The SK71 is definitely pushing smaller form factor boards in a new direction, with an emphasis on work and play balance
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The Epomaker SK71 is a keyboard that aims to give users the best of both worlds. You get that nice small form factor, but thanks to a few layout changes the board comes with dedicated arrow keys and a complete numpad. Pretty impressive considering it’s only one row wider than a 60% board. The SK71 is hot-swappable and comes with Gateron Optical switches. The keycaps are dye-sublimated and made of high quality PBT. The board has N-key rollover and onboard memory to store your configuration.
The typing experience of the SK71 is excellent, a definite improvement over the SK61. This unit features the Gateron Optical Reds, and these switches offer impressive stock performance for the price. Keypresses feel really smooth with almost no scratchiness. The actuation force of 45g is also a sweet spot for me: not too light but not too heavy. The SK71 also features the flatter GSA profile, and this profile is really growing on me. Very comfortable on the wrists as you don’t have to tilt them so much. Because of the layout, there are actually only two keys with stabilisers: Backspace and Space Bar. The Space Bar is quite a big improvement over the SK61, and the rattle has been substantially reduced. This board also has that bassy and thick sound of the SK61, but it is a little quieter.
The SK71 worked great for faster typing, and I was easily reaching over 130WPM on the Aesop typing test. Gaming felt great, with easy WASD movement and the Gateron Optical Reds are super spammable. The compact form factor means extra real estate for your mouse. As a low sens player, this is absolutely essential for me.
It’s quite a feat to incorporate a full numpad while being only one row wider than a 60% board, but this layout will take some getting used to, and it’s different from anything I’ve used before. First off, the modifier keys on the left are smaller; the – and + keys were cut from the number row; there is no dedicated square bracket, apostrophe or forward slash key. These missing keys are accessed via the Fn or Fn + Shift layer, the latter of which is indicated with blue print. The right Shift is smaller to accommodate the dedicated arrow keys.
I adjusted to this layout quite easily. The smaller modifier keys on the left are fine, it’s just the positioning of the Backspace, Enter and right Shift that threw me off. You can see that these keys are pushed in to the left, so I kept missing them on the right and had to try and reset my muscle memory. Another thing that was challenging at first was the lack of dedicated apostrophe key, as I use it quite often. So to make an apostrophe you need to hold Fn, then hit the semi colon key. To make a quotation mark you hold Fn + Shift. Initially this felt a bit awkward, but if you use your thumb for Fn it won’t slow you down by much. The trick is just remembering to actually do it. I kept hitting the left part of Enter, thinking it’s an apostrophe key. But you will eventually develop new muscle memory.
Personally, I would’ve preferred the keyboard to be one row wider. It’s a little bit counter intuitive not including a dedicated apostrophe key, as this keyboard emphasizes productivity. But of course the great purpose of this layout is to make room for a numpad while maintaining the small form factor, so everything is in close quarters and the numpad isn’t a big reach like on a full-sized keyboard. This is going to be super useful if you do spreadsheet work, where you have to enter a lot of numbers.
Most of the Fn layer icons aren’t printed on the keycaps, so just keep the manual at hand initially. The Nav Cluster can be accessed via the numpad, and here you also have access to the equals sign and underscore that’s missing from the number row. Nice to see a full set of media controls on the Fn layer. There is comprehensive RGB control. What’s pretty cool here is one of the controls allows you to play or pause an RGB mode, so you can wait until that perfect moment, then freeze the backlighting.
The keyboard features a Standard layer, a Layer 1-3 and a driver layer. You can do button remapping on any of the layers except the Standard layer, and there are extensive options including media and macros. There is macro recording capability, with a bunch of useful game macros already at your disposal. You can also create your own RGB colour modes, and this is actually a very comprehensive little RGB studio, so if you’re creative you can go nuts here.
The SK71 is an attractive keyboard. The grey and dark grey colours give it a quaint look, and the red keys not only add a nice aesthetic touch, but will help you orientate yourself when using the board. The mounting plate is white, so there is a nice underglow effect. The bigger legends work quite well with the retro vibe here. There is a big list of RGB modes on the software, so you should be able to find something you like.
With the software, you can save five RGB modes of your choosing on Fn + O, and Fn + P is used to access the reactive modes, including a microphone controlled mode. Build quality is very good. The case is made of thick plastic and doesn’t bend easily. Four fixed rubber feet on the bottom, and the case has a very comfortable angle to it. The slight incline works nice well the GSA profile.
The SK71 is definitely pushing smaller form factor boards in a new direction, with an emphasis on work and play balance. But on top of that it offers a very satisfying typing experience with an excellent space bar. The layout has a few peculiarities, so you will have to build some new muscle memory, but this board will definitely boost productivity, especially if you’re a number cruncher.