This compact mechanical keyboard is a great, simple upgrade for work and general use
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- With a wide choice of colorful polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) keycaps, the Varmilo VA87M is a solid board that’s built to last.
- The Varmilo VA87M is easy and effortless to type on with a wide choice of switches to suit different preferences.
- The compact tenkeyless design doesn’t take up much desk space, features cable management, and sports a detachable Mini-USB cable.
- You may also be interested in our picks of the best keyboards, the best gaming keyboards, or the best ergonomic keyboards.
Mechanical keyboards have soared in popularity with heavy typists, programmers, and gamers increasingly being seduced by their charms. They offer a more satisfying feel than other kinds of keyboards and usually feature a range of customizable elements. The Varmilo VA87M is a good example, as this tenkeyless — meaning without a numpad — mechanical keyboard comes with a wide choice of different key switches and keycaps.
A tenkeyless design is a great way to save space on your desktop and makes it easier to maneuver your mouse without stretching. Varmilo uses tough, polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) keycaps that come in different colors and finishes, and they sit atop various kinds of mechanical switches, so you can pick the pairing that suits you. Offering strong performance in a durable design, the VA87M is light on superfluous extras.
Having worked and played with the Varmilo VA87M keyboard for the last few weeks, with the Moonlight keycaps over Varmilo’s EC V2 switches, I’m ready to sing its praises. But there are weaknesses here, and this keyboard won’t suit everyone.
Varmilo VA87M specifications
Dimensions: 14 x 5.2753 x 1.29 inches
Weight: 936 grams
Connectivity: Wired with detachable 4.9-foot Mini USB to USB-A cable
Backlighting: White always-on or breathing mode
Other features: N-key rollover, 1,000Hz polling, multiple switch options
There’s nothing overtly flashy about the Varmilo VA87M Moonlight model I tested, which has a mix of light and dark gray keycaps with the Escape, Spacebar, and Enter keys highlighted in cyan. The reassuringly heavy body is finished in lightly textured dark plastic. You can get a little more conservative with a charcoal version, but most of the alternative color schemes add splashes of color and artistic flourishes on the Spacebar and Enter keys.
With 87 keys in total, the Varmilo VA87M is a tenkeyless design, so there’s no number pad on the right. Most people don’t need the number pad; I find I don’t miss it at all, and it’s good to have a bit of extra space for my mouse. These are full-sized keycaps at 1.3mm and their PBT construction is a more durable and better-quality plastic than the more commonly used acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, or ABS. PBT keycaps feel very lightly textured, and they don’t wear as quickly or develop a shine in the way ABS keycaps can. If you’re a heavy typist or gamer, you’ll get a longer life from PBT keycaps.
There is white backlighting beneath every key, and you can set different brightness levels or switch to a breathing effect by pressing the Fn and arrow keys. The media keys are clearly labeled and there’s a Windows lock option, but this isn’t a fully programmable keyboard, and it doesn’t come with any configuration software.
Flip the Varmilo VA87M over and there are two feet with rubber pads to set it at an angle. A channel runs the length of the board so you can run the cable directly out the back or off to the right or left. It plugs into a Mini-USB port on the keyboard and any free USB-A port on your PC or laptop. There’s no wrist rest, and I find the feet a little easy to accidentally collapse if I push the keyboard, but the build quality is excellent.
You also get a wire keycap remover in the box and a couple of alternative keycaps for the Caps Lock and Scroll Lock keys with small LED indicators on them. The included keycaps are easy to remove and change. Varmilo also sent me a switch kit, so I could compare different switches. The board the company sent me is equipped with Varmilo’s own EC V2 Rose switches.
Setup and interface
Most of the keyboards I’ve tested over the last year have required me to install software. While software typically offers the option to reprogram keys, tweak lighting effects, and other bits and pieces, it’s also another thing that’s constantly running on your computer. Some of the gaming keyboard software also demands to be updated with annoying regularity.
It was refreshing to just plug in the Varmilo VA87M and get started. Many secondary functions for keys are labeled on the side and you can turn the backlighting on and change the brightness on the keyboard itself with the Fn and arrow keys.
Performance and features
I change keyboards often and usually there’s a learning curve with a new one. It takes time to get used to the layout and there are often typos for the first few days until I adjust. The Varmilo VA87M was a surprisingly smooth transition. My typing speed has been fast from the start and typos relatively few and far between.
The PBT keycaps are comfortable to type on or for gaming sessions, and they don’t pick up greasy marks or smears. My VA87M has the Moonlight finish, which I don’t love, but there are several alternative options (I counted 13 on the website).
I tested Varmilo’s newest EC V2 switches which come in four varieties: there’s Ivy, Rose, Sakura, or Daisy. My review unit sports the Rose switches which are linear and require 55 grams of actuation force (gf). They don’t feel a lot different to Cherry MX Reds for me. The Sakura and Daisy are also linear switches, but lighter at 45gf and 35gf respectively, while the Ivy is a heavier and more tactile switch.
The EC stands for electrocapacitive. Varmilo’s switches have a contactless design so actuation is triggered when two metal parts get close enough, instead of when they touch. This theoretically means that these switches should suffer less wear and tear and therefore you can expect them to last longer.
The Varmilo VA87M feels very responsive, though I am quite a heavy typist. It’s a clacky board and the keys make a fairly high pitched plastic click when they bottom out. My wife noticed the switch from the Roccat Vulcan TKL I was using before and says the Varmilo is much louder from the next room.
Typing is enjoyable on the Varmilo VA87M and I find it comfortable to work on for several hours at a time. It’s also pretty easy to keep clean. The only slight annoyances I have encountered are the feet collapsing unexpectedly, which has happened twice in three weeks and the cable, which I have run off to the left, keeps trying to pop out of the management channel.
For gaming, I’m not such a big fan. There are no issues with responsiveness, but you don’t get programmable keys or macro support with the Varmilo VA87M, there are no dedicated media keys or volume controls, and there’s no customizable RGB lighting.
Ultimately, the Varmilo VA87M does all the basics extremely well, but I feel this is a better keyboard for work than play.
Should you buy it?
Yes, this is an excellent mechanical keyboard that should last for years. However, PC gamers may want to consider the gaming-centric features this keyboard lacks.
Which model should you get?
The Varmilo VA87Mcomes in a range of different colors and finishes, some with artwork on the board and keys, others in plain colors. You can also select from a very wide choice of Cherry MX switches or Varmilo’s own EC V2 switches. Prices range from around $125 to $165.
What are your alternatives?
We discuss a few options in our guide to the best mechanical keyboards. If you want something a little sexier and gaming is your priority, then the Roccat Vulcan TKL at $109.99 is well worth considering. It features Roccat’s Titan switches, per-key RGB lighting, and a gorgeous design.
The SteelSeries Apex Pro is my favorite mechanical gaming keyboard with adjustable switches and every extra you can think of. The SteelSeries Apex Pro TKL is not cheap, though, coming in at $179.99.
If you don’t mind spending big, then the Drop CTRL at $200 combines a stunning aluminum finish with fully programmable keys and hot-swap switch sockets. It also offers RGB lighting, PBT keycaps, and everything else a mechanical keyboard fan might want.
The bottom line
The Varmilo VA87M boasts an elegant design, very high build quality, and all the options you need to get the look and typing feel that you want. It’s very compact, even for a tenkeyless board, and it feels responsive and satisfying to type on. If you don’t care about macros or lighting effects, this could be your ideal mechanical keyboard.
Pros: Wide choice of switches and keycaps, very durable, white backlight, compact design, detachable cable, cable management
Cons: Relatively expensive, no number pad, no wrist rest, not fully programmable, feet collapse easily
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