Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Review: Keycool 84 Mechanical Keyboard

This post will deviate from my typical opinionated ramblings in that I will actually review something for once! Today it will be the Keycool 84 mechanical keyboard - a 75% board with a few relatively unique features. I ordered this board from Massdrop and with shipping and duty it was about 140 CAD. My model has a black case, black shine through ABS keycaps, and Kailh Brown switches with white LED back lighting.

Initial Impressions/Overview

As my first mechanical keyboard, I wanted something of decent quality and at a reasonable price. This board seemed to fit the bill, that is until exchange rate, duty and shipping came into play. Overall, the board was more expensive than what I wanted to pay considering I was buying a board with Kailh switches. It arrived within about 5 days of shipping and was well packaged from Massdrop.

The main box - nothing fancy
 I won't spend too much time on the box. It does its job and describes the product.

My configuration
The box comes with the keyboard which is nicely wrapped in plastic and covered with a piece of hard plastic to protect the keys.

Included in the box is the keyboard, a gold plated Mini-B USB cable with cable wrap, a transparent cable reinforcer, a USB to PS/2 adapter, a keycap puller, a red Esc keycap, purple WASD keycaps, and blue arrow keycaps (all non-shine through). I wasn't expecting the keycaps so that was a nice surprise!

What's in the box?
One of the first things I did was compare the size of the Keycool 84 with my 5+ year old Microsoft Razer Reclusa. On my small work area (pictured later in the review) it turns out that switching to a 75% from a 100%+ keyboard will save a a lot of valuable real estate!

Overlaid on top of one another

My cable came with some weird oil or residue on it? A little weird and sticky but it appears to just be from the cable tie. Not a big deal obviously.

I then removed one of the keycaps to check out the controversial Kailh switches; they look as they should.

"KAILH'S ARE INFERIOR QUALITY, PLAIN AND SIMPLE" - /r/mechanicalkeyboards, 2036.
I installed the extra keycaps and took a picture. I don't really like them all that much; I think they look cheap. My friend feels they are decent quality though so it might just be my taste.

Plugging it in to my Antergos Linux machine and turning up the back lights revealed a relatively even shine through on most of the keycaps. I was a little worried at first as some of the keys wouldn't turn on even when toggling (F12, NumLock, ScrLock) but you must use the Fn key with these. There are 4 brightness levels (one being the off state) and unfortunately there are no LED pattern or profile capabilities.

There are two rubberized feet at the back which elevate the keyboard. Although some pieces felt a tad cheap to me (the stock and extra keycaps), the board as a whole seems rock solid in build quality.

Technical Aspects and Usage

The Caps lock LED turns off and on with toggling which is a nice visual reminder of its status; this is the same as the ScrLock and NumLock but they are activated in a different manner. By pressing Fn+F12 you can disable the Mod/Windows key (toggles the F12 LED). Fn+PrtSc/NmLk enables the pseudo-numpad distinguished in blue on the right hand side of the board (also toggling the status LED). Finally, Fn+ScrLk toggles Scroll Lock and the associated LED (though Linux doesn't use ScrLk so this LED will never turn on in my case).

This keyboard uses the MX dummy stem form of stabilizers as visible in the picture below.

The number pad is an interesting feature and a selling point for me personally. I'll need to get used to the arrangement but I think it's a really solid implementation even if it does feel a little strange at first.

An interesting point to note is that my keycaps seem to indicate that Fn+Left/Right have functions attached to them. However, I believe the black keycaps used in this particular batch were surplus and have symbols for Fn's that don't exist. The website and manual for this keyboard don't indicate any functions for these keys and older models come with keycaps that do not have these symbols on them (the gear and the "refresh" circular arrows).

Kailh Brown Switches

 A major and controversial topic in the mechanical keyboard community is the usage and adoption of the Kailh switch. Kailh brown switches have a heavier actuation force of ~60g when compared with the Cherry browns at ~45g. Many people liken the Kailh browns to the illusive Cherry clears. While I cannot comment if the Kailh browns feel like Cherry clears (I have never used them) I can say they are heavier than Cherry browns. Not by a lot, but it is noticeable. My friend just bought a Ducky Shine 3 TKL with Cherry MX brown switches so I was able to do a side by side comparison. I prefer the heavier feel of the Kailhs over the Cherrys but they both feel lovely and almost identical.
Two similar boards - both awesome in their own right.
I will be conducting a long term durability report on this blog in relation to the quality of my set of Kailh switches; if you would like to read further please visit this post(COMING SOON). Of all my switches, I noticed that my only my F8 switch feels off; it feels like it has a much higher and abrupt actuation point.


Overall, I would certainly recommend this keyboard; there are so many great options at this price point that a lot of your choice will come down to stock and preference. 



The Good:

    • Awesome layout
      • Very little compromise at such a small size
    • Bright and even back lighting with included keycaps
    • High quality construction
    • Neat extras like the numberpad and Mod/Windows lockout
      • Extra keycaps and PS/2 adapter too

The Bad:

    • No extra lighting modes or profiles
    • Keycaps may have misleading prints
      • Keycaps were slightly different than what was advertised
    • No backlighting on the number pad could get dicey
    • A little pricey considering you are getting Kailh switches
    • May be hard to find keycaps for it since the right shift is an uncommon size
    • May be my typing style or surface, but it has a "ping" when you type


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