Author Topic: Leopold FC980C Review  (Read 6001 times)

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Offline Zeroblade

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Leopold FC980C Review
« on: Tue, 12 June 2018, 08:43:30 »
Hi everyone, mainly a lurker here but I decided to do a writeup on the FC980C because I have nowhere else to wax poetic about keyboards.

PREAMBLE

I got into "nice" keyboards about 4 years ago with the purchase of a Filco Majestouch 2 LE with yellow caps + MX Blues. I also try to keep my collection tight because owning 20 keyboards feels weirder than owning 20 pens, so this is just my third "nice" keyboard, my second also being a Leopold, but the Chinese-made FC660C with MX Clears. I fell in love with medium-hard tactile quiet(ish) switches, and barely use the Filco now LOL.
After reading people gushing about Topres, I've long wanted to try the "magic" of Topre switches myself, but they aren't available locally in the Philippines. The emergence of the Kira EXS and Kickstarter keyboards picqued my interest due to their nice, condensed layouts, so I've been quite curious about both ever since. I also joined the KS but that comes out in like October at the earliest -- geez, who can wait that long?.
During one of my usual trips to Japan for a few concerts (im@s Million Live 5th), I remembered the existence of this keyboard, as it combines both aspects that I've been curious about: the 1800 layout and Topre. After a bit of hunting in some of the Tsukumo branches, I ended up taking home an FC980C to the dismay of my credit card (it came out to 27,000 JPY including discounts and tax-free). It's been with me for the past ~10 days now.





DESIGN

The board comes in both black on black and off-white/grey on off-white schemes. I personally find the black a bit boring, and I do love the retro aesthetic in the latter. I think it captures the Model M-like feel very well in color scheme, while maintaining the compact modern styling. The lack of any obnoxious logos is highly appreciated.
The case is a simple affair. A slanted ivory/eggshell-white slab with a very smooth, rocky texture not unlike the Filco Majestouch 2's. Corners are chamfered just enough that there are no sharp edges on topside. The way the LEDs are slightly muted and also flush inside the case is a great touch and preserves the sharp lines.
The off-white is a lot more off-white than most keyboards, as it has a warm, yellowish hue to it as well. It's a little tough to get properly on photos as it always screws up the camera's white balance. Leopold's aim was probably to replicate the aged look of the old Model Ms, minus the coffee stains. Both keys and case use the same color, while modifiers, nav cluster, and partial F-row keys using the dark grey, which lends a nice touch of contrast to what would have been otherwise a very boring board. The front of the case also has the formula for electrocapacitance printed on, a nod to the use of Topre's fancy membra-- err, electrocapacitive switches.





The dyesub printed-PBT offers excellent legibility, even with the black-on-dark grey keys. The Fn alternate key mappings are also side-printed on the keys in case you forget which is what. A nice touch. Legends themselves are also clean and sharp, with no smudges. I just wish these used Cherry MX-compatible stems like the Realforce RGB so I could use my other keycaps on it. However, the stock caps look incredibly nice on it already and I doubt I'll feel the need to switch them out anyway.
The back of the board has the port for the USB cable plus some cable routing channels. Unfortunately the channels and port are all quite cramped, which means you can't use any fancy custom cables. I don't, and fancy cables wouldn't suit the look anyway, so it doesn't bother me. Rubber feet are present on all four corners, and the legs also come equipped with rubber. Dipswitches are present for the usual enthusiast functionalities. One nitpick I have is that the cable routing channels come out the sides of the keyboard, rather than the rear. Like, why?





LAYOUT

I believe this is the first production keyboard inspired by the Cherry G80-1800 series layout. And I do say inspired, because it's not exactly the same, with only 4 keys + LEDs atop the numpad instead of the 8 keys.
Spacing between the different sections of the board feels quite spot-on, with enough space for it them to be distinctly spaced apart, but tight enough to maintain the compactness of the layout. Having the num/caps/scroll LEDs in between the nav cluster and numpad is also a smart move, as it keeps the bezel from being unnecessarily large on any side.

BUILD QUALITY

Being used to Costar's level of quality, I was expecting a similar level of solidness and rigidity in the case, but this is even one step further than that. The Chinese Leopold has a feeling of solidness inside, but the plastic case feels to be on the cheaper side. The Filco is much more solid all the way through, but there is a very, very mild level of flex and creak if you twist the case. Meanwhile, the FC980C is absolutely rock solid. No flex, no creak. You could probably kill someone with it (please don't).



The keycaps are dyesub PBT, though on the thin side. I wasn't expecting much, but there is a noticeable weightiness to them that I don't get even in my GMK Dolch set (doubleshot ABS). The latter feel light and airy, while the PBT feels more "grounded" -- not that one or the other is good or bad, just a matter of preference. Extrusion marks are present, but not at all noticeable when the caps are installed on the board. The stems and switches are also well-made without any noticeable defects.
Although the stock cable is unremarkable, it does do its job. It is unfortunate that you can't use nice custom ones, but that's a little too high level for me anyway.

TYPING EXPERIENCE

Coming from a full 104-key ANSI and a 68%, I was expecting some level of adjustment. As expected, I did have some issues, especially the slightly offset arrow keys as well as the 1.0 unit 0 key on the numpad, but I've already gotten used to it after a week of use.
The feel of Topres is definitely interesting. A lot of people say it's heaven, others say it's just glorified membranes; the truth as always, lies somewhere in between. Coming from primarily a background of MX Blues and MX Clears, and having tried the variable, and the 30g, 45g, 55g weighted switches, I honestly prefer the Realforce 55g's weight a little more, as it's closest to the MX Clear. These feel closer to 50g rather than 45g, as they offer a noticeably harder bump than on, say, MX Browns.
The tactile bump comes quite immediately on the very smooth downstroke, with very little resistance until the bottom out, which has just a very slight cushiony feel from the membrane dome. The uptravel is actually kind of nice, as you can feel the spring almost supporting your fingers back up -- rather than you exerting the effort of lifting your fingers, you only have to release the tension for the key to spring back up.



After nearly 2 weeks of use, I brought out the FC660M, and immediately noticed the huge difference in smoothness between the MX Clears and the Topres. The Clears also feel a little wobblier from the switch quality, and stickier due to the tactile bump. Again, I would have liked it if the Topres were a bit stiffer like the Realforce 55g but the difference in resistance is not so egregious that I can't use them. Certainly I would take these over MX Blues any day of the year.
Sound-wise, these have that Topre "thock" that every one likes, but it's not as iconic as the HHKB's deep, thick sound. About 80% of the sound comes from the upstroke. While the downstroke is on the quieter, deeper side, the upstroke is a little more light and hollow-sounding. In comparison, the MX Clears on the FC660M are a little louder and sound rather clacky, with a light and hollow sound all the way through. And we all of course know how obnoxiously loud MX Blues are (though I have placed O-rings on mine to muffle the bottoming out, at least).



CONCLUSION

Overall, with the initial experience, I'm quite satisfied with the keyboard:
The build is second to none for a production keyboard, it is rock solid. The layout is slightly non-conventional, but offers full functionality in a very compact size. The white/gray color scheme offers retro styling in a very modern shape.
Keycaps, though thin, are PBT so they should maintain their texture for longer. I wish the stems were MX-compatible, but the stock keycaps are already excellent. Although the USB cable and routing is so-so, it's not particularly bad unless you really want to use fancier cables.
The typing experience is definitely unique, though it's not life-changing as many would have you believe. Right now I still prefer the resistance and tactility of the MX Clears, but the Topre smoothness is fantastic, and the combination of the thock-like sound with the smoothness of the actuations is definitely something that grows on you.

Offline xtregress

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Re: Leopold FC980C Review
« Reply #1 on: Tue, 12 June 2018, 09:51:21 »
Detailed and heartfelt review. Thanks.

Sent from my MI 6 using Tapatalk


Offline barrel

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Re: Leopold FC980C Review
« Reply #2 on: Tue, 12 June 2018, 19:30:52 »
If it feels remotely like my FC660C Then I'm sure you'll continue being happy with it, I would recommend for yout o get an FC660C to compare to your FC660M, It's nicer to make a comparison of Topre to MX Based :)

Offline Zeroblade

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Re: Leopold FC980C Review
« Reply #3 on: Wed, 13 June 2018, 11:44:40 »
If it feels remotely like my FC660C Then I'm sure you'll continue being happy with it, I would recommend for yout o get an FC660C to compare to your FC660M, It's nicer to make a comparison of Topre to MX Based :)

Actually that is true!  Though I'm sure the FC660C would immediately win simply on build quality haha.

I'm very happy with this for now; the next board is probably the Kira, which will be pretty interesting. Planning to get the Box Royal Purples on it as a lot of people claim it to be incredibly tactile.

Offline ian13

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Re: Leopold FC980C Review
« Reply #4 on: Fri, 15 June 2018, 04:47:38 »
Very nice, simple yet detailed review. I enjoyed reading this!
We need more keeb reviewers like you.  :thumb: Keep it up!

Offline stu-rem

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Re: Leopold FC980C Review
« Reply #5 on: Fri, 15 June 2018, 06:34:37 »
Detailed and heartfelt review. Thanks.

Sent from my MI 6 using Tapatalk
Seconded, great description, thank you.

I have a HHKB, but Lite 2 so Topre but not capacitive. Considering to get a "propper" Topre board, after I build a board for my Matthias quiet-clicks. So this is very helpful, thanks again for taking the time to write it.


(In case you're not aware: you can source MX-compatible stems/adapters for Topre switches. Greatly broadens your keycap choice. I haven't tried them though, don't know whether/how they affect switch feel.)

Sent from my SM-N9005 using Tapatalk


Offline RobbieFresh

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Re: Leopold FC980C Review
« Reply #6 on: Fri, 15 June 2018, 11:05:38 »
Nice review! A few questions for you:

. Do the keycaps have Leopold's SS2 profile (i.e. Cherry height)? I have the FC900R PD and love it.
. Is the spacebar made of ABS?
. Any specific reasons why you like the Topre switches over MX Blue? I love Blues, but with all the hype about Topre, I'd love to try them out soon. I mainly type, no gaming.

Offline Zeroblade

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Re: Leopold FC980C Review
« Reply #7 on: Sun, 17 June 2018, 14:32:23 »
Very nice, simple yet detailed review. I enjoyed reading this!
We need more keeb reviewers like you.  :thumb: Keep it up!

Thank you! It was mostly just pent up because I really have no one else to talk "seriously" about keyboards with locally.
None of my personal friends are in this deep, and generally speaking, it seems that the local enthusiast community is either very focused on entry level, or on fairly high end kits or full customs.
Not many where I'm from discuss the higher end production boards like this.


Seconded, great description, thank you.
I have a HHKB, but Lite 2 so Topre but not capacitive. Considering to get a "propper" Topre board, after I build a board for my Matthias quiet-clicks. So this is very helpful, thanks again for taking the time to write it.

(In case you're not aware: you can source MX-compatible stems/adapters for Topre switches. Greatly broadens your keycap choice. I haven't tried them though, don't know whether/how they affect switch feel.)


I actually considered grabbing a HHKB lite2 as well, but then I found out it was membrane and I was just... oh... (such an elitist)
It does feel all right for its price, and it's cheap as heck, but... maybe next time.

Apart from the HHKB, Realforce, the handful of Leopolds, and the Novatouch, there aren't many choices for Topre.
None of which are available here so I just had to go for it. I do feel that a lot of the typing experience is in the audible component of Topre keyboards.
They have that satisfying sound -- of which perhaps the HHKB is the closest -- that I've really yet to experience with the (few) other MX-based keyboards I have.

I have heard about stems/adapters, but never really read about them much.
Partly because I have no idea where to get them anyway, that I might have to open up/mess around with the keyboard, and they might cost a ton of money/hard to source.
It would be pretty cool to switch the caps out on the FC980C at some point, but the stock caps really do look the best on it, I think.


Nice review! A few questions for you:

. Do the keycaps have Leopold's SS2 profile (i.e. Cherry height)? I have the FC900R PD and love it.
. Is the spacebar made of ABS?
. Any specific reasons why you like the Topre switches over MX Blue? I love Blues, but with all the hype about Topre, I'd love to try them out soon. I mainly type, no gaming.


・Highly unscientific but I got a bunch of caps from the same row to compare their heights. They are close-ish to Cherry based on the GMK Dolch that I have, but they are a tad bit taller (I didn't include the bit of stem sticking out from the key itself):

The Chinese Leopold keys are the closest in height to Cherry profile, while these are in between OEM and Cherry. But I only measured one row so maybe the full sculpt is different. Cherry profile in general does feel a little bit lower than the JP-made Korean Leopold keys. And OEM is the tallest by far for DCS-shape keycaps.

・I honestly cannot tell, but supposedly the spacebar is made of ABS. Everyone else who got these said it is so I just assume it is. All the other ivory white keys have a veeeeeery slightly rougher texture to them, except the grey keys and the spacebar.

・I started on MX Blues, then moved onto MX Clears a couple years after and discovered I greatly prefer at least medium-level (45g and up?) resistance. Blues definitely have a nice audible aspect with the clickbar, but they are just way too soft for me now, that there doesn't seem to be any tactility in the switches anymore, as the resistance of the bump is so soft that my fingers go right through. Also, there wasn't enough "springback" in the switches -- I need to more consciously lift my finger from the switch, rather than having the switch push my fingers back up. Sometimes I wouldn't realize from how light the switches are that I'm still pressing a key, causing typos. Finally, even after putting O-rings on them because the bottoming out "clack" combined with the already obnoxious click was distractingly loud, it's still too noisy. I much prefer a deeper sounding, quiet(ish) tactile switch, with a pronounced tactile bump and a high resistance after tactility and actuation.

I also barely game (just casual Overwatch nowadays). Almost all my typing is for my work (JP→EN translation) or for typing out memes on Twitter.


Offline adoringbunny

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Re: Leopold FC980C Review
« Reply #8 on: Fri, 06 July 2018, 16:08:44 »
This is an awesome review, thank you for the detail and the great pictures!

Also, really interesting to read your most recent bullet point about MX Blues and Clears. I typically use blues but have been thinking about trying out something else... I've only tried red and blue, but I find that I'm a very... Forceful typer and I think having something with more resistance may be helpful for me. Using switches with more resistance, and all the typing you mentioned you do, do you find your fingers getting tired more quickly?

Offline Sugoi

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Re: Leopold FC980C Review
« Reply #9 on: Sat, 08 December 2018, 15:23:38 »
@Zeroblade

Has the FC980C become your main driver or do you still prefer the MX Clears on your FC660M?

I recently had the opportunity to try out the FC980C. The feeling is quite nice indeed which is why I seriously thought about getting one. However, since I use the navigation cluster on my Realforce 87U 55g a hell lot the 1800-ish layout with the awkward position of the right Ctrl key turned me off eventually (much to the joy of my purse).

Maybe I'll get something with MX Clears to serve as a contrast to my Realforce as all the smoothness has kinda gotten a bit boring...  :-[  (yeah, first world problems...)

Anyways, thumbs up for the great review!  :thumb:
« Last Edit: Sat, 08 December 2018, 15:31:49 by Sugoi »