Unicomp Customizer 104/105 Keyboard

Price: Free (RRP is around $150 USD delivered to Australia)

Score: 9/10

Pros:

-Super tactile key response (it is like playing the Stradivarius Violin, not that i would know).

-The best key action on any keyboard produced to date.

-A true typist’s keyboard

-Made in USA (if you really care about the COO of the keyboard).

Cons:

-Quality of chassis construction is so so, it is robust but fit and finish on the back is unsightly.

-Unicomp doesn’t have the marketing power to properly promote this keyboard.

-Unicomp is still using the old tooling from Lexmark.

-Shipping to Australia cost as much as the keyboard itself (around $64 USD).

Unicomp Customizer 104/105 Keyboard 1

Picture 1. Unicomp 104/105 Keyboard [1].

File:ModelM.jpg

Picture 2. Original Model M keyboard 101 keyboard [2].

Review

I think most people whom ever used an IBM Model M keyboard would be familiar with this keyboard, as this keyboard is based on the old Model M keyboard. The history of the Model M keyboard and its subsequent formation of Unicomp can be found in the wiki link, and it is an interesting read if you like this sort of stuffs. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Model_M_keyboard)

As you might be aware (or not aware) the Model M keyboard and the Unicomp version of this keyboard has a buckling spring mechanical key switch, which produces a fairly unique key tactility (and lot clicking sound when you type) that many people love (or hate). The technology behind the clicky buckling spring key switch, is quite different to the Cherry mechanical key switches that are used in many Filco, Das and other expensive mechanical switch keyboards. Thus the tactility and key responses of these different mechanical switch keyboard are also different, personally i think the Model M buckling spring key switches are the most superior typing keyboard ever produced.

The Unicomp keyboard can be purchased with either a native USB or PS/2 connectors, and for those whom really hate the loud sound that the collapsing spring key switch makes, then there is a version with silent key mechanism available (i think these don’t use mechanical key switches). If you don’t like the large size of the Customiser 104/105 keyboards, there are other variants available (even a version for Mac) with different colours, designs (Kentucky Wildcat) and sizes (i.e. Space saver). While in the old Model M keyboard the key caps are easily removed, this is not the case with the new Unicomp’s keyboards where they are firmly fixed in place, also the connection cable on the Customiser 104/105 keyboards are not removable like on some models of Model M keyboards.

While, the key feels on the Unicomp Customisers 104/105 are spot on with the buckling spring key switches, and it has a solid feel with the solid back plating used in the keyboard. I am not entirely sure about the quality of industrial design on these keyboards (or the lack of it), since may parts of the keyboard screams cheap and outdated. The tooling used for constructing these old IBM Model M replica keyboards have remained pretty much the same, with various patchwork of poorly machined plastics filling up old features that were deleted in the new Customisers keyboard. Furthermore, the poor website design of Unicomp’s web store and their uber expensive international shipping rates (i.e. 64 dollars USD to Australia for a 80 USD keyboard), suggests that their business model is poor and the management are not spending enough attention on various possible marketing strategies or partnership with computer companies. Hopefully, the sacred light of buckling spring keyboards will not snuff out with Unicomp, as they become more and more of a niche within a niche.

A hint to Unicomp if you want to market this product properly to the international buyer, don’t show the actual price of individual product and shipping separately, incorporate the shipping cost into the actual price of keyboard and say the shipping is free. This is far better way of pricing, then to tell the international customer that they have to pay $60 odd dollars shipping cost on a $80 dollar keyboard. Make a separate webpage for North America and International Customers, so the product could be priced correctly to account for the inflated shipping cost.

Conclusion

An excellent keyboard something every self respecting typists should have one of. However, due to the limited marketing prowess and poor distribution system of Unicomp, the buckling spring technology would probably end up as a uber niche product. I think the cheapest and most effective way for Unicomp to market this product would be to use more affiliate marketing strategies, and target their products to the influencer of social media and IT industries. Or just find a large computer company that are willing to either buy them out or are willing to do a joint venture and incorporate their buckling spring mechanism in their keyboard (hint to Lenovo, we need this key mechanism in the Preferred USB keyboard to produce a key for those whom ‘DO’). I will most likely get another one of this keyboard since i love the key mechanism and its tactility, but right now i just need to get over the fact shipping costs as much as the keyboard itself.

References

[1] http://ep.yimg.com/ca/I/pckeyboards_2163_702559

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:ModelM.jpg

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