Skyloong’s GK61 Pro’s most eye-catching feature is its unique split-Spacebar-and-knob combination, a clever solution to the problem of squeezing a knob into a 60% design. But what we really like is the GK61 Pro’s QMK and Via support, freeing us from the awkwardness of Skyloong’s software. Combine that with excellent Gateron switches, and you get a great—if not perfect—budget-friendly 60% keyboard.
|+ Smooth stock switches|
+ QMK and Via support
+ High-quality aluminum case
+ Support for split and standard Spacebar layouts
|- Beveled edges on aluminum case not for everyone
- Minor keycap legend issues
- No alternative knob positions
- “Gasket” mount not as flexible as standard gasket mounts
Skyloong is a regular name here at Voltcave; we’ve reviewed a bunch of their keyboards before and generally liked them as affordable, budget-friendly options. But the GK61 Pro is a bit different. For one, it has a knob, making it one of the few (if not the only) 60% keyboard with a knob. Secondly, the wired version supports QMK and Via, bringing the GK61 Pro in line with offerings from better-known manufacturers such as Keychron.
Is QMK and Via support enough to elevate the GK61 Pro above and beyond the budget space it occupies? And is the knob really all that special? Read on to find out.
Disclaimer: Skyloong sent me this keyboard free of charge in exchange for my honest opinion. They had no say in the content of this review.
Packaging and Accessories
The GK61 Pro’s package should be familiar to anyone who’s read any of our previous Skyloong reviews—especially of the “custom” DIY GK61. You get the keyboard in a (cheap-feeling) fabric bag, a USB Type-A to Type-C cable, a standard single Spacebar plate, a couple of extra switches, and a few extra keycaps (6.25u Spacebar and non-accented Escape and Enter keys).
Of course, you also get the usual combination keycap and switch puller many budget keyboards come with. It’s flimsy, as usual, but it’s perfectly usable and works fine.
Let’s take the GK61 Pro out of its box and see how it stacks up.
Design, Layout, and Build Quality
I opted for the aluminum version of the GK61 Pro, which costs a cool $130 (compared to the $70 of the ABS version). That’s not too unexpected for an aluminum case, but it had better be of decent quality to justify the price hike over the ABS version.
Thankfully, the aluminum case is excellent. It’s made from a single block of aluminum, with clean lines and smooth surfaces that feel great to touch. It’s chunky, too; not great for portability, admittedly, but ideal if you want a solid chunk of keyboard that won’t slide on your desk. I’m admittedly not a huge fan of the beveled edge look, but it’s not offensive, and I can’t imagine anyone finding it actively off-putting.
One potential issue with the GK61 Pro’s aluminum case is the ergonomics—or, rather, lack thereof. As with many aluminum cases, the GK61 Pro’s case only has four small rubber feet on the bottom, which means you have a fixed typing angle here. It’s hardly the only aluminum keyboard with this issue, but it’s still worth mentioning for those new to aluminum keyboards.
Skyloong’s GK61 Pro sticks with a mostly standard 60% layout, except for the default bottom row configuration with its split Spacebar and knob. I think it’s a clever design decision, creating space for a knob without requiring drastic changes to the 60% layout. Split Spacebars aren’t for everyone, but I don’t think adapting to this particular split Spacebar layout will be too hard.
The knob only takes up about 1u, so you still get a lot of room to hit the Spacebar with either of your thumbs. The rest of the keyboard is as conventional as they come, and you won’t have any adaptation issues beyond the Spacebar and knob position.
If you don’t need the knob, you can quickly swap the split Spacebar module with the included standard Spacebar module. Skyloong has even pre-lubed the stabilizers on the standard Spacebar module, so it’s only a matter of removing switches, unscrewing the split Spacebar module, and screwing in the new Spacebar plate.
Sadly, you also lose the knob if you opt for the standard Spacebar. The knob requires extra contacts on the PCB, and the GK61 Pro only has those contacts in one location. So you can’t install the knob anywhere else on the keyboard.
Internally, Skyloong has opted for its own take on the now-ubiquitous gasket mount construction. It has “a silicone sandwich pad with a hollow interior,” which creates more room for the assembly to compress when typing. The company claims this helps create a “springier” typing experience with reduced noise.
We’ll see whether the “Skyloong O-ring gasket,” as the company calls it, has the desired effect later. For now, let’s stick to our general overview of the GK61 Pro.
Skyloong kept it simple with the GK61 Pro’s lighting. The GK61 Pro features the now-standard 16.8-million color RGB backlighting with north-facing RGB LEDs. You get nine lighting modes as standard, with several brightness and speed steps allowing you to tweak things just right. But you can access more modes once you start configuring the GK61 Pro using Via.
You can also quickly switch to a plain backlight with Fn + P. Unfortunately, unless you map QMK’s other RGB mode switching commands, you’ll be stuck with a fixed backlight if you do so.
Connectivity and Software
The Skyloong GK61 Pro comes in two versions: there’s a wired-only version with a USB Type-C connection and a triple-mode variant that supports Bluetooth, 2.4 GHz wireless, and USB Type-C.
Unfortunately, only the wired version supports QMK and Via. The triple-mode version still uses Skyloong’s proprietary software. It’s certainly an improvement over previous Skyloong keyboards I’ve reviewed, but I would have loved to see QMK and Via support on the wireless model as well.
The wireless version packs a 4000-mAh battery, which Skyloong claims will last 300 hours with the backlight off or 100 hours with the RGB lighting on (albeit at the lowest brightness). I only received the wired version, so I couldn’t test the battery life. But Skyloong’s keyboards have generally lived up to their battery life estimates in the past, so I’d be inclined to believe the company’s battery life claims here.
Skyloong ships the aluminum GK61 Pro with three-tone orange, off-white, and gray double-shot PBT keycaps. They’re identical to the keycaps on the Skyloong GK75 Optical I reviewed, with a decent typing feel and the typical slightly grippy PBT texture of decent-quality PBT keycaps.
The double-shot legends are crisp and clear, as you might expect. That said, my set had some bleed-through of the black plastic material on the orange Escape and Enter keys. The outcome is a slight fringing around the text, which is noticeable but not overly distracting.
Interestingly, I can’t spot any issues on the off-white keys, which were the ones that had the same problem on my GK75 Optical. So maybe this is more of a quality control issue than a fundamental defect of the double-shot keycap design?
The Win keycap also has a slightly out-of-place “W,” almost as if it were in bold or a different font size. I also feel that the arrows on the Shift keys look slightly out of place and vertically misaligned. It would make more sense to have the arrow in line with the text, but it hangs below the writing and looks a bit off.
However, these are nitpicks, and neither should ruin anyone’s experience with the stock keycaps. Are they the best keycaps you’ll ever use? Of course not. But they’re adequate for the GK61 Pro.
Switches and Typing Feel
Now that we’re done with a general overview of the Skyloong GK61 Pro, let’s dig into the meat and potatoes of any mechanical keyboard: the typing experience.
Switches and Stabilizers
Skyloong ships the GK61 Pro with Gateron’s G Pro 3.0 switches, the company’s newest iteration of its G Pro switch range. You can choose Red, Yellow, or Brown switches, all of which boast Gateron’s new frosted top housing and heavy-duty switch pins.
Unfortunately, you cannot get the GK61 Pro with Gateron Pro 3.0 Black, White, or Silver switches. It’s understandable, as these are arguably less “mainstream” switches, but those who prefer heavier (or lighter) linears than the Gateron Pro 3.0 Reds and Yellows will have to source their own switches and swap them in.
I opted for the Gateron Pro 3.0 Yellows, as I was interested in experiencing the latest and greatest in Gateron’s classic Yellow switch family. These are light linear switches with an actuation force of 50 ± 15 gf and standard pre- and total travel distances of 2.0 ± 0.6 mm and 4.0 mm.
These Gateron G Pro 3.0 Yellows are great. I’ve always appreciated Gateron Yellows, but these G Pro 3.0 Yellows are a significant improvement in all aspects. They’re smooth, with what feels like an ideal lube application to me—light, but consistent and perfectly adequate. Switch wobble is also much improved, and they offer a perfect sonic combination of bottom-out clack and a slightly higher-pitched return.
The fact that the G Pro 3.0 Yellows are affordable enough to come in a keyboard costing $70 (in its cheapest variation) is astounding. These are the best Gateron Yellows ever made, I think, and come closer to competing with the best linear switches than any of their predecessors.
Even if you don’t go for the GK 61 Pro, I urge you to consider the G Pro 3.0 Yellows for your keyboard if you’re on a budget. You can get these for anywhere between $0.25 to $0.45 per switch, depending on whether you buy them from AliExpress or Amazon. They’re an absolute steal if you can get them for around $0.30 per switch or so.
As usual, Skyloong uses unbranded plate-mount stabilizers in the GK61 Pro. The factory lube job feels good, and all the stabilized keys were great. I also appreciated the inverted “piano” color scheme, with black stems and white housings. It’s not a detail you’ll see during use, but one that I liked nonetheless, especially combined with the white switch plate.
Overall Typing Experience
I’ve always appreciated Skyloong’s keyboards for what they are: budget-friendly mechanical keyboards that get the basic typing experience right. And that’s much the same here. The GK61 Pro with Gateron G Pro 3.0 Yellow switches is a fine keyboard with great switches and smooth, quiet stabilizers.
Admittedly, I wouldn’t go so far as to call it amazing to type on, but it does what it needs to do perfectly and capably. It’s stable and solid, and the switches ensure a smooth, enjoyable typing experience.
But what about that “Skyloong O-ring gasket?” Well, that’s an interesting topic. As far as I can tell, it’s still the same design as the “Skyloong Lite Gasket” the company used in its older keyboards, just with a new name.
My guess is that the company has been trying to find the best way to market the construction. “Lite Gasket” was a bit misleading, as I (and others, presumably) expected a bouncy, cushiony typing experience but got what felt like a conventional non-gasket typing feel instead.
And that’s much the same case here: it’s fundamentally a modified O-ring design and not a traditional gasket mount design. So there is a bit of give when you press down, but it’s nowhere near as bouncy as the animation on the product page would have you believe.
Is that a bad thing? No, not at all. Not every keyboard has to have a bouncy, flexible typing experience. However, the animation is misleading and will lead to some disappointed customers, especially newbies who may not know that getting a “proper” gasket mount on a $70 keyboard is mostly unheard of. It’s still a good keyboard to type on, but it’s plainly not a gasket mount experience.
However, I think the Gateron switches do most of the heavy lifting for me with the GK61 Pro. The G Pro 3.0 Yellows are really good. So, while the GK61 Pro is a fundamentally solid keyboard, I’m not sure if I’d have enjoyed it quite as much with, say, stock Cherry MX Red mechanical switches.
Of course, no discussion of the overall GK61 typing experience would be complete without discussing the knob. Yes, it’s in an unconventional location, but I think it makes some sense. For example, I you can set it up to move the text cursor left and right, which will be quicker than pressing an Fn combo to access the left and right arrow keys.
That said, I didn’t use it much and eventually switched to the standard Spacebar. I’m just not a knob person, really. But those of you who could benefit from quick access to a knob will likely find it useful.
Finally, let’s talk about the GK61 Pro’s sound. The Gateron switches in the GK61 Pro sound great and, combined with the dense aluminum case and sound deadening, create a pure clacking that I found quite enjoyable. It’s just right: not overly muted or irritatingly high-pitched.
As usual, I recorded the typing demo with an Audio-Technica AT2020 placed about a foot above the keyboard. I applied minor noise reduction in iZotope RX 8 and raised the levels slightly to save you from turning your volume up too much.
Software and Programming
Note: If you have the wireless version of the GK61 Pro, you’ll be using Skyloong’s proprietary software instead of QMK/Via. Check out our Skyloong GK980 review for an overview of Skyloong’s software. I’ll focus on Via here, as I have the wired version.
Before you can start remapping your GK61 Pro, you’ll have to make it work with Via. Here’s a quick step-by-step guide:
- Download the .JSON file from the GK61 Pro product page and extract the .zip file somewhere.
- Go to usevia.app using Chrome or Edge (no Firefox support, sadly).
- Go to “Settings” and enable “Show Design tab.”
- Go to the “Design” tab, click “Load,” then open the extracted .JSON file.
- Allow Chrome or Edge to pair with your GK61 Pro.
Now, when you click on the “Configure” icon, you should see this:
First up, you’ll want to ensure you have the correct layout. If you’re using the standard Spacebar, you can skip this step. But if you’re using the split Spacebar layout, you’ll want to click the “Layouts” icon on the left and enable the “Split_space+Encoder” option. Once you enable it, the displayed layout should reflect your Spacebar setup.
Now, we can start remapping the keyboard to our heart’s content. The main remapping is incredibly straightforward: just click on a key you want to reprogram, then click on the command you want to assign from the options in the lower half of the screen. Changes happen immediately, with no need to save or upload a new keymap to the GK61 Pro.
There are a ton of options here. You have your basic alphanumerics and pre-programmed macro slots, which you’re likely familiar with. But QMK and Via also let you assign more esoteric layer options and special commands such as F13-F24, mouse movement, and even NKRO toggles. If there’s some OS- or input-related feature you want your keyboard to do, you can probably get it to do so using Via.
And, yes, you can remap the Fn key with Via. I’m unsure whether there’s a better place for it on the GK61 Pro, but it’s good to have the option.
Via also has a healthy amount of layer-switching options and toggles. Keeb.io’s Via guide covers most of the options and is worth checking out if you’re curious.
Remapping the knob is slightly more complicated, as Via doesn’t show you all the possible commands. Instead, clicking on each option brings up a drop-down list with a limited selection of mappings. Thankfully, the QMK Github has a complete keycode list, which you can use here.
Simply click on the action you want to remap, then type in the command you want to assign. For example, typing in KC_LEFT in the “Rotate Counterclockwise” action means that the knob moves the text cursor to the left when I turn the knob counterclockwise.
Via also has great macro support. You can create your macros by recording them directly or entering them as code. Once you’ve entered a macro, you can save it to the chosen macro slot and assign it as you would any other command. Note the small progress bar near the top of the macro interface, which shows you how much onboard memory you’ve used.
The GK61 Pro’s Via support means that tweaking your RGB lighting is much easier than with Skyloong’s proprietary software. However, the downside is that it’s not quite as thorough, and you can’t really create your own patterns or lighting modes. Instead, you can only tweak the speed, brightness, and color of 22 preset lighting modes.
Twenty-two modes is a decent number, of course, but some of you will still find it limiting. You can’t assign colors individually, for example. The color option is also quite limited; some patterns simply don’t let you change the colors at all, while others only let you adjust the saturation of the cycling colors, not the colors themselves.
Overall, Via support is an excellent bonus for the wired GK61 Pro. Many reviewers (myself included) have been asking for this for a while now, and it’s great to see that Skyloong has been paying attention to our comments and criticisms. Via has a much nicer, sleeker interface than Skyloong’s proprietary software, and the flexibility means you’ll likely not be limited by the firmware anytime soon.
Now, all that’s left is to introduce a QMK-compatible wireless version!
Vs. The Competition
I like the GK61 Pro. However, it competes in a tough market segment with many rivals, whether from other affordable Chinese brands or more prominent names such as Keychron and Ducky (to name a couple). So, let’s consider the two main reasons you may want to consider the GK61 Pro and the alternatives that would be available to you.
Firstly, if you want QMK/Via support, the $70 wired GK61 Pro (with an ABS case) is one of the most affordable ways to get that in a modern 60% keyboard. Few readily available sub-$100 keyboards support the open-source firmware, with the closest competitor likely the roughly $85 Keychron V4.
The aluminum GK61 Pro is also a decent option at around $130, with its Keychron rival, the Keychron Q4, costing significantly more. But the pricier Keychrons offer some advantages, such as south-facing LEDs and screw-in stabilizers. The Q4 also has a proper gasket mount, unlike the glorified O-ring mount on the GK61 Pro.
That said, if all you want is a QMK and Via-capable keyboard at the most affordable price possible, the wired Skyloong GK61 Pro is a solid buy. You miss out on some features present on pricier keyboards, but the basic typing experience is rock-solid.
Sadly, it’s not the same situation with the wireless version. The $80 triple-mode GK61 Pro still uses Skyloong’s proprietary software, so it’s not an option if you want wireless and QMK/Via. You’ll have to go up to the $100 mark and grab the Keychron K12 Pro instead.
However, QMK/Via is only one factor to consider. The other factor is the knob. The GK61 Pro is one of the few readily-available 60% keyboards with a knob, making it the keyboard if you need a knob and absolutely can’t (or don’t want to) have a 65% or 75% keyboard on your desk. None of Keychron’s 60% boards have a knob, so they’re out of the running if you want a knob in this form factor.
Of course, if you don’t need either, then you can choose from a ton of other products. Options include the budget classic Royal Kludge RK61, the mid-priced and ultra-reliable Ducky One 3 Mini, or a gaming-focused product like the Razer Huntsman Mini. None of them come with the Gateron G Pro 3.0 Yellows, though, which is something to bear in mind if you want high-quality linear switches.
Skyloong’s GK61 Pro is another solid, affordable Skyloong keyboard great for beginners and budget-conscious hobbyists looking for a 60% keyboard. But Skyloong’s latest 60% keyboard is a significant cut above its previous offerings thanks to the knob and its support for Via.
Whether either of those is strong enough to push the GK61 Pro to the top of your list is something only you can decide. But the GK61 Pro’s core typing experience is good enough, especially with the Gateron G Pro 3.0 Yellows, that I think it’s worth considering even if you’re not interested in either.