Durgod Fusion – around £84. View Kickstater page here.
- Proven mechanical keyswitches and popular compact design
- Three retro colour schemes, three modern connection methods
- An alternative to the showy, glowy gaming genre
Here’s one that I’m finding hard to resist – the Fusion keyboard Kickstarter, which is already funded but still offers the potential to pre-order for savings.
Durgod are a young company, joining the competitive arena for mechanical keyboards with the Taurus K320 and K310 (review coming soon – the reputation for the affordable range inspired pestering Durgod for a unit to look at). Rather than looking forward, they’re looking back with the Fusion. It’s a keyboard – there’s no need to get too excited – but in the best tradition of keyboards aimed at hackers, writers and gamers, it looks very much like it’s taking the job of being an input device more seriously than the job of being retro.
So let’s kick off with the mechanical bits. Durgod use metal chassis to mount the keys, and a range of genuine Cherry keyswitches; the Fusion retains the same customisation at ordering time (it’s not going as far as those keyboards with hot-swap switches). The keys are double-shot ABS (double injection moulded in old-school thinking) which means that, like a stick of rock, the letters go all the way and won’t wear off like UV-printed types.
Durgod claim to have taken the Commodore 64 for inspiration, but thank (Dur)god that this is only inspiration – recreating that nightmarish cheap action would result in something no-one would want to type on. Mechanically, forget cheap home computers, think IBM Model M, original Macintosh shortboard, Happy Hacker Keyboard – that class of machine.
Wired connection is available, but more flexibility comes in the form of Bluetooth 5 (multi-profile ahoy!) and 2.4GHz wireless with a USB dongle that hides under the Commodore-esque DURGOD badge on the side. That’s a neat touch – it’s not the first time the firm’s gone the extra mile for fit & finish, the detachable cables on the K320 have a lovely flush strain-relief fitting.
Wireless means batteries. There’s a 40 hour claimed lifespan for the built-in battery, which presumably charges via the USB C connection on the back. Unlike the Taurus, the Fusion’s cable protrudes, with a flush connector on the rear of the keyboard.
The compact design is claimed to be highly portable – and certainly looks like it will take up little more space than the dreaded flat-key Apple wireless one (sadly, there are no plans for native Mac OS legends or mapping, though it could be used with a Mac just like any PC keyboard can). Flip-up feet in the base provide adjustable angles, and the key pitch and spacing looks bang-on for anyone who learned to type before the compromises of laptop keyboards and scissor switches.
Styling-wise, you’ve got three colour schemes: Original, Steam and Navigator. Original feels somewhere between an early MSX or pale-keyboard Acorn, thanks to the orange highlights; Steam is silver and red, a bit Cyberpunk but perhaps with a slightly too plastic-metallic finish for my taste (think Philips G7000), and Navigator is an awesome blue/cream/yellow (it’s hard to judge on the Kickstarter due to the retro filters on many of the images). I have no ideal which machine inspired Navigator, but I want one.
Pricing for a mechanical keyboard of this type suggests a relatively high RRP of $199, but most of the Kickstarter deals are around $99. That’s extremely competitive for a well-thought out, unique style. Linux is supported and you just know this is going to be the preferred design for a RetroPi system – without the drag, dullness or cheapness that marred real ’80s home computer keyboards!
And that C64 inspiration? The more I look at the shape, the more I see a Commodore Plus/4 – but who remembers those…
Review: Fusion Steam, Cherry red
Alongside the Taurus K320 Nebula I requested for review, Durgod sent an early sample of the Fusion, in Steam colours (red highlights, grey casing on the images). This has Cherry MX red switches, rather than the browns in the K320, and is an ANSI-US layout.
The first thing you notice is the colour – it’s not as metallic/shiny-looking as the pictures, and is far more authentic to the retro-computer roots and inspiration Durgod need to get right for the illusion to work. It’s also not as grey – it’s more of a sand-beige to vary from the cream-beige of the Original scheme with orange keys; think Apple Platinum vs. the original beige, thought the black keys push it more towards Victor/ACT territory.
It’s got a good density of plastic, flexes slightly but not much, and as a portable mechanical keyboard is reassuringly light; the K320 (wired only, remember, but with a very solid chassis) weighs around a kilo, this is just over 600g with an integrated battery and wireless.
The sound of the ’80s
Using a typical home computer of the 1980s came with a soundtrack of those rapidly clicking keys – at least, unless you had a Spectrum. The Fusion captures this perfectly; ultimately the reason for it existing in the first place is to evoke memories of Ataris, BBCs and Apples, and it does so very effectively. The spacing, PBT dye-sub keys and even spacebar operation are a reminder of just how well-engineered most basic home computers were, when now, you pay £2,500 for a laptop and get something that would shame an Oric.
Don’t worry though, the tech isn’t all ’80s. Keeping things simple – and compatible – there are three connection methods that effectively support up to four computers at once; two Bluetooth profiles, one wireless dongle (as mentioned above, stored behind the badge which attaches magnetically), and wired via the USB-C port on the back. Cables for both USB-C and USB-A connection are provided, along with a key puller, Durgod mouse-mat-style coaster, and a velcro cable organiser.
If you’re used to half-assed, phoned-in designs from relatively unknown brands, Durgod’s attention to detail is top-notch. Where the K320 has the bespoke, flush-fitting cables, the Fusion’s got a spring-loaded assist for removing the dongle from the flush space below the magnetic badge. This is thoroughly well-thought out product design to be commended.
With Cherry reds, the clicking is just down to the movement of the keys, not the internal switches, so it’s a low, soft sound. You can specify blues if you want the percussive chatter of switches over the bass of the keys moving.
Cable connection works as expected, and it’s a nice touch to see a coloured highlight inside the USB port – Durgod really have gone to town on the details here. Both bluetooth profiles are presented as separate connections on the keyboard, so you can rapidly switch between them without having to move your hands away or flip the keyboard over; function + Q, W, E and R swaps connection method.
Retro is skin-deep. Thankfully.
Everything works as expected – the keyboard identifies itself properly, works brilliantly with Mac, Windows, Linux and iOS devices (I haven’t tried on Android, but there’s no reason to doubt) and the only downside for me is the usual “where’s the Mac version”. Since it correctly identifies itself and the layout, though, there’s no ambiguity around punctuation and special symbols – it’s just the Ctrl, Option, Command triplet that lurk to confuse my muscle-memory, with command mapped to Windows.
You can customise the layout with Zeus engine, but that’s an intermediate layer rather than remapping at a hardware level. You can read more about DZE and Durgod’s next-generation customisation, Hera, in the K320 Nebula review.
I really do wish Durgod would make a Mac keyboard, because at the Kickstarter price, this is a huge improvement over the Apple offering in terms of typing speed, accuracy and just how pleasant it is to use. Yes, the function keys are doubled-up, but if you’re the sort of user who needs them often you’ll either adapt very rapidly to the Fn-modifier, or you’ll get a full-size keyboard.
Aside from the lack of a Mac layout, the drawbacks of this reduced-TKL layout are trivial. I find the proximity of the navigation keys caught me out until the Fusion’s became a natural layout for my brain. There’s only one level of tilt adjustment, thought the height and angle of the keyboard are pretty much perfect for me anyway (think Amiga, or Apple /// height rather than Apple ][ or CBM PET), and of course for wired use you will need to remember the cable; on the other hand, the wireless dongle has easy on-board storage, so power’s the only concern there.
What this will really cost when it goes on general sale is obviously uncertain. At the moment, the Kickstarter has a couple of weeks to go at around £84, depending on your choice of switches. At that price, the keyboard’s great value as a portable, robust-feeling mechanical model with excellent connectivity.
It’s a clear 5/5 product for me, offsetting the lack of Mac keys with well-executed nostalgic cues that while, ultimately, it’s simply another wireless mechanical short keyboard. genuinely contribute to that feeling of retro-computing and nostalgia. And that’s the kind of emotive touch that so many companies fail to get right – which is why Durgod’s one to watch. If they turned this into a £150 Pi 4 case with heatsink, power switch, hub and fan, I’d be paying a lot of attention indeed, and it would be a perfect (sounding) basis for a recreated Atari 800XL.
Can I drop any more hints?