many kinds of outfits. Thankfully, the Tangente wears other straps well (as mentioned in the Case section of this review) and will fit other occasions besides the rough and tumble if need be.

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Once the stock strap is worn out, you can purchase a new one with the Nomos signed buckle for 80 Euros on Nomos’ web store, which is not expensive by any means relative to OEM straps from other brands. I would even go so far as to recommend this strap as a replacement strap for other slimmer profile watches as I love this strap a lot.

Movement

The movement under the hood of the Tangente 35 is the Nomos caliber Alpha, a glorified ETA/Pesaux 7001. I’m not knocking the movement though; it’s a solid movement that should be easy to service by any watchmaker worth the candle. What I am knocking is the terminology used by Nomos to describe the movement. While the movement is made in-house by Nomos, they’re not clear about the fact that the movement is not one of their own design. While some parts were redesigned by Nomos, it shares the same basic design as the ETA version. It’s one of those things that a lot of brands with ebauche movements do, but that does not make it right. A consumer may be misled into thinking that they’re getting additional ‘value’ over the competition by having an in-house designed and manufactured movement.

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That aside, Nomos has done some pretty good work on the movement, especially for the price. It is supposedly adjusted to 6 positions through the Trivois adjustment system, which to my calculations is a lot of positions. More accurately, it’s one more than 5 positions. More is better right?

Anecodotally, the watch was accurate enough that I didn’t notice much time shift day-to day. For me, because I don’t wear a single watch every day for an extended period, an accuracy better than +/- 20 – 30 seconds a week is good enough. This watch definitely surpasses that in my testing, running well within COSC specs throughout my ownership of it. Nomos’ claim of a 43 hours power reserve also holds true, which is nice.

Hacking seconds is present which is nice. Better than Patek Phillipe confirmed? Winding action is also nice enough. It’s not the smoothest winding experience nor the nicest tactile response, but it’s about average for a manual watch at any price.

In terms of servicing, Nomos recommends the Tangente be serviced every 5 years. Nomos offers a complete overhaul of the watch for 220 Euros. It’s an above average price to pay for servicing such a simple manual winding watch, but when compared to the competition the price is very reasonable. I would still use my go-to watchmaker for this though to save some cash.

Caseback View

The caseback has a slight convex shape to it that goes against the curvature of the wrist. This is not my preferred caseback shape as the caseback adds pressure to the wrist when strapped down tightly, but a curved caseback is probably too much to ask at this price point.

The movement seen through the caseback is also very small relative to the case. This is another pet peeve of mind especially for movements that claim to be in-house. A movement that’s that much smaller than the case speaks ‘compromise’ to me. The newer movements that Nomos has been putting out do a much better job at that, which is nice. I hope to see those newer movements proliferate throughout their product line, even on the smaller watches like this one.

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In traditional Glashutte fashion, the movement has a 3-quarter plate construction that covers everything but the escapement and a bit of the going train. The finishing on the movement is nice for the price. Looking through the caseback, we see Glashutte ribbing on the plates, perlage on the base plate, swirled sunbursting on the power train wheels, heat-blued screws, chamfers on the edges of the bridges and countersunk screw/jewel holes.

The well-decorated movement is kind of a novelty feature, though. It’s something nice to show your non-watch friends to explain why mechanical movements are a cool thing, and you may get a kick out of it for the first few weeks of owning it. I would look at the caseback quite a bit at the start, but nowadays I find myself staring into the dial more instead. I would still recommend the $280 sapphire case back upgrade because I’m a normie, but I don’t think it’s a necessary feature if you’re strapped for cash.

Miscellaneous

Because of how thin the case is, the ticking sound coming from the pallet fork/escapement interaction can be heard from as far as 14 inches away if unobstructed. I would be working on something on my computer and I would hear the ticking sound eminating from the Nomos. I kinda like the sound when working so it’s not a big deal for me, but have this by your bedside table and it will be a problem.

Buying the Watch

Outside of Germany, Nomos has a relatively small retail presence which makes it difficult to just drive down to an authorized dealer to get a feel of their range. Nomos works around this issue by offering a 14-day no questions asked refund when ordering from their online. This means that potential buyers can try on Nomos watches and return if it doesn’t work for them. This is an awesome thing to see, so PLEASE DO NOT exploit Nomos’ graces as it would increase their cost of operation.

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Buying through the store is also a very simple process. After placing the order, it took the watch 5 days to reach my doorstep from Germany. Impressive.

Value

The inherent value contained in this watch is way higher than its price tag would indicate. The Tangente packs a super detailed and well-designed dial, true heat-blued components, a well-finished and well-regulated movement, all for under $2500.

Nomos has since moved up the value chain, releasing watches in the Omega/Tudor/Tag price bracket instead of the Longines/Oris/Baume price bracket it used to occupy with the Tangente/Ludwig/Tetra generation of watches. With Nomos releasing new watches at that higher price bracket, Nomos has placed itself in competition with those more premium brands in the eyes of the consumer. This continued association with higher end brands makes Nomos seem like a more premium brand, making the Tangente even more of a steal.

In the secondary market, though, the Tangente doesn’t fare as well. With prices for one with full box and papers hovering between $900 – $1200 (as of 2018), that means the Tangente takes a huge hit in its resale value when worn. But, that also means that getting one preowned is a ridiculous value play — in my opinion the best out there at or around the $1000 mark. Compared to other semi-dress/casual watches at the $2500 retail/$1000 aftermarket range, the Tangente 35 takes the top spot.

Conclusion

When it comes down to it, the only thing that seperates a buy and a no-buy decision on teh Tangente is the look. It’s a polarizing design that may not sit well with some. There are some downsides to the watch like the crown design, case tolerances and durability, but I can look past those at this price. So, if you dig the aesthetic, and boy do I dig it, the watch is a no brainer at this price point.

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So, if you’re looking for a watch with ridiculous value under $2500, an iconic dial that will stand the test of time, a modern look yet with vintage proportions and a versatile wearability, the Nomos Tangente is the watch for you.

You can pick one up from Nomos’ web store here.