While Leopold keyboards have quickly gained their fans in the international community, they’re still relative newcomers to the mechanical keyboard scene, having been founded in Korea in 2005. They now have an English language website thanks to their Japanese division, and have started distributing their keyboards internationally, directly from their Japanese branch and from the US through EliteKeyboards.
Their latest releases are two mechanical keyboards featuring Cherry MX switches, the full size FC500RR/EB and the smaller FC200RT. These keyboards are similar to Filco’s Majestouch series and were developed by the same designer, but have been re-made from the ground up to include oft-requested customer features like a removable USB cable and more durable keycaps.
Last week I covered the FC500RR/EB, so this week I’ll be looking at the smaller version, the FC200RT.
This keyboard is called Tenkeyless, as the number pad isn’t included. This makes the board much smaller overall, which is great if you’ve got a crowded desk or attend a lot of LAN parties.
The FC200RT comes with a choice of Brown, Black and Blue Cherry switches; my review sample comes with Black switches. Like the Cherry Reds I reviewed on the FC500R, the Black is a linear switch. That means that you don’t receive tactile feedback through a bump when pressing down on the key. The difference between Black and Red switches is the weighting; the force required to actuate the key. The Red switches were light, requiring only 45g of force to actuate, but the Black switches are stiffer at 60g.
I’ll be covering the implications of this difference in the gaming and typing performance sections, but for now let’s have a look at the design and build of the FC200RT.
Looks & Construction
The practical design of the FC200RT is typical of high-end mechanical keyboards, only differing in the details. The matte black chassis looks very similar to Filco’s popular Majestouch Tenkeyless series, with the same rounded corners and no-nonsense construction. If you look a little closer, you’ll notice some differences. For starters, if you examine the keycaps you’ll notice they are grainier than the Majestouch’s completely smooth keys, and reputedly withstand wear much better. There are also integrated status lights in the Caps Lock and Scroll Lock keys, which are a nice touch.
Flipping the keyboard over, you’ll spot another innovation: The removable USB cable. While this might not seem like a big deal, having to replace your beloved keyboard because the cable has been broken through frequent wrapping can be frustrating. It’s nice to see that this minor feature has been added.
Another special feature can be found here too, in the choice of three ‘channels’ along which your cable can run. This allows you to have the cable come out the left or right sides of the keyboard instead of just the top, meaning that you can route your cables more efficiently.
The final important feature found on the back of any keyboard are the feet designed to keep the keyboard in the right orientation and stationary on the desk. These feet are well designed and should keep the FC200RT firmly planted, although the lighter weight of the FC200RT compared to the Majestouch Tenkeyless means that it does slide slightly more easily.
The FC200RT’s construction is solid, its spartan design and high-quality materials providing excellent strength. Its modest looks will suit professionals, although some gamers might prefer additional gaming features like macro keys and flashy lights.
For most games though, macro keys and disco lighting can just be distracting. Let’s have a look at what advantages this keyboard can provide.
As with other Eastern mechanicals, there are no gaming-specific features present in the FC500 beyond those provided by the choice of switches, although it is worth noting that you’ll enjoy N Key Rollover over PS/2 (e.g. you can press an unlimited amount of keys simultaneously and have them all show up) and 6 Key Rollover over USB.
For this reason, the results of this section will differ depending on the switch that is provided. As mentioned earlier, the FC200RT has been released with Brown, Black and Blue switches; my review sample uses Black switches so you may wish to check other reviews I’ve done to gauge the gaming performance of the Brown or Black switches: The Filco Majestouch-2 review used Brown switches, and the Razer BlackWidow used Blue switches.
As mentioned earlier, Black switches are well-suited for gaming as they have press down smoothly, without a tactile bump or loud click noise. The stiffness of the Black switch also means that is more difficult to press the wrong key accidentally than it is with lighter switches like the Brown or Red. Another key advantage for the Black switch is that the point that the key registers (the actuation point) and the release point are the same, meaning that it’s easier to perform double-taps with a linear switch like the Black.
Between Red and Black linear switches, which only differ in the force required to actuate the keys, there is a tradeoff between speed and accuracy. Put simply, the Black switches are more forgiving of accidental (and therefore not full-pressure) keypresses, thereby allowing fewer typos and higher accuracy. This higher weighting does make the keys slightly slower to press though, and as you are pressing harder the keyboard is slightly more exhausting to operate, although generally this will only be an issue for overly long gaming sessions.
Like the similar FC500R, I found that the keyboard worked better in some game genres over others. For RTS games like StarCraft which require utilisation of a relatively large key set (e.g. each unit’s build command has its own hotkey), the results were quite good – while speed is important, for competitive play it is much more crucial to ensure that no keypress mistakes are made. For this reason, I’d say that for all but the most accurate RTS players, stiffer Black keys are superior to the lighter Reds. For racing and FPS games which enjoy a smaller set of possible key commands, Black keys are less well suited. While they are certainly better than many rubber dome keyboards, Blacks switches will perform worse than lighter Red or Brown switches.
While these differences are small factors in your overall success, you can certainly gain an edge by choosing the right keyboard. If you don’t play either FPS or RTS that competitively, you may be wise to choose simply based on the other big performance area for a keyboard: Typing.
Again, the typing performance of most mechanical keyboards is down to their choice of switches, and the FC200RT’s Black mechanical switches define its typing characteristics.
As stated previously, the Black is a linear switch, meaning there’s no specific feedback as there is with clicky or tactile switches like the Blue and Brown. For this reason, typing on a linear switch is more akin to a high-end rubber dome keyboard, particularly with the relatively high weight of the Black switches. If you are choosing between Black and Red for typing performance, as with gaming there is at tradeoff between speed and accuracy. For less accurate typists (particularly those new to mechanicals), the stiffer Black switches will be better suited, while fast, high accuracy typists may enjoy the lighter Reds for the small speed boost they provide.
If typing is your primary motivation for buying a mechanical keyboard, it is probably best to choose between Brown and Blue switches, as these provide greater tactile feedback.
The Leopold FC200RTL/EB is a solid keyboard ideally suited for RTS games thanks to its stiff linear switches. This mechanical keyboard is expertly designed, from the hardy laser printed keycaps down to the clever cable management channels and removable USB cable. Overall, the Leopold 500R is an excellent mechanical keyboard and easily the equal of Filco’s Majestouch, with a couple of small touches put it over the top. If you’re looking for a strong Tenkeyless keyboard with Cherry Black switches, the FC200RT is the obvious choice.
The FC200RT is available on EliteKeyboards.com from July 14th, with a choice of Blue, Black and Brown switches. You can also purchase a blank version (a la the Das Keyboard Ultimate) with Brown or Blue switches there.
As with all mechanical keyboards, there are a bevy of switches and formats available so do your research to find your perfect keyboard. You can find a quick explanation of the options available here. If you have any questions about the FC200RT or other mechanical/gaming keyboards, please leave them in the comments below!
The Leopold FC200RTL/EB review sample was provided by Leopold Japan Corporation. This keyboard was tested over four weeks in StarCraft 2, Hidden: Source and Dawn of War II, and was also used for a few programming tasks. This keyboard’s western model name is FC200RL/AB.