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Circuit Breaker

This retro typewriter-style keyboard looks great

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Retro is cool again. Vinyl is making a comeback, film cameras are back in production, and old-school wooden radios are getting new, tech-infused versions.

The Penna is a new Kickstarter project from a company called Elretron that looks to cash in on the current retro-tech craze by fusing the old-time aesthetics of a typewriter with the technology of a modern-day mechanical Bluetooth keyboard.

The Penna comes in two versions: the far nicer-looking (but presumably harder to type on) chrome-edged circular typewriter keycaps, as well as a more conventional square-shaped version. The mechanical switches offer a choice between Cherry MX Blue, Red, or Brown options, depending on the level of resistance and “clickiness” that you like from a keyboard. The keyboard itself comes in a choice of five colors. It’s a design that feels very similar to the Lofree, a similarly retro-styled keyboard that ultimately failed to live up to expectations. With the Penna’s wider range of choices for users, however, I have hopes that it might succeed where the Lofree failed.

An interesting bit that stands out on the Penna is the lever on the side, which would usually be used for moving the paper up a line and returning the carriage back to the start on a real typewriter. Obviously, that’s not a feature that’s needed on a Bluetooth keyboard, but the Penna’s lever isn’t simply an aesthetic bit either — it’s a programmable macro that can save buttons or even whole words and phrases for quick use.

The Penna connects over Bluetooth, and claims to be compatible with Windows, iOS, and Android devices. (For some reason, the company doesn’t mention Macs at all, but I can’t figure out why it wouldn’t, in theory, work with Apple’s computers as well.) It runs off AA batteries instead of a rechargeable option, which is a bit annoying, and while Elretron notes that the keyboard lasts up to six months when idle, it isn’t giving any estimates for how much time you'll get in active use.

It’s worth keeping in mind that Elretron is a first-time company that’s never shipped a product before, although the company already has working prototypes and claims to be ready for mass production following crowdfunding. As always, use your best judgement before backing.

The Penna is available on Kickstarter for $99 ($89 for early-bird backers), and is expected to ship in August.