The IBM Model M is one of the most iconic keyboards of the 20th century, with its crunchy buckling spring switches providing generous amounts of tactile and aural feedback. The keyboard remains well loved by some enthusiasts, but it’s not exactly a practical choice in the 21st century; the few Model Ms in good condition are expensive, and most sport old connectors that require adapters to use on modern PCs. That’s where Unicomp have stepped in, producing new keyboards with the same overall design and buckling spring switches, but with modern niceties like USB connections.
For this review, I’m looking at a uniquely retro variant, the Unicomp Endurapro, which has a pointing stick and a pair of mouse buttons (like Thinkpad laptops), which work in addition to your regular mouse. The keyboard is otherwise functionally identical to the Ultra Classic model, so you can consider this a review of that keyboard as well. Let’s get started!
The Endurapro comes plastic-wrapped in a box with plenty of cardboard inserts. The keyboard is quite durable, but it’s good to see that there’s not much chance of damage while shipping. The box contains the keyboard itself, a manual and a selection of caps for the pointing stick in various textures and colours.
Let’s take a closer look at the keyboard. As you can see, it’s a typical UK layout that mirrors what you’ll find on modern full-size keyboards, including Windows keys and a number pad. The keycaps are PBT, and come in two pieces: a top layer with Helvetica legends and an insert beneath. Each keycap has the same profile; it’s the keyboard that has a curve to it. That means it’s easy to swap the top layers to change to different layouts like Dvorak or German.
The pointing stick sits in the centre of the keyboard, nestling between the G, H and B keys, above the spacebar. Below the spacebar we have a pair of laptop-style buttons, which are mapped to the left and right mouse buttons as you’d expect.
On the right top side, we have the Unicomp logo (with pointer!) sitting below status indicator lights for caps, number lock and scroll lock. I’m not a fan of the typography and symbols used here (they seem overly large to my eyes), but it’s not something that’s bothered me.
Turning the keyboard over now, we have a permanently attached USB cable. If you’d like PS/2, you can pick up another Unicomp keyboard to scratch that particular itch. The keyboard has a sticker of manufacturer here too; my particular keyboard was made on May 22nd, 2014. We can also see that the keyboard was made in the US, a definite rarity these days!
We’ll test the Endurapro by using it as our primary keyboard for a period of about a month. Normally we’d bring the keyboard with us to work and so on, but the considerable size and weight of the Endurapro has precluded that in this instance. After this period, we’ll evaluate the keyboard on its performance.
To type on the Endurapro is to step back in time. The keyboard provides maximum feedback while typing; you can really feel the key actuate as you press it down, and you can certainly hear it too. The chunky feedback really sells the keyboard, and it’s an absolute pleasure to use.
The one potential downside to the Endurapro is that it is loud. The clack and clatter of a buckling spring keyboard like this is unmatched; the thing sounds like an old machine gun when you type at a reasonably rapid face. It’s entirely pleasant if you’re the one producing the racket, but your co-workers and/or family might not share your delight.
The Endurapro’s unique selling point is its integrated pointing stick. This works immediately upon being plugged in, with no special drivers required. The stick feels a bit different from laptop versions we’ve used before, as it needs to be longer to reach amongst the high profile keycaps. The pointer feels a bit slow to me, but it’s totally controllable and can be convenient, allowing you to make quick selections without moving your hands from the keyboard. If you’re comfortable with other pointing sticks on older keyboards or laptops, then you’ll find everything shipshape here. If you don’t need the pointing stick, then just pick up the otherwise identical Ultra Classic.
As we mentioned in the previous section, the Endurapro is far from being a portable keyboard. It’s certainly possible to carry it with you if you dedicate the space for it, but it’s a far cry from 60%, TKL or even some full-size keyboard designs. In general, this keyboard is going to be one that you leave on your desk rather than take to the LAN. Having said that though, the Endurapro is a bit sleeker and lighter than the original Model M, so at least that’s something.
While the Endurapro is brilliant for typing, it’s less suitable for gaming. The keyboard has an unfortunate 2KRO, meaning only two keys plus modifiers can be pressed at once. That makes it hard to use in many games, particularly shooters where you can be expected to be moving, crouching and changing weapons simultaneously. If you’re a big gamer, you’ll want to keep a keyboard with higher rollover nearby to use for games.
The final attribute of the Endurapro and its fellow keyboards is durability. Like the Model M before it, the Endurapro seems well equipped here. The buckling switches should last for decades without issue (buckling springs are rated between 25 and 100 million keypresses), and the case seems robust enough as well. The greater size of the bezel makes it a bit easier to flex than a more compact Filco, but I have no durability concerns.
The Unicomp Endurapro is the real deal: a buckling spring keyboard with that classic Model M design, but with a thinner design, USB cable and available brand new for a reasonable price. There are some inherent downsides – this is a loud, heavy keyboard – but if you want the blissful experience of buckling springs, this is one of the best ways to do it.
- Absolutely joyful typing experience, with plentiful tactile and aural feedback
- Newly made Model M alternative that works easily with modern PCs over USB
- Integrated pointer stick works well, available without as the Ultra Classic
- Loud typing sound could dismay your co-workers and/or family
- 2KRO makes the keyboard unsuitable for gaming
- Considerable dimensions and weight ensure low portability