Over the years, we’ve looked at a lot of keyboards here at MMORPG, but today we’re looking at the rare board that’s earned its way into daily use. I’m talking about the Epomaker GK68XS, a brand new crowdfunded keyboard launching to Kickstarter today. The team behind it aren’t new to the keyboard world, however, and it’s clear from the final product that they’ve developed something worth a much closer look. I’m here to do exactly that. This is our review of the Epomaker GK68XS.
- Availability: Available on Kickstarter Now
- Current Pricing:
- Plastic Wired: $65 (No Switches), $85 (Gateron), $99 (Cherry)
- Plastic Wireless: $75 (No Switches), $95 (Gateron), $109 (Cherry)
- Aluminum Wired: $155 (No Switches), $159 (Gateron), $169 (Cherry)
- Aluminum Wireless: $165 (No Switches), $169 (Gateron), $179 (Cherry)
- Layout: 68 Key Compact
- Modular Space Bar Can Become Three Separate Buttons
- Type: Mechanical
- Connectivity: Wired (tested) or Bluetooth 5.1 (1900 mAh)
- Key Switches:
- Hot-Swappable: Easily Change to Any Compatible 2-pin Switch
- Cherry: Red, Blue, Brown, Black
- Gateron: Red, Blue, Brown, Black, Clear, Green
- Keycaps: PBT w/ Dye Sublimated Legends
- Available in: White or Grey
- Case: Plastic or Aluminum (one piece)
- Available in: White or Black (Plastic), Silver or Purple (Aluminum)
- Illumination: Yes - 16.8M Colors
- Programmable: Yes - Remapping, Lighting, Macros
If you’ve never heard of Epomaker, don’t worry. The company has been operating on their own site and Amazon for some time, focusing on selling keyboards to a worldwide audience. They represent many brands that often operate in the enthusiast sector, like Akko, who you might know through their work with Ducky, as well as budget-conscious brands like Royal Kludge, Ajazz, and Magic Force. With the GK68XS, they’re releasing what appears to be their very first product and, frankly, they’ve done an amazing job with it.
As you might have guessed from the name, the GK68XS is a 68-key mechanical keyboard. That puts it in league with other 65% keyboards, like the Durgod Hades, Ducky One 2 SF, and Rama Works KOYU. This layout takes the popular 60% design, which does away with the function row and everything right of the alpha keyset, and restores the arrow keys and a portion of the navigation/editing cluster. In this case, Epomaker has restored the delete and page up/down keys (this varies between boards). The bump from 65 to 68% comes from the space bar, which, as you can see can be split into three sections, adding two more keys, and a single-unit Fn key between Alt and Menu.
This layout is easily my favorite. As a gamer, it provides me immediate access to all of my most-used keys and puts everything else on secondary layers, accessed with the Fn or Layer Switch keys. It keeps the arrow keys as physical buttons, which is extremely useful for games, but even more so for basic writing tasks, which is also the case for the navigation buttons. The only thing I didn’t like was the position of the backspace, since it’s a row higher than my KOYU and one unit to the right of most 65-percents. Thankfully, remapping it is easy if this trips you up too.
The keyboard is extremely compact, only a single column wider than a 60% but is functionally much more useful for day to day tasks and gaming. This size is fantastic if you have a small desk or simply want to preserve space for big mouse movements. I’m not a “sweeping mouse movement” guy myself, but I still find it more comfortable to have my wrists closer together, and it’s more ergonomically sound.
Triple Spacebar: Four Keyboards in One, Software Overview
The big thing you’re probably wondering about is the spacebar. Out of the box, the Epomaker comes with a completely normal spacebar. Inside one of the accessory packages (along with additional keycaps, switches, keycap and switch pullers, a braided USB cable, and a fabric travel case — there are a lot of accessories!), you’ll find a module that can be swapped out to split the spacebar into three separate keys.
Why do this, you might ask? Simple. Since the GK68XS has such a compact layout, you’ll be putting all of your secondary functions (like all of those F keys) and gaming macros on secondary layers. Here’s everything I keep attached to my Fn button.
You’ll notice that I don’t have anything related to gaming here. That’s because all of my game shortcuts are on a layer all their own that I access by holding the left spacebar. This is completely customizable, too. I could access it only when held or tap to stay switch — especially useful if you want a gaming keypad on one layer and a normal keyboard on your base layer. The keyboard can store up to three additional layers of keys, essentially making it four keyboards in one.
If you look closely at the screenshot above, you’ll also notice a section dedicated to macros. The keyboard comes preloaded with macros for half a dozen games, including Overwatch and PUBG, but you can also record your own or remap keys. You can also completely customize the keyboard’s lighting down to individual keys. There are a whopping 128 different lighting presets. Epomaker also shares that you can download new lighting presets, though I’m not sure where to find that as of this writing. Lighting animations can be saved an uploaded as files, however, so the functionality is clearly there.
The software is rough around the edges. It’s completely functional and didn’t crash, but it’s not the most user friendly. I’m pretty familiar with different types of software, and even used a previous version of this suite in my 2018 review of the GK64, but still had to spend a good twenty minutes clicking around to figure out how everything worked. Thankfully, there’s a helpful guide tab on the bottom that tells you basic functions like lighting controls and resetting the keyboard to default settings right off the bat. Still, you’ll want to be prepared for some rough edges — like needing to apply each change to a given layer.Note: The Shift key is raised because I had recently taken it off and didn’t press it down all the way. It sits correctly otherwise.
Build Quality and Usage Impressions
Back to the keyboard itself. Epomaker has done an excellent job with build quality and construction. The board I tested was built inside a solid, one-piece aluminum case (plastic options are available). It comes with your choice of switches from either Gateron or Cherry, and features excellent, thick-walled, PBT keycaps with dye-sublimated legends.
Even though the case is available in plastic, if you can afford the extra, I would highly recommend picking up the aluminum case. It’s available in either grey or purple and is easily one of the best parts of the entire keyboard. It weighs more than some full-size keyboards at 1.2kg, but that heft and rigidity make for an outstanding typing experience. There is no ping whatsoever and the only way I was able to hear any key reverb was if I literally held my ear above the keys. It’s also well machined with no visible machining marks anywhere on the surface. This is a case I wouldn’t be surprised to see shipped with a custom kit, let alone a pre-built keyboard, and I wouldn’t be surprised it there was even some damping material inside. I’m not sure of the exact angle, but I was able to type on the board comfortably without a wrist rest or aftermarket tilt feet.
The keycaps are equally high quality. They use the XDA profile, which means every row is the same height and the letter keys all feature big centered legends. I found them very comfortable. I tested the grey set, which also includes red accents on the arrows and escape key. They’re thick-walled, which you can hear in the typing sounds when you bottom out. The dye-sublimation process used for the legends also means that they won’t fade away, even after years of heavy use.
The downside here is that they’re not shine-through, which reduces the amount of RGB that makes its way out. Instead, what you get is a light bed effect that works well with the white PCB. The lighting is still visible and looks good, but you won’t be able to see the legends in the dark.
Underneath those caps, the switches are hot-swappable. This is one of those features that every gaming keyboard should have because it puts the power in the hands of the gamer. Ever want to try a new switch but didn’t want to buy a whole new keyboard? The Epomaker lets you do that. All you have to do is pull the old switch out and press the new one in. That also means that if a switch ever dies, you can replace that single button and not the whole board. Or, even more interesting, you can experiment with have different types of switches in different places, like linears for your WASD keys and clickies everywhere else. I personally love it because it opens the door to a much wider world of switches that you can find in a pre-made board. There are dozens and dozens out there and much more variety than Cherry currently offers.
Hot-swap has been standard in the GK line of keyboards (it’s a popular line in the custom keyboard world and has many versions), but it’s clear that Epomaker has taken feedback from the community. The availability of case options, customizable keycaps options — each of high quality, small touches like the lack of ping when slamming the keys — these are all things even major companies get wrong and Epomaker nailed.
They even went so far as to lube the stabilizers so they wouldn’t rattle. If you’re not a keyboard enthusiast, the probably sounds vaguely dirty (believe me, I know… I’m the guy telling my colleagues to lube their stabs). But, if you’ve used a gaming keyboard, you’ve probably noticed that the longer, stabilized keys have a higher pitched sound and may even sound a bit cheap or grating. That’s because the wire underneath is literally rattling against the plastic housing of its mechanism. The fix is fast and easy (add a small amount of grease to the wire) but most companies simply skip that step, even though it means a worse overall typing experience.
Epomaker took that step but, at least on my board, were a little over-zealous with the lube. The stabilized keys were quiet, but also felt a bit sluggish compared to the rest of my keys. After removing the excess, I found the keyboard to offer a truly great typing experience. The keys are fast and responsive, the sound is one of the best I’ve ever heard on a prebuilt keyboard, and the overall sound is quieter than the vast majority of my production gaming keyboards.
In short, Epomaker nailed it.
Oh, also: the keyboard has a microphone built into it. One of the lighting presets uses the microphone to activate the LEDs, so it can flash along with your music or key clacking. Pretty neat.
The Epomaker GK68XS isn’t a wholesale new keyboard. It’s built on a solid, proven foundation which has allowed the team to focus on customizing the board, its options, and deliver the outstanding build quality I’ve experienced over the last two weeks of use. It’s not every day a review item comes in that I use after the review is completed, but this is absolutely going to stay in my rotation. It’s a premade keyboard that feels like a custom. It’s a custom that’s been premade for you.
It doesn’t matter how you look at it. At the end of the day, what it is is an outstanding keyboard and a project that is absolutely worth supporting. It is one of the best pre-built boards you can buy right now and is more than ready for any genre of game you enjoy. If you need a new keyboard or just want to upgrade your gaming setup, the Epomaker GK68XS is a great choice.
The product described in this review was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.