When it comes to mechanical keyboards, there are plenty of options available that make the selection difficult. You can choose between a wired or wireless keyboard, a full size keyboard with 104 keys that includes all essential functions you need, or a super compact keyboard that you can bring around in your bag that’s missing the number pads and other keys. Another thing you can choose is the switch type, which needs a full article to explain what it is.
Nevertheless, if you are looking for a wireless mechanical keyboard that you can bring around everywhere you go and that still contains all the essential buttons, then the Epomaker GK96S wireless mechanical keyboard may be the one for you.
Taking a quick glance at the GK96S, you can easily see that it contains most of the keys you need on a standard keyboard. In fact, it has 96% of the layout of a standard keyboard, missing only the Home/End/Insert and right Ctrl button.
What is amazing though is the size of the keyboard, which is 35% smaller than a standard keyboard. This makes it easy to bring around in your bag. Coupled with a Bluetooth connection mode, the ability to pair with multiple devices simultaneously and a long battery life, it is really like the Swiss army knife of mechanical keyboards, the ultimate all-in-one package you have dreamt of.
To get it to work, you just have to connect the provided cable to the keyboard and the computer. If you prefer to connect wirelessly, you can connect via Bluetooth. To pair the keyboard with your device, press and hold Fn + 1 (or 2 or 3 if you are pairing with multiple devices) until it flashes in red. Next, search for it in your device’s Bluetooth Manager to select and pair it. The whole pairing process takes less than 30 seconds. While it is said to work only with Windows, macOS, iOS and Android, I have no issue getting it to work in Linux, too.
There are three Bluetooth profiles on the keyboard, and you can pair to three devices at the same time. Simply press Fn + 1/2/3 to switch between profile/device.
Typing on the keyboard is smooth and comfortable. The tactile feedback is great, and the key is responsive. The keyboard that was sent to me uses the Gateron Red switch, and it is really a joy to type on it. The Number Pad is a great addition and Num Lock makes it easy to turn its numbering function off and use it as a directional pad.
There are also keys for Print Screen, Page Up, Page Down, Scroll Lock and Pause. The glaring omission from the button list is a dedicated Home and End button. As a writer, I used both the Home/End buttons extensively and was pretty sad to find them missing. On the other hand, you can use Number 7 and Number 1 for the Home and End function respectively (with Num Lock off).
On the top row of the keyboard is a series of multimedia and brightness control functions integrated into the F1 – F12 function keys. There are also dedicated Mac-only functions, like activating Siri, showing all windows, etc. The standard Mac Command button for macOS is also present here.
There is no dedicated power on/off switch on the keyboard. To turn it on/off, press and hold Fn + ~ (the button beside 1 in the top number row).
The keyboard comes with a 4000mAh battery and can run continuously for 80 hours with the RGB backlight on. It is slated to run for five weeks without backlight. While I didn’t test it for five weeks, in my daily usage, I find that it lasts less than the stated 80-hour mark. It can last a whole day without charging, but the low battery signal (a flashing light on the Number 4 button) often appears toward the end of the second day.
There are two types of customization you can do to this keyboard: the hardware and the software.
Most mechanical keyboard switches are soldered in place and cannot be removed easily. GK96S’s switches are hot-swappable. You can easily change it to Blue, Brown, Black or Yellow switches, either for a single key or every one of them.
Other than the switch, the keyboard can also be reprogrammed. Once you installed its software (available for Windows and Mac), you can remap all the keys, change the light effects and even record macro.
There are thee “layers” you can work with. Each layer is equivalent to one customization profile. Once you make changes to the layers, you can click the “Save” button to have it programmed to the keyboard. You can then switch between the layers with the Fn + 6/7/8 shortcut keys.
For example, if you are on Windows, you can switch to Layer 1 and then switch to Layer 2 when you need to type on your phone. Earlier I mentioned that the Home/End buttons are missing, and I managed to remap the Scroll Lck and Pause button to Home and End. As you can see, there is tons of versatility and customization you can do on the keyboard. If you mess up the Layer customization, there is always the standard layer to fall back on, or you can also reset each layer to its default state.
For the software to be able to detect your keyboard, you have to connect the keyboard in wired mode. I tried it with Bluetooth mode, and it doesn’t detect my keyboard at all. Only when I connected it with a cable do the configuration options show up on the screen.
It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner or a longtime user of mechanical keyboards, and it doesn’t matter if you are planning to use it on your desk or bring it on the go – this GK96S mechanical keyboard is the one for you. I have tried several mechanical keyboards, and this is the one that satisfies me the most. It works well with Linux, has excellent Bluetooth support, is fully customizable, has a Number pad and is portable. What more can you ask for?
The GK96S keyboard is still in fundraising stage in Kickstarter, and you can now get it with an early bird price of US$69.