Having seen our review of the Vissles V84 keyboard, another of the company’s products – the Vissles LP85 – caught my eye. It is a mechanical keyboard that is pitched as a direct rival to Apple’s own Magic Keyboard. Can Vissles really pull off a mechanical version of Apple’s popular Mac keyboard?
First impressions are good – the keyboard looks extremely well made and feels it too, with quite the heft. It has sharp angled, metal corners and comes in space grey and silver colours, so will fit in perfectly with your existing Apple devices.
On the back is a nicely made sliding switch (to flick between wired and wireless modes) and a USB-C port. Across the bottom, running from side to side, are two soft, rubber strips, ensuring it grips well on any desk.
You’d expect the mechanical keys to make this much deeper, right? At its maximum height (it has a 2° slope), it’s 12mm, which compares to 9mm with the Magic Keyboard. So, it’s thicker but not by that much.
Is it really mechanical?
Before I hear from lawyers, let me point out that this keyboard isn’t technically mechanical but optical-mechanical, although this is a term that Vissles is happy to band around on its website. The difference here is that the actual input from the key is transmitted via an optical connection, rather than a physical one, reducing mechanical wear. There are plenty of advantages to using an optical solution, including reduced costs and improved speed too.
Essentially it has all the pros of a mechanical keyboard with fewer of the cons.
Compatibility and lighting
The keyboard can be used for both Mac and Windows and can be connected via USB or Bluetooth, so it certainly ticks off the compatibility wishlist. To switch between OSes, there is a key combination to press, which defaults to Mac.
It has RGB lighting beneath the keys, with the characters on the keys themselves being the part that lights up – think of the MacBook keyboard but with more than one colour available. Again with a combination of keys, you can adjust the brightness, direction pattern, etc.
So that this keyboard can be compatible with both Mac and Windows, it includes the additional keys that the latter uses – Home, End, etc. These are supplied as an extra column on the right hand side and, as a Mac user, that was my biggest initial obstacle: I was hitting them by mistake, instead of the keys that I expected to be on the very right, such as Enter. On the plus side, many of these keys also work with Mac, so it gives you key options that you don’t normally have (a delete key, anyone?).
Some people would also complain about the single-height Enter key. Vissles has also moved one key and done away with another one entirely. Do you see that key to the left of the letter Z on your keyboard? It has the tilde (~) on it. That’s now in the top-left. The key that was there (containing § and ± characters) has gone. Lastly, this is a US layout keyboard, with no option for a UK one. As a result, the hash character is shown against the 3 key but, assuming you have your computer configured for a UK layout, pressing it will show the pound sign instead.
Otherwise, everything is where you’d expect it, including the standard top-row keys that control media, brightness, etc.
What’s it like to type on? Exactly as you’d expect: noisier than usual but with longer travel and firm and very reassuring feedback. In a nutshell, it’s a pleasure.
What does the Vissles LP85 sound like?
How loud is the Vissles LP85 compared to the Magic Keyboard? Here is a recording of me typing on both (Apple first, followed by Vissles):
Apart from getting slightly louder, you can hear that distinctive mechanical “spring”. But how much louder? Using a separate recording device, I clocked Apple’s Magic Keyboard at, most, 71dB. The LP85 went up to 81dB.
Not all was rosey with the Vissles. Here are the things I was less than impressed with:
- We need to talk about that weight. It weighs 547g, which is over twice the 231g weight of Apple’s Magic Keyboard. This isn’t a problem if it’s going to sit it on a desk, but if you plan to travel with it, you’re going to feel it – this keyboard is 39% the weight of the M1 MacBook Pro. Having said that, those sharp, angled edges are going to make it unfriendly to travel with anyway. If you do, Vissles are happy to sell you a leather-like case.
- I just don’t get the point of the backlighting here, other than for simply illuminating the keys in the dark. This isn’t a gamer’s keyboard, so flashing multi-colouring lighting seems pointless. If you’re not a fan of the RGB illumination, your only option is to turn it all off. This means that there’s no option for simple backlighting, which is something I would have loved. It just needs a setting to not animate the lights and have it on constantly with your choice of colour.
- Caps Lock is indicated by illuminating the wording on the key with a bright, white light. As you can have the RGB backlighting as just white, in this situation, it’s hard to know when the Caps Lock has been pressed. It would have been better to have always used a different colour or some other way of indicating it (the Magic Keyboard shows a small, green light on the key when it’s in use, for example).
- As far as I’m aware, the keycaps on this Vissels keyboard can’t be replaced, unlike the V84 and many other mechanical keyboards.
The unboxing experience
The LP85 comes in an unassuming black box, covered with a white sleeve. The sleeve has brief information about the product inside, as well as a line drawing of the keyboard.
Open up the box and you quickly realise that Apple’s care to make its packaging as environmentally friendly as possible doesn’t apply here. The keyboard sits inside a plastic surround, covered by a further lid of plastic. Lift up that sea of plastic and you find the USB-C to USB-A cable, inside a plastic bag, nestled in a massive bed of foam. On the underside of the cardboard lid is more foam. Elsewhere, you’ll find various leaflets, including some rather bland stickers.
It’s not that the packaging looks cheap, it’s just that other companies have shown us it’s possible to provide a pleasant, high quality, unboxing experience without, literally, costing the Earth to do so.
Unlike the Vissles V84 this doesn’t come with any other extras, such as a wrist rest or replaceable keycaps.
Vissles LP85 review: the verdict
There’s a lot to like about the Vissles LP85. The typing action is spot on, it looks at home alongside a Mac, it’s very well built and it’s a slice cheaper than the Apple alternative at £91. If you’re looking for a semi-mechanical alternative to Apple’s wares, then this should be on your shortlist. It’s on pre-order now from the Vissles website.
Vissles LP85 Wireless Optical-Mechanical Keyboard
Value for money
An excellent quality optical-mechanical keyboard at a good price
- Looks and feels superb – very well built and matches the Mac aesthetic
- Bluetooth 5 or USB-C connection
- Very slim, considering the type of keys being used here
- Single-height enter key
- Heavy if you plan to travel with it
- RGB lighting is either on and animated or off entirely