Epomaker AK84S review: a great wireless keyboard, plus some quirks
On the subject of mechanical keyboards, you usually have the choice of enjoying it protected with a significant model like Corsair or Razer, or shopping for from smaller fanatic producers with extra attention-grabbing designs and infrequently extra inexpensive costs.
Of the 2 teams, Epomaker undoubtedly falls into the latter. Its current 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 just lately being funded through a Kickstarter campaign, it’s now obtainable to preorder straight 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 through its web site in mid- to late September. Delivery can take wherever from one to 2 weeks, relying on which methodology you select, Epomaker says.
So sure, the Epomaker AK84S isn’t a keyboard you’ll be able to impulse purchase and count on to be clacking away on inside 24 hours, and it suffers from an absence of documentation and baffling companion software program. Nevertheless it additionally has a beginning worth of simply $89 and provides one of many nicest typing experiences I’ve had from a mechanical keyboard. On stability, I believe it’s a worth price paying.
Epomaker’s AK84S is obtainable in all kinds of various configurations, a lot in order that it’s nearly unattainable to checklist 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 worth of $89. If you’d like different choices, like supposedly extra sturdy PBT keycaps (extra on this in a bit), mechanical relatively than optical switches, or a totally aluminum case, then you’ll be able to 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 a further $5 charge). Epomaker additionally has its personal Chocolate-branded switches obtainable with this board, which sadly I wasn’t capable of 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 footage that my mannequin got here with a purple case, which isn’t an possibility listed on Epomaker’s web site, however the firm says it plans to finally make this mannequin extra broadly obtainable. 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 has similarities to what you’ll discover on most trendy laptops. Sadly, it’s US (aka ANSI) solely, which implies you’re out of luck in case you favor 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 may swap Choice and Command for Home windows and Alt keys. There’s no bodily swap to vary 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 wish to emphasize how incredible the core typing expertise of the AK84S is. On my all-aluminum mannequin, keypresses had a stunning crisp feeling to them, and the keyboard as a complete felt splendidly stable 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 aspect, which detracts from the general high quality of the remainder of the board. However as a complete, the keyboard is a pleasure to sort on.
Whereas I loved the day-to-day typing expertise of the AK84S, I had just a few 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 trying actually cluttered, and given the choice, I’d most likely swap them out for a third-party set (there aren’t any notably 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 most likely go for the ABS keycaps. ABS as a plastic has a popularity for going shiny over time, however the legends on the variations obtainable 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 possibility which I wasn’t capable of strive, and which prices $65. Perhaps it’s a enjoyable novelty? I don’t 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 metallic software that comes within the field to ease every swap out of its socket, earlier than inserting a alternative. It’s a painless course of that offers you the simple possibility of utilizing an unlimited array of bizarre switches with the keyboard.
I usually suppose that if a 75-percent format is nicely thought out, then it’s potential to suit each key most individuals use each day. However the AK84S’s Home windows format is somewhat unusual. The default screenshot button is unlabeled (it’s F13, in case you’re questioning), and there’s additionally a complete key devoted to Insert, a button I’ve by no means pressed on objective. Personally, I’d have additionally most well-liked Dwelling and Finish keys over Web page Up and Web page Down, however the former are accessible through a perform button.
Fortunately, it’s potential to customise the AK84S’s format utilizing a bit of companion software program, however the lack of documentation makes this an… attention-grabbing course of. For starters, as of this writing, Epomaker’s web site doesn’t really checklist the AK84S on its downloads page. However in case you select to obtain the software program obtainable 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 will 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 sort of factor.
I used the AK84S wired over USB-C for almost all of my time with it, but it surely 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 capable of validate these claims, however in concept they put it far forward of Keychron’s competing K2, which provides as much as 240 hours of use. Like many different wi-fi keyboards, the AK84S can bear in mind as much as three gadgets it’s been paired with, and you’ll swap between them simply with keyboard shortcuts.
I’ve loads 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 so much to be desired. You’re additionally coping with a small firm that’s delivery all its merchandise internationally, which implies you need to be affected person with orders in a manner that you just don’t with a extra mainstream model like Corsair or Razer.
However the core typing expertise of the Epomaker AK84S is sweet sufficient that I’m prepared to forgive principally all of those points. Sure, its software program is clunky, and sure its documentation is unhealthy, however they’re each issues that may be overcome with somewhat endurance after which ignored. Add in different quality-of-life options like Bluetooth assist and hot-swappable switches, and also you’ve bought a board that ought to final you years. Or at the very least till you get an itch to purchase one other keyboard for no obvious motive.
Pictures by Jon Porter / The Verge