In a keyboard market that is too often awash in a sea of sameness (if I had a dollar for every time an existing keyboard got “refreshed” with RGB lighting…), Epic Gear’s approach is to go hard on modularity. In addition to its Morph modular gaming mouse, you can swap out the switches on its Defiant keyboard, and we were promised some add-ons that will bring additional keyboard functionality.
At Computex, Epic Gear looked poised to deliver on that promise with a spate of attachments for the Defiant that includes two different types of removable wrist rests, a separate numpad/macro key bank, and a rear “bumper” that adds ports.
Keyboard Got Back
Arguably the most notable add-on is the rear bumper, which is officially called the “Multifunction Rear-Mount Bumper.” It adds four dedicated media buttons, a USB Type-C (3.1) port, mic and audio jacks, and a pair of USB 3.0 ports. There are obvious applications there for headset and mouse passthroughs, not to mention external storage devices, but the presence of the Type-C part threw me. However, a representative told me that it’s there for future-proofing, as the company expects that an increasing number of flash drives and smartphones will be able to make use of it soon.
The bumper attaches to the back of the Defiant with two plastic hooks that latch into place. The mechanism didn’t work especially well, but that’s forgivable at this point — the bumper we saw at Computex was a prototype, so there’s time to fine-tune things.
Epic Gear still needs to iron out a few design details on the bumper, in any case. Note, for example, that there’s a large gap in the middle of it. Instead of the silver piece covering the rear orange cable assembly on the keyboard, there’s a cutaway. This would make some sense aesthetically, as Epic Gear digs that pop of color on its otherwise dark keyboard, were it not for the fact that there’s another orange cable assembly on the bumper itself.
Epic Gear could (and still might) remedy that clunky cutaway in the final shipping product, and it will definitely tidy up the attachment mechanism. It also needs to find a way to eliminate the extra cable; the keyboard has one cable already, and the bumper has two more. It shouldn’t be terribly difficult to find a way to reduce the total number of cables by one.
More Keys, Please
There’s a bit of a trend among keyboard makers to offer a removable numpad, and thus it’s no surprise that Epic Gear is making one in the name of modularity. However, whereas most other OEMs employ the removable keypad to give users the option of configuring their keyboards as tenkeyless or full-size (with the choice of positioning the numpad on the left or right), the Defiant is already a full-size keyboard. So why bother?
Two reasons: You can use the extra 24-key bank as dedicated macro keys, and if Epic Gear chooses to release a TKL version of the Defiant (which it well might, I am told), the extra keypad could function as that optional numpad.
We hope — and suggested to Epic Gear — that when the keypad makes it to market, instead of 20 regular-size keys plus the row of four across the top, it will have the exact same layout as a standard numpad (plus the four-key row.) That way, even though it would have only 17 keys in the main grid due to a few of them being longer (+, Enter, 0), those who rely on actual numpads can enjoy the extra keys for both work and play.
The keypad attaches to the Defiant via two plastic hooks. Unfortunately, it has its own cable. If you’re keeping track at home, if you employ the extra keypad plus the rear bumper, that’s four total cables. That is two too many; Epic Gear needs to figure out a way to connect the keypad to the Defiant without any extra cabling.
Wrist Rest Times Two
When it comes to wrist rests, some people refuse to buy a keyboard that doesn’t have one, whereas others find them bulky and ugly. Therefore, wise keyboard makers will offer a detachable wrist rest. Epic Gear has two.
One runs the width of the keyboard, and the other is a tournament-style wrist rest that’s designed just for your left hand’s busy WASD-ing. Both are made of flexible rubber (which makes storing them easier), covered by a soft fabric, and attach magnetically. This design isn’t completely idiot-proof in that neither wrist rest snaps into place — you have to center them yourself — but once attached, they hold firm. I found both quite comfortable to use in the few minutes I had with them.
Epic Gear didn’t give me a timeline for when these extras will hit the market, nor prices for any of them. As is often the case at tradeshows like Computex, what we saw from the company were prototypes. However, these designs seem close to completion, and Epic Gear, like many companies, was soliciting feedback before finalizing the products.
We do, in any case, expect the rear bumper, extra keypad and wrist rests to be available within months.