My week with the Novatouch

This week I participated in the Novatouch Community tour. I am always interested in trying new keyboards and the Novatouch covers a couple of my interests. It is a Topre board (I have only experienced the HHKB) but also a unique (ish) Topre board. This is because it has the Topre to MX sliders. These reasons make this an interesting keyboard all around. The fact that a keyboard that is this much of a niche exists is interesting enough.

I do what I always do with any keyboard and change the layout to how I want. This is colemak, with capslock as a dual-role modifier as ctrl/esc. These are options that are not given to you on the Novatouch but have to be done computer side.

Unboxing

Additional Photos

When opening the keyboard, I was pleasantly impressed with the packaging. It is not too exciting, but it has a magnetic seal on the box. So of course I was excited. I am a fan of packaging and this just got me interested in the keyboard.
The box contains:

  • The Novatouch
  • A Keypuller
  • A Micro USB Braided Cable
  • A booklet
  • O-Rings

The first thing I did was lift the Novatouch from the box. From this moment I was very impressed of how it felt in my hands. It has a really nice weight and nice matt finish. The only branding is on the back and the underside of the keyboard. The overall look of the keyboard is to my taste unless you see it from the backside. Where you have an unusual style change, with a strange line running across the board.

The included cable is a nice braided cable but is a 90° cable. This is not something I can utilise as it makes my cable setup just a little harder. However, I always have a good stock of cables so I am ready to connect keyboards. I used a standard white Micro USB that came with my Moto G. This worked fine as expected.

Initial Typing

As soon as I started typing I immediately noticed I was typing faster than usual. This is one of those random events I can’t explain, I can in no way attribute the Novatouch to instantly improving my typing speed, but the feeling instantly clicked with how I type. My new found speed was pretty awesome, but this lasted around a couple of hours. From this typing session I had ascertained that it felt light. The thin ABS keycaps bounce with very little pressure. From a stock perspective, I found this a truly peculiar typing experience. It is 45g Topre, but it feels nothing like the HHKB. With all of this said, I really liked this at first.
The sound is the fist difference I noticed. It is plonky, hollow and light, The modifiers were the worst offenders. There is a real clatter on the upstroke. I quickly grew dissatisfied with how it felt. You can tell that it is Topre, because of its distinct feel, but it is still different. When it comes to keyboards it is all down to the person and what they like and how they like their switches to feel. The confused nature of this board contributes to the rift of people who think the Novatouch is great and those who don’t.

Regarding the Fn layer you get a few additional functions. Media controls, volume and the option to repeat keypresses. Everything works as you would expect. The volume and media keys are the standard scan codes that I had already configured in my WM so they worked perfectly.
The repeating functions had no use for me. I can’t think of any games that I play that require me to spam a certain key.

A Change of Keycaps

One thing I knew about the Novatouch was that the stock keycaps did not provide the optimum experience. With this in mind I was quick to change the keycaps. I started the first day on the stock ABS. Which is only fair, as these are what it comes with. I swiftly moved on during the second day. The only other keyset I have is the Gateron PBT blanks. I think these are good enough to see what the Novatouch could achieve with nicer keycaps. They were surprisingly easy to put on. The Novatouch stems feel a bit looser then a standard MX stem. However, I found this varied between slider. Some went on really easily and could slip off easily, whilst others were tight. When using the supplied keypuller, I noticed it to be a bit smaller than ones I have used in the past. This is to fit into the housing at the top row. But even with a smaller keypuller, getting the top row of keycaps out is a bit of a challenge. There is not a lot of room to get the wire around the keycap. Saying this, it was not a major struggle. Just frustrating.

My initial thoughts do not recognise this as making huge difference. It is a little less plonkier but I do not see it as a huge improvement. My experience with PBT keycaps is not that expansive. I have used SP DSA and now Gateron PBT. I would say both of those are of a good thickness. So I was disappointed that I did not find this to hugely change my experience. Once I had settled down and done a couple of typing tests I felt a little better about the Novatouch.

The next thing I tried was the o-rings. The first problem I encountered was putting these on. They slipped off the stems of the Gateron PBT so I had to place them on top of each slider and then carefully put the keycaps over them. This was tedious and did not always work.
After putting them all on, I was not enamoured with the new feel. It took me 10 minutes before I had to take them off. This was not a good addition to this keyboard.

Typing Tests

Gateron PBT

Stock Caps

The End of the Week

After typing on the Novatouch for a week, I kind of like it. The stock keycaps do not feel the best to type on. The Gateron PBT moderately improved my experience. After a couple of days I adjusted to the new feeling and adapted my typing to this quite well. The feeling is not the Topre feeling I know compared to my HHKB. It is most definitely Topre but different. The sliders really do sound “plonky”. But it is not entirely a bad thing. I like keyboards for the variety of different switch types that produce a different feeling, this is another.
Aesthetically I like the look, this is all I desire from a tenkeyless. Not a lot of excess body, and no fancy bevels. Even though the branding is minimal, the back does not really look great. The Fn layer does what you want but doesn’t really give you any options. No mapping of capslock or anything like that. Something that may annoy others is the lack of indicator lights. Capslock does not have an indicator light despite there being a space for it on the PCB. This does not bother me as I do not use capslock.

The Novatouch is a strange keyboard. It’s a great tenkeyless, but the feeling just isn’t that which I recognise as Topre. To enhance your experience the thicker keysets are needed. A landing pad mod would be a nice addition to this keyboard and reduce some noise. With a bit of tweaking I think this could be a very nice keyboard.

Thinking back on my week, I like this board. It took some adjusting and a new keyset. But once I got going I found I did enjoy typing on it. It is not the same and does not sound the same as my HHKB. But in its own category (as there are no others like it) it is a very nice keyboard.

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Farewell Gyfcat:

typeracer Typing Data for the Week


Typed on the Novatouch

I was first interested in the CMYKeys because I knew the maker KeyKollectiv to have made impressive keycaps in the past. KeyKollectiv made the successful meowcaps. Which although impressive, completely passed me by. I completely missed that sale. Now with CMYKeys I got into the beta sale on July the 20th. After paying on the 20th of July, I received them on the 11th of August.
I was very excited to get these as I am with any artisan keycaps. They arrived in a rather large cardboard box. Something that I never expect for these but seems to be the emerging trend. Although I got them a while ago I have waited a little longer to do this spotlight as they are modifier keys and are in high usage spots on my HHKB. This is a spotlight, but I have done a little testing in the process. The testing was to see how these keycaps held up under high usage.

CMYKeys Box Outside

The keys I got were the HHKB Base Set, which contained 2x Alt, 2x Fn and 2x shift keys. This also came with a bonus keycap which was R4 magenta. They came in a small plastic bag with a branded sticker. These small touches always impress me and make unboxing these a joy. This coupled with the invoice was the only branding that comes with the caps. I was particularly happy with the invoice for some reason.

Artisan CMYKeys Mod Pack in Bag KeyKollective invoice with signature

Colour

One thing I like about these keys is the colour. I am a fan of the CMY colorway so was looking forward to getting these. They are not as bright as the GMK ABS but more subdued. At this point you should remember that these are the beta keys, so these may not be how KeyKollectiv wants the final product to look like. I think I received a nice selection of colours. I’m not sure whether these were made with the same batch of resin, but its clear a lot of effort has gone into colour matching.

The Cast

An overall judgement on the casts is that they are very impressive. I cannot see and faults or bubbles, let alone any overt seams. This adds to a nice feel of quality. There is some cutting marks around the bottom edges but I don’t think it is too noticeable.

Another triumph of these caps is the stems. Topre stems are a little annoying and you can make them work a couple of ways. KeyKollectiv have just added a small bridge between the two clips. What this does is add strength but also maintains the click when they are in position. I think this is the better way to make Topre stems and you can see it used on Topre Clacks. The Alt’s have noticeably thicker bridges. All this means is there is less of an audible click. But I will commend then on the fact that they still fit very well.

KEYkollectiv CMYKeys Modpack underside shot

KeyKollective Red FN Underside Artisan Keycap HHKB Blue Alt Artisan KeyKollectiv Topre

I have yet to decide whether maintaining the click is better than just fulling the centre completely These caps are at the limit of how thick you can make Topre caps. You do not get a lot of room to work with due to the HHKB’s ‘plate’. Although they have been bulked they don’t catch or hinder the keys from fully depressing.

I really like the underside of these caps. There is not a perfect dome but it sort of characterful. This may be subjective as it does not look perfect. You can tell that this is a handmade item that someone has worked on. This is what sets aside artisan keycaps from regular keyset injection moulded keycaps. Thought has been put in, and you can tell. But I can also see the other side of this, getting a perfectly hand cast keycap can be just as rewarding. What this come down to is, I like this sort of ‘imperfection’.

Closup of Topre Artisan Underside

The other thing you will notice on the underside is the KeyKollectiv mark. You can see it as a small spider, but my guess is its two K’s back to back. Very nice.

KeyKollectiv Artisan Mark Here I tried to get a close up shot

My set on my HHKB amongst my own b-stock. You can see that they stand out quite a bit. HHKB In a collection of Artisan Keycaps with KeyKollectiv mods

Here is a video to get some idea of them in action.

What I can conclude from typing on them for around a week, is that they feel really nice. The sound is perfect and makes them perfectly at home with a stock Topre set. When it comes to the texture, this is a nice replication of what you will find on a regular keyset. In the prominent places they are, I have found them very pleasant to type on.

This is not the last you will see of KeyKollectiv.


Typed on the Novatouch

I thought with the looming launch of an exciting new switch, that I would find out a bit more about them. It’s not too long but I think this is a nice read into the upcoming switches. If you don’t know what zealios are, this should be a good introduction.

Photo by Lastpilot

Who is Zeal? For those who don’t know? What are you known for etc?

Hi, I’m Henry, and I run Zeal PC at ZealPC.net. I’ve been known for my custom USB cables, GMK Dolch keycaps, Ducky Dyesub keycaps, Springs, Lube, Green Tea Kit Kats, etc. Basically anything related to keyboards and Kit Kat!

Your recent project is a new switch. This is an ambitious project and I don’t think this has happened before. There was talk of an ergoclear but MOQ was too high. What is this new switch? (just for introduction sake)

Indeed, this is an ambitious project and is probably one of the first community-developed switch! This new “Zealio” switch is what I like to call an “improved” version of the Ergo Clear switch. It’s been built from the ground up with keyboard enthusiasts in mind. I’ve implemented all the pros and omitted all the cons that people have mentioned about the Ergo Clear switch.

Are the LED’s going to be sold with the switches?

The RGB LEDs will be sold once an aftermarket RGB LED PCB has been developed. For now, RGB LEDs will not be bundled with Zealio switches.

Are these automatically colour changing LED’s or do they require a separate controller?

Controllable RGB LEDs have a few controllers on the PCB side to make them work properly. The videos I’ve released so far have simply been an auto-changing RGB LED fit inside the switch, powered off a 3v button cell battery.

What motivated this project?

I was unhappy with the feeling of current generation Cherry switches. They were scratchy, inconsistent, and overall hard to source. The lack of Cherry switches pushed me to look for alternatives, and that’s when I stumbled upon Gateron. That’s when the magic started. :)

Photo by Lastpilot

Is this all you or are there others involved?

Zeal PC is currently a one man show, but depending on how things move forward, I’m sure there will be more people joining the team!

Are they officially named zealios?

I guess you can say that. :)) The name “Zealio” started in one of the keyboard Skype groups I was in, and the name sort of stuck ever since. The switch obviously will have a long and lengthy part number, but for all intents and purposes, “Zealio” or “Purple Gaterons” should get the message across.

Will they be available in PCB and plate mount variations?

At this stage, only PCB mount Zealios will be made. If the user has a PCB that doesn’t support PCB mount supporting pins, they can simply snip them off with a flush cutter. It would be redundant to make a plate mounted bottom mould for the switch.

How long has this project been under way?

I’ve been discussing this project with Gateron since the beginning of 2015. It wasn’t until early March did I start showing little snips of a picture I had taken of the first linear “Zealio” alpha-stage prototype switch. I released a small picture puzzle piece every day until April 1st, where I posted all the pieces to the puzzle. Then updates went silent until the end of July when the Purple Zealio prototype was complete and revealed.

What was the process of talking to Gateron to get these made?

I won’t be disclosing too much information here. Just know that it consisted of multiple emails, phone calls, samples sent back and forth as well as an on-site visit!

Has this been a costly project?

Yes, it’s been costly. But it will be worth it, and I’m sure the community will benefit from it!

Why did you settle on the zealios current specs? Tactile 62g Was this always the choice?

Before I even touched the Zealio switches, my goal was to replicate a smooth, vintage 62g lubed ergo clear. I thought my mind was set on 62g Zealios. However after receiving samples of 62g, 65g and 67g, making the decision has been tough. All three weights have its own unique characteristic. There’s a chance all three weights will make it to the final production, but there’s no guarantees.

Why purple?

Long long time ago, hidden somewhere in Deskthority/GeekHack, there was talk that Cherry would make “Purple” ergo-clear switches if they received a 750k switch order. I’m not sure where that post went, or who provided that figure, but it’s been talked about enough to end up in the DT Cherry MX Ergo Clear wiki. I thought it would be fun to make that legend into a reality, and here we are now with Purple Zealios. There’s also the fact that at the time of designing the switch, no other switch manufacturer has used purple yet for their stem.

Photo by Lastpilot

Is this the first of many? Is there the possibility of more switches coming from zeal and/or Gateron.

The first wave of Project Zealio will come in Linear and tactile variants. There may be a new clicky switch that can be made, but I’ll have to see the response of the current Zealio switches.

When can we expect them to be on sale and for what price?

The projected start date of the GB Pre-order is before the end of August. Price per switch for the GB/Pre-order will be $0.75USD + shipping.

Do you see these switches being around for a long time? Or is this just dependent on demand?

I plan on keeping these switches constantly stocked for a good while. It wouldn’t be wise to invest so much into new moulds, only to do one production run with them!

Are you going to make them available to other vendors such as olkb? This could result in zealplancks and what not.

Vendors are welcome to purchase the switches from the GB Pre-order, or afterwards at a higher retail price. The switches however, will be solely distributed by Zeal PC.

Will you be selling these switches in kits for keyboards and possibly keyboards pre-built with these?

There’s a possibility, but as it stands, these will be switches for the end-user to mod into keyboards. If there’s a new project or keyboard kit that arises, I’ll be sure to let the community know.

Will these be shipping with any new snacks?

It will depend on when Zealios start shipping! Kit Kats are prone to melting under warm weather, so I might have to look into some hard candy. We’ll see…

Do you have any future plans for zealpc.net that you can reveal?

No future plans have been finalized or disclosed yet. Though if Zealios take off, there might be something extra up my sleeves!

Well I can confidently say that I am looking forward to getting some zealios. But I also need a keyboard to put them on. Thanks to Zeal for answering my questions and to Lastpilot for letting me use his photos.


Typed on the Novatouch