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[IMPRESSIONS] Varmilo VA108M Mac White LED Dye Sub PBT mechanical keyboard (Long Post)
Posted by: Robert M
Date: November 07, 2020 10:39AM
[IMPRESSIONS] Varmilo VA108M Mac White LED Dye Sub PBT mechanical keyboard

Hi everyone,

I wore out another Matias Tactile Pro mechanical keyboard. Yups. Good ol’ Robert M machine gun hunt and pecking strikes again. Instead of getting another Matias Tactile Pro, I decided to see what else might do the job for me. It isn’t because the Matias Tactile Pro is a bad keyboard. Far from. It’s one of the best keyboards on the market for the Mac. I just decided I needed to try something different. I had some requirements:

1. It has to be a mechanical keyboard.

2. It has to have a nice feel.

3. It has to be a well made, high quality piece of equipment that can withstand my machine-gun style of hunt and pecking.

4. It has to be white or beige keys with black or gray letters or a different combination that is along the same lines. A backlight is unnecessary.

5. It has to be Mac-friendly with the proper keycaps for use with a Mac and support Macintosh keyboard startup commands like pressing “option” upon startup for choosing a boot drive.

You'd be surprised at how difficult it is to find a keyboard that meets the above requirements.

Requirement #1 is easy. There are a slew of mechanical keyboards on the market. Mechanicalkeyboards.com is a great source of keyboards. [mechanicalkeyboards.com]

Requirement #2 is easy. The keycap for a typical mechanical keyboard from a reputable manufacturer will have a nice feel. The other component that factors into this is the switch. Many of the manufacturers offer customizable key switches, usually from Cherry (who makes a variety of switches). Several manufacturers use their own switches. Matias uses its own version of the Alps key switches in their keyboards. Alps switches were the switches used in Apple's ADB keyboards in the earlier days of the Mac. Think Apple's Standard keyboard, Extended Keyboard and Extended Keyboard II. These and the IBM Model M buckling spring keyboard set the standards by which all other keyboards are judged.

Requirement #3 is easy as long as you choose a keyboard from a reputable manufacturer. There are a slew of manufacturers, all of whom produce high quality keyboards. They aren't cheap, though. If you want a quality mechanical keyboard, be prepared to spend bucks for it.

Requirement #4 and #5 are problematic.

Keyboards with white or beige keys and black or gray letters that are mechanical and Mac friendly are tough to find. Other color combinations are readily available. A mechanical keyboard that has white or beige keys with black or gray lettering that is Mac friendly? Difficult. That limited my options tremendously. Fortunately, I found several that were suitable.

Keyboards that are Mac-friendly with the proper keycaps for use with a Mac and support Macintosh keyboard startup commands like pressing “option” upon startup for choosing a boot drive? Very difficult. It's a critical requirement. Unfortunately, sometimes you won't know if it works until you actually test a keyboard on a Mac.

After careful consideration and lots of legwork and inquiries, I decided the keyboard of choice this time around was Varmilo VA108M Mac White LED Dye Sub PBT Mechanical Keyboard with Cherry MX Blue switches.

[mechanicalkeyboards.com]


Review Summary:

Keyboards are a very personal device. The keyboard that suits me isn't necessarily going to be the right model for you. However, there are certain things you should always look for in a good keyboard. It has to have a nice feel. It has to be a well made, high quality piece of equipment and, if you're going to use it with a Mac, it must support Macintosh keyboard startup commands. The Varmilo VA108M Mac White LED Dye Sub PBT Mechanical Keyboard with Cherry MX Blue switches hits all of my critical requirements, as well as a couple of my own personal preferences which may not be important to you.

The Varmilo a very well made, high quality keyboard. It's built like a tank. The keycaps are a little smaller and more tightly spaced than the keycaps on the Matias Tactile Pro (and Apple USB keyboards) and the Cherry MX Blue switches are more responsive and reactive than the ALPS-style models in the Tactile Pro. The Varmilo has no issues with Macintosh startup commands as long as you remember to treat the command key as an option key and vice versa. You can use Apple's Keyboard preferences to swap them. That way, after the computer finishes booting, the keys work as expected based on their location and lettering.

It'll take my hands a little while to adjust to the differences between the Varmilo and the Matias Tactile Pro. So far, though, my fingers are definitely liking the Vamilo and I suspect it'll perform admirably for years to come. Definitely give the Varmilo serious consideration if you're looking into purchasing a mechanical keyboard. It's a solid, well-made, piece of equipment.



Full Review:

The box containing the Varmilo surprised me. You don't think about the weight of a keyboard when you grab the box that has one in it. You just grab the box and open it. In this case, the box was noticeably heavier than I anticipated and it wasn't because I was tired from a long day at the office.

Based on the weight of the box, I expected mechanicalkeyboards.com to have put extra protective packaging in it. Turns out this is not the case. The keyboard itself was the source of the weight. Mechanicalkeyboards.com should have put some protective material in the box instead of just dropping in the Varmilo box into a box and slapping a label on it. Varmilo puts just enough packaging in the box to protect the keyboard itself. Based on that and the sheer build quality of the keyboard, the fact that mechanicalkeyboards.com just boxed and labeled it won't be an issue.

Varmilo includes a capslock keycap with what appears to be an bit of plastic for an LED and a keycap puller in the box. The keyboard itself is built like a tank. By itself, it literally weighs 2.5 lbs! The Varmilo is noticeably heavier than Apple keyboards and the Microsoft keyboard I'd been using while waiting for it to arrive. The keycaps are a very slight off-white with black lettering. Very easy on my eyes and exactly what I wanted in a new keyboard. The Varmilo has legs and non-slip pads on the bottom. Place the keyboard on a desktop and it stays put. You'll definitely have to put a little bit of effort to get it to slide as you type on it. The Varmilo didn't budge at all when I hunt and pecked at top machine-gun speed.

The Varmilo has a single USB Mini port on the back for connecting it to your computer. No extra ports for additional devices. Varmilo includes a cable. This is good. I've never been a fan of devices with permanently attached cables. In comparison, the Matias Tactile has a USB cable permanently attached to it in the back and a spare USB port on either side of it. The Microsoft keyboard has a permanently attached cable. Actually, the Microsoft keyboard has two cables. One is USB, the other PS/2.

At first I thought I'd miss the extra ports of the Matias but, in the end, it proved a non-issue. The extra ports were only useful for a mouse, trackpad or trackball. Anything else drew too much power and triggered a warning on the computer. That and I've always found the USB ports on the side of the Matias annoying. Connect something to the port on the right side and the cable interferes with any devices on the side of the keyboard, i.e. trackball, mouse, touchpad, etc.

Previously, I had the cable of my Logitech trackball connected to the port on the left side of the keyboard and the trackball itself on the right side of it. Since the Varmilo doesn't have extra ports, I moved the cable of the trackball to a USB hub for now.


The connection:

Typically, when I connect a non-Apple keyboard to a Mac, I expect a few things. The first is a dialog box telling me the Mac doesn't recognize the keyboard. If I see that box, I know I have to go through the keyboard recognition process. It usually takes just a few seconds. No big deal. This didn't happen when I connected the Varmilo. Surprising! I did have to jump into keyboard preferences to swap the "Option" and "Command" keys. This is a common issue with many 3rd party keyboards and would've been a dealbreaker if the ability to swap the keys via software didn't exist.

I immediately tested activating startup commands after connecting the Varmilo to my office's iMac. The ability to perform startup commands is critical. If the Varmilo failed the test, it would've been an immediate dealbreaker. I rebooted my Mac and held the "option" key down to trigger the "Select a boot drive" command. It didn't work. My initial thought was, "Crap.". Then I remembered I had to tell the machine to swap the "Option" and "Command" keys via the Keyboard pane in system prefs.

I restarted the machine and held the "Command" key down this time. The boot command worked properly. Apparently, the software trigger for swapping the keys doesn't kick in until after the machine is booted. I just have to remember this when using keyboard based startup commands. So, what could have been a fatal flaw turned out to be a non-issue.

The Varmilo has the standard Mac extended keyboard key layout. The labels on the keycaps are Mac-oriented. This is a good thing since, technically, I am not a touch typist. I just hunt and peck _really_ fast. Really really fast. There are Windows oriented labels on the front side of several keys.

I also tested some of the Fkey commands, i.e. volume controls. They worked perfectly.


But, how's it for typing?

This is the real test of a keyboard. Any keyboard regardless of type, i.e. mechanical, buckling spring, rubber dome, or the piece of @#$%& Apple butterfly keyboards. My fingers have to like the keyboard's feel and responsiveness. My rule of thumb is, "If my fingers don't like it, don't buy it." I still remember the time when I spent an afternoon testing keyboards at the local Comp USA. The staff weren't happy at all watching me pretend I was playing the machine-gun version of wack-a-mole on the keys with my fingertips. It must have been a sight to behold because several people stopped to watch as I moved from keyboard to keyboard until I decided they were all crappytacular at best.

The feel of the Varmilo is excellent! My fingers liked it immediately. The keycaps have a modestly textured surface and are a little smaller and more tightly spaced than those of the Matias Tactile Pro. The switches are amazingly reactive and responsive. And, that is one of the big differences between the Varmilo (and many other mechanical keyboards) and the Matias Tactile Pro. Varmilo allows you to choose which Cherry MX switches to have installed in its keyboards.

I went with Cherry MX Blue switches since they are, in theory, supposed to be very similar to the ALPS switches in the Matias Tactile Pro. Turns out this is not the case. The Cherry MX Blue switches are more reactive and sensitive and have a little bit more bounce back than the ALPS-style switches in the Tactile Pro. My fingers will need to get used to them. May take a while since I still have a Matias Tactile Pro at home and will be switching between the keyboards regularly. No pun intended.

The Varmilo has that delightful clickety-clack that I've come to love over more than 40 years of hunt and pecking on computer keyboards. The Varmilo with Cherry MX Blue switches is most assuredly a noisy keyboard. I still sound like a machine-gun when hunt and pecking at top speed. It's just a different type of machine-gun. If you're looking for a keyboard that is quiet or one that isn't noisy enough to annoy your co-workers, the Varmilo with Cherry MX Blue switches isn't for you. Definitely still buy the Varmilo keyboard, just choose a different type of Cherry MX switch for it.

I've used the Varmilo for several days now and it's been a delight. Do I like it as much as the Tactile Pro? Yes. It's a fine keyboard. The only concerns I have with it are the size of the keycaps and the spacing between them. However, these are not a design issue with the keyboard. Varmilo did an excellent job designing the keyboard. It's a Robert M issue that stems from using a variation of the Tactile Pro at home and office for close to 15 or more years.

My fingertips are _very_ accustomed to a Matias Tactile Pro and machine-gun across the keycaps as if they are extensions of my body. The Varmilo is new to me. It's going to take a bit of time to for my fingertips to adapt to the differences between it and the Matias Tactile Pro.

I like the feel and responsiveness of the Varmilo. I like it quite a bit and I've only had it for a few days. My fingertips machine-gun along the keys as if I received a brand-new rifle. I'm already adapting to using it at my office. I've no doubt whatsoever using it will become as second nature to me as using the Matias Tactile Pro.

To take this a step further, I can say without a doubt, I prefer the feel of the Matias Tactile Pro, Varmilo VA108M, the Microsoft keyboard I'd been using while waiting for the Varmilo to arrive and even the Unicomp Spacesaver M (which suffers from fatal flaws) over any non-ADB keyboard offered by Apple.

I've tested out a slew of USB keyboards from other manufacturers and while most aren't awful, they're definitely not up to the standards set by better mechanical keyboards. At best, they can serve as a temporary replacement for a quality mechanical keyboard. Meaning, use the common USB keyboard until your quality mechanical keyboard arrives.


Final assessment:

Keyboards are a very personal device. The keyboard that suits me isn't necessarily going to be the right model for you. However, there are certain things you should always look for in a good keyboard. It has to have a nice feel. It has to be a well made, high quality piece of equipment and, if you're going to use it with a Mac, it must support Macintosh keyboard startup commands. The Varmilo VA108M Mac White LED Dye Sub PBT Mechanical Keyboard with Cherry MX Blue switches hits all of my critical requirements, as well as a couple of my own personal preferences which may not be important to you.

The Varmilo a very well made, high quality keyboard. It's built like a tank. The keycaps are a little smaller and more tightly spaced than the keycaps on the Matias Tactile Pro (and Apple USB keyboards) and the Cherry MX Blue switches are more responsive and reactive than the ALPS-style models in the Tactile Pro. The Varmilo has no issues with Macintosh startup commands as long as you remember to treat the command key as an option key and vice versa during the startup process. You can use Apple's Keyboard preferences to swap them. That way, after the computer finishes booting, the keys work as expected based on their location and lettering.

It'll take my hands a little while to adjust to the differences between the Varmilo and the Matias Tactile Pro. So far, though, my fingers are definitely liking the Vamilo and I suspect it'll perform admirably for years to come. Definitely give the Varmilo VA108M Mac White LED Dye Sub PBT mechanical eyboard serious consideration if you're looking into purchasing a mechanical keyboard. It's a solid, well-made, piece of equipment.


Robert



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 11/07/2020 10:40AM by Robert M.
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Re: [IMPRESSIONS] Varmilo VA108M Mac White LED Dye Sub PBT mechanical keyboard (Long Post)
Posted by: N-OS X-tasy!
Date: November 07, 2020 11:46AM
Apple Extended Keyboard II. Nuf said.

[www.ebay.com]



It is what it is.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 11/07/2020 12:23PM by N-OS X-tasy!.
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Re: [IMPRESSIONS] Varmilo VA108M Mac White LED Dye Sub PBT mechanical keyboard (Long Post)
Posted by: MrNoBody
Date: November 07, 2020 12:44PM
Quote
N-OS X-tasy!
Apple Extended Keyboard II. Nuf said.
...and priced well below $139 !
Still satisfied with my Microsoft Natural Elite 4000 recommended by Paul F. almost
two years ago. [forums.macresource.com]
$12 @ BB when I bought it.
I obviously do not 'wear out' keyboards. As for the keycaps, small symbols
created on a 3/4" Dymo DUO tape labels do the trick and don't rub off.
ymmv

ps: Thanks for the review anyway thumbsup smiley



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Re: [IMPRESSIONS] Varmilo VA108M Mac White LED Dye Sub PBT mechanical keyboard (Long Post)
Posted by: N-OS X-tasy!
Date: November 07, 2020 01:01PM
Quote
MrNoBody
Quote
N-OS X-tasy!
Apple Extended Keyboard II. Nuf said.
...and priced well below $139 !
Still satisfied with my Microsoft Natural Elite 4000 recommended by Paul F. almost
two years ago. [forums.macresource.com]
$12 @ BB when I bought it.
I obviously do not 'wear out' keyboards. As for the keycaps, small symbols
created on a 3/4" Dymo DUO tape labels do the trick and don't rub off.
ymmv

ps: Thanks for the review anyway thumbsup smiley

In the link you provide, Paul admits to being on his "third or fourth" MS NE4000 KB.

RobertM above admits to wearing out more than one of the Matias mechanical keyboards.

I still use -- on a daily basis -- the Apple EX KB II I bought with my first Mac in 1993.

Nuf said.



It is what it is.
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Re: [IMPRESSIONS] Varmilo VA108M Mac White LED Dye Sub PBT mechanical keyboard (Long Post)
Posted by: RAMd®d
Date: November 07, 2020 01:02PM
Apple Extended Keyboard II


I still have one.

There were two, but I loaned one to a friend, who gave it away with the computer.

I don't have an ADB adapter, though.

But I can take the clicky-clacky only so long.

And illumination is a requirement.

Among a few other requirements, my perfect keyboard, or even nearly so, would have a trackpad.

I've seen a few, but they fall short for me in other areas.





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all who would be called good
must suffer with him.

You and I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead.

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by believing all possible evil of evil men.

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And hope is a lousy defense.

You make me pull, I'll put you down.

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Re: [IMPRESSIONS] Varmilo VA108M Mac White LED Dye Sub PBT mechanical keyboard (Long Post)
Posted by: Robert M
Date: November 07, 2020 01:17PM
Hi everyone,

As much as I love the old Apple ADB keyboards, unfortunately, I’ve worn them out, too. I used one with a Griffin IMate but compatibility issues forced me give it up years ago. I probably have the keyboard somewhere in my warehouse.

Labels on worn out keycaps don’t work for me. They ruin the feel of the keycap. Better to replace the keycap of feasible or replace the keyboard entirely.

Robert



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 11/07/2020 01:19PM by Robert M.
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Re: [IMPRESSIONS] Varmilo VA108M Mac White LED Dye Sub PBT mechanical keyboard (Long Post)
Posted by: N-OS X-tasy!
Date: November 07, 2020 01:34PM
Quote
Robert M
As much as I love the old Apple ADB keyboards, unfortunately, I’ve worn them out, too.

Be specific here. There is a HUGE difference between the EX II keyboard and the vastly inferior AppleDesign KB.



It is what it is.
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Re: [IMPRESSIONS] Varmilo VA108M Mac White LED Dye Sub PBT mechanical keyboard (Long Post)
Posted by: Robert M
Date: November 07, 2020 01:50PM
N-OS,

Both the Apple extended keyboard I and the extended keyboard II. The standard keyboards, as well. They’ve all fallen prey to my fingertips from hell. FWIW, if I meant the AppleDesign models, I’d’ve mentioned them specifically.

Robert



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 11/07/2020 01:51PM by Robert M.
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Re: [IMPRESSIONS] Varmilo VA108M Mac White LED Dye Sub PBT mechanical keyboard (Long Post)
Posted by: anonymouse1
Date: November 07, 2020 02:45PM
Anybody have a USB keyboard with a trackpad that they like?
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Re: [IMPRESSIONS] Varmilo VA108M Mac White LED Dye Sub PBT mechanical keyboard (Long Post)
Posted by: MrNoBody
Date: November 08, 2020 04:34AM
Quote
Robert M
Hi everyone,
...Labels on worn out keycaps don’t work for me. They ruin the feel of the keycap.
Better to replace the keycap of feasible or replace the keyboard entirely.
Robert


My bad Robert, the for the keycaps, small symbols created on a 3/4" Dymo DUO
tape labels do the trick and don't rub off
bit was only for the two pairs of
"Windows keys" on a PC keyboard to make them 'command' & 'option'.



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includes:
Taxman by Joe & Nancy's Rich Ice Cream Band
The Humpty Dance by The Harris-Brown Hookup
Lets Spend The Night Together by The Fang-Swalwell Gang
Díaz-Canel Is A Friend of Ours by The AOC Squad
My Old Kentucky Retirement Home by MitchMcC & The Soggy Boxer Boys
Burning Down The House by Merrick & The Goons
Back In the USSR by Bernie's Red Square Trio

patriot smiley



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 11/08/2020 04:35AM by MrNoBody.
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Re: [IMPRESSIONS] Varmilo VA108M Mac White LED Dye Sub PBT mechanical keyboard (Long Post)
Posted by: iaJim
Date: July 27, 2021 08:48AM
Thank you for the thoughtful review and explanations.
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