Can the Realforce R2 keyboard replace the HHKB?

The Realforce is great, but is it great enough?

The Realforce R2

I’m convinced that the greatest modern keyboard is the Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional.

The HHKB is tiny, well-made, and uses Topre, the fanciest of switches. But, it doesn’t have dedicated arrow keys. It doesn’t have dedicated function keys. And it uses an unusual layout that works great, but can be confusing when switching between various keyboards (e.g. the HHKB and the MacBook Air).

I started looking for a different keyboard. I wanted Topre switches and a more standard layout. I also wanted arrow keys. I found the Realforce R2 TKL.

The Realforce R2 is very expensive and the Mac version is hard to find. I ended up ordering mine from an eBay seller in Japan and it arrived a week ago. I’ve had a chance to use it for many hours so far, and it’s great, but I’m not sure it can replace the HHKB permanently. Here’s why.

The R2 is built very well. It’s heavy, solid, and, while unassuming, looks great. The Topre switches are everything I’d expect. And look at those arrow keys! I like having function keys that double as controllers for volume, playback, brightess, etc. And there’s a single dedicated key for swapping between function key modes.

So what’s the problem?

Well, there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s a great keyboard. The issues I’m having are minor and I don’t know how significant they’ll be over time, but still…

The larger keyboard puts me farther away from the trackpad. I didn’t realize how great it was with the HHKB to have the trackpad right next to where I’m typing. Like right next to it. Those few inches of extra reach thousands of times a day make a noticeable difference.

The Escape key is too far away, also. Again, just an extra inch or two but as a Vim mode user, Escape is one of my most-frequently used keys. (No, I’m not changing the vim bindings.)

The Realforce keys have variable resistance, meaning the outside keys, used mostly with a pinky, require less pressure to activate than the centermost keys. This is noticeable and mostly a good thing, but the outer keys are so very sensitive that I often accidentally type a “;” just by resting my fingers on the home row.

And what about those arrow keys? Well again, they’re a tad far away. The arrow keys on the HHKB are accessed via a function layer, which was a pain to learn, but they are so close to the home row that I’m starting to wonder if it’s worth the trouble of having to reach for them. I mean, I’ve already gone through the learning curve and have gotten good at using them on the HHKB.

The strangest thing I’ve noticed is that with all those extra keys hanging off the right side, it feels like I’m using the R2 off-center. I know, it shouldn’t matter, but I notice it. It feels off, somehow.

The Realforce R2 and HHKB

Anyway, none of these issues are deal-breakers. The Realforce R2 is a fabulous keyboard. I highly recommend it, but I’m not sure I love it as much as I do the HHKB.