Let’s face it: there’s an aesthetic element to choosing a keyboard and that’s doubly true when you’re building one for yourself. If you’re a fan of RGB, it doesn’t get much better than the NK980 from Prevail Key Co. Featuring a compact 96% design (98-key), this keyboard features a three-piece acrylic case that completely illuminates thanks to nearly one hundred and fifty customizable RGB LEDs across the top and bottom. It also comes with popular Gateron Yellow key switches and high-quality Durock stabilizers pre-lubed from Loobed Switches. Is it worth a buy at $159.95? Let’s take a closer look and find out.
If you’re not already deep into the mechanical keyboard hobby, you may not have heard of Prevail Key Company. Don’t let that scare you. Prevail has been a popular storefront in the enthusiast community for some time, specializing in accessories. You can pick up popular switches, switch lubricants, and even replacement springs through their storefront (as well as much more). Before this review, I visited their store regularly and even picked up some upgraded stabilizers for a pre-built keyboard I was modding when they were the only store I could find that had them in stock. Ever since, I stop by regularly to see what’s new in stock… which is how I came across the NK980.
The NK980 speaks to me on multiple levels. I’m a sucker for the 96% layout, seen above. I’m a fan of customizable RGB. And I love building and modding keyboards. Add to this that the keyboard is coming from a company like Prevail that is so steeped in the enthusiast world and you have a recipe for a keyboard that’s a “must try” in my book. At $160, it’s also priced well enough that, if it’s good, it could be a compelling option for newcomers to the hobby that may not be completely sold on the compact — well, more compact — designs and high prices populating the custom market right now.
Now, it’s important to note here that the NK980 isn’t a custom design from Prevail Key Co. Instead, what they’ve done is taken a neat DIY kit available in China and repackaged it with some accessories to enhance the experience. The NK980 by another name is the Feker Mechanic 02 or Glaze98, which is available on Banggood in its stock form. Don’t get that keyboard unless you’re ready to make some upgrades of your own. Instead, the NK980 kit gives you everything you’ll need to get started while also leaving the door open to further mods in the future.
The NK980 kit comes with four pieces. You have the keyboard itself, which lacks switches and keycaps but has stabilizers pre-installed. The stock stabilizers are terrible, but Prevail has partnered with Loobed Switches to include a set of high-quality pre-lubed Durock plate-mount stabilizers that are a massive upgrade. A full set of Gateron Yellow switches are also included, as well as a set of doubleshot ABS keycaps that are white and backlit to show off the RGB. The NK980 is a hotswap keyboard, so there’s no soldering required.
Compared to most custom keyboard kits, assembly here is extremely straightforward. Since the Loobed stabilizers are already pre-assembled and pre-lubed, all you have to do is remove the stock stabs and press the upgraded ones into place. From there, you simply press the switches and keycaps into place and you’re ready to type.
Prevail’s choice of switches and stabilizers makes a big difference in the typing experience on the NK980. The stock stabilizers pre-installed on the board are some of the worst I’ve heard and have loud and obnoxious rattle. The Durocks are much quieter and more stable due to their tighter fit on the switch plate. Loobed Switches did a good job with their lubing, though you still may want to add some extra grease to the wire since application was light on my set (but still rattle-free). Having never used Gateron Yellow switches before, I only had their high reputation as an excellent budget linear switch to go on. They lived up to their reputation well and are much smoother than Cherry MX Reds with hardly any spring ping even before lubing.
As a baseline for getting into the keyboard hobby, the NK980 is a great entry point. Out of the box with Prevail’s kit, you’ll be getting a better typing and gaming experience than most pre-builts but the experience can be enhanced with a few simple mods, like lubing the switches or dropping in a band-aid mod. The hotswap design makes applying both easy and won’t force you to break out the soldering iron. That quality also means you can easily swap out switches when you’re ready to try something new, something I consider to be one of the most fun parts of the hobby.
The RGB is also just as flashy as you would expect with nearly 150 LEDs all firing at once. The keycaps allow the lighting to shine through brightly, but the legends are clean and not “gamer-y” with that stenciled look you find on cheap gaming keyboards. The switch lighting reflects well off the white keycaps and white PCB to create an entrancing “bed of light” effect that spills out onto the larger case. The bottom of the case is ringed with another 49 LEDs that illuminate the sides of the case and allow the whole keyboard to become one giant RGB light source.
The lighting can be customized to suit your taste using quick key combinations. There are 18 preset lighting effects for the top-side LEDs and your choice of four for the case lighting. It’s quite a disparity in amount but since the case lighting works to support the key backlighting, it actually works. These are each customizable for brightness, speed, and direction.
The NK980 kit also enables media controls with similar key combinations. By holding the Fn button and pressing F1-F7, you can play/pause tracks, skip ahead or back, and control volume. I would have preferred the four keys above the number pad be used for dedicated media buttons but these second-layer commands work well.
Actually using the keyboard as a daily driver works well. The 96% layout is a god-send if you need a number pad but want to maintain the desk space of a TKL. It also allows you to access Home/End/Page Up/Page Down using shift and the number pad which I find easier on the hands than reaching for the dedicated nav buttons higher up. The sound profile here is light due to the amount of plastic and the thinner backlit keycaps, but it’s not bad for an entry level board of this type. It’s closer to the Womier keyboards in sound as well as look.
My overall impression is that this is a “good” keyboard but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. If you’re looking for downsides, it has a few:
- It’s not programmable — yet. Looking at the Glaze98 listing on Banggood, Feker does have a software link but I wasn’t able to get it to install on my PC. After opening the file the installer never launches.
- The hot-swap sockets are loose. Removing keycaps routinely pulls the switch out with it. They’re loose enough that it’s possible for a pin to get bent during installation and still insert into the socket leading to intermittent missed keystrokes until the pin is repaired.
- The default keymap doesn’t match the pictures on Prevail’s website or the Glaze98 listing for the four keys on the upper right. Prevail shows these keys as Print Screen, Insert, Home, and Delete. Feker shows them as Delete, Insert, Page Up, Page Down. In reality, they’re Delete, End, Page Up, Page Down. The kicker? There’s no End key in the included keycap set and without being able to remap keys, there’s no fixing this mismatch.
So, it’s not perfect, especially for gaming due to the lack of programmability. Hopefully Feker gets on its game and releases a proper software package that can be linked from Prevail’s website. That alone would be a massive upgrade for this keyboard, opening the door to custom macros which the number pad seems to beg for, and fixing up the key maps on the right side.
Taken as a whole package, the NK980 is a solid keyboard. It’s not without its flaws but if you like the “full RGB” look and also happen to needa number pad, this is a solid bet. The keyboard itself may not be Prevail’s but the package their offering is absolutely the one to buy for the best experience. With the release of a proper software package, this could be elevated to a “great,” so I’ll be keeping a close eye out for when (if?) that arrives.The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.