This is the kind of keyboard that’s going to serve you well for several years
Get the Varmilo VA87M Summit on Ctrl.Shift.Esc
So I’ve been counting the days to the arrival of the Varmilo keyboards and desk mats, and they’re finally here on South African shores! I’m already using the Varmilo Panda desk mat as you may have noticed in recent reviews. First of all a big thanks to Ctrl.Shift.Esc for sending out these samples, and I’ve been looking forward to this for quite a while now.
The Varmilo VA87M is a high-end TKL mech that comes with Cherry MX switches and a stunning variety of keycap styles. My personal favourite is the Summit version I have here today, which features beautiful gradient keycaps with a camping theme. If you’re looking for a different style, there are plenty of options on Ctrl.Shift.Esc, including the Sakura, Vintage Days and Charcoal versions. There is also a Mac version that has out of the box Mac compatibility. If you cannot sacrifice the numpad, the Summit is available in full-size (VA108M) or you could even get the VA21M if you want a separate numpad. The switch options range from Cherry MX Red, Brown, Blue and Speed Silver.
Varmilo boards are often lauded for their silky smooth typing experience, and for good reason. The VA87M offers an experience that you just don’t get with your run-of-the-mill prebuilt mech; it’s more comparable to a custom-built keyboard. The case foam contributes to a nice gentle sound, and the board also features pre-lubed Cherry stabilisers. The lube was actually applied properly and it isn’t that clumsy application you typically see with prebuilt boards. As far as switches, you really cannot go wrong with Cherry MX, and it’s just a solid and reliable switch. Cherry MX Brown is considered a safe choice in the mechanical keyboard world. Some people find Reds hard to type on and the Blues can be noisy, so the Browns is a nice middle ground, giving you a balanced experience as far as typing and gaming. The force graph shows it has a nice rounded bump and smooth feel. The lower actuation force of 45g will prevent typing fatigue.
This is a beautiful sounding keyboard, and the case foam and lubed Cherry stabs go a long way in improving the typing experience. I love the thockiness on the bigger keys, and again this is akin to a custom-built board. The VA87M series features Cherry profile keycaps, which feels like a lower version of OEM. Keycap profiles are mostly personal preference, but I really like Cherry in terms ergonomics and sound. My only nitpick here would be that there was some metal ping, and sadly this board isn’t hot swappable, so if you’re looking to lube the switches there will be some soldering involved. But this is a very minor nitpick, as the ping was barely audible over ambient noise.
Before we look at the build, I just have to talk about the keycaps here. This is comfortably my favourite keycap set right now, and I like it even more than my current favourites like the GMK Olivia and ePBT Dreamscape. It really is a shame that Varmilo aren’t selling these separately. If it weren’t for the Fn sideprint, I would’ve happily used these on my daily driver. The keycaps have a stunning gradient style with camping-themed novelties, compass style arrows and a space bar featuring the Galdhøpiggen mountain peak. The Galdhøpiggen is the tallest mountain in Northern Europe, and the coordinates on the Enter key and mouse pad reference this mountain – a really subtle touch by Varmilo.
The combination of colours and novelties really give you that snowy mountain hiking and camping vibe. Uncompromising quality on these keycaps with dye-sublimated PBT at a thickness of 1.3mm. No need to worry about things like keycap shine or legends fading. Most of the VA87M boards come with single colour white backlighting that is achieved via through hole LEDs. These LEDs are really potent, and you will inevitably get some light bleed at maximum brightness. The keycaps aren’t shinethrough of course, so you only get an underglow effect and probably not the best board to use in the dark. The white underglow looks quite nice and for me it added to the overall aesthetic.
The case has a low-profile design with thin bezels and an attractive matte black top shell. The top shell is very thin, and the board actually maintains a raised key profile. The top cover clicks into a bottom piece, and there is a 1.5mm steel mounting plate that is bent at the top and bottom. The board is quite weighty at 955g, and in its assembled form it feels really sturdy. As mentioned earlier, the sound dampening foam improves the sound in that it makes the keyboard sound less hollow. The bottom of the board features beautiful artwork of Galdhøpiggen. There are two rubber-tipped foldouts, although I found these quite steep and the natural angle of the case was more comfortable. There is cable routing as well, and the Summit makes use of a Mini USB cable. The Mini USB does limit your cable customisation options, as most coiled and aviator cables are USB-C, but you still have a few choices, such as the Kraken Aviator.
There is no companion software for the VA87M keyboards and everything is accomplished with the Fn layer. On the F-Row we have some useful media controls, and I like the positioning of these as you can access them with one hand. Understandably there are only two backlighting modes, namely static and breathing. You can switch between these two modes with Fn + right Arrow. Then there are four brightness levels that is controlled with Fn + Up and Down arrow, and you can also just turn it off entirely. The Caps Lock and Scroll Lock indicators work via the LEDs, and there are extra keycaps that will show the status light more clearly. The VA87M boards feature the standard 87-key ANSI layout. I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to replace these keycaps, but the ANSI layout gives you wide compatibility with aftermarket sets.
If you’re looking to do some remapping, I would recommend AutoHotkey. For me the Delete key is a big reach on a TKL, so I usually move it to Caps Lock. This was easily achievable with one line of code.
The Summit has a premium feel in terms of typing, sound and aesthetics, and even though it isn’t cheap, I definitely feel it’s a worthy investment. This is the kind of keyboard that’s going to serve you well for several years. I’m really impressed with Varmilo’s attention to detail, and this is what sets it apart from most other high-end prebuilt boards.
Just a quick word on the Varmilo desk mats. It is frustratingly difficult to find good looking and good performing desk mats in South Africa, which is why I immediately grabbed the Varmilo Panda when it arrived. These mats have a low-friction cloth surface with stitched edges, and I have to say the glide is buttery smooth. I got a good combination of speed and control when playing CSGO, and these have a medium to fast feel. This is right on par with the ASUS ROG Sheath, which has been my favourite desk mat for a while now. The size is 900x400x3mm, and there are four versions to choose from on Ctrl.Shift.Esc. I’m really excited to see their desk mat collection grow.