- Typing Test
- Packaging, Unboxing, and Contents
- External Build
- Internal Build
- Layout and Function Keys
- Summary & Conclusion
- Full Gallery
- Where to Buy
I first wrote about Royal Kludge last month when I learned of their new RC930-87 and RC930-104 Topre clone keyboards. In fact, it was the first time I’d heard the company’s (very bizarre) name at all. Although Royal Kludge’s official website has a “2006-2014” copyright date, they only entered the mechanical keyboard business last year. Searching Reddit and GeekHack for “Royal Kludge” turns up nothing prior to 2014.
Let me tell you, they’re making quite an entrance.
The RC930-87 and RC930-104 (tenkeyless and full-size models, respectively) use capacitive switches à la Topre but with Cherry MX compatible keycap stems. This immediately piqued my interest for three reasons. First, Topre switch keyboards are very expensive and well-regarded. A good quality clone at a fraction of the price would be a great addition to the marketplace. Second, the availability of Topre replacement keycaps is pitiful compared to Cherry MX. A hybrid switch design offers the best of both worlds: the typing feel of a premium Topre keyboard with the ability to use readily available Cherry MX keysets. Third, only one such hybrid previously existed (not counting the poorly reviewed Noppoo clone)–the CM Storm NovaTouch. Bring on the competition.
But things got really gnarly when I saw the price. The CM Storm Novatouch uses genuine Topre switches, not copies, but its street price is around $180. The Royal Kludge RC930-87, on the other hand, sells for 550 yuan, or about $90. Half the price.
But that’s not all. In addition to copying the Novatouch’s hybrid switches, the RC930-87 adds RGB backlighting and full programmability, features which the Novatouch lacks entirely.
“So you’re telling me the RC930-87 is a Novatouch with RGB backlighting and programmability for half the price?”
Yeah, that’s what I’m telling you. That’s what it is on paper, at least. Does it live up to the hype in reality? Well, I finally got my hands on an RC930-87, so read on to find the answer. 🙂
Note that my unit is the tenkeyless, RGB backlit, 45g version, but this board is also available with full-size, non-backlit, and 55g options.
Packaging, Unboxing, and Contents
The RC930-87 comes packaged in an unassuming, color printed cardboard box. I suspect the RK’s packaging was inspired by Realforce, which also packages its TKLs in plain brown printed boxes.
Externally, the package has a tight feel; it doesn’t have any lopsided hollow spaces, and every surface is firm, giving the impression of quality despite the low price. Internally, the box is cushioned on all four edges, with the main surface areas of the keyboard protected by bubble wrap. I’m a firm believer that the product experience begins as soon as you see and touch a product’s packaging, and I was pleased by what I saw. It’s nowhere near as opulent as the Novatouch’s jet-black embossed and magnetically-closed box, or the Das Keyboard 4C’s glossy, white minimalist packaging, but it’s not lacking in quality. The brown cardboard also subtly suggests use of recycled materials, but coming from China, that’s probably not the case.
The contents of the box are, however, as sparse as its external décor. All you get is the keyboard (with a non-detachable, gold-plated USB cable with velcro tie), instructions, and warranty card. No spare keycaps or key puller here, and I particularly wished for the latter when I wanted to pull a keycap on the RK but couldn’t find my usual puller. I guess at this price, there are no extras. Also, the instructions are in Chinese, not English. This was an inconvenience for me since it forced me to learn all of the RK’s features through experimentation, but luckily, I’ve documented all features in this review so you won’t have to repeat the struggle. 🙂
When I first heard about the RC930, I was worried it’d be a creaky, weak piece of shit like the discontinued Ducky XM Alps keyboards. Those things make my teeth feel loose every time I type on them. Fortunately, that’s not true of the RK. It feels about 90% as solid as a CM Storm QFR, and maybe 85% as solid as a KUL ES-87. If you grab it with both hands and twist, it has minimal give and little to no creaking. The KUL is an absolute tank, so it’s not a knock on the RK to say it’s 85% as solid.
I will grant that the surface of the case is a bit odd. It’s got an unconventional, somewhat shiny texture; it’s a black that looks silver under bright light. It’s not necessarily bad, but I personally would’ve preferred a matte texture. The top half of the case seems mostly resistant to fingerprints. The underside of the keyboard is smoother and shows fingerprints more easily, but this should be mostly irrelevant since it’ll be against a desk 99% of the time.
Reverse side (rubber pads, feet, etc.)
Unlike what PFU did with the bottom of the HHKB, I’m a fan of what Royal Kludge did with the reverse side of the RC930-87. It features a minimalist label in the middle, four anti-skid rubber feet, a 3-way cable routing system, two flip-out feet, and a write-protect switch.
When I reviewed the HHKB, I noted that the flip-out feet have coarse hinges that when flipped open, sound like shattering plastic. I lamented that it doesn’t share the high quality rubber tipped feet of the Leopold FC660C. Well, I’m happy to say the Royal Kludge’s feet are much more like the Leopold’s than the HHKB’s. They flip out with a satisfying smooth action and clunk, and are rubber tipped so the keyboard doesn’t slide around when propped up.
The 3-way cable routing system is, I think, another hat tip to the Realforce 87u. You can route the permanently attached USB cable straight out the back, or to either side depending on the arrangement of your workspace. However, I would have preferred a detachable cable instead. (Apparently some models do have detachable cables, but I haven’t been able to determine which ones. Anyone know?)
The write-protect switch is located next to the cable attachment, and determines whether the keyboard’s layout can be reprogrammed using RK’s downloadable software utility. 1 = protected, 0 = unprotected. More on that shortly.
The RC930-87 has no DIP switches, USB pass-through ports, or any other additional features on its case.
The RC930-87 RGB comes with thin ABS keycaps with translucent legends. They appear to actually be doubleshot, rather than black mask painted like some stock backlit keycaps, but let me be clear: You’re not buying this board for the keycaps. They’re very thin, have hideous legends, and a coating that’s easily scratched. Presumably, you’re buying this keyboard to take advantage of its massive keycap compatibility, and I do recommend switching out the caps as soon as possible.
The RC930-87 has a standard key layout with a 6.25x spacebar and 1.25x modifier keys, so it’s compatible with pretty much every aftermarket Cherry MX keycap set in production.
Like many backlit keyboards, the RC930 has a considerable amount of backlight bleed. That is, the LED lighting doesn’t just come through the translucent legends, but it also comes through gaps between and under the keys. In particular, the spacebar’s LED likes to shine out under the lip of the spacebar directly into your eye. It’s not that bright and it’s less bothersome if the backlight is set to a dark color, but it may be a factor for some folks. It doesn’t have a nice, even glow, such as what WASD achieved by painting its CODE plates white.
I fully disassembled the RC930-87 to take a closer look at its components. Here’s what stood out to me:
- Soldering on the PCB looks good. Very little leftover flux.
- Soldering on the USB controller looks less good–seems to have been done by hand or at a different factory. Considerably more flux and residue on this part.
- The rubber domes are all integral to one big translucent sheet, unlike genuine Topre boards where they’re either all individual pieces or multiple “zones” of connected domes.
- The switch plate is metal, but thin. Prior to opening the case, I had wondered if it might actually be plastic. Happily it’s not.
The fixed cable has no real strain relief mechanism inside the case.EDIT: Although the cable isn’t routed around any strain-reliving posts inside the case, it does have a rubberized strain relief connector that protects the cable by locking between the case’s seam.
Overall, my impression is that the internal build quality is fine, and on par with similarly priced keyboards, but unremarkable. If you’re interested in opening your RK, note that it has no screws, it’s held together purely by clips. To open it up, get a metal butter knife and carefully work it into and around the case’s seam, popping the clips open one by one.
I think ultimately one’s enjoyment of these switches is a matter of expectation management. If you buy an RK hoping to replicate the feel of a genuine Topre keyboard, you’ll likely be disappointed because it’s not the same. But if you think of it as its own capacitive switch, loosely inspired by Topre but at half the price, you might be pretty surprised at the value you’re getting. It’s not a bad switch to type on at all, unlike, say, Cherry MY, it’s just that genuine Topre is a really tough act to follow.
Topre switch design
A Topre switch (or clone) comprises a rubber dome atop a spring, all atop a PCB. The rubber dome defines the feeling of the key press; the spring is extremely thin and light and only serves to enable the capacitive mechanism by which the keyboard registers key presses. In this way, Topre is a rubber dome keyboard–albeit a very high quality one that feels a thousand times better than your average HP or Dell keyboard. Read more about Topre switches here: Topre switches.
Typing experience / Key feel and sound
Here’s the part you’ve been waiting for. 🙂 Do the RK’s capacitive switches feel the same as their authentic Topre counterparts?
In a word, no, but that’s not necessarily a deal breaker. Hear me out.
Generally, Topre is described as having rapidly building resistance at the top of the keystroke that quickly decreases to near zero after the underlying rubber dome collapses. In other words, it’s nice and tactile, but once you overcome the cup rubber underneath, it bottoms out quickly. And it’s all extremely smooth. The bottoming-out action produces an aural thock, the signature noise for which Topre is famous. If you’re not familiar with the thock, you can hear it in action here:
The Royal Kludge has a distinctly different feel and sound than any of the genuine Topre boards I’ve tried. In terms of feel, it’s less tactile at the top of the stroke, lighter, and has a slightly shorter throw. It feels almost exactly like a dental banded Topre keyboard, and in fact, that’s because the RK is dental banded out of the box. In terms of sound, it produces more of a “whoosh” than a “thock,” and sometimes it even sounds like a whistle.
Another way one might describe these switches is something like a super-smooth MX Brown.
So no, these switches don’t provide a faithful reproduction of the Topre sound and feel. They’re:
- Less tactile, more linear
- Less thocky
- More whooshy and whistly
- Still very smooth, with a cushioned bottom-out
- In short, not quite capturing that je ne sais quoi / mystery sauce of genuine Topre
I think ultimately one’s enjoyment of these switches is a matter of expectation management. If you buy an RK hoping to replicate the feel of a genuine Topre keyboard, you’ll likely be disappointed because it’s not the same. But if you think of it as its own capacitive switch, loosely inspired by Topre but at half the price, you might be pretty surprised at the value you’re getting. It’s not a bad switch to type on at all, unlike, say, Cherry MY, it’s just that genuine Topre is a really tough act to follow. So again, it’s a matter of managing your expectations.
(Keep in mind my review unit has 45g weighting. There’s also a 55g version available, which may feel more like authentic Topre. I haven’t tried it so I’m not sure.)
In terms of volume, the Royal Kludge is about as loud, or maybe slightly louder, than a regular rubber dome keyboard. It’s not as loud or disruptive as most MX switches. It should be OK for most office and roommate situations, although some folks may be put off by the slightly “whistly” sound the keys sometimes make.
Finger fatigue should not be an issue on the RK. I’ve rarely heard complaints about 45g Topre being too heavy, and these 45g RK switches feel at least 5g lighter than 45g Topre.
Slider Swap Potential
A lot of folks were excited to buy a Novatouch not to use as-is, but to cannibalize and repurpose its sliders to convert a different Topre board to use Cherry MX keycaps. If the RK were similarly compatible, it would be a great and cheap source of parts. Unfortunately, the RC930 only half works for this purpose. While its sliders can be swapped into 1x switches on Topre boards, you’re out of luck for stabilized keys. The Novatouch’s stabilizer modules are fully swappable with genuine Topre stabilizer modules, but the RC930 uses a totally incompatible, Costar-style stabilizer design, as shown below.
Below is a genuine Topre stem (left) vs. an RK copy (right).
Here’s a Cherry MX red Esc on an RK slider in my HHKB. Works fine, but like I said, stabilized keys are a no-go.
Wut happens if remove dental bands?
As I mentioned, the RC930-87 comes dental banded (silenced) from the factory. This means it has rubber o-rings on its stems, positioned to dampen the upstroke sound. I wondered if removing these o-rings would make the board more Topre-like, so I tried it.
So… it sort of helps. It’s not a night and day difference but it does sound a little more like genuine Topre, the keyword being “a little.” It was, however, a big pain in the butt, and I probably wouldn’t bother to do it over again. For some reason it also caused my spacebar to start clacking hard against the case, so I had to install a small rubber bumper.
Layout and Function Keys
The RC930-87 is a TKL (“tenkeyless“) keyboard, meaning that it’s got everything you’d expect from a full-size board except the numpad. If you do heavy data entry with your numpad, look elsewhere, but if you’re willing to trade your numpad for more desk space and less arm/shoulder abduction, then a TKL is your jam.
As I mentioned earlier, the RC930-87 has a totally standard key layout, which is great news for keycap lovers–the RK is compatible with nearly any currently produced Cherry MX keycap set (e.g., anything from Signature Plastics, GMK, Tai Hao, etc.). If you have a vintage set or a set you’re not sure will fully cover the RK, check out my form factor/layout guide or post a comment here and I’ll help you.
As a TKL, the RC930-87 may be a short keyboard, but one thing it’s not short on is function keys. Let’s take a look at them one-by-one:
- Mute – FN+Q (Windows only)
- Volume Down – Fn+W(Windows only)
- Volume Up – Fn+E (Windows only)
- Play/Pause – Fn+A (Windows only)
- Previous track – Fn+S (Windows only)
- Next track – Fn+D (Windows only)
- Stop – Fn+F (Windows only)
Keyboard Key Lock
- Lock all keys – Fn+Esc (press again to release)
- My Computer – Fn+F1
- WWW Home – Fn+F2
- Calculator – Fn+F3
- Web Favorites – Fn+F4
- Email – Fn+F5
- WWW Search – Fn+F6
- Sleep – Fn+F7
- Lock Windows – Fn+F11
- Caps/Control swap – Fn+F8
- “Function key response regulate” – Fn+F9 (I haven’t figured this one out yet)
- Toggle backlight on and off – Fn+F10
- 6KRO/NKRO toggle – Fn+F12
- Control – Fn+Caps Lock
- Caps Lock – Fn+Left Control
The Esc key has an encircled “M” on it, which I first thought was some kind of backlight memory function. However, it’s not a function at all. Turns out the Esc key has a side-LED light that illuminates when the write-protect switch on the bottom of the keyboard is turned off, enabling programming via the software utility. The “M” just marks this LED’s position.
Notably, the NKRO mode works great in both Windows and OSX. Sometimes the keyboard locks up for a few seconds after switching modes; this is normal.
I’ll also note that although this keyboard doesn’t support OSX function keys, it does work just fine under OSX in all other respects. UPDATE: Although most of the F-row function keys don’t work in OSX, the volume keys do. Also, note that this keyboard doesn’t work at the OSX login screen! I am not yet sure why, but keep this in mind if you have an OSX machine!
The RC930-87 features RGB backlighting, but isn’t quite as flexible as a Corsair RGB or a Razer RGB. There are a couple important things to know here.
First, understand that the backlighting works on a per-zone basis. Zones include:
- Alphas, excluding WASD
- Nav cluster + F keys
This means that you can assign a color of your choice to each zone, but you can’t control keys individually. So, your keyboard can display a maximum of four different colors at any given time. Here’s an example.
Second, understand that backlight programming is split between on-board functionality and the downloadable software utility. On-board backlighting features allow you to control all four zones, change brightness, access day/night modes, use two different breathing modes, and adjust their speed. However, you’re limited to only 7 colors (ROYGBIV). If you want to access all available colors, you have to use the downloadable software utility. How many colors is that, exactly? I don’t have a good way to measure, but it looks like A Lot™. RK doesn’t claim “16.8 million colors” anywhere, so I’m guessing it’s not full 24-bit like the Corsairs were supposed to be, but it’s definitely lots more than the 7 built in colors. (Side note: If any hardware-oriented folks know of a good way to count, let me know.)
I will note that the colors selected with the utility’s color picker don’t always look the same on the keyboard’s LEDs, but you can easily tweak the color picker to achieve what you want. Hopefully they’ll fix this in a future update.
So in short, all backlighting controls are on board, EXCEPT colors. You need the software for colors beyond the 7 built in.
Below is the full list of backlight function keys on the RC930-87, and a video demonstration of the different on-board features. I’ll be posting another video within the next week with a full tutorial on the software utility, which is also used for programming keys.
- Backlight breathing speed up – Fn+Left Arrow (only usable when in breathing or 7-color breathing modes)
- Backlight breathing speed down – Fn+Right Arrow (ditto)
- Backlight brightness up – Fn+Up Arrow (only usable when breathing is off)
- Backlight brightness down – Fn+Down Arrow (ditto)
- Switch between the software programmed and on-board programmed backlight mode – Fn+`
- Toggle zone 1 color while in on-board mode – Fn+1
- Toggle zone 2 color while in on-board mode – Fn+2
- Toggle zone 3 color while in on-board mode – Fn+3
- Toggle zone 4 color while in on-board mode – Fn+4
- Toggle all zones simultaneously while in on-board mode – Fn+8
- Toggle backlight breathing – Fn+5
- Switch between day/night/on-board programmed modes – Fn+6
- Toggle 7-color breathing mode – Fn+7
The RC930-87 really shines here. Though all programming requires the downloadable software utility (as opposed to on-board programming like on the Poker 2), the RK is more flexible than almost any other current programmable retail model. It has two layers–a main and a function layer, and every key can be individually programmed on both layers–you can even move the Fn key itself or create multiple Fn keys. All of this is accomplished in the keyboard’s firmware; it’s not “fake” software-based remapping. Write protection is governed by an I/O switch on the bottom of the keyboard–when it’s set to 0, the keyboard can be programmed.
The software is pretty good–I found a few bugs but overall it’s easier to use than most firmware remapping programs for Korean customs. One tricky thing is that the software still reports programming success even when the write protect switch is on, which can lead to some confusion.
In addition to basic 1:1 key programming, you can also choose from 3 different modes:
- Combo: Make a single key press up to 6 programmed keys simultaneously
- Macro: Make a single key replay a <=30 character macro, in real-time
- Emulate: Make a single key replay a <=30 character macro, as fast as possible (no real-time delay)
There are also some neat additional function keys you can program, such as mouse controls (directional & clicking). 🙂 This isn’t unprecedented, but it’s pretty rare, especially for a non-Korean custom keyboard.
Really, the RC930-87 is almost as programmable as a Teensy–the only difference is that you’re limited to 2 layers. But if you can live with that, it’s amazing programming functionality for a $100 keyboard. It even matches up well against the upcoming Pok3r, which is expected to have similar capabilities but 3 layers instead of 2.
I’ll be making a full video tutorial soon for the downloadable software utility, in which I’ll fully explain how to use backlighting and programming, so stay tuned. That’ll appear on KeyChatter’s home page when it’s ready, and I’ll update this page, too.
Summary & Conclusion
- It’s MX-compatible capacitive with RGB backlighting and full programmability for about $100
- Available with many options, including backlit/non, ABS/POM, 45g/55g, TKL/full-size
- Good build quality overall
- Dope per-zone RGB backlighting, most controls on board (maybe a con since not per-key)
- Dope full programmability in 2 layers, with combos, macros, emulation, mouse mode, and more
- Standard layout w/ MX compatible sliders, so compatible with nearly any keycap set
- Good packaging
- Works on Win and OSX
- Software has an English mode, unlike the instructions
- 3-way cable routing system
- Nice rubber anti-skid pads and flip-out feet
- Metal plate
- Silenced/dental banded from the factory (maybe a con?)
- Tenkeyless form factor is compact and ergonomic (maybe a con since no numpad? If so, get the 104 key version)
- Lots of multimedia keys
- NKRO mode works well
- Several backlight breathing modes
- It ain’t a perfect copy of Topre
- Included keycaps are basically throw-aways
- Case texture is a little bit weird
- Instructions in Chinese
- No extras in package
- No detachable cable
- Backlight bleed
- Metal plate is thin
- Keyboard doesn’t work at OSX login screen
- Not a replacement for Novatouch for slider harvesting
- No numpad (maybe a pro?)
- Need software to get more than 7 backlight colors
- Figuring out how to operate backlight modes is hard without instructions/an example (I will be posting a tutorial video soon)
Overall, the RC930-87 offers pretty amazing bang-for-buck. It ain’t Topre, so don’t set yourself up for disappointment by hoping it will be, but switches aside, where else can you get RGB backlighting and full programmability for $100?
What are your thoughts on the KLUDGE? Let me know in the comments.
Final score: 7/10