Depending on how you configure it, Skyloong’s DIY GK61 keyboard builder can either net you a solid sub-$100 value keyboard or an awkwardly-priced half-premium product. The GK61 keyboard has solid typing fundamentals, but the sub-par software and unspectacular switches hold it back once you break past the $150 barrier.
|+ Good variety of case, plate, switch, and keycap choices.|
+ Great pre-lubed stabilizers
+ Split Spacebar option
|- Software is awkward and unintuitive
- Customization options can get pricey
- In-house Skyloong switches aren’t particularly special
Mechanical keyboards are a dime a dozen these days, with options to suit every budget and taste available from manufacturers all across the globe. It takes something special to stand out from the pack, especially in the 60% and 65% space. That’s precisely the merciless market that Skyloong is entering with its GK61.
Skyloong aims to make an impact with a combination of good value and exhaustive customization options via its “DIY” keyboard builder. Have they nailed it? Let’s find out.
The “DIY” Builder
Skyloong sells a wide range of keyboards on its site, but the highlight is likely its custom builder, which lets you kit out your own GK61 DIY keyboard. It enables you to choose the case, plate material, switches, keycaps, and connection protocol for your keyboard, mixing and matching to get a keyboard that’s just right for you.
It’s a straightforward process: just go down the list on the right, making choices as you go. The render on the left updates itself to match your selections, a helpful touch that’ll help you make the right aesthetic choices for your keyboard parts.
Let’s run through and quickly give you an idea of your options.
Skyloong offers a decent range of cases, from ABS (available in white, black, and transparent) at the low end to CNC-milled aluminum and polycarbonate (PC) cases at the high end. This is mostly entirely down to aesthetics and personal choice. I went with a polycarbonate case just to check one out.
But at the risk of spoiling the rest of my review, I suggest sticking to the cheaper cases so that you end up with a roughly $100 or less board, where certain inherent drawbacks won’t matter as much.
You have four plate options: polycarbonate, steel, fiberglass, and brass. There’s a lot of talk in the mechanical keyboard community about how plate material affects sound and feel, but I remain somewhat agnostic on the matter. I went with a brass plate, solely because I like how it looks.
You get a healthy choice of switches when customizing your GK61 Lite on Skyloong’s website. There are the company’s Chocolate and Glacier switches and the standard range of Gateron options.
Skyloong’s Chocolate and Glacier switches offer a mix of tactile and linear switches in different weights. The switch colors match up across both ranges and are very similar aside from minor differences in pre- and total travel:
- Rose: “Very” tactile
- Brown: tactile
- Red, Silver, White, and Yellow: linear
- Blue (Chocolate only): clicky
I went for the Chocolate Rose switches, so I’ll discuss those later on in the review. But Skyloong was kind enough to send me three sample packs with all the other switches, so I’ll share some impressions. Note that my experience is mostly based on two or three switches (and not a whole keyboard), so don’t take these as gospel.
The Brown switches are MX Brown-style tactiles, although they seem a bit more tactile than the originals. The linear switches all felt similar to each other, and I was hard-pressed to try and decide which ones I liked more. The Yellow and Silver switches are gamer-friendly short-actuation switches, while Red and White are traditional linears. I would be happy with either of the final two.
The Chocolate Blue is a bit disappointing, but only in the same way that stock MX Blues are. I recommend anybody interested in clickies skip all the click-jacket-based switches and go for Kailh BOX switches (like the Box Jades) instead.
Skyloong’s switches are all pre-lubed, and the linears are reasonably smooth. I think they’re good for the price and compare favorably with the basic Gateron switches that Skyloong also offers as an option. But they’re nothing to get too excited about, either. They’re fine and shouldn’t offend anyone, but I can’t see them making a huge impact.
Skyloong sells keycaps in three different profiles: OEM, uniform GSA, and the higher-profile (and allegedly patented) GK2. You also get three materials: ABS, PBT, and silicone. ABS keycaps only come in OEM profile, while the silicone keycaps are exclusively GK2.
You can get PBT keycaps in both OEM and GSA profile, and it depends entirely on the colorway. It’s not listed clearly on the builder, although you can see differences between the profiles on the left-hand-side render. However, I’d have appreciated a more obvious indicator of the keycap profile to avoid ambiguity or misinterpretations.
I picked the Grey PBT keycaps in GSA profile:
Finally, you can choose whether you want a wired-only keyboard or a dual-mode keyboard with Bluetooth support. This is entirely up to you, although Skyloong “does not suggest” combining Bluetooth and a transparent case, as they feel the Bluetooth battery “makes your keyboard too ugly.”
We’re unsure if they’ll sell you one anyway, but I tried it, and they opted to send me a wired-only keyboard instead.
So, to recap, I configured a GK61 with a polycarbonate case, brass plate, Chocolate Rose switches, Grey PBT keycaps, and wired-only operation. Now, let’s discuss my impressions of the keyboard I received.
Packaging and Accessories
The Skyloong GK61 comes in a colorful, but otherwise basic cardboard box. Open the box up, and you’ll notice that the GK61 comes in a keyboard bag, which I thought was a welcome surprise. It’s not the best one I’ve ever used, but it’s nice to have in a pinch. Extra points to Skyloong for that.
Skyloong also gets points for the healthy extras it includes with the GK61. You get the requisite USB Type A to USB-C cable, of course, but you also get:
- A combination keycap and switch puller
- Red silicone Shift and Fn keycaps
- Mac keycaps (Option and Command in place of Control and Alt)
- Extra switches
- An adapter plate for a split Spacebar layout
All in all, a decent package for what’s ostensibly a more budget-oriented keyboard. True, there’s nothing outstanding about this save for the adapter plate, but it’s nice to see nonetheless. That said, I have to question the included silicone keycaps. They’re in a different profile that doesn’t match the OEM or GSA profiles of the ABS and PBT keycaps, so they stick out from the other keys.
Are they simply a subtle attempt to promote Skyloong’s silicone keycaps? If they are, they didn’t work: I didn’t enjoy the keys’ feel, and they didn’t convince me to try out the GK2 keycaps. But who knows, maybe they’ll work for you?
Design and Layout
First, let’s run through the basics and evaluate the GK61’s design and layout.
Design and Build
Skyloong sent us two units and let us customize both, which was nice. I opted for a polycarbonate case with a brass plate, just to check out the highest-priced options. I think it looks quite cool, although the polycarbonate is perhaps a bit cloudier than I expected.
My colleague went with a cheaper non-CNC aluminum case, which you can see below.
The GK61 is a gasket-mount board that uses Skyloong’s “Lite Gasket,” which offers “five sides” of sound absorption. In addition, it stops screws from coming into direct contact with the switch plate and the switches from directly contacting the PCB. Skyloong has a quick promotional video showing it off here.
I’m unsure if this impacts the typing experience. But that may have a lot to do with my choice of switch, which is a bit, how shall we say, “characterful.” But more on this later.
It’s worth noting that there’s no flex whatsoever on my unit, which isn’t surprising given how thick the polycarbonate case is. It’s a solid chunk of keyboard at 833 grams (1.83 pounds), which undoubtedly adds to the impressive feel. My colleague reports that his aluminum GK61 also feels weighty and sturdy.
I can’t guarantee that the GK61 will feel as well-built with the basic ABS case, but I don’t expect it to feel flimsy either.
The GK61 has a standard 60% layout with a full-length Right Shift and the Fn key in the lower right. I much prefer HHKB or HHKB-style 60% boards with a short Right Shift and Fn key alongside it, but those of you who are used to standard MX 60% boards will feel right at home here.
I’m also not a fan of the arrow key positions, but that’s a matter of preference. Besides, these are relatively easy to reprogram in the Skyloong software, so it’s not a huge deal. More on the software later.
My favorite thing about the layout is the included adapter that lets you convert the GK61 to a split Spacebar layout. It’s not a layout I’m familiar with, so I stuck to the standard Spacebar throughout my review. But it’s a great option that I’m sure some users will enjoy. It’s easy to install, too: pull the switches, unscrew the standard Spacebar plate, and drop in the split plate.
Unfortunately, you don’t get keycaps for the split Spacebar setup with the GK61. The silicone keycaps will fit, but they’re in Skyloong’s GK2 profile and thus won’t match either the PBT or ABS keycaps you can buy.
If you want to run a split Spacebar, I recommend buying a GK61 without keycaps and buying your own set. You’ll have to do that anyway, so you might as well save a bit of money on your keyboard and spend it on keycaps instead.
The Skyloong GK61 comes in either wired-only or dual-mode configurations. I have a USB-C-only board, so I can’t comment on its Bluetooth performance. However, my colleague has Bluetooth on his GK61, and he reports that it’s passable for casual and office use, but wouldn’t recommend it for gaming.
The main issue seems to be an inconsistent but persistent input lag over Bluetooth. While it’s not not significant enough to be immediately noticeable, it’s still not ideal, especially for faster-paced gaming. He also reports that the wireless connection completely cut out twice during the two weeks he tested the keyboard.
Each time that happened, he had to wait a few seconds for the wireless indicator light to stop flashing, which signified that the keyboard had managed to pair itself up with his computer.
These issues might have something to do with interference from the aluminum case, as that seems to be a common complaint with other boards. But it’s hard to definitively say whether it’s that or simply an issue with his computer’s Bluetooth, a weak Bluetooth transmitter on the GK61, or some combination of the above.
I’m probably a bit more aesthetically conservative than some of you, so I went with the boring grey PBT keycap option. I have to admit that I didn’t spot the keycap profile differences on the keyboard builder’s render, so I was a bit surprised to receive a keyboard with a uniform profile. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s worth sharing as a reminder.
The keycap material itself feels good, with a slightly smoother surface than other PBT keycaps I have on hand (mostly Topre). That’s neither good nor bad, mind you; just an observation. They’re quite thick, too, which is always nice.
I’m not a huge fan of the font and legends on the keycap set I received, admittedly, but the dye-sub printing is quite good. The legends are sharp, with the orange and blue used to designate alternate functions looking particularly vibrant. Good stuff.
My colleague went with PBT Coral Sea keycaps that came in an OEM profile. The keycaps appear to be a single-shot translucent plastic (to allow RGB lighting to shine through) with a high-quality matte paint coating. He’s particularly impressed with the detail in the spacebar design.
Confused about all of this keycap terminology? Read our guide on keycap types.
Now, let’s move on to the two crucial elements that make up the typing experience: switches and stabilizers.
I went with the Chocolate Rose switches because I was curious what Skyloong meant by “very” tactile. I also figured they’d offer me a new perspective, as I’ve mainly used linear MX switches since moving over to Topre and buckling spring a few years ago.
The Skyloong Chocolate Roses have a 65 (± 5) gf actuation force and a huge tactile bump almost immediately after you press a key. The switches then drop sharply until the roughly 2.0 mm operation point, when you start feeling some resistance again.
Do I like them? Not particularly. They’re interesting and can sometimes be fun to type on, but having such a big bump so early on means that I miss the odd keypress from time to time. The nearly linear drop-off after the bump also makes them feel like an unbalanced switch. Not my favorite ever MX switch, but I can appreciate what it’s trying to do.
The main issue for a review is that these Chocolate Rose switches have such a unique feel that they overpower anything that the brass plate and gasket-mount construction might offer in terms of the typing experience. So I found it quite hard to separate the switch feel from the overall keyboard feel.
Here’s a quick recording of some typing on the GK61, recorded with an Audio-Technica AT2020 placed about a foot above the keyboard:
Skyloong doesn’t make any claims about pre-lubing or modding the stabilizers, but a quick look shows that they are indeed lubed and clipped. And it shows: most of the stabilized keys are rattle-free and don’t feel mushy in the least. The Spacebar is perhaps slightly rattly, but it still feels better than your average stock spacebar.
I’m not picky about my stabs, so I’m probably not the most detailed judge of their quality. But I’m happy with the GK61’s stabs and don’t think I’ll bother modding or replacing them anytime soon.
Here’s a recording of the stabilized keys using the same Audio-Technica AT2020 mic I recorded my typing with:
Like most modern keyboards worth its salt, the Skyloong GK61 has a program that lets you remap keys, change lighting modes, and record macros. I’ll be blunt: the software is the most awkward part of the GK61. I didn’t, and still don’t, enjoy it.
Remapping keys is simple enough: click on the key you want to remap on the top keyboard display and pick the key you want to map it to on the bottom. To assign commands to the Fn layer, click on the Fn key first. There’s a default layer (Fn + Q) that you can’t remap and three layers (Fn + W, E, and R) that you can freely alter to your tastes.
Note that if you’ve remapped a key on the non-Fn layer (like Caps to Left Control in my case), you’ll also want to remap it on the Fn layer as well. I had issues getting the Control + Print Screen combo I use with ShareX to register until I did that.
I’m not sure what it is, but I presume there’s some weirdness with remapped keys and the Fn layer(s). It’s a minor issue, but one that I found annoying, given that firmware like QMK and TMK reliably pass through commands on unassigned Fn layer keys.
The lower right section of the software also lets you map macros to the selected key. It’s a bit awkward, as you need to press the small “View” button in the lower right to map it to the key. It took me a while to figure out, as one doesn’t immediately think of pressing a button named “View” to assign a macro.
It’s also inconsistent with the other remapping, which doesn’t require extra button presses to set keys. Recording the macros themselves is quite easy, at least: just create a new macro, press the record button (which, awkwardly, uses the “play” symbol), and type in your macro.
You can choose three delay modes: “recording delay,” which tries to record the delay between your inputs faithfully, a “minimum delay” setting that sets the delay to 5 ms regardless, and a custom delay setting that lets you select a universal delay between all your key presses.
The GK61’s lighting uses .LE files, which you load and edit with the software. It’s not very obvious, and you’ll likely get nowhere trying to figure it out on your own. I suggest not wasting time doing that and just watching Skyloong’s quick video guide on setting it up. It doesn’t go into much detail, but it should be enough for a basic custom lighting setup.
Overall, the GK61’s software isn’t great. It works, but an unintuitive interface, UX inconsistencies, and general lack of polish make for a generally unpleasant experience. The issues I had with remapped keys and the Fn layer don’t help, either. It’s easily the worst part of the keyboard.
This is tough, as it depends entirely on what you configure in the keyboard builder.
On the one hand, the GK61 gets the typing basics right. Sure, I probably picked the wrong switches for me, but the board is still decent. The other switches seem fine, the PBT keycaps feel good, and the stabs are great. It’s a solid, enjoyable board to use.
My concern is with the pricier configurations like mine. Yes, $170 for a polycarbonate case, brass plate, and PBT keycaps is decent, but I don’t think polycarb cases are generally worth the price premium. And even if you’re keen on it, you’re still stuck with mediocre software that holds it back compared to other options in its price range.
If I were spending $150 or more on an MX keyboard, I’d want the versatility of QMK/VIA firmware and some more exciting switch options. And I’d be willing to give up the polycarb case or the convenience of a pre-assembled keyboard. As it is, my GK61 feels a bit like a fish out of water; a sub-$100 board pushed into a price bracket it’s not quite comfortable in.
My recommendation? Get a GK61 with an ABS case and keep the price below $100. Do that, and you’ll end up with a good-value 60% keyboard, perfect for the budding hobbyist or someone who needs a second (or third) board. I feel that’s the GK61’s natural habitat, and it’s best to keep it there.
Overall, the Skyloong DIY GK61 is a solid keyboard: it has strong fundamentals and is enjoyable to type on. Beginners and casual mechanical keyboard fans will be happy with it and the options Skyloong offers, so long as they stay away from the expensive case options.
Keep it below $100, and you’ll receive a decent-to-good beginner keyboard. The switch options are solid, pre-lubed and pre-clipped stabs are great, and the PBT keycaps are pleasingly thick. Push it too far past the $100 mark, though, and you’re better off looking at other options.