After first coming across the Keywalker IFD68 on Massdrop for just $99 I almost bought it. But after trying to find some reviews online I also found the TADA68/SABER68 designed by originatives, which is a very similar keyboard with the exact same 68 key layout and even the type and color of keycaps.
But the few differences that tipped the favor towards me buying the TADA68 were; first the Keywalker being a Bluetooth keyboard with an included battery the shipping increased to be just too expensive, second the Keywalker uses a proprietary firmware with a flashing tool to program the keyboard only available for windows platform.
With the TADA68 even though not having Bluetooth might seem a con it saves me from the few quirks that Bluetooth generally has. Mainly depleting my laptop battery faster than normal due to having the Bluetooth being on all the time and possible input latency inherent in a shared medium communication channel. Besides I told myself if I ever really wanted Bluetooth in the future I could always just hack together a adafruit feather 32u4 bluefruit which already has existing support in QMK firmware.
Which leads me to definitely the most important factor in my decision, the TADA68 runs the QMK firmware which is an Open Source firmware (forked from TMK) for keyboards with a myriad of additional features and has a flashing process that is as simple as it gets with support for all major platforms. Also definitely a bonus, the TADA68 already has a wide variety of aluminium and wooden cases available in the market unlike the Keywalker IFD68.
Another major factor was the shipping time. With Massdrop the expected shipping was after three months! For the TADA68 I found a well reputed vendor, mentioned by various people on the mechanical keyboards subreddit, kbdfans.cn (also sells on aliexpress) who already had the keyboard in stock.
With all these factors it was a no-brainer to buy the TADA68 and so I did!
🔗The Keyboard and The Switches
I bought the TADA68 keyboard with Gateron brown switches. I had originally planned to buy a keyboard with Cherry MX brown switches having tested and liked the switch on a 9 switch tester board with 9 different Cherry MX switches that I had bought earlier from aliexpress. But kbdfans did not have the board with Cherry switches, only Gateron switches which are Cherry MX clones by a Chinese company, which I had never tried before.
Cherry and Gateron switches variants are mainly similar with both companies Blue, Red, Brown switches having the same travel distance, actuation force, being linear or tactile and so on. The things that are on spec are same but of course there are subtle difference between the switches of the two companies due to manufacturing differences and other advancement and changes they both have made over the years.
Having searched online for comparisons between the Cherry and Gateron Brown switches mostly were positive reviews for the Gateron Brown with many saying it does not have the scratchy feeling/sound that you get with the Cherry switches and also it has a somewhat pronounced tactile feedback. So I took a risk in good faith. And indeed I feel the same about the Gateron Brown's not having that scratchy sound that I hear with the Cherry Brown switches, kind of a plastic scratching with plastic sound on every key press. But the tactile feedback did feel quite same to me on both.
The Gateron Brown's 45g actuation force does feel a little light when coming from my laptop's membrane switches with what feels like 100g of force, but they feel good and relaxed after getting some used to. I can also see why MX Clears with 65g of actuation force with the same tactile feedback as Browns would also appeal to some people as it is a nice balance between being easy to press and not having spurious key presses while just resting you fingers (Something I haven't experience with Browns till now).
Along with the keyboard I also bought the low-profile silver aluminium case sold by kbdfans, least it got sold out later. And I am definitely glad I did. An aluminium case gives any keyboard the rigidity and durability that instantly makes it a premium product. I particularly like a low-profile case than a high-profile one giving others a glimpse of the excellent technology and engineering that goes into the switches and the keyboard as a whole, adding to the mechanical keyboard aura.
Switching out the plastic case with the aluminium one I found out that two screws were "missing" in the sense that they were not screwed into the cases but stuck between the PCB and the steel plate. Which can definitely happen while screwing if you do not have a magnetic screw driver. The fact that the aluminium case came with aluminium screws is certainly not very help since aluminium is a nonferrous metal and is not attracted to magnets. So I had to fish out the screws stuck between the plates since they were indeed made of a ferrous metal and used them to replace the case.
Buying a mechanical keyboard right now is just perfect as I have just finished setting up vim and tmux, requiring extensive use of a keyboard.
So far it has been only a day and I am really enjoying my new keyboard and definitely have had an increase in my productivity, supported by the fact how long this blog post has already become which I am of course writing using my new keyboard.
🔗The KBDfans store
I have to mention how awesome my experience has been ordering from kbdfans.cn. Even though it is a Chinese company the website is very well made and has I think only an English version which is very well written. There are a few details that you may find missing in the product descriptions but they are generally very active on their FB messenger chat and answer any questions that you may have.
But perhaps the most amazing thing about them was that after I told them I am an international customer they happily offered to under declare the product value for custom duty. Which is something I wasn't even aware the sellers could do! After briefly going through the custom duty laws of my country and coming across the clause "... satisfaction of the Customs authorities with the truth and accuracy of the Declared Value." (Rule 4.1 of the Customs Valuation) I thought lets try not be too suspicious and told them to declare a value of around $49.9. But they anyways declared the value as low as they usually do, I guess, to that of $15! And guess what? It got through!
So I had to pay ~50% duty (which is the general duty rate on anything for "personal use") on $15 and an unsurprisingly surprise ₹500 "Disbursement fee" by DHL which I didn't see (or notice?) the last time I had imported something and was completely ignorant about imports and custom duty.
Anyhow in the end the total amount I had to pay for "duty" was 10% of the actual amount I paid which is definitely great considering how expensive mechanical keyboards are and how there are really no other alternatives (atleast in India) that would benefit from trade restrictions. Which leads to my next sections and a general rant about the socio-economic state of my country. (You have been warned!)
🔗Manufacturing in India
There are no Cherry MX clones being designed and made in India even after the original Cherry MX patent has been expired for years.
There is an Indian manufacture of the original Cherry MX switches which is a Joint Venture between Cherry (ZF Electronics Corporation) and TVS Group, India called ZF Electronics TVS (India). Taking a look at their website, it already hacked by someone 6 months ago and not yet fixed. There also seems to be a user flow where you can apparently add the items to a cart and "checkout", which is a completely bogus flow since their is no price information. So of course don't do that unless you want to be spammed and possible be harassed at your home address.
Assuming the company is still operational with perhaps a lacking IT department, they are mainly a manufacturing company so it would make sense they only sell in wholesale and bulk. Their alternate legitimate looking product page for MX switches has an option to run a product query and they also seem to be active on IndiaMart. So it should be possible for a consumer/e-commerce company to procure the switches in bulk and offer them to consumers.
Unless of course they keep telling themselves that there is not enough demand in India for "things like these".
The only e-commerce site I could find that sells Cherry MX switches is thingbits.net since all their product pages have titles "... in India" If you look at their price you'll see it is way to expensive since they import all their products and sell it at double the price including the custom duty.
Buying just 68 switches can cost you ₹6,338.96 or $93, at this price just buying and importing with the ~50% import duty on 68 switches you can save more than 1/4th of the thingsbit price. Their business model of product delivery in 3-4 days instead of the 18-28 days (usually faster for the Indian subcontinent) with free shipping on aliexpress, with 25% premium doesn't make a lot of sense. Especially since aliexpress has the buyer protection and return/refund policies like any other major e-commerce site.
I have sent them an email urging to source locally and pointed to the suppliers so that they can get them cheap and pass on the benefit to their customers. But I haven't heard anything from them yet.
With the government placing restrictions on trade in order to support local manufacturers and now the "Make in India" movement, their is still no focus on the bigger picture of encouraging the development of intellectual property used in consumer products creating the need for manufacturing. For example Tata Hitachi and Tata Marcopolo are one of many of the existing Indian breed industrial companies manufacturing locally but still have JV with Japanese and German companied providing the patents, technology and products that are actually manufactured.
For now all we can do is import until there is a boom of the manufacturing industry in India and the people get over the illusion that skipping over the manufacturing sector and directly into the service sector by a country as a whole is a good sign of development.