Keyed Up Labs KUL ES-87 Tenkeyless Mechanical Keyboard Review

Keyed Up Labs KUL ES-87 Tenkeyless Mechanical Keyboard Review

Our first mechanical keyboard offering Cherry MX clear switches comes from Keyed Up Labs. Join us for a look at the KUL ES-87 Tenkeyless in Chad's review.

@chad_sebring
Published Sun, Aug 31 2014 9:12 PM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Apr 7 2020 12:33 PM CDT
Rating: 95%Manufacturer: KUL

Introduction, Specifications, and Pricing

Keyed Up Labs KUL ES-87 Tenkeyless Mechanical Keyboard Review 99 | TweakTown.com
VIEW GALLERY - 27 IMAGES

Today we are diving into a whole new switch type with our latest sample from KUL offering Cherry MX Clear switches. The switches themselves actually have white stems, but none the less, we are excited to gain more experience with another switch type to broaden our advice giving knowledge. While we are dealing with a mechanical keyboard that is built for the typists out there, KUL didn't leave out the obvious beneficial features for multi-media controls. KUL even added something called a Power Mode, where Windows keys are not so much eliminated as they are repurposed. Also, not only is this keyboard completely driver-less, but it is also the first keyboard to hit our desk that offers DIP switch functionality with seven functional options.

We came about this sample by way of a friend of a friend, who knows this guy, who put us in touch with Keyed Up Labs, and from there things went right from the introduction, and within a week the keyboard we were interested in was at my door. On top of getting the keyboard, we were also greeted with a ton of information regarding what goes into the design. That knowledge alone could very well stop you right in your tracks, and cause you to snap around to give this new keyboard a much closer look.

In our email correspondence with Keyed Up Labs, we learned that they source all their components for their board from major manufacturers, and they do their homework to be sure they have all the best gear to put forward. Keyed Up Labs does this even knowing that accomplishing this with high quality control is an expensive way to go about building a keyboard. Very admirable.

There are design implementations to make this keyboard very rigid and flat, so it will not flex under weight. The textures used on this keyboard will last a long time, while still being paint friendly for modding the solid molding of the key caps with laser etched legends. They have even added a few LED indicators around the board to signify functionality of the Caps and Scroll lock, as well as on the Escape key to show that Power Mode is active. The list just goes on and on, even down to the fact that with the flip of a DIP switch, this keyboard is natively compatible for OSX.

If what you know so far about this keyboard doesn't get you excited to see the KUL ES-87 that Keyed Up Labs has sent over, then you are either too game-oriented in your buying decisions, or the rubber dome keyboard from your last pre-built is good enough for you. If do lack enthusiasm for this board thus far, we would like to encourage you to continue reading, because you may like what you have seen by the end of this review.

For most of us that write for TweakTown, gaming has become secondary since we spend quite a bit of time clicking away endlessly to bring forth all the newest goodies. So, it almost goes without saying that we find this keyboard is quite exciting. The KUL ES-87 is almost custom fit to the needs of anyone who does quite a bit of typing at the PC, but still desires enough control to blast music while doing so. Best of all, when it does come down to game time, you don't have to swap out keyboards, as this KUL ES-87 will do a fine job there as well.

Keyed Up Labs KUL ES-87 Tenkeyless Mechanical Keyboard Review 01 | TweakTown.com

With a name like KUL ES-87, being a tenkeyless offering comes as no real surprise since the "87" refers to the amount of keys in this layout. The chart states that this keyboard comes with Cherry MX switches, and that varying switches are available from third-party retailers out there, but our sample is based on Cherry MX Clears. We see that this mechanical keyboard is fully compatible with Windows, OSX, and Linux/Unix operating systems. We also see that electronic traffic is carried over a USB 1.1 cable, the cable is detachable from the keyboard, and there is a PS/2 adapter included as well.

As the physical dimensions show, this one kilogram keyboard is 364mm in width, 14mm in depth, and stands 37mm tall at the back. With the feet extended, we get 13mm more height at the back edge. There are cylindrical, solid color ABS keycaps with laser etched legends, and the chart even shows the pitch of the keys in comparison to the textured frame as they are angled. The entire keyboard is black except for the white left on the keys from laser etching, and three blue LEDs. There isn't even any branding on the board as it is shipped; there is a logo sent along with the board, but its application is optional.

The lower chart shows us what is included in the package. Of course, we already covered the ES-87 keyboard, the detachable cable, and the PS/2 adapter, but there is still more to find. There is a clear PET plastic cover that ships on this keyboard, but it is also usable on the desktop as a cover to keep dust out of the keyboard if it's left for long periods of time. There is also a key puller, additional keycaps to give the keyboard your own personal touch, and a manual with a quick reference to functionality and DIP switch options.

Looking around, it is very possible to obtain your own KUL ES-87 keyboard. From what we see, pricing isn't nearly as expensive as we would have thought considering what goes into making this keyboard. We did find two switch variations of this keyboard at Amazon.com, where they are asking $129.99 for the Cherry MX Brown or MX Red versions. If you are looking for the Cherry MX Black, or the Cherry MX clear variant that we have here, you will have to drop over to Elitekeyboards.com to locate those versions; they are listed at the same $129.99 asking price. While we certainly feel the price is justified, take a closer look with us and see for yourself why the KUL ES-87 has us so impressed.

PRICING: You can find the KUL ES-87 Tenkeyless Keyboard for sale below. The prices listed are valid at the time of writing, but can change at any time. Click the link to see the very latest pricing for the best deal.

United States: The KUL ES-87 with Cherry MX Brown switches retails for $129.00 at Amazon, and the KUL ES-87 with Cherry MX Red switches retails for $129.00 at Amazon.

Packaging, Accessories, and Documentation

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Where most companies take this panel as an opportunity to shove a glamorous image of their product down your throat, with the ES-87, even the product name is missing here. All there is to see is the blue KUL company name displayed here.

Keyed Up Labs KUL ES-87 Tenkeyless Mechanical Keyboard Review 03 | TweakTown.com

On the small right end of the box, we find all of the product information they offer on the box. We find the ES87U-CC-BBB-AL model number, a mention of the inclusion of Cherry MX Clear switches, the keyboard dimensions, a "made in Taiwan" notation, and lastly, the serial number.

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Both of the long sides of the box are left entirely black. Even when it comes to this shorter end of the box, we simply see where this keyboard was made, and the Keyed Up Labs web address, which you can visit for more information on the ES-87.

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After lifting open the top of the box, we find the ES-87 under the clear PET cover. The keyboard is set higher in the packaging to keep extra goodies and the cable underneath it during transit. With the cover on it, and the side supports to keep it from moving around, our KUL ES-87 arrived in excellent condition.

KUL ES-87 Tenkeyless Mechanical Keyboard

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The entire side is thick and textured to allow for a good grip. In the middle there is the slightest of angles with a very thin ledge around it, which affords a fair bit more grip for moving this around the desk, but still has no sharp edges or trim to discomfort the user in any way.

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The seventy-four keys that make up the bulk of the keyboard layout are fairly typical of any keyboard layout. What we do like is the high contrast between the black keys and the white left in the black keys from the laser etching. In a lit room, it's almost as if they are LED backlit.

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One other major change to the layout is the diamond legends on what are typically the Windows keys. They do function as Windows keys by default, but flipping a DIP switch allows Power Mode to alter the functions. Once the switch is flipped, the left diamond then functions as Ctrl+Shift when pressed, while the right functions as Alt+Ctrl.

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From the F7 through to F12, we find multimedia keys that work by pressing the Function keys, and any one of these F keys. The ES-87 offers all the standards here, from seek to play and stop; it also has a mute button, and of course, volume up and down.

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The right end of the board holds thirteen more keys; there are nine command keys at the top, an empty space (potential logo placement location), and a set of arrow keys at the bottom.

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As we extend the feet to show the full height of the keyboard (now offering a more ergonomic angle of attack), the lighting has changed, and we can see the design of the side much more easily.

Keyed Up Labs KUL ES-87 Tenkeyless Mechanical Keyboard Review 13 | TweakTown.com

Under the keyboard, we find eight rubber pads, two for each corner, to support this keyboard on any desktop. There is also a pair of plastic bumps in the middle to help ease the stress the weight of your hands would force onto the board. These bumps keep the board flat and rigid.

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The extendable feet at the back are thick and beefy, and make a solid click as they are extended or collapsed back to the closed position. The feet are also covered at the end with a thick rubber pad to keep the keyboard from wandering with them locked out.

Keyed Up Labs KUL ES-87 Tenkeyless Mechanical Keyboard Review 15 | TweakTown.com

To the right of the foot we were just looking at, there is a large section of the frame that has been inset. In this area we find eight DIP switches that all come in the off position by default. We would take the time to explain each function, but the next image does that for us.

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Just below where the USB cable will connect to the ES-87, there is the large product sticker similar to the ones we find on most products here. Along with basic information, there is also a chart showing the functionality of the seven functional switches; position eight is unused at this time.

Accessories and Documentation

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Part of the gear that comes along with the ES-87 is a metallic logo that you can apply anywhere you see fit, or you could leave it off all together. There is the key puller off to the left, but the right side offers keys to reset the keyboard if you want to swap the left control and caps lock, escape with backtick, or backspace with a backslash via the DIP switches.

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We also get a 1.8 meter rubberized USB1.1 to mini-USB to connect the keyboard. If you do not wish to use this keyboard with its native USB connection, you can always add on the supplied USB to PS/2 adapter.

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There is also a guide that comes along in the kit; the front of which thanks you for your purchase, and explains a bit about the product you just unboxed. Inside there is information on the contents, specifications, and installation, where they denote there is no driver.

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There is a section on the media keys, and just what the Power Mode is all about, but we also see Power Mode is not functional in OSX mode. The rest of the guide offers a section on the DIP switch options, and ends with a use and care section, and information on the two-year warranty.

Inside the ES-87 Tenkeyless

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As we tear this keyboard down to the basics, we can see in the lower section of the frame that there is a grid to support the steel plate. The USB connection PCB stays with the frame, and disconnects from the main PCB. The top frame clips around the edge, but three screws also lock the top to the bottom, making this a super solid mechanical keyboard.

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To control of all the functionality and options the ES-87 offers, they have employed the services of this 8-bit, RISC architecture, Holtek HT82K94E. While this is low-speed USB 2.0 compatible, KUL chose to slow it down a touch more to USB1.1 speeds for communication between the computer and this device.

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Aside from the bit of flux residue we saw around the Holtek chip, the rest of the PCB is so clean you could eat from it. This is a two-layer PCB, and is designed to be mod-friendly.

Keyed Up Labs KUL ES-87 Tenkeyless Mechanical Keyboard Review 24 | TweakTown.com

With this image we can discuss two things. First of all, we get to see the Cherry MX Clear switch, and the white stem in the switch. We also see that the space bar, and the other longer keys, have hidden stabilizer bars, so removing key caps is much simpler.

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After getting the ES-87 all back together, we connected the Mini-USB end of the cable into the port on the keyboard, and then have the choice to run the cable left, out of the middle, or to the right like we have here. Not only does the cable go in easy and stay put, but there are no harsh corners the cable can be damaged on.

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The last image we see is of the powered Keyed Up Labs ES-87; it is illuminated where applicable, and we even added the naming to the top. The lock LEDs being on are self-explanatory, but when the escape key is illuminated, it indicates that Power Mode is active, and Windows keys are currently repurposed.

Final Thoughts

The first thing we want to address here happens to be the backbone of this review, and that is the Cherry MX Clear switches. For those of you who have had the pleasure of using MX clears, you will likely understand exactly what we are about to discuss. However, for those who have never used these switches, we will try to put it in an easy to understand light. First, if we had to pick a switch most like the MX clears, we would pick the MX browns. This is because you can feel the actuation point, but there isn't an audible click from it.

Of course, you can bottom out the key caps and get a bit of a clack from hitting the steel plate, but that happens with any Cherry MX board. Although, the spring pressure is a bit tougher to use, and when the activation point is reached, there is a bit more resistance after that point until it bottoms out. Keyed Up Labs told us to expect a "mushy" feel, and they were looking to alleviate this from the switches, but to be honest, we rather liked the feel. The tips of your fingers do not take the impact as harshly as say, a MX Red that just drops away easily under pressure. These switches seemed to offer less fatigue.

With that out of the way, we are going to turn our attention to the much larger picture. The ES-87 is not only the first keyboard to arrive with these switches, but it is also the first keyboard we have tested to offer DIP switches. Since this is a driverless device ready for multiple operating systems, Keyed Up Labs wanted a way to offer some options and current features that speed typists and gamers alike could appreciate. To accomplish this, Keyed Up Labs offered six-key rollover, or the option for full NKRO that works with no ghosting. Also, the polling rate can be adjusted, keys can be swapped around in the layout, and you get caps to address those changes.

All of this, and we haven't even gotten to the advantages of Power Mode. Eliminating the dreaded accidental flashback to the desktop is one thing, but turning those keys into another multi-key function is another that will become advantageous to gamers and power users. Then, of course, we get the compact nature of this tenkeyless design, and structural stability that few others can achieve. While we feel the KUL ES-87 is mostly intended for serious typists out there, with all the options and multimedia keys, anyone out there can enjoy the ES-87.

Because this is our first real experience with a Keyed Up Labs product, it is likely that we have missed a few small details about this keyboard. Even though our relationship with Keyed Up Labs is fresh and new, we are hopeful that this turns out to be something more long term. From what we were told, Keyed Up Labs is already thinking of new options for this design, such as custom key cap sets, and potentially a way to custom program this keyboard.

Keyed Up Labs was also sure to mention that the surfaces and textures were all chosen for feel first, but in the back of their minds, they always wanted the ES-87 to be paint ready. So, with a rattle can or two of paint, and minor cleaning for prep, the KUL ES-87 is intended to be customized and modded to suit your specific desires. Funny thing about that too, is that the two-year warranty coverage says nothing to indicate that you cannot paint the keyboard. The warranty information just says not to break it or allow the paint cause issues, and you will still be covered should something fail.

When it comes down to it, yes the asking price is a bit higher than a few of the other tenkeyless options out there, but looking past all the gaming gadgets and add-ons, this keyboard will offer a great experience to those who use keyboards long term day in and day out. The ES-87 will also still allow gamers to have some control over placement of some of the keys, adjustable polling rate to be sure not to miss a stroke, and just to be on the safe side, full NKRO support with functional anti-ghosting. All of which, along with Power Mode, gives the advantage to Keyed Up Labs in our mind.

It takes a serious player in the keyboard world to really impress us these days, and we will not be letting this keyboard leave the office for some time to come. While we are huge fans of Cherry MX Blue and Green switches, we like the feel and functionality of this design so much that many of our longer term keyboards are being put away to make room for this keyboard. If it happens to cost $129.99 with four options of switch types, so be it. We think the Keyed Up Labs ES-87 is a keyboard that anyone who types for a living should give serious thought to.

Being driverless, and still offering the simplicity to change major functionality with a DIP switch is nothing new. However, Keyed Up Labs has done something we have personally never seen before, and without any issues to report in the time we have had it. Even with everything we wrote here, once this keyboard is under your hands, especially with Cherry MX Clear switches under the caps, after a day at the helm, we feel it will do all the talking anyone needs to hear.

PRICING: You can find the KUL ES-87 Tenkeyless Keyboard for sale below. The prices listed are valid at the time of writing, but can change at any time. Click the link to see the very latest pricing for the best deal.

United States: The KUL ES-87 with Cherry MX Brown switches retails for $129.00 at Amazon, and the KUL ES-87 with Cherry MX Red switches retails for $129.00 at Amazon.

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After a year of gaming, Chad caught the OC bug. With overclocking comes the need for better cooling, and Chad has had many air and water setups. With a few years of abusing computer parts, he decided to take his chances and try to get a review job. As an avid overclocker, Chad is always looking for the next leg up in RAM, cooling, as well as peripherals.

We openly invite the companies who provide us with review samples / who are mentioned or discussed to express their opinion. If any company representative wishes to respond, we will publish the response here. Please contact us if you wish to respond.

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