I have an affliction. Whenever I travel for work, I feel it necessary to bring along a mechanical keyboard – to write articles, to reply to emails or just to take notes. This is tremendous overkill: I have a recent-ish XPS laptop with a serviceable keyboard, after all, so I could easily get by without an extra kilogram in my bag. And yet there’s something about having a way of typing that is clunky, deliberate and mechanical, that makes it worth the encumbrance.
I’ve trialled a number of keyboards in this role of train-carriage-sanctity-destroyer, but my favourite at the moment is a model from Epomaker, the NT68. It is, in my opinion, the smallest workable size for writing – a 65 percent layout that includes arrow keys but not a number pad or function keys – and comes with a multi-function magnetic case. It’s designed to be the same size and shape as a typical 15-inch laptop keyboard, with the case folding flat to allow the keyboard to sit on top of your laptop keyboard without pressing its keys. The effect is an in-place upgrade from a keyboard that is (most likely) flat, mushy and low-travel, to one that is endowed with glorious texture: a cheerful and deep report, heaps of tactile feedback and a comfortable, full travel.
The NT68’s case has other uses too. It completely surrounds the keyboard for travel, preventing detritus from getting lodged within the switches or keys getting torn off. You can also fold it into a stand, angling the keyboard by a few degrees to attain a more familiar (if not ergonomically superior) writing position. If you detach the case from the keyboard, you can also use it to prop up your smartphone or tablet at a convenient angle – very smart.
Smaller touches have also been considered. The keyboard has a (heavy but well-built) aluminium chassis, features Bluetooth 5.1 and USB-C connectivity and charges via the latter. A wide range of devices are supported, with Windows and Mac modes (with swappable modifier keycaps to boot), and helpful Mac function key legends on the top row.
The keycaps are made from PBT, with a pleasantly rough texture (compared to more slick and shiny ABS), and come with a red, grey and white colourway by default. The F keys are accessed via a Fn key between the first two standard modifier keys (eg Ctrl and Win); otherwise the layout is quite standard for a 65 percent keyboard.
Gateron and Epomaker Chocolate switches of various varieties are offered by default – including Gateron Browns, Reds, Blacks and Blues and Chocolate Blue, Red, Silver, Brown and Rose Brown. I went for the Chocolate Browns, and found them more tactile and interesting than standard Cherry or Gateron Browns – a nice fit for bashing out articles on the train.
All things considered, the effect is tremendous – you get a fully functional mechanical keyboard in a very compact design. And if you’d like something even more compact, Epomaker has also designed a low profile variant, which uses shorter mechanical switches to attain a lower weight, smaller dimensions and more laptop-like design – without sacrificing the bulk of that mechanical feel. Both keyboards feature hot-swap sockets, so you’re free to replace broken switches or even change the whole keyboard to a switch that has your preferred balance of clickiness, tactility, weight and travel.
What do you think of the Epomaker NT68 – would you use it with your laptop? Let me know in the comments below.