In terms of mechanical keyboards, you typically have the choice of taking part in it secure with a significant model like Corsair or Razer, or shopping for from smaller fanatic producers with extra fascinating designs and sometimes extra reasonably priced costs.
Of the 2 teams, Epomaker undoubtedly falls into the latter. Its latest AK84S wi-fi keyboard isn’t one thing you’re going to have the ability to purchase off the shelf from Finest Purchase, and as but it’s not listed on the corporate’s Amazon storefront. As a substitute, after not too long ago being funded by way of a Kickstarter campaign, it’s now accessible to preorder instantly from Epomaker’s own site. The corporate says it’s specializing in delivery keyboards to its Kickstarter backers for now earlier than shifting on to orders made by way of its web site in mid- to late September. Delivery can take anyplace from one to 2 weeks, relying on which technique you select, Epomaker says.
So sure, the Epomaker AK84S isn’t a keyboard you possibly can impulse purchase and anticipate to be clacking away on inside 24 hours, and it suffers from a scarcity of documentation and baffling companion software program. Nevertheless it additionally has a beginning value of simply $89 and gives one of many nicest typing experiences I’ve had from a mechanical keyboard. On steadiness, I believe it’s a value price paying.
Epomaker’s AK84S is offered in all kinds of various configurations, a lot in order that it’s nearly inconceivable to listing each one. As of this writing, nevertheless, the most affordable configuration on Epomaker’s web site seems to be the model with optical switches, ABS keycaps, and an aluminum body paired with a plastic case, which is available in at a value of $89. In order for you different choices, like supposedly extra sturdy PBT keycaps (extra on this in a bit), mechanical somewhat than optical switches, or a completely aluminum case, then you possibly can pay as a lot as $199.
Swap choices embrace an array of optical or mechanical Gateron-produced Cherry MX clones, together with reds, blues, blacks, browns, yellows, silvers, greens, and whites (some have an extra $5 payment). Epomaker additionally has its personal Chocolate-branded switches accessible with this board, which sadly I wasn’t in a position to check out.
For this evaluate, I’ve been utilizing an AK84S with a full aluminum body, PBT keycaps with the panda design, and clicky blue Gateron switches. You’ll see within the photos that my mannequin got here with a purple case, which isn’t an choice listed on Epomaker’s web site, however the firm says it plans to finally make this mannequin extra extensively accessible. The all-aluminum model additionally lacks adjustable ft, which you get on variations with a plastic case.
The AK84S has a 75-percent format, which is analogous to what you’ll discover on most fashionable laptops. Sadly, it’s US (aka ANSI) solely, which implies you’re out of luck in case you want a UK or European ISO format with an even bigger Enter key and smaller left Shift. My mannequin got here with backside row keycaps for each Mac and Home windows within the field, so I might swap Choice and Command for Home windows and Alt keys. There’s no bodily change to alter the keyboard’s format between the 2 working techniques, however you are able to do so with a button shortcut.
Earlier than I get into any nitty-gritty particulars, I simply need to emphasize how implausible the core typing expertise of the AK84S is. On my all-aluminum mannequin, keypresses had a beautiful crisp feeling to them, and the keyboard as an entire felt splendidly strong to sort on. One tough spot is the keyboard’s stabilizers — the mechanism that stops longer keys from wobbling round. They’re a contact on the rattly facet, which detracts from the general high quality of the remainder of the board. However as an entire, the keyboard is a pleasure to sort on.
Whereas I loved the day-to-day typing expertise of the AK84S, I had a number of points with the keyboard over time. For starters, I don’t love the look of Epomaker’s inventory keycaps. Every key has so many alternative features that the keycaps find yourself wanting actually cluttered, and given the choice, I’d in all probability swap them out for a third-party set (there aren’t any significantly non-standard keys you want to pay attention to on this keyboard, however pay shut consideration to the underside row of any keycap set you purchase). The printed legends on my PBT keycaps additionally weren’t particularly sturdy; after a month of use, the legends on the house row keys had began to fade. Given the choice I’d in all probability go for the ABS keycaps. ABS as a plastic has a fame for going shiny over time, however the legends on the variations accessible for the AK84S are double-shot, which implies they’re not going to put on away anytime quickly. There’s additionally an uncommon silicone keycap choice which I wasn’t in a position to strive, and which prices $65. Perhaps it’s a enjoyable novelty? I do not know.
In addition to swapping keycaps, the AK84S additionally options hot-swappable switches, which make it straightforward to swap out the switches that include your board with out having to make use of a soldering iron. You utilize the small steel software that comes within the field to ease every change out of its socket, earlier than inserting a substitute. It’s a painless course of that offers you the simple choice of utilizing an enormous array of bizarre switches with the keyboard.
I typically assume that if a 75-percent format is nicely thought out, then it’s doable to suit each key most individuals use each day. However the AK84S’s Home windows format is slightly unusual. The default screenshot button is unlabeled (it’s F13, in case you’re questioning), and there’s additionally an entire key devoted to Insert, a button I’ve by no means pressed on goal. Personally, I might have additionally most well-liked Dwelling and Finish keys over Web page Up and Web page Down, however the former are accessible by way of a operate button.
Fortunately, it’s doable to customise the AK84S’s format utilizing a chunk of companion software program, however the lack of documentation makes this an… fascinating course of. For starters, as of this writing, Epomaker’s web site doesn’t truly listing the AK84S on its downloads page. However in case you select to obtain the software program accessible for “SK, GK & NT Keyboards’’ you’ll find yourself with a program known as GK6XPlus, which acknowledged the AK84S and allowed me to customise its format (after I requested the corporate about this, it stated it might amend its web site). I wouldn’t name it an intuitive piece of software program to make use of, however after a little bit of experimenting I ended up with a format that carried over no matter which pc I plugged the keyboard into. This software program can even customise the keyboard’s RGB backlighting, in case you’re into that type of factor.
I used the AK84S wired over USB-C for almost all of my time with it, however it additionally contains Bluetooth connectivity and a 4,000mAh battery that Epomaker claims ought to get you 50 hours of use with its RGB lighting turned on, or as a lot as 880 hours with it turned off. Sadly, I wasn’t in a position to validate these claims, however in idea they put it far forward of Keychron’s competing K2, which gives as much as 240 hours of use. Like many different wi-fi keyboards, the AK84S can keep in mind as much as three gadgets it’s been paired with, and you’ll change between them simply with keyboard shortcuts.
I’ve a whole lot of small issues with the Epomaker AK84S. I believe its default Home windows format isn’t nice, the printing on its PBT keycaps is low high quality, and the assist and documentation you get with the board leaves loads to be desired. You’re additionally coping with a small firm that’s delivery all its merchandise internationally, which implies you must be affected person with orders in a approach that you just don’t with a extra mainstream model like Corsair or Razer.
However the core typing expertise of the Epomaker AK84S is nice sufficient that I’m keen to forgive mainly all of those points. Sure, its software program is clunky, and sure its documentation is dangerous, however they’re each issues that may be overcome with slightly endurance after which ignored. Add in different quality-of-life options like Bluetooth assist and hot-swappable switches, and also you’ve obtained a board that ought to final you years. Or not less than till you get an itch to purchase one other keyboard for no obvious cause.
Images by Jon Porter / The Verge