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[Sponsored Review] KUL ES-87

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 
Welcome to my review of the relatively new board on the market, the KUL ES-87.

Before I get started, I'm going to point out some things regarding the review in general.

  • This board was provided as a review sample by KUL for no charge.
  • I will not be keeping this board, it will be given away randomly at a later date to a member of OCN.
  • This review will only be discussing the board itself, not my opinions on the switches the board uses (in this case MX Clear).


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Right, let's begin.



Introduction

KUL, or Keyed Up Labs are a new company based out of California that are working to make above average mechanical keyboards. One of their highest priorities is making mechanical keyboards that are as reliable as the Cherry switches found within. Their engineers that work to produce the board have gone over every detail, to make sure you are as proud to own the keyboard as they are to sell it.

Some information about the KUL ES-87:
Quote:
  • Layout: "Tenkeyless" 87-key US ANSI layout w/US English legends
  • Key Switches: Authentic Cherry MX Switches w/4mm keystroke and Gold-Silver (AuAg10) contacts; rated up to 50 million keypresses
  • OS Support: MS Windows, Apple OS X, and Linux/Unix Compatible
  • Electrical Interface: USB 1.1 Low Speed and PS/2 with included passive interface
  • Cable: Detachable 2.0m A to Mini-B USB cable
  • Dim/Weight: 364 x 144 x 37mm (50mm with feet down) / 1.0kg
  • Keycaps: ABS keycaps with lasered legends; key-pitch 19.05mm
  • Illumination: Low Intensity Blue LEDs on Caps Lock, Left Ctrl, Esc, and Scroll Lock keys
  • Power Requirements: 150mW (5V @ 30mA)
  • Certifications: CE & FCC
  • Warranty / Origin: 2 years parts and labor / Made in Taiwan

Also worth noting is that this isn't an OEM board, everything aside from the internal components, switches, stabilizers, and keycaps was developed, owned or supplied by KUL, including the software.



Unboxing

Here is the packaging as it arrived:



As you can see, no damage to the box. This was shipped from the US to me in the UK and the box looks in as good condition as if I'd bought it from a local shop. Good job KUL.

The box feels particularly solid, more so than the boxes my Ducky or Filco came in, so you can be confident the board will arrive in pristine condition.

The box features minimal clutter, as above you see the top and front sides feature the KUL logo, and the other information shown below such as board information and serial number are shown on the back and right sides respectively:



This lack of clutter makes for attractive packing and gives a high-end feel to the board before you've even opened the box.

Upon opening the box we see:



On top is a manual, giving us a concise explanation of the features of the board and how to use them e.g. the media keys and DIP switches.

The full manual can be seen below:
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)



Next we have a clear plastic keyboard cover, a useful addition to prevent assault on your keyboard by cats looking for somewhere to sit:



This cover feels noticeably more solid than the ones included with Filco or Ducky boards, a good thing as the Filco one in particular was easy to crack, rendering it hand-stabby and annoying.

Finally, we get to the keyboard itself:




Initial impressions on removing from the box were that it felt very solid and the casing felt very nice, but more on that later.

Below the board, we have the final set of stuff in the package:



3 separate bags, one with the keycaps and key puller (a 'ring style' key puller unfortunately):



One with a KUL logo badge for your computer or wherever else:



And one with your USB to PS/2 adapter and 2m USB A to USB Mini B cable (unbraided, unfortunately):



Now, time to move onto a move in-depth look at the board.



Layout, Keycaps and more

Layout

As mentioned previously, the KUL ES-87 comes in a standard US ANSI layout with 1.25x modifiers on the bottom row.



This is an excellent choice, too many boards coming out recently have less common size keys on the bottom row, which makes getting aftermarket keycaps later on a considerable task.


Keycaps

The keycap font is a good choice, I'm not sure of the name of it, but the style and slight italic formatting make it look very sleek and professional, a refreshing change from some other boards where you are presented with an arguably silly gamer-oriented font.

Now for the design of the keycaps themselves, here is a comparison with the A key from 5 different sets, from left to right those are:

  • KUL
  • WASD
  • Filco
  • Ducky Shine 3
  • Ducky PBT

Here is a view from the top:



As you can see, the KUL keycaps have a slightly curved profile to their sides, they remind me of the Qwerkeys K series keycaps without the spherical top. This curving of the sides is less pronounced on the top row keys.

Now for the thickness:



(note the order is the same as in the previous picture)

Hopefully in spite of the bad photography you can see that the KUL keycap is the thickest, even more so than the Ducky PBT keycap. These should provide a nice solid feel whilst typing.

However these keycaps aren't perfect, you can feel the printing on the keycaps fairly easily, combine this with the fact they aren't doubleshot, the printing will wear over time. The keycaps are also ABS, which I don't personally like as much as PBT.

It's worth noting however, that KUL are exploring other keycap options for the future, so later models may have better printing or even PBT.

On the Caps Lock and Scroll Lock there are translucent inserts to allow you to see the blue LED when they are activated.

A cool feature I noticed when looking at the extra included keycaps is that you get keycaps to swap Ctrl and Caps Lock. By itself, this doesn't sound that interesting, but the alternative Caps Lock key for Ctrl has a translucent insert as well, and upon removing the keycap, the Ctrl key also has an LED. As a consequence, no matter which way you decide to have Ctrl or Caps Lock, you still have an LED to show when Caps Lock is on. A cool feature.



The Esc keycap also features a translucent insert, this is so you can see the LED to indicate when Power Mode is activated on the board. More on this later.


Stabilizers

Now for the stabilizers, they are Cherry. Some people like them, some people do not as they can make the large keys such as Enter feel 'mushy', I don't feel particularly strongly either way. If the board uses Costar, then cool, if it uses Cherry then that's fine as well.




As you can see, the spacebar also includes smaller spacing for other keyboards with narrower stabilizers mounts. A nice addition.

Unlike some other boards, the Caps Lock/ Scroll Lock LEDs aren't excessively bright, just enough so that they are clearly on.



Internals

Now let's take a look at the inner workings of the ES-87.

To open the board up, there are three screws, one under each flip-out foot and one under a "Warranty void if removed" sticker, first remove these.

Next, there are 6 clips around the outside which must be unclipped to remove the top panel.

My suggestion for undoing these clips is to do the two at the top first by sliding something narrow, such as a knife next to the clip (to the left or right), and then carefully prying the case over the clip. Once you have done the two at the top, undo the bottom ones and the top panel should slide off.

Then you are left with this:



Next, the PCB isn't screwed down, so you can just carefully lift up the PCB/ plate and unplug the USB socket from the PCB, it looks like this:



Make sure to not apply to much pressure to the socket, pull the cable straight out from the socket, not at an angle.

Here you have the PCB, visible is the white socket where the cable was plugged.



A quick look at the thickness of the PCB and plate, both are thick and the plate feels very sturdy:



The PCB is dual layered, and the soldering quality is good:



A nice feature of the PCB is that each of the switch locations on the PCB is marked with it's corresponding character. This allows you to easily find and replace a switch if you ever needed to:



When putting the board back together, make sure that the cable isn't bunched up, otherwise it will press on the PCB and make putting the case back together both awkward and bad for the board.



Case

Design

Firstly, the casing is relatively low profile, sitting slightly lower than a Filco Majestouch-2 and significantly lower than a Ducky Shine 3. Many people may like this, especially gamers as your wrist lies in a more comfortable position.

I like the case design a lot. The sharp edges remind me of a KMAC case and it sits low on the desk, with the top casing sitting just 1 or 2mm above the desk.

This could have been a poor design choice were the case to sit low to the desk all the way round, as it would be awkward to pick up and move, however the designers at KUL have put little sloped indentations in both sides of the board as shown below:



These make moving the board very easy, and add a nice design touch to an otherwise fairly plain board.

There is also a similar indenation in the back, where the removable cable can protrude, once again, a nice design feature.



It's also worth mentioning that on the board I am reviewing at least, the fit and finish around the indentations are flawless, no large gaps or noticeable sharp edges in the plastic.



The top plates are a smooth, black plastic that has been left unpainted by KUL to allow it to be painted easier. The smooth plastic gives a refined feel to the case and looks very professional.

On the bottom of the case, we have a plastic with a slightly rougher texture that looks more utilitarian and hard-wearing than the smooth plastic used on the top. This makes the indentations on the sides and back of the board stand out more and gives another little aesthetic detail to the board.

The top of the case sits close around the edge of the keycaps to make the board feel very precisely put together. There is slight detriment to this however as it can make removing keycaps more difficult.


Branding

Despite the logo looking fairly modern and professional, KUL have opted to put no real branding on the board, the only mention of their name is on the underside sticker. I think this is a good decision by KUL, too many boards come out with excessive branding, looking like billboards.


Quality

Put simply, the quality of the casing is very high.

The casing of the ES-87 is rigid. If you judge rigidity by how much one corner can be bent up whilst the other 3 are held down, then it flexes more than a Filco Majestouch-2 and roughly on par with a Ducky Shine 3, although it's hard to quantify.

It's worth noting however that the ES-87 doesn't creak like the Filco Majestouch-2 does, a definite upside.


Case Features

Underside of the board:



As expected from a board with a removable cable, there are multiple cable-routing options, in this case, 3. They hold the cable securely and don't have any particularly sharp angles which could put stress on the cable.

KUL chose to use Mini-USB for this board, I think this was a good decision as some people dislike Micro-USB due to the smaller plug size being too easy to remove.

The case also features rubber pads on the bottom to prevent the board slipping during use. There are 8 (yes, eight) that will be used when the board lies flat (although the two very bottom ones are on a slant, made to be used when the legs are folded out, and so will only slightly touch the desk when the board lies flat). This keeps the board very secure in place during use, and I haven't noticed any left or right bias in the grip so far, which is good.

Now we get to the fold out legs, oh my. These aren't just a normal set of flimsy fold out legs like on my Filco or Ducky, these are some heavy duty fold out legs. When you pop them into place, they snap very authoritatively into place and are held into place very strongly. When the legs are folded out you have 6 rubber pads to prevent slipping, so the board won't be moving anywhere. Again, I can't notice any left or right bias in the grip.

Lastly for the underside of the board we have a very generously sized cut-out for the DIP switches, useful, because there are 8 of them (again, yes eight). More on the functionality of these later.


Summary

A very solid, well put-together and well thought-out case.



Features

The KUL ES-87 comes with a number of features, some of which are new to me:


DIP Switches

As mentioned previously, there are 8 DIP switches, found on the underside of the board in a generously sized cut out.

The DIP switches do the following (from the included manual):



As you can see, a lot of functionality for such a competitively priced keyboard, with options that should cover the usage of just about anyone who wants to use the board.


Power Mode

This is a unique feature I've never seen before. Power Mode refers to the use of the two diamond keys (where the Windows keys usually are).

When Power Mode is disabled, the keys act like normal Windows keys. When Power Mode is enabled via Fn + Left Diamond + Right Diamond, the Esc key will light up and you get the following functionality:

Left Diamond - Acts as Left Ctrl + Left Shift
Right Diamond - Acts as Right Alt + Right Ctrl

This can be useful for a few reasons, for example if you access Task Manager a lot then in Power Mode, instead of pressing Ctrl + Shift + Esc to bring up Task Manager, you can just press Left Diamond and Esc. A feature I never thought I'd need, but now that I have it, I'm glad I do.


Media Controls

The media controls are what we have come to expect from mechanical keyboards these days, that is a layer of controls accessed with Fn + F keys.

The media controls included on this board are:

  • Fn + F7 - Previous
  • Fn + F8 - Play/ Pause
  • Fn + F9 - Next
  • Fn + F10 - Mute
  • Fn + F11 - Volume down
  • Fn + F12 - Volume up



Cost and Coverage

Current cost is $129 from EliteKeyboards.com or Amazon.com.

The warranty is 2 years parts and labor.



Final Thoughts

Overall, I am very impressed with this board. Upon first hearing about KUL and reading some of the information about the board, I was skeptical, peripherals companies can often miss things or make mistakes with their first products, but KUL don't seem to have had that issue. This board is what I'd expect from a company with years of experience in peripherals, the fact that this is their first product makes me excited to see what they will be producing next.

Pros:
  • Build quality
  • Simplistic design (subjective)
  • Media controls
  • Large selection of configurations via DIP switches


Cons:
  • Keycap printing
  • Unbraided cable

To sum it all up, I consider the KUL ES-87 to be to Cherry what the Filco Majestouch-2 is to Costar, one of the best high-end, yet simplistic boards you can buy, and I'd highly recommend it.

If you feel there's anything I've missed out or if there's anything else you'd like to know about the keyboard, let me know!
Edited by Paradigm84 - 8/30/14 at 3:58pm
post #2 of 18

great review, looks like a very solid mech at an affordable price.

 

the indentations on the case where you can hold/grip onto is :thumb:

post #3 of 18
Nice review para, it seems to be a great keyboard. The sharp angles are nice, you don't see that much in mechanical keyboards and it makes it look a bit more aggressive.

I don't think I have seen a negative review of these yet, everyone seems to love them smile.gif
 
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post #4 of 18
Thread Starter 
Yeah, it's a great board, it's overtaken the FC660C for my next probable keyboard purchase.
post #5 of 18
I will be needing a new keyboard for the new system that I'm currently working on, I've had my SigBoard for ages, this one looks very interesting.

Nice review, thanks for sharing.
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post #6 of 18
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by vallonen View Post

I will be needing a new keyboard for the new system that I'm currently working on, I've had my SigBoard for ages, this one looks very interesting.

Nice review, thanks for sharing.

I'll be giving this one away soon, keep an eye out for the thread in a few days. wink.gif
post #7 of 18
Wow, what a well written and presented review - great job thumb.gif
post #8 of 18
Nice
 
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post #9 of 18

Oh man, I've been looking for a mechanical keyboard box.  That one looks top notch, I will have to order one.

post #10 of 18
Great review. +1 mind REP smile.gif

Will make for a really nice OCN giveaway.
     
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