While I have been a huge fan of TenKeyLess keyboards, for those who don’t have a lot of desktop space and especially for LANs. I recently jumped into smaller form factors, I took a look at the 60% Infinity and even bought a Poker 2 as well for my personal collection. I love the 60% boards but if you are used to a TKL you might miss a few things. For me it is the direction pad. Well because of that I had my eye on an interesting keyboard from Keycool called the Hero 84 that pack most of the keys that you get on a TKL into a smaller format, similar to the 60% keyboards. Well Massdrop was nice enough to help get a sample from Keycool and I have been using it off and on for nearly a month in between our other keyboard reviews. Today I can finally sit down and recap how it has performed and go into detail on what the Hero 84 is all about.
Product Name: Keycool Hero 84
Review Sample Provided by: Keycool/Massdrop
Written by Wes
Pictures by: Wes
Amazon Link: HERE
|Colors available||Black or White|
|Number of keys||84|
|Switches Available||Kailh brown or blue or Cherry MX black, red, blue, brown, and green|
|Backlighting||Yes, white or blue available|
|NKRO||21-key rollover with USB, n-key rollover with PS2|
|Keycaps||PBT with laser engraved legends|
Like a lot of the enthusiast focused keyboards on the market, Keycool didn’t exactly go crazy on the packaging for the Hero 84. In fact it comes in a brown box and on the top you just have the Keycool logo printed on it. The back is similar with CE and FCC logos on it as well as some information in Chinese. We really don’t know what we are working with until we open everything up actually. The keyboard comes wrapped up in a plastic bag. All of the accessories are tucked away up under the cardboard flap and the cardboard pulls double duty by keeping he keyboard from moving around.
For accessories we get a white detachable USB cable. I love that the cord comes with a Velcro strap already attached rather than using twist ties like most companies do. This way if you pack it back up later or take it with you you can keep the cord under control. Along with the cord you do get a USB to PS2 adapter for those looking for NKRO. We also get a bright blue plastic keycap puller. For documentation there was just a small brochure.
Along with the plastic bag that they wrapped the keyboard up in, when I pulled it out I also noticed that it comes with a nice clear plastic cover on it. This is additional protection in shipping and is also a dust cover for when you aren’t using it. Given the unique design its not like you are going to find many covers that will keep the keyboard clean.
Photos and Features
Like I said earlier, the Hero 84 is an interesting form factor. Keycool designed it to have almost all of the same functionality as a full keyboard but while only taking up a small amount of space more than a 60% keyboard. The accomplish this by adding a row up top for F keys, a row to the right, and by making a few keys smaller to slip in a direction pad. This gets us close to a TKL and then the number pad is all on a function layer. Our sample came In a great looking bright white but you can also get it in a black, the design only has a very thin bezel around it to help keep its size as small as possible and to give it a clean look.
The direction pad actually pulls double duty. In addition to its normal use they also used a function layer on it for the backlighting controls. Here you can turn it on and off as well as adjust the backlight brightness to a level that works best for you. On this specific sample we have blue backlighting on the white keyboard but you can also get white backlighting if you prefer that (I know I do).
Like just about every other keyboard on the market, Keycool did slip in media controls onto the Hero 84. Due to the size of the keyboard they obviously didn’t fit in dedicated controls but you can use the function key along with the F key row to get access to your play, pause, skip forward and back, and volume controls. In addition to that they even included other functions that will open up things like your calculator for example. Each key has the function printed on the side of the keycap in a bright blue so that you can see it without it getting in the way of the main key legends.
Just like the media controls, there is also a number pad built in on the function layer. Keycool did a nice job of printing the locations on the side of their keycaps in a bright blue. Having the number pad in offset keys is a little off putting but if you use it often you can adjust to it. That said I hardly ever use function layers and even though I use my number pad all day long on my main PC, I have learned to not need it because of all of the time I spend using a TKL.
For the most part my Poker 2 60% keyboard has all of the same functionality when you add in its multiple function layers, where the Hero 84 stands out though is the inclusion of a real direction pad down in the bottom right corner. This was the one thing that I found I missed more than anything else when running my Poker 2. It’s also the one thing I never even realized I used a lot until I went to write a review, as it turns out I arrow up and down and left and right all of the time when correcting mistakes and making tables, not having it was a huge adjustment for me. So having it on the Hero 84 was basically the main reason I wanted to check it out so badly. To fit it they do make the right shift key a little shorter as well as the right side of the bottom row moving to 1u keys from 1.25u’s. In addition to the direction pad they also added all of the other keys that you would find right above the direction pad on a TKL like page up and page down and most importantly the delete button.
From the side profile we can see a cable track peeking out down along the bottom edge. Otherwise the side of the keyboard doesn’t have anything going on, not that it should. The keyboard does have a natural rake and the keys have an OEM style side profile giving even more angle to everything.
The bottom of the Hero 84 is as white as the top with the exception of the black product sticker in the middle. It has our serial number as well as the required CE and FCC logos. For feet the Hero 84 has four rectangle rubber feet in a bright white that matches the rest of the keyboard. For those who prefer to kick their keyboard up at an angle you also have two feet to flip out and they both have rubber on their ends as well to keep the Hero 84 from sliding around.
For the detachable USB cable Keycool did hid the plug on the bottom. The connection is a mini USB plug that will match your standard Micro USB cables. Unlike my other keyboards with a similar design I do love that they included a clear plastic lock that secures the cable in place for additional protection. For your cable you do have a track that lets you run the cable out of ether side or right out of the back of the keyboard I you prefer.
A trend that started a lot with gaming mechanical keyboards that has been trickling into some of the enthusiast boards is the use of Kailh keyswitches. The big factor driving this change is without a doubt the limited quantities of Cherry switches being made causing huge waits and driving the prices up. A lot of people aren’t fans of Kailh switches but my personal experience has been mostly good. I did experience a little extra wobble in some of them, especially their blues. Keycool went with them on most of the current Hero 84’s as well although you can still find a few with Cherry MX’s when ordering through Massdrop. Our sample has Kailh browns and for backlighting it has blue backlighting. For stabilizers you get Cherry style stabilizers that mean you don’t have to fight with any small metal clips when swapping out keycaps or cleaning your keyboard.
The keycaps on the Hero 84 are part of what make it special. You see most keyboards come with two different types of keycaps. Backlit keyboards have translucent white keycaps with a black paint on them and the legends are etched out of the paint. Keyboards without backlighting normally have basic ABS plastic with a stamp printed legend. The problem is both designs don’t exactly hold up over time. The paint wears through and you see backlighting and as a whole ABS keycaps wear and give a glossy finish and loose their legends on them a well. The Hero sticks with what enthusiasts are looking for. That is keycaps made out of PBT plastic that is a little harder and doesn’t wear like ABS (and costs more) and for the legends they went with a laser etching. The keycaps are white to match our white model. The downside to this design though is that the backlighting doesn’t light up the legends like a normal backlit keyboard. The keycaps themselves are slightly thicker than the OEM caps that we normally see but still aren’t close to the thickness that nice aftermarket caps are sometimes made.
The Hero 84 testing was a little interesting because it actually came in and I tested it off and on in between a few other reviews. This gave me a chance to still get in my normal testing that includes writing reviews and far too much gaming. I was really surprised right out of the hole as just how quick I was able to grab it and get going. Even with the 60% keyboards there was an adjustment period but for my specific use this was basically a more compact version of a TKL keyboard that I use a lot with my LAN rigs. The big thing for me was that the bottom right corner needed to have the direction pad, just like it would be on a TKL and the main keyboards key layout was really close to normal with the exception of the modifier keys on the right side of the bottom row, keys that I rarely use. Delete was in about the same place I would look for it at and the other keys added hardly see any use. The F keys were nice to have back for quick refreshing and whatnot but it wouldn’t be a deal breaker to lose them.
The compact design came amazingly close to the same size as a 60% keyboard and if you guys remember that was damn small. That makes this a perfect keyboard for people who need the desktop space or people who need to travel with a proper keyboard often. Years ago I would sometimes travel to events like CES that I would be doing a lot of writing at with a proper keyboard. I really wish I had the Hero 84 at that time, it would have saved a little space in my bag. For people who are big LAN fans like I am, the Hero 84 gives you a small footprint to save room for a larger mousepad in the 3 foot space you get at most LANs.
As someone who still does require a full number pad on their main PC day to day I would love to see Keycool make a similar keyboard with no gaps between everything with a number pad still packed in. I know it wouldn’t save to much space, and I don’t need to save space on my desk, but I would still love it. Cooler Master did something lose with their XT but it had a weird function layer that put the direction pad in the number pad and I don’t want to fight with that when arrowing through an excel file and inputting numbers.
I was actually impressed with the overall typing performance of the keyboard, especially with having Kailh keyswitches. The keyswitches performed exactly like my many keyboards with Cherry MX Browns and didn’t have the wobble that I have experienced with Kailh blues in the past. The cherry stabilizers were quiet and the keyboard was solid and didn’t have any weird pings or noises when bottoming out keys.
Much like my Poker 2 the Hero 84 has backlighting, something that I require for both my LAN keyboards and in my office. I would love to say that I touch type but there are always times I need to take a look, especially when working with a non-standard keyboard like this when you try to find a key you rarely use. The blue backlighting wasn’t really at the top of my choices, I would much prefer the white myself but it still looked great. The lighting controls allowed me to turn it up far to bright as well as turn it down to almost nothing. The PBT keycaps don’t have translucent legends though so keep that in mind. As you can see in the photo below it means the lighting will help the keycap glow but the letters themselves don’t glow like most backlit keyboards. A set of Vortex PBT backlight keycaps will fix that and last just as long, I’m running a set of them in white on my Poker2 and black on my Code.
Overall and Final Verdict
With keyboards being one of my many interests I get excited about most when they come in. The Hero 84 though caught my interest more than a lot of the others because from a distance at least it seemed to be the perfect mix of a 60% keyboard with a TenKeyLess. With a few big lans already booked including ours and a few smaller LANs that I plan on getting in before summer is up I really wanted to find a balance between the two form factors. Typically I run a TKL but having messed around with the 60% keyboards this year I really enjoyed the additional space that they provided. The only problem was that I really missed my direction pad. The Hero 84 filled that gap perfectly.
The all white design with high quality PBT keycaps really pops, especially with the backlighting on. Speaking of the backlighting, it was at a bit of a disadvantage with the keycaps not having translucent legends on them but they gave more than enough lighting options to get the backlighting just right, with a few being extremely bright.
Really the only downside to the Hero 84 to me was not having dedicated keys for the volume and mute, but I could never expect that given the form factor. Typing performance was on point, even with the off brand switches. With a price of around $110 the Keycool Hero 84 is priced in line with the smaller 60% keyboards, especially when we remember it has full backlighting available as well. I have a feeling that my Poker 2 is going to see a lot less use with me having the Hero 84 around the house. I might even order some orange or white LEDs to swap into it to give it a little more LanOC style.
Live Pricing: HERE