Niz keyboard Interview with the head of Niz
This Bluetooth Niz EC 87 keyboard actually is my second Niz keyboard. I owned a Niz 75 keyboard 1.5 years ago. The appearance of BKE domes makes me falling in love with Niz keyboards again. I paid less than a Realforce keyboard. What I have now is a EC keyboard which is smoother, more tactile, more functional than Realforce. I'm pretty satisfied with it.
For a long time, Niz keyboards are known as Topre clones. Most people in the west think Niz keyboards are inferior Topre. I've read several reviews on GH and DT but none of them are objective to me. After I learnt more about Niz keyboards by myself, mostly from their official website and a previous interview recording, I found there are a lot of misunderstandings for Niz keyboards. Some points in previous articles/reviews are even technically wrong. At the same moment, I have more questions and doubts. So I decide to ask the head of Niz directly.
Interview with Ke Miu, the head of Niz and Plum
The following are the organized notes for my interview with Ke Miu, the head of Niz. The interview was in Chinese. I translated it into English.
Q: Niz boards are known as ‘Topre clones’. How do you comment on this?
A: The designs of slider housings and electrode circuitry were inspired from Topre keyboards. However the circuit design, components, and the scanning mechanism are all developed by ourselves and are totally different from Topre keyboards. Niz keyboards are fully programmable, Cherry MX keycaps compatible, NKRO, true 1ms delay. We firstly developed RGB backlight version EC keyboards in 2013. Topre introduced similar products later. We have splash resistant version and IP67 water proof version of EC keyboards. We have patents for EC switches in both China and foreign countries.
Q: What’s the difference between Niz and Plum? Are you also related to NOPPOO, ABKO, ROYAL KLUDGE, Hansung?
A: Niz is the brand for EC keyboards. Plum is the brand for Cherry MX mechanical keyboards. NOPPOO, ABKO, ROYAL KLUDGE, and Hansung are all the brands we’ve collaborated (OEM) with before .
About sliders and housings:
Q: My understanding is the smoothness of Topre-like keyboards depends on the material of sliders and housings. Is it correct?
A: Besides material choices, the smoothness of sliders and housings also depends on the precision of moulds and structure of moulds. The slider and rails on Niz housings have been lengthened in newest version of Niz keyboards. Precision has been improved as well.
Q: Some vendors claimed the Niz sliders are made of POM from Polyplastics of Japan. There’re also vendors (e.g. KBDFans) said the sliders are made of dupont POM. Which one is correct?
A: Both are correct. The materials for backlight housings and non-backlight housings are different. The materials have been upgraded several times including Polyplastics and Dupont POM but we didn't publish these changes.
Q: How would you compare Niz sliders/housings and Topre ones?
A: Niz slider and housings are less smooth but have better wear-resisting ability than Topre ones. Topre is using ABS+PC materials which will generate plastic dust and powder after long time usage. Now we’re also applying lubes on the rails of housings to reduce the noise.
Q: Since when did you start adding lubes on the rails?
A: It actually had been considered pretty early when some customers complained about the scratchy noise in the very beginning. The lubes were started being applied from early 2017. The POM materials we use, both from Polyplastics and dupont, have self-lubricating property so the lubes are applied mainly for reducing the scratchy noise.
Q: How would you comment on JTK and KBDFans sliders?
A: A part of KBDFans sliders are provided by us. Others are from Gateron. Quality of these sliders are pretty good. Never used JTK sliders before.
Q: What springs are you using on Niz boards? And what’s the difference with Topre springs?
A: I’m not sure what’s the material Topre is using on springs. We’re using steel materials imported from Japan. The elastic force attenuation is negligible on our springs. It has been 5 years since the first batch of Niz keyboards were produced and there’s not a single keyboard has problems with the springs.
About rubber domes:
Q: The most common rubber domes on Niz keyboards are 35g versions which is pretty light. Why you’re not providing more heavier versions? There’s a ebay seller selling heavier dome sheets (e.g. 55g, 65g). Are those domes produced by your company?
A: 35 domes are suitable for most customers for long time typing and won’t add much stress to joints. 45g domes feel similar to Cherry MX red but personally I don’t like it much. 55g domes are heavy and tactile. However using heavy keyboards for a long time may cause muscular discomfort and stiffness. Using 65g domes in short time is fine but may result in pain on your fingers if using heavily. Heavy domes are not for everyone.
Edit: The ebay domes are produced by us Niz.
Q: How do you rate BKE domes?
A: Quality looks good but I don’t know the elastic force attenuation. Niz keyboard users can consider them for modding if they like.
Q: The plates on Niz keyboards are made from aluminum. How does it compare with plates on RealForce and HHKB keyboards?
A: We choose aluminum plates mostly because of the light weight and good corrosion resistance. We used black anodized aluminum plates before. Now all the plates are beadblasted aluminum plates. Steel plates, like the Realforce plates, are heavy and more difficult to manufacture. The integrated plastic plate on HHKB is not as good as metal plates in my opinion. We may consider to make heavy keyboards with steel plates later. Steel plates are stiff and appear high quality.
Q: What’s the thickness of Niz keyboard cases?
A: 2.5mm which is thick enough for keyboards.
Q: Someone like the matte surface finish on Niz keyboards. Someone don’t. Why did you choose matte finish instead of smooth finish?
A: Smooth surface cases get dirty easily and is easily scratched. I like the matte finish better.
Q: How about the bluetooth keyboards in terms of stability and battery life? You know some keyboard enthusiasts are developing BLE keyboards as well.
A: The customer experiences of our Bluetooth keyboards should be good. Since the Bluetooth function was designed for the requirement of gaming and eSports, the Bluetooth connection is stable without delays, unless there is interference from other devices. The battery life is not very long. There are two modes for Bluetooth connections including the gaming mode and business mode. In gaming mode the fully charged battery can last about 100 hours if the keyboard is used without break. In business mode the battery can last twice of the time of gaming mode.
Q: Future plan in 2018?
A: First two products in 2018 will be atom66 and micto84. The layout of micto84 is different from the current mini84. Both of them will have two Fn keys on the left and right side of spacebar. Another product will be IP67 waterproof EC keyboard. We’re also developing a product featured with new EC switches. It shall be released in Q3 or Q4 this year.
Q: Have you considered to make ergonomic keyboards or split keyboards?
A: Not really. Now we have 21-66-75-84-87-104-108 layouts which should cover most customers’ requirement. The pleasure for fancy features like splitting and backlight won’t last forever. Keyboards are bought for daily typing eventually. The market positioning of Niz keyboards is just a reliable tool for gaming and daily typing.
Q: Have you heard of custom keyboards? What do you think of them?
A: Custom keyboards are fun build and can provide custom layouts. They are not good for massive production tho.
Q: Have you considered to provide metal cases for Niz keyboard?
A: One of our partners is designing one.
Q: I’m pretty interested in custom EC keyboards. Now what we can get from the market are sliders and domes. What we can design and make are metal cases and plates. It seems the only things left are housings and PCBs/firmware. Is it possible we can buy these parts from you?
A: Actually all the parts are available for after-sale service all the time. We’re not selling them because these parts you mentioned are difficult to damage. It’s not easy to make EC keyboards which can work stably. We’ll work with partners for designing and supplying parts.
Conclusion (TL;DR) of the interview:
It seems Mr. Miu has great confidence in his products. For several aspects of the keyboard complained by users, he did that in purpose for (good?) reasons.
In 2018 they will release atom66 and micto84 keyboards with same structure as current Niz keyboards. There will also be a new 104 key keyboard with new EC switches.
Niz keyboards are underestimated, and Topre keyboards are over hyped, imo.
Disclaimer: I did the research and interview for my own curiosity. I didn't get any benefit from Niz except knowledge.
Let me know if you have other questions to ask Mr. Miu.