Review: Royal Kludge RK61 Bluetooth mechanical 60% keyboard


So, when I decided that it’s time to move away from my Sidewinder X4 a couple years a go, I also decided that I would  like to try a mechanical keyboard. Coming from my use of  the excellent Logitech K800 wireless,  my wish list for an ideal keyboard are:

  • Mechanical switch,  because I write quite a lot
  • Backlight, as my study is in the master bedroom and I quite often write late at night
  • Wireless, because who wouldn’t want a less messy desk, right?

I did not manage to find one in 2014,  so I settled with the beautiful Corsair K70, adorned with Cherry MX Red linear switches and red backlight. While it does not tick all of the boxes, the K70 is a great keyboard and I am very satisfied with it. In 2015, Rapoo came up with the Kx, which is mechanical, wireless and has backlight. The only problem the Kx has that it’s that it’s not available in Indonesia.  2016 and 2017 marked the year that Chinese OEM brands such as Drevo, Varmilo and Obin entered the enthusiast market. At that time the K70 already spoiled me so much that I moved on.

And then  2018 comes and major brands such as Corsair and Logitech enter the fray with their very own take on wireless mechanical keyboards and reignite my interest in the topic. Since my 2014 K70 is still in perfect condition, and I already have my Sidewinder X4 and Logitech K800 standing by as a backup if required, I decided to go with a less ambitious device.

I am now typing this post with the Royal Kludge RK61. It is a dirt-cheap (by mechanical keyboard price standard) bluetooth mechanical keyboard sporting 61 keys (hence the name) in 60% layout. Mine came in black, with yellow backlight, and is equipped with Cherry-copy brown switch .  It’s a revision 2.0 of the board, which add an arrow key cluster on the Fn layer,  which was the most requested feature after the first version of the keyboard was released. You can also get it in white with blue backlight on with various switches, but availability, specially in Indonesia might be a bit limited.

What’s In the Box

Aside from the keyboard itself, the cardboard box that the RK61 came with also contain a MicroUSB cable, an English/Chinese manual and… nothing else. It’s pretty compact package and I don’t really expect anything more, given the price.

Echo Dot not included
Build Quality

The RK61 is.. interesting. The built-in battery gives the all plastic construction a hefty, quality feel to it. The finish on the base is great and does not feel cheap. The OEM profile keycaps however, shows that this is a USD40 device, particularly the strange font choice and sharp edges. It is still an interesting design though, as they are pretty thick and sport matte finish on the face, but glossy on the sides. The Fn layer functions are printed on the keycaps so it will not light up when backlight is engaged.

There are 4 rubber feet at the back of the case and they work great on keeping the keyboard from sliding around your desk.DSC07823

There are cases where customers received units with warped, uneven case, causing the keyboard to tilt and rattle. My unit is perfectly fine.

Features

So, the RK61 is a bluetooth mechanical 60% backlight keyboard. That’s kinda sum up the feature list. You can also of course use the included USB cable to connect your pc to keyboard. Since it’s a 60% layout, you’ll be using the Fn layer quite frequently. For example, the arrow key cluster shares buttons with right Alt and Ctrl, as well as “/?”. The “Backspace” button is coupled with “Delete”.

The RK61 can connect to up to 3 devices via bluetooth simultaneously, and pressing a combination of the Fn button with either “Q”, “W” or “E” will switch between those devices. Pressing Fn+P initiates pairing mode.

My RK61 comes with a copy of Cherry MX brown switch (I don’t know who made it, probably Long Hua/Kailh) which sports tactile bump that is missing from the linear  Cherry MX Red switch on the K70. Since it has Cherry-compatible stem, finding a replacement keycaps should not be a challenge, theoretically. Except finding keycaps with 60% Fn legends printed is quite a challenge, and finding one that is backlight compatible is next to impossible.

There’s initial “RK” written on the switch housing

One function that seems to be missing compared to its’ contemporaries is programmability. Due to the 60% layout limitation, most 60% keyboard makers allows their users to reprogram the Fn layer so that the users can setup a keyboard layout they are most comfortable with. The RK61 however does not have this function, and you are stuck with whatever layout Royal Kludge decides good for you.

The yellow backlight properly illuminates the keys, even in the lowest settings. The backlight on “Caps Lock” stays off unless it’s activated. Thank God Royal Kludge went with single color LED for the rev 2.0 board, since I despise the rainbow colored LED on Rev 1.0

DSC07826

lastly, there’s no keyboard feet so the elevation is not adjustable.

 

In Use

Unlike the linear Cherry MX Red switch that I’m familiar with, the brown switch require additional force to push the switch pass the bump inside the switch which is I’m still getting used to, but switching between the RK61 and Logitech K800 at the office, I definitely prefer RK61 to type with.

Getting accustomed to 60% and using the Fn combinations is a bit of challenge. For example, the “↑” shares button with “/” and “?” with the “↑” as the default function, meaning to get a “?” I have to press a combination of 3 buttons, which are Fn, Shift and “?”. And since the board does not offer programmability, I would assume that those who relies more on keyboard shortcut might want to stay away from this keyboard.

Bluetooth works properly on Ubuntu on my X230, as well as my Samsung Galaxy S7. And while sometimes lag is noticeable, it is acceptable for my use, which is mostly typing. Switching between connected bluetooth devices takes about 5 seconds, which might seems a bit long, but i’m okay with it. So far I haven’t experienced issue with the keyboard dropping the bluetoth connection.

I booted Fallout 4 (Wine+DXVK baby!) and tried gaming on the RK61.

Printed legends on the keycaps for switching between paired bluetooth device
Final Thought

The RK61 build quality is okay-ish, but if I am going mobile with it, I might want to buy a sleeve, as I am a bit skeptical whether it can survive the constant beatings it will get as a travel mate. It would be a great companion to my Y510p while on the go, as the typing experience vastly outclassed Y510p’s built in keyboard and you are already bringing bricks on your backpack, anyway. Bringing it a long with my ThinkPad X230 on the other hand, is kind of defeating the point of having compact notebook. And X230 already has a great keyboard to begin with.

Having said that, I like the RK61 very much. While I can’t say that i like it better than the Cherry MX red in my K70, the brown switch is a joy to type with.  Adjusting from full-sized 104 layout to 60% is actually not that hard for me.

Would I recommend buying the RK61? Except for strange edge (and masochistic) cases, I can’t see why anyone would want a 60% keyboard as a primary input peripheral.  But even if you want a reduced size keyboard, there are probably better, more comfortable, and probably even cheaper options. Perhaps look at TenKeyLess (TKL) instead or, at the very least 78keys layout, as you wouldn’t have to deal with Fn layer for navigation keys and still benefited from the space saved. If you have to go with 60% and wireless, the programmable and more durable Anne Pro from Obins might be a better choice, if you can stomach the almost 200%  price increase.

But if you want a experiment or want wireless 60% keyboard as a secondary keyboard, have spare, expendable budget for toys, and doesn’t mind that you can’t remap the button directly on the keyboard, or whether it only last a year, I would heartily recommend the RK61.

VERDICT: 3/5

 

 

 

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