There is much consternation surrounding which switches to choose when buying a mechanical gaming keyboard (Reds? Blues? Browns?), but Epic Gear has developed a modular keyboard that, at least partially, obviates that concern. The company’s concisely-named “Defiant” mechanical keyboard allows you to swap out one type of switches for another at any time.
Epic Gear has three switch types of its own: EG Gray (linear, like Reds), EG Orange (tactile, not unlike Browns), and EG Purple (tactile and clicky, like Blues). The Defiant model I have came with Purple switches, but I also have an “EG MMS Switch 24 Pack” of additional switches that comes with Gray, Orange and more Purple switches, as well as a special two-sided key switch puller. Using Epic Gear’s Modular-Matrix Structure (MMS), you can use the puller to remove an entire switch and drop in a different model.
If you’re counting, 24 switches isn’t enough to completely replace an entire 104-key keyboard’s worth of switches, even if they were all the same type. But that’s not really the point; the idea is that you, perhaps, want to have your WASD, spacebar and maybe a few other game-germane keys set with linear EG Gray switches and leave the rest of the keyboard alone.
I would assume that one would prefer to keep all switches the same across a given keyboard, but perhaps Epic Gear is on to something here.
That is, if you can successfully unseat the switches. I found it rather difficult to pry a single switch from its socket. You have to line up the “teeth” of the puller just so, and then you must squeeze the prongs together forcefully to get a firm grip. Even so, it’s far too easy to scrape up the black plastic top panel. Suffice it to say that swapping out switches is not something you want to do every day...nor every month, for that matter.
Epic Gear’s switches all have an actuation point of 1.5±0.2 mm, with an actuation force of 50g and a bottom travel of 4 mm. Upping the you’ll-never-wear-these-switches-out ante, Epic Gear claims these switches will last for 70 million strokes.
Still, switch-picky users will surely benefit from the ability to have choices on their Defiant keyboard. The sockets offer 30μ gold-plated contacts and patented “double-blade” and “dual-cross” contact areas.
It’s worth noting that the EG Purple switches under my fingers feel light and crisp. I also noticed that the font on the keys is quite large, which isn’t as “cool” as other keyboards, but I do like how easy it is to see all the characters. (Maybe I’m just old with failing eyesight.)
Epic Gear’s modular approach doesn’t stop at the switches, though. You can also opt for a dedicated 24-key macro panel that attaches to the left side of the keyboard; a wrist rest to match the macro panel; a rear bumper with a USB Type-C port, audio jacks and two more USB ports; a wrist rest that spans the width of the keyboard; and white key caps.
Software: Lights? Not Really. Customization? Yes Indeed
At a time when RGB lighting is all the rage, that’s one area in which Epic Gear opted to punt. Although you can adjust the backlighting with different “modes” and effects, you’re limited to white LEDs.
However, in terms of key customization, Epic Gear built copious options into the Defiant software. There are four profiles into which you can save your favorite configurations (using the Defiant’s 128 KB of onboard memory), and you can set the polling rate to 125, 250, 500 or 1,000 Hz.
Almost all of the keys are programmable, and assigning a function to any given key is a snap. You just click the key in the software GUI and choose from Multimedia Key, Single Key, Launch Program, Call Macro or Disable Key. (You can also choose Restore Default.) With the Multimedia Key option, you can assign a key for tasks as diverse as opening the Calculator or pulling up your web favorites. Once you make a selection, you just click Save on the Profile.
Speaking of calling up macros, it’s easy to make them on the Macro tab. You can edit the macros after you name and record them, and you can opt for playback functions such as Play Once, Play [N] Times, Play While Pressed and Toggle Continuous Play On/Off.
Note that a few keys can’t be programmed, as they already have a secondary purpose. These include a Gaming Mode button and a lighting control button.
One odd, but kind of neat, feature is the volume wheel. It’s positioned horizontally -- not vertically -- at the top right of the keyboard. It feels lighter than most wheels of this sort, but that’s because you can click the wheel to mute audio.
|Epic Gear Defiant|
|Switch Type||EG Gray, Orange, Purple|
|Additional Ports||N/A (expandable with accessories)|
|Cable||1.8 m braided, USB 2.0 (x1)|
|Key Caps||ABS, backlit|
|Microprocessor||ARM 32-bit Cortex M3|
|Onboard Memory||128 KB|
|Polling Rate||Up to 1,000 Hz|
|Lighting||-White LEDs-4 stages of brightness-9 illumination modes|
|Dimensions||455 x 167 x 26 mm|
|System Requirements||-Free USB port-200 MB free storage-Internet connection (for updates and driver)-Windows XP, 7, 8, 10|
|Price/Availability||$89.99 / April 2016|
All Things To All People
With the Defiant and its many options, Epic Gear is tackling the dilemma of every product manufacturer: How do you satisfy every customer? People are fickle and particular. One person’s favorite feature is the next guy’s most despised.
Some companies take the one-for-everyone approach and just have a mountain of SKUs you can pick from. Others, like Apple, give you just a couple of choices and expect you to live with it. In going the modular route, as we’ve seen more and more as of late, Epic Gear is taking a product core and allowing users to adjust it to their preferences as they see fit.
Being everything to everyone is a tricky proposition that can fall into the nothing for anyone abyss all too quickly, but with the Defiant keyboard, Epic Gear has developed a modular product that’s about as comprehensive as you can get.
You can get your own Defiant in April for $89.99. The extras are sold separately.