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Epomaker SIKAKEYB Red Hat Review

Away with pain?

Christopher Coke Posted:
Category:
Hardware Reviews 0

Epomaker is an up-and-comer in the mechanical keyboard world. Back in May, we looked at the GK68XS and loved it. The company is back again, this time with SIKAKEYB, with a brand new mechanical keyboard, the AB Red Hat. It features an innovative ergonomic design, thick PBT keycaps, full RGB backlighting, and deep programmability starting at $89. It’s live on Kickstarter now, but is it worth a pledge? Let’s take a closer look and help you make that decision.

Specifications

  • Current Price: $89-99 (Kickstarter)
  • Compact 66-Key Design
  • Dual Mode: Wired or Wireless via Bluetooth
  • Gateron Mechanical or Optical Switches: Black, Brown, Red, or Blue
  • Hot-Swappable Switches
  • Ergonomic layout for long typing sessions
  • Thick PBT Keycaps in GK1 or GSA Profile
  • Customizable RGB Backlighting
  • Programmable with Macros, Remaps, Media Commands, Layers, and More
  • Split Spacebar (optional full-size space bar included)
  • Mac and Windows Support

Epomaker SIKAKEYB Red Hat BoxEpomaker SIKAKEYB Red Hat

The Red Hat launched to Kickstarter this week and is quite the interesting keyboard. It doesn’t take more than a glance to see some major differences between it and a traditional compact keyboard. The biggest is that is completely reverses the usual key stagger, but it doesn’t stop there. The space bar has been split into three, and above that there’s now a SIKAKEYB button and the titular Red Hat key just above that. It’s one of the most unique designs I’ve seen in a non-split keyboard, even among ergos. 

Ergonomic Design

The idea here is twofold: ergonomics and programmability. The reverse stagger to the keys better matches the natural angle of your rests, allowing them to sit in a more relaxed position, reducing fatigue over long hours of typing. If you’re a writer or computer programmer, designs like this can make the difference between going home sore or not, assuming its a match for your typing style which we’ll get to soon. 

Center Cluster

The center cluster is where programmability really comes to the fore. If you’re like the majority of typists, you probably use one hand to hit space more often than not. This leaves a wide length of space bar unused. Here, it’s been split into three, each with its own switch underneath. Once you decide which matches your typing style, the other two can be ramapped to access secondary layers or have other functions. 

Above, you have the SIKAKEYB and Red Hat buttons, which are matched to Return and Delete respectively. I was immediately reminded of the Ergodox EZ and X-Bows keyboards which allow you to do the same. The idea on each is that these keys, which many of us use frequently, are positioned right next to your index finger for easier, faster access. Using the software, you can remap these to other functions that match your own use-case. For gaming, mapping each to access secondary layers allows you to quickly turn the keyboard into a macro pad or swap profiles for individual games. 

Keycaps

The keyboard uses your choice of optical or mechanical Gateron switches, available in Red, Black, Brown, and Blue. I tested mechanical reds, which felt very smooth and lacked the spring-ping of Cherry MX Reds. They’re also hot-swappable, so changing the feel of your keyboard and trying new switches is literally a matter of pulling the old ones out and pressing the new ones in. There’s a wide world of switches beyond the usual red, brown, and blue. If you at all enjoy mechanical keyboards, you owe it to yourself to get a board with this feature and explore the many options flooding the market right now.

The switches are topped with excellent PBT keycaps. They’re very thick and feel great to type on. While it might seem crazy to consider the kind of plastic used when purchasing a keyboard, anyone who has tried a set of good PBT keycaps will tell you the same: they make the entire keyboard feel more premium and are much nicer to type and game on. The legends are also dye-sublimated, so you won’t have to worry about them fading. The caps are available in GSA profile or Epomaker’s GK1 profile, which I see as a shorter, more rounded SA, and I like it quite a bit. 

The Red Hat is fairly lightweight and makes a good travel keyboard. During my testing over the last several weeks, I took it back and forth to work, just throwing it in my bag. It supports dual-mode connectivity, USB-C and Bluetooth 5.1. It connected reliably every time I tried, even when swapping between its three simultaneous devices. Epomaker doesn’t quote battery life, but I found that it last several workdays without recharging, and I liked that you can customize how long the keyboard waits before falling asleep.

Usage Impressions

The SIKAKEYB Red Hat is an interesting keyboard, but it’s not easy to use. Even after several weeks, I’m still struggling to regain my typing speed. Of course, this is the case with most ergonomic keyboards that adjust the stagger of the keys. Most of us have spent a lifetime learning to type on a normal keyboard. Unlearning old muscle memory is challenging. I thought I would have an easier time since I’ve used other ergo boards, but most of those did away with the stagger (ortholinear), but didn’t reverse it. 

There are also a few changes to the left side of the board to help accommodate that stagger and center cluster. The tab key is now split in two and shared with delete. The shift keys are each now single unit and I found myself hitting Z more often than not for the first two days of use.

Epomaker SIKAKEYB Red Hat Unboxed

That said, Epomaker’s approach seems sound. The idea behind all ergonomic keyboards is that they reduce tension on your hands and wrists, lowering the chance for an RSI. The layout forces you to position your hands in a more comfortable position — assuming you were typing correctly in the first place. In my case, I found that I naturally angle my wrists inward anyway and had been adjusting my typing stroke to match, so a lot of the ergonomic benefit is lost on an incorrect typer like myself. 

You’ll also need to spend some time learning all of the secondary functions. Despite its compact size, you’re not losing any functionality here. There are preset commands for each missing key on a fullsize, each accessible by holding Fn and another key. Since there are no secondary legends on the keys, I had to keep the manual on-hand for the first few days until I had it all memorized.

Layout

Steep learning curve aside, the programmability is excellent. The Red Hat button really is the perfect macro key. I programmed mine to access a second layer (with my macros and game keymaps) only when held. In practice, that let me turn the whole left half of my keyboard into a macro pad with an almost effortless press with my index finger. Since I use my right hand for the spacebar, I set the left space key to access a media key layer. The actual Fn button was reserved for accessing all of the keys that couldn’t fit into a 65% layout. Despite its small size, the Red Hat is actually far more programmable than the majority of gaming keyboards today.

It also flat out feels nice to type on. The case is plastic, so it’s not quite as dense as that keyboard, but but it still feels solid without any unnecessary reverb. The keys were smooth and I look forward to replacing them all down the line thanks to the hotswap function. The keycaps really do make a difference are are a definitely high point for the board. 

On the other hand, the software leaves something to be desired. It’s functional, but feels fairly generic and lacks the polish you’ll find on bigger name boards. That said, I was able to easily change my lighting, remap keys, and program macros and Windows shortcuts. Still, if you’re looking for layers of RGB, or a plethora of gaming specific options like timers that illuminate your keyboard when they expire or easy syncing between your peripherals, this is going to leave you wanting.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, I’m not sure if the Epomaker SIKAKEYB Red Hat is for me, but if you type correctly in the first place, you’ll likely find a lot to like here. It’s well-made, compact, and exceptionally programmable. At only $89 to start, it’s also well priced. Like any Kickstarter, it’s worth considering carefully, but I found it to be a well-made keyboard that will be a good fit for certain gamers and typists. 

The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.

7.0Good
Pros
  • Ergonomically designed
  • Center cluster is great for customization
  • Split spacebar
  • Dual wired and Bluetooth 5.1 wireless
  • Excellent PBT keycaps and hot-swappable switches
Cons
  • Steep learning curve
  • Ergonomic design may not benefit all users
  • Software is rough around the edges


GameByNight

Christopher Coke

Chris cut his teeth on MMOs in the late 90s with text-based MUDs. He’s written about video games for many different sites but has made MMORPG his home since 2013. Today, he acts as Hardware and Technology Editor, lead tech reviewer, and continues to love and write about games every chance he gets. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight