For mechanical keyboards, you can usually safely use them from major brands like Corsair or Razer, or buy them from smaller enthusiast manufacturers with more interesting designs and lower prices.
Of the two groups, Epomaker certainly belongs to the latter. The latest AK84S wireless keyboard is not available immediately from Best Buy and is not yet listed in the company’s Amazon store. Instead, you can pre-order directly from Epomaker’s own site after being funded through a recent Kickstarter campaign. The company says it is now focusing on shipping keyboards to Kickstarter backers before moving on to ordering through the website in mid-to-late September. Delivery can take one to two weeks, depending on the method chosen, Epomaker says.
Yes, it is. The Epomaker AK84S isn’t an impulse buy keyboard, it’s expected to click in 24 hours, lacks documentation, and the accompanying software is embarrassing. But starting at just $89, it offers the most awesome typing experience I’ve ever had on a mechanical keyboard. Considering the balance, I think it’s a price worth paying.
Epomaker’s AK84S comes in so many different configurations, it’s almost impossible to list them all. However, at the time of this writing, the cheapest configuration on the Epomaker website is the version with optical switches, ABS keycaps, and a combined aluminum frame and plastic case, priced at $89. If you want other options, such as more durable PBT keycaps (more on that), non-optical switches, mechanical or all-aluminum cases, you can pay up to $199.
Switch options include a variety of optical or mechanical Cherry MX clones produced by Gateron, including red, blue, black, brown, yellow, silver, green and white (some charge an additional $5 fee). Epomaker also has their own chocolate-branded switches that can be used with this board, unfortunately I haven’t been able to try.
For this review, I used an AK84S with a full aluminum frame, PBT keycaps with a panther design, and a clickable blue Gateron switch. From the photos you can see that my model came with a purple case. Epomaker’s website doesn’t list the options, but the company says it plans to eventually make the model more widely available. The all-aluminum version also doesn’t have the adjustable feet available for the version with the plastic case.
The AK84S has a 75% layout similar to what you find on most modern laptops. Unfortunately this is US (also known as ANSI) only, so if you prefer a UK or European ISO layout with a larger Enter key and a smaller Left Shift, you’re out of luck. My model comes with bottom row keycaps for Mac and Windows in the box, so I can swap Option and Command for Windows and Alt keys. There is no physical switch to change the keyboard layout between the two operating systems, but you can do so using button shortcuts.
Before we get into the nitty gritty details, I want to highlight how fantastic the AK84S’s core typing experience is. On my all-aluminum model, the key presses felt lovely and crisp, and the keyboard was surprisingly solid for typing overall. One rough spot is the keyboard’s stabilizer, a mechanism that prevents the longer keys from wobbling. They have a rattling side that reduces the overall quality of the rest of the board. But overall, the keyboard is a pleasure to type on.
I enjoyed the everyday typing experience of the AK84S, but over time the keyboard ran into some issues. First of all, I don’t like the look of the Epomaker’s stock keycaps. Each key has so many different features that the keycaps look really cluttered and, given the option, I’ll switch to a third-party set. Pay close attention to the bottom row of every set of keycaps you have on this keyboard, though. The legend printed on my PBT keycaps was also not particularly durable. After a month of use, the legend of the home row key started to fade. Given the option, I would choose ABS keycaps. As a plastic, ABS is famous for its luster over time, but the legend about the version available for the AK84S is that it’s a double shot, so it won’t wear out anytime soon. There’s also an unusual silicone keycap option that I haven’t been able to try, and it costs $65. Maybe it’s a fun novelty? I have no idea.
The AK84S provides hot-swappable switches as well as replaceable keycaps, so you can easily replace the switches that come with the board without using a soldering iron. Before inserting the replacement, use the small metal tool included in the box to easily pull each switch out of its socket. It’s a painless process that gives you the easy option of using a vast array of quirky and cool switches with your keyboard.
I think in general a 75% layout can fit any key most people use every day if well thought out. However, the window layout of the AK84S is a bit odd. The default screenshot button is unlabeled (F13 in case you’re curious), and there’s also an insert-only key, a button I’ve never deliberately pressed. Personally I also preferred the Home and End keys over Page Up and Page Down, but the former are accessible via function buttons.
Thankfully, you can customize the layout of the AK84S using the companion software, but lack of documentation makes this task… It makes for an interesting process. First of all, at the time of this writing, Epomaker’s website doesn’t actually list the AK84S on its download page. However, if you choose to download the software available for “SK, GK and NT keyboards”, it creates a program called GK6XPlus that will recognize the AK84S and customize its layout (after contacting the company about it, they said they would modify their homepage). It’s not an intuitive software to use, but after a bit of experimentation, the layout remained the same regardless of which computer the keyboard was connected to. The software can also customize the RGB backlight of the keyboard.
I’ve been using the AK84S wired via USB-C most of the time, but it also comes with Bluetooth connectivity and a 4,000mAh battery that Epomaker claims to give it 50 hours of use with RGB lighting on. 880 hours off. Unfortunately, these claims could not be verified, but they are well ahead of Keychron’s competitor K2, which in theory offers up to 240 hours of use. Like many other wireless keyboards, the AK84S can remember up to three paired devices, and you can easily switch between them using keyboard shortcuts.
There are a lot of small problems with the Epomaker AK84S. I think the default Windows layout is poor, the print quality of the PBT keycaps is poor, and the support and documentation that comes with the board is very lacking. We also deal with small companies that ship all our products internationally. This means you have to endure your orders in a different way than mainstream brands like Corsair or Razer.
However, the core typing experience of the Epomaker AK84S is basically good enough to be willing to forgive all of these issues. Yes, the software is clunky and the documentation is poor, but it’s a problem that can be overcome and ignored with a little patience. Add in other quality of life features like Bluetooth support and hot-swappable switches and you’ll have a board that will last you years of use. Or at least until you get the itch to buy another keyboard for no apparent reason.
Photo: Jon Porter / The Verge