Epomaker AK84S Review - Chocolate Switches, Silicone Keycaps 11

Epomaker AK84S Review - Chocolate Switches, Silicone Keycaps

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GK2 Silicone Keycaps

Aha, it took long enough, but here we are going over the Epomaker GK2 keycaps. I mentioned before how you can get the AK84S with either the doubleshot ABS or GK1 PBT keycaps, but either version will include a brand-new GK2 keycap set at no cost, at least in the crowdfunding stage. These are experimental, with a silicone rubber surface the company is putting in other hands to gauge opinions and get feedback. The keycaps come in separate packaging, which actually looks more complete with the Skyloong logo and colors, in addition to the plastic window giving us a sneak peek at what is inside.

A sticker on the side confirms these are developed to be used on the AK84S, and this particular color scheme is based on the Roland-Garros tennis tournament logo, so expect to see green and orange here. Side flaps open up to help take the contents out, and we see two plastic blisters holding the keycaps separated by a thick piece of foam. Each layer has individual sections to hold the keycaps, and they come arranged in a typical QWERTY manner. As with the keyboard itself, these are for the modified US ANSI layout employed on the AK84S. What this means is that we don't get a full keycap set, so such keycaps as R. Ctrl are missing—it is not a key on the AK84S either. We get everything needed to cover the keyboard, including a few extra keycaps for the second layer.

The composition of these keycaps is quite unique to anything else I have reviewed, with doubleshot injection molded medical-grade silicone in two tones for a darker base and lighter legends. There are three base colors in the form of gray, green, and orange. The legends are all white and end up being simpler than the stock keycaps by missing out on the keyboard-specific legends. General secondary legends are above the primary ones, and we also see how these are effectively covers going over a harder blue plastic base with notches to secure the fit. The base is identical across all of these, and it is the silicone that is sculpted differently to provide different contouring for the rows on the keyboard. The extra keycaps do not come with this base, and you are meant to swap the covers over to use them. It goes without saying, but these are completely opaque keycaps.

If pictures say a thousand words, I've got two thousand above. Seen here are two of the stock ABS keycaps next to their GK2 silicone compatriots, and I can't state enough how different they are. Look at the much more angled sides head-on resulting in a smaller top surface for the legends and your fingers. The legends are similarly doubleshot injected for longevity, but smaller than those on the stock ABS keycaps. It is from the side that the biggest differences are revealed, however, with two-row profiles seen above. The GK2 profile is quite high and aggressive, and now we find out that things are less sharp and more curved throughout to where this is quite close to the SA profile. It is quite a departure from Epomaker's other keycaps as well as those from partnering brands such as Akko, with the latter generally favoring lower-profile keycaps.

Replacing the keycaps is trivial, but takes time. Definitely use a metal wire keycap puller and be extra careful with the longer ones that may require going one side at a time. Once all keycaps are removed, perhaps also swap out switches if you want. Either way, and assuming you have the GK2 silicone keycaps ready to go, just push them in one by one until you are done. They come in order out of the box anyway, which helps, although the Fn keys are in the second layer. I will note that my particular set was missing the base plastic for F9–F12, so they look odd in the finished photo above since the silicone covers are effectively skins over those four switches. This is obviously a QC error, and the company is aware of it, having implemented a second check to prevent it from happening in the future. The colors alone make this a far more attractive set than the stock keycaps to me. However, there is some play with the silicone covers over the plastic base. The notches help with the fit, but you can see how you need to align them properly. F1 in particular is a good example; as I did not pay any special attention to how I was installing them compared to other keycaps, some were angled in an ugly enough manner to require a quick fix. It took less than 5 minutes in total to put them on and get them aligned properly, so missing F9–F12 was obviously the bigger issue.

Here is a look at the GK2 silicone keycaps from the side, next to the same view of the stock ABS keycaps, which really says it all about the vastly different keycap profile. The plastic base is more like a flat low profile, and it is the silicone covers that make what is pretty much an SA profile here. Typing on these after using the stock keycaps, the Epomaker AK84S might have as well been a different keyboard entirely, and as opposed to before, I did not use the keyboard feet here. The sculpting is quite aggressive, so much so that I suspect a few edits can make that left photo seem like an X-ray of human teeth. This does help touch typing with some practice, but it will take some time to get used to what ends up being a vastly different typing experience.

The silicone surface is soft and supportive, but also dampens any tactile feedback from the switches. There is also a slight tendency for these to grab onto your fingers, which is probably why Epomaker and Skyloong went with the SA-like profile. On the flip side, the dampening also applies to the sound of typing on the keyboard with these keycaps, as you will soon hear. Overall, and this is after some time with these, I do like them enough to where I want to see if Epomaker will make a full set out of these, and maybe in different color options as well. I know there are at least three color options already, with one of those other two an acquired taste to say the least. I suspect it will be quite divisive, however, with many complaining about the keycaps essentially becoming a great equalizer for switches good and bad.

To better illustrate the differences in keycap profiles for the three available sets for the AK84S, Epomaker sent along this handy graphic. Yes, there are several keycap profiles now to beguile most readers here. For those somewhat familiar with others, the best way to relate these would be OEM for the ABS keycaps, DSA for the GK1, and SA for the GK2.

Since I know you were curious about the other colors, let me state right away that the free GK2 set is for Kickstarter backers only and a randomly included set of the three above. The GK1 PBT keycap set is more appealing to me, especially the black, white, and green one. For ABS, you get all black or all white only.
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