- Typing Test
- Packaging, Unboxing, and Contents
- External Build
- Internal Build
- Layout and Function Keys
- Summary & Conclusion
- Full Gallery
- Where to Buy
The KUL ES-87 is an extremely high quality TKL that puts simplicity, elegance, and build quality above flashy aesthetics and frivolous features. Keyed Up Labs (KUL) sent me over an ES-87 with Cherry MX Clears to test, along with 3 different colored cases that can all be purchased separately. How does the KUL compare to the heavy competition? Let’s find out.
Packaging, Unboxing, and Contents
The KUL’s packaging is simple and elegant. The box only contains the KUL logo on the front and top of the box, with a single sticker on the side stating what model and switch type the keyboard inside has. The packaging is a good representation of what KUL is really about. You will notice there is a vein of elegant simplicity that runs though the entire product, which is something that I really appreciate.
Inside the box
The KUL comes with quite a handful of extras. Included are a reusable plastic cover, a handful of extra keys to support the different layouts the DIP switches can achieve, a key puller, a USB to PS/2 adapter, a ~6ft USB mini cable, a metal sticker, and the manual. While the USB cable is plenty thick, I do find myself wishing it was a braided cable like Cooler Master includes with their keyboards, to really push the premium feel of the keyboard. I also wish a wire key puller, like the one WASD includes with their keyboards, was in the box instead of the plastic one. The little plastic key pullers don’t really help on the larger keys as much as a wire puller. Overall the additional items are great, though there is some room for improvement. I do especially love the plastic case (helps keep cat hair off my keyboard). The manual is also very clear, and easily one of the better manuals I’ve seen.
The KUL’s case is made out of very dense plastic, making it extremely resilient to torsional flexing. The KUL has almost no flex in the case, and is one of the most solid keyboards I’ve ever tested. The top and bottom halves are held together by 3 screws and 6 clips, 4 on the front and 2 on the back. To take the case apart you have to remove the “Warranty Void if Removed” sticker, though KUL states that you will NOT void you warranty if the sticker is removed just to swap out cases.
Another huge benefit of the KUL that no other keyboard currently has is the availability of after market cases. Currenty KUL has 3 additional colors you can purchase, White, Blue, and Red. For $29 the cases provide a very inexpensive way to easily customize your keyboard or match it to your favorite keycap set. If none of the available colors suit you, there is always the option to hydro-dip a case or paint it, without the worry of messing up the keyboard’s original case, should you ever want to resell the keyboard. The cases are extremely easy to swap in and out. Start by unscrewing the 3 screws on the back. Then with a small flat head screwdriver gently pop the clips in the front of the case, starting in the middle, moving to the back after the front clips are all popped. The case should easily come apart and the new case simply snaps on. The process takes under 2 minutes. After swapping the cases 4-5 times during my testing process, I never once felt like I was going to damage the case or keyboard in the process, which is not always the case. The way the cases fit together is a very good design from this aspect.
Reverse side (rubber pads, feet, etc.)
The KUL has some of the best flip out feet I’ve ever seen. The rubber pads are quite thick, and they take a decent amount of pressure to flip out. The front rubber pads are equally thick, resulting in a keyboard that stayed perfectly grounded to my desk during the entire testing process. The bottom of the case also houses the 8 dip switches that are recessed far enough into the case that no accidental switching will ever happen. Remember, when you do flip a switch you will need to unplug the keyboard and plug it back in to activate the change. There is also a very helpful sticker that tells what each of the switches does so you don’t have to whip out the manual every time you want to change your layout up. The KUL uses a USB mini connection, which is my connection of choice for keyboards. I personally think the mini is much sturdier than the micro connection. There are 3 cable tracks (left, center, right) that you can easily direct your cable through, all of which secure the cable very firmly.
The keycaps on the KUL are definitely better than a lot of stock keycaps, but at the same time they are nothing special either. After two weeks of testing I didn’t have any fading legends or shine on any of the keycaps. I have another KUL I’ve heavily used over the past 8 months and it does have faded legends and shine, but this is completely normal for ABS keycaps of this nature unfortunately. The font is nice and simple and the diamond Windows keys are an especially nice way to approach the OS key.
The PCB and soldering quality on the KUL are downright impressive. If you look at the KUL’s switch soldering and compare it to past reviews, it is noticeably cleaner looking than any other keyboard I’ve reviewed. There was absolutely nothing about the internal build quality that would make me worry about the keyboard not lasting a very long time. The LED’s are also very easy to spot on the back and would be very easy to swap out for different colors. Personally I like the Blue LED’s.
KUL only uses genuine Cherry MX switches, so combined with the excellent soldering there should be no issues with dead switches. The model I tested had MX Clear switches. Cherry MX Clears are a non-clicky tactile switch, with an actuation force of 55g. Personally the larger tactile bump and heavier actuation force make MX Clears one of the best Cherry switches for extended typing sessions in my opinion. Unlike a lot of brands that have limited switch selections, or only release certain switch options in batches, the KUL is constantly available with 6 of the most popular Cherry switches on the market (Red, Black, Brown, Clear, Blue, Green).
Layout and Function Keys
The KUL ES-87 is currently only available in a standard ANSI layout. Because the layout is completely standard, almost all aftermarket keycap sets will fit the KUL without any issues. The DIP switches allow for a good amount of layout customization, and the FN layer provides all the necessary media keys. Personally I like when the media keys are on the cluster of 6 keys above the arrows, but that is just personal taste. The FN layer on the KUL is on the F-row.
|1||Windows Mode||OS X Mode|
|2||Left Ctrl = Left Ctrl||Left Ctrl = Caps lock / Caps Lock = Left Ctrl|
|3||Esc=Esc||Esc=Backtick / Backtick=Esc|
|4||Backspace=Backspace||Backspace=Backslash / Backslash=Backspace|
|5||Shit+FN=Menu||FN=Menu / Shit+FN=FN|
|6||125Hz Polling Rate||1000Hz Polling Rate|
|7||6-key Rollover USB||N-Key Rollover USB|
|8||Future Expansion||Future Expansion|
- Fn+F7: Track Previous
- Fn+F8: Play / Pause
- Fn+F9: Track Next
- Fn+F10: Mute / Unmute
- Fn+F11: Volume Down
- Fn+F12: Volume Up
The diamond (Windows) keys both have alternate functions that KUL refers to as “Power Mode.” To enable or disable power mode press FN+Left Diamond+Right Diamond. When power mode is active the ESC key will light up. When power mode is activated the Left Diamond key = Left Ctrl+Left Shift and the Right Diamond key = Right Alt+Right Ctrl. Power mode is only available when Windows mode is activated on the DIP switches.
OS X Mode
When OS X Mode is active the Diamond key turns into the Option key, the Alt key turns into the Command key, and FN+Backspace=Media Eject.
Summary & Conclusion
The KUL ES-87 is my favorite retail TKL at the moment. The keyboard is absolutely phenomenal in just about every regard. The styling is great. The subtle sculpting on the sides makes it stand out, yet it still avoids looking like a crazy gaming keyboard. The ability to buy different colored aftermarket cases for it is a fantastic feature; it gives people a very affordable way to customize their keyboards. The build quality is superb and almost unmatched from any other keyboard I’ve ever tested, and to me this is the key reason why I recommend KUL’s so often. With a street price of $134 for the variant I tested (prices range from $129-$144 depending on what switch you choose) the KUL is just slightly more expensive than the competition when directly comparing features, but at the end of the day due to the build quality I’d pretty much recommend the KUL over any of the competition. My biggest grip here is that KUL only makes the ES-87 currently. So for non TKL fans, they have to resign to using another brand. I’d personally love to see a smaller format keyboard as well as a full size keyboard from KUL sooner than later. Please KUL?
- Excellent build quality
- Comes with a plastic cover for keyboard
- Elegant packaging makes it feel like a premium product
- Aftermarket cases available in different colors
- Genuine Cherry MX switches (Blue, Clear, Brown, Black, Red, Green switches available)
- Power mode
- Media keys
- DIP switches give lots of layout control
- Did I mention build quality?
- Non braided cable
- On the pricier side
- Stock keycaps are a bit meh
- Only TKL size currently available/no backlit models either
Final score: 9.5/10 (My current highest score)
Where to Buy
KUL ES-87 on Amazon
Disclaimer: The same keyboard was provided courtesy of Keyed Up Labs Keyboards, and is in no way a paid review/advertisement.