The typewriter style keyboard seems to be on the rise. I recently wrote about the professional looking Penna Bluetooth Keyboard, but I also ran across the lofree keyboard. This retro, stylish Bluetooth keyboard may become a competitive field with varying degrees of quality.
The past few days I have contacted Elretron and lofree, the developers of Penna and the lofree keyboard. Each keyboard presents a unique perspective on what the typewriter keyboard should be. I wanted to detail the strengths and weaknesses of each keyboard as well as compare prices. Using a combination of information from their campaigns and conversations with the developers themselves, I have a number of thoughts on each keyboard.
The greatest selling point of both keyboards is that they are both wireless. Corded mechanical keyboards are very prevalent on the market, especially in the gaming format. However, a Bluetooth keyboard that also sports a mechanical layout is a rare find. Both the Penna and lofree provide Bluetooth technology, but neither provide it the same way.
The developers built the Penna as a dedicated wireless board. Therefore, there is no option to make the keyboard wired if needed. The only option given by the developers is to purchase a USB, Bluetooth, dongle receiver. Bluetooth works to make the keyboard a great mobile device station. It does not, however, make it much more convenient as a portable device.
In contrast, the lofree offers the option to be wired or wireless. The best explanation for this difference is found in the battery. While the Penna is powered by two AA batteries, the lofree is powered by an Li-ion rechargeable battery. Therefore, if the lofree starts running out of gas, you can plug it in using the micro USB port. The Penna, on the other hand, would need replacement batteries, albeit cheap ones.
It can be difficult to determine the quality of a build without having a hands-on experience with a product. However, specs and imagery speak volumes. At a glance, the Penna outclasses the lofree in quality.
Featuring a polished look and smooth chrome accent pieces, the Penna just looks nice. We hoped to hear that the chrome pieces were actually metal, but Elretron informed us that they are just chrome plated plastic. Regardless, the developers tooled the keycaps beautifully and offer two very classy looking styles. Unfortunately, this elegant keyboard is not backlit making it not ideal for dim lighting.
To correct my previous article, the Penna comes in more than just Matte Black and Pure White. It also comes in Baby Pink and Olive Green. Another neat feature is the wood color is actually constructed from real wood (hence the higher price tag).
The lofree is outfitted with a less stylish set of standard-looking, round keycaps. Additionally, the basic plastic build lacks the professional look found in the Penna. In spite of the less polished look, the lofree does offer back lighting. While the keys seem cheaper, the developers designed them to allow the back light to shine through and illuminate the keys. This feature alone could be a deciding factor for those who like to work in low lights. Unfortunately, the back light drastically reduces battery life when set to its highest setting.
The lofree comes in Turquoise Blue, Pure White, and Sandstone Black. The keycaps come in black with current backers also receiving a special set of teal/blue keycaps.
There are a few other key elements that make each keyboard slightly more unique than the other. For instance, the Penna pairs with up to five devices via Bluetooth. The lofree, on the other hand, can pair with three devices. Additionally, the Penna comes equipped with a tablet cradle to make it more compatible with mobile devices. While these elements may not be total selling points, the subtle differences are where each keyboard portrays its own personality.
While both keyboards sport wireless capabilities, neither are really meant to be portable boards. There are numerous foldable and flexible keyboards with Bluetooth capabilities for on-the-go situations. The Penna does advertise a carrying case, but carrying a full-size keyboard is just not practical. While not suited for regular travel, the developers built both boards to be stylish and versatile with the convenience of wireless.
Finally, the price makes the difference between these two boards. It is apparent that the Penna keyboard has the upper hand in a few of the technical areas. However, the price may be discouraging to potential buyers. This artistic and elegant keyboard is set to retail at $180. This price tag sets a high bar and exceeds the cost of most programmable, gamer-level boards.
In contrast, the lofree keyboard will retail at $130. While the keyboard is $50 cheaper than the Penna, it lacks the polish and certain additional features found in its direct competition.
The lofree is funding on IndieGoGo and is nearing the final stages of their campaign. They recently achieved $600,000 and are working toward the final stages of production. The campaign will close in 7 days since they have extended the campaign an extra 10 days.
Campaigning on Kickstarter the Penna has raised over $200,000 of their $50,000 goal. It also still has 21 days left. We inquired whether Elretron would include any stretch goals as the campaign progresses, to which we received an unclear message. I would not hold your breath for any real stretch goals beyond additional keyboard layouts.
The Penna and lofree keyboards are a beautiful introduction of the typewriter, retro board. Each board offers a unique rendition of the same concept. It is difficult to pick a true “winner” between these boards as both can be selected to suite different needs. What is your favorite keyboard and why? Make your VOX heard in the comment section below!