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Keyboards

SK61 Optical Mechanical Keyboard Review

If you are a normal reader of TLR then the name SK61 should somewhat familiar. Just over a year ago, we reviewed the HK Gaming GK61. We shouted to the rooftop about how good that keyboard is for the price. In fact, we decided to use the GK61 as a base for our how to customize a keyboard series, it’s really that good. Apparently, a lot of you agree, the GK61 is the most purchase keyboard according to our Amazon affiliate links. If you are one of the readers that purchased a GK61 or if you are in the market for a fantastic mechanical keyboard or if you are curious about hot-swapping key switch or optical key switches then lighting just struck twice. This is TLR Technology’s review of the Epomaker SK61.

TL;DR

If you want a fantastic 60% mechanical keyboard at an amazing price the SK61 is probably the keyboard for you. If you want to experience optical key switches this is probably the keyboard for you. Lastly, if you are looking for your first hot swap-able keyboard the SK61 could be for you. If you want to know why you should have already clicked the order button and what sets the SK61 apart from the GK61 and other 60% keyboards, read on.

Whats in the Box

As always let’s start with the packaging. The SK61 comes package in a light grey box emblazon with a chrome Skylong logo. Inside the box, you’ll find the keyboard well pack and wrapped in a clear plastic wrapper. Under the flap toward the rear, you will find a long braided USB C cable, a keycap remover, a key switch removal tool, and lastly a function cheat sheet. Overall the SK61 has what I’d call a fairly normal unboxing experience. I chose the black colorway with Gateron Black heavy linear switches but the SK61 is available in 3 color schemes. Gray, Pink or Black, and all of them can be had with your choice of the Gateron Black, Blue, Brown, or Red switches. Winning!!!

Inevitable SK61 Questions

The first thing I need to address is the inevitable questions. What is the difference between the GK61 and SK61? Which keyboard should I buy, the GK61 or SK61?

First, the SK61 is more or less the next revision. Basically, the SK61 is generation 2. There are some small improvements that might matter to some folks and I’ll cover them in detail in the review.

So… if you have a GK61 should you sell it and upgrade to the Sk61… the short answer is No!. The GK61 is fantastic at the price. If you are in the market for GK61, the jump to the SK61 it could be worth it. Again I’ll get into the details in the in-depth review below

Let’s get to the good stuff. The user experience. I don’t want to rehash a lot of what I’ve covered in the past. If you want a better understanding of key switch, hot-swap ability, and various other bits check out the articles linked below.

Building A Custom Mechanical Keyboard

Mechanical Keyboard Switch Guide

The first thing to note is the SK61 is a 60% keyboard. The number 61 hints at the fact keyboard has only 61 keys. The benefit if you are a gamer the smaller keyboard footprint gives much more room to maneuver a mouse. The same thing applies if you are in a business or production environment. The smaller footprint allows for more workspace in areas where space is a premium. The only person that might not find the SK61 suitable is persons that frequently use the number pad. I do need to point out though, this is a trait of all 60% keyboards, they all remove the number pad.

Okay, you are new to 60% keyboards and you’re thinking what about the rest of the keys. Well, the SK61 has you more than covered. Most 60% keyboards have a function key ( similar to the one you would find on most laptops). You press the function key in combination with another key to activate a secondary function. In fact, you have more key functions than you might expect, more than the average full-size keyboard. A cheat sheet that can be seen above is included. This should make it very easy to find functions that you use that are on other layers. I find with normal use it doesn’t take long to memorize the key combination that you often use like media controls, arrow keys or delete.

The SK61 has media controls, arrow keys, all the functions ( F-Keys) as well as the other keys you’ve come to expect. Add the ability to control the RGB lighting ( It can be turned off it RGB isn’t your jam) and you can set custom macro as well. If it isn’t obvious yet, you really aren’t losing any usability with the SK61.

New And Improved

The build of the SK61 is an improvement when compared to the GK61 which isn’t bad to start with. The first thing that immediately got my attention is the thicker plastic chassis. This makes for a more sturdy and stiffer feeling keyboard. The chassis is about twice as thick and its a slightly different plastic makeup compared to the GK61. 

The next update is to the keycaps. The SK61 comes in your choice of 3 different color schemes all of which come with Sublimated PBT keycaps!

Here is why it matters to you.

Fingers meet PBT

 PBT is considered the premium material for keycap construction. PBT keys caps will have a slight texture and a density that gives them a pleasing feel and sound when typing. Another advantage for PBT is the keycap won’t develop a shine to the keycap over time that you will get from cheaper abs keycaps. The bottom line the keycaps on the SK61 have a superior build and feel when compared to many other keyboards. So if you don’t plan on swapping keycaps for the life of your keyboard the SK61 is the way to go. 

Photo: TLR Technology Check out the tick PBT used to make some of the best stock key caps that I’ve used.

The next thing worthy of note is the character legend is sublimated. Sublimation is the method of applying the characters that reduce the chance of the letters and symbols wearing away over the life of the keyboard. Again, the keycaps used on the SK61 are premium.

PBT Or Shine Through

There is one downside to the keycaps included and that is they are not shine thru. What that means is the letters and characters will not be illuminated by the RGB. You can clearly see the RGB illuminating around the keycaps which is a cool effect but does very little if you need to read the keys in a dark environment. Keep in mind that the keycaps are easily replaceable with any number of styles and colors including shine thru. The GK61 comes with cheaper ABS plastic keycaps but they are shine thru so take that into consideration if you find yourself trying to decide between the 2. 

You can purchase shine through PBT keycaps that are made in a process called double shot. In this process, a transparent white PBT plastic is injected along with the colored PBT. The result is a keycap that has a great feel under the finger, great sound, and has long-lasting (normally the life of the keyboard) quality keycap. These do come at a cost and I feel the decision to supply normal PBT keycaps to reach this price point is a fair trade.

You might notice the 3 extra keycaps in the photo below. The SK61 is compatible with Apple computers and you can swap to the Apple appropriate keycaps if you choose. You’ll receive the command, option, and control keycaps.

Photo: TLR Technology Notice the RGB glow that surrounds the keys but doesn’t shine through the letters or symbols.
Photo: TLR Technology Apple specific key caps are supplied along with the key cap and key switch pullers.

SK61 Optical Mechanical Hot Swap!

The SK61 ships with Gateron optical-mechanical key switches. On top of that, the switches can be hot-swapped. Let me break down why all of this is fantastic news. 

Photo: TLR Technology Notice the 3 different Gateron optical key switches pictured above. It’s easy to mix and match key switch to your preference.

Firstly, Gateron in my opinion as well as the opinions of many others make some of the most smoothly function key switches on the market. In my opinion much smoother when compared to the famous Cherry MX switches. Next, the switches are optical. If you’ve been looking at keyboards lately you’ll see that some mainstream brands are swapping to optical switches because optical switches are much robust and often have about twice the life span of mechanical switches.

Photo: TLR Technology Notice the hole at the right side, when the switch is pressed the stem breaks the beam that shines though the hole to register a key press.

Another benefit of the optical key switch is the ease of swapping out and replacing the physical-mechanical switch. By design optical switch using a plunger-type design that breaks an optical beam (get it optical switch) which is attached to the keyboards motherboard. This means the switch doesn’t house any electrical components that requiring alignment of tiny electrical pins when being swapped. This also adds to the life of the switch as I stated above.

Benefits Of Hot Swap-Ability

Why would you want a keyboard that can be hot-swapped? There are various reasons, but one of the main reasons is gaming as well as personal feel. Again let me take a few seconds to explain.

First gaming. Imagine if you could press a key and have it respond in half the time. Then imagine you want some of the keys to perhaps be firmer or click when pressed. Hot swap-able switches make this possible. I for instance have one of my keyboards set up with some of the Gateron Optical Silver Speed switches in most keys needed for FPS games.

So my W,A,S,D keys along with space bar, shift, control keys all respond in ruffly half the time or less compared to Gateron Brown, Red, or Blue switches. This is huge. Even in games like DOTA 2, League of Legends, or WOW where using a skill a split second earlier could provide an advantage. So my keyboard has a mix of Gateron Silver Speed switch and the tactile Gateron Brown switches. The sky is the limit. You can mix and match switches to your heart’s content.

Options

The next reason that you might consider a hot swap-able keyboard like the SK61 is to have options. It’s often much cheaper to order a set of key switches when compared to the price of a full keyboard. A good example is if you like the clicky blue switches but some times you are in a space or around people that would be annoyed by the noise, just swap the switches. Maybe you think you like a tactile switch but you want to give the smooth linear switches a try. What about a switch that requires more pressure. Again the SK61 makes this easy, you just have to order and swap out the switches. I’ll post links to purchase additional switches below.

Link to buy other Gateron Optical switches.

SK61 Build And Feel

If you are new when it comes to keyboards I think reading the articles toward the top will be really beneficial. So I suggest that you might start there if you don’t understand why the SK61 is so good at its price.

So here are my thoughts as someone that has many, many mechanical keyboards. I chose the SK61 with the Gateron Black switches. I wanted to try the heavier (harder to press) linear key switches. This is the value of the hot-swapping ability. If I didn’t like them I could swap all the switches if I wanted. Cutting to the chase I like the Black switches, I like them more than I thought I would. They are firmer vs the Gateron and Cherry Red switch that can be had in nearly any mechanical keyboard. I’m normally a tactile switch guy (Brown switches) I like a little resistance so it doesn’t feel like I’m typing on air. At the same time I didn’t want something that was so hard that it felt like I was doing finger exercises, the Black feel perfect for and non-boutique switch.

The keyboard has no flex and is built more sturdy than you’d ever think it should be. It doesn’t feel much different when compared to some of my keyboards with aluminum chassis when it comes to flex. The key caps as I stated above are premium PBT and I’ve paid more than the cost of the SK61 for just PBT key caps alone that feel just as good as the ones included. The RGB glow is bright due partly to the steel mounting plate being painted white which reflects the light back out and around the keys.

RGB

The SK61 comes with a few RGB animations such as the popular rainbow wave along with a few popular solid colors pre-loaded. The SK61  includes the ability to respond to music being played thanks to a microphone that is under the space bar. This microphone can only be used for the music lighting effect. You can program per-key lighting but it has to be done in the software that needs to be downloaded. Once the program macro or custom lighting schemes are saved to the keyboard they are stored to the keyboard itself. So if you move the keyboard around the macro and lighting will follow the keyboard, the program is no longer needed. 

Final Thoughts

If I’m 100% transparent its hard to find any fault with the SK61 other than the software which is really similar to the Gk61‘s software. It’s this half English half Chinese mix match that will take a few minutes to understand. Once you figure it out it’s easy to use but nowhere as easy to use as the software included with other keyboards. It’s probably as frustrating as using the on keyboard programming that you have to do with keyboards from Ducky.

In closing, the SK61 is a solid keyboard that can easily put keyboards from brands like Logitech and Corsair to shame. It’s easily worth the asking price. If you need help to understand which switch you might like read below. 

What Switch Should I Choose

If you want softer smooth key press get the Red.

For a firmer smooth, linear press get the Black.

Fans of clicky switch, then get the Blue.

Lastly, If you want the tactile bump when pressed but don’t want the click noise get the Brown.

The SK61 really has you covered when it comes to key switch feel. If you want some really fast activating switch you can get the speed sliver (purchased separately). The silver are great for gaming but the fast activation can be frustrating if you are a sloppy typist as they register really easily.

If you would like to support TLR and help us to provide great content please consider using our link to purchase your own SK61. We might get a small kickback that we can use to keep the lights on at TLR Technology thanks.

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