If you are starting your journey into the world of do-it-yourself (DIY) customised mechanical keyboard, the Gopolar GG86 Tenkeyless Hotswappable Barebones Keyboard might just be the one for you.
The GG86, coined affectionately as “Tai Chi” by its maker, is the Gopolar’s first custom mechanical keyboard. The brand is probably more known for its Azure Dragon and Vermillion Bird switches.
The most stunning thing about the GG86 is perhaps its packaging itself. It comes in a box with the top lid covered with cloth fabric adorned with Chinese dragon motifs. There is a string with a Qing dynasty kind of coin attached. To open the lid, you have to pull up this string. While I think it is exquisite, my wife thinks it looks like some cheap Chinese New Year box.
In fact, I was half-expecting to find a Chinese sword instead of the keyboard when I open the lid. Unfortunately, no sword or mythical weapon was found. But there is a Chinese wuxia, or pugilist, manual that will make you chuckle. Apart from showing you some martial arts moves (it is just for laughs, do not take it seriously), it is actually a real manual for the keyboard.
Regardless, the box gives you all you need to start your journey into the world of DIY custom mechanical keyboards. They include the GoPolar GG86’s top and bottom casings, a hotswappable printed circuit board (PCB), a fibreglass plate, two silicone foams, five sets of screw-in stabilisers, four WinKeyLess (WKL) a USB-C cable, a switch puller, a keycap puller, and a metallic prying tool.
Available in four colours of white, black, blue and pink (version reviewed), the top and bottom casings are made of translucent ABS plastic. As such, the build quality is not something to shout about. It is, well, plasticky, as you can imagine.
The USB-C port is at the left rear, and it is the only connection to your PC. As the PCB has already been prepared for you, you do not need to do any soldering for the PCB. This might be one thing that has been stopping you from starting this hobby. At least it is for me.
Perhaps, the unique feature of GG86 is a small OLED display between the home cluster keys and the arrow keys. It shows you the keys that you have typed. However, my review unit’s OLED display is a little slanted. While it is a minor quirk, it does reflect the construction build quality of this keyboard.
It is important to note that the GG86 only supports screw-in stabilisers. You cannot use plate-mounted ones. Thankfully, everything is available out of the box. And personally, I prefer screw-in stabilisers anyway.
Once you installed the screw-in stabilisers, assembling the GG86 is pretty much a no-brainer. You do not need to look at the manual to do so. To start, place the PCB on bottom silicone foam in the bottom casing. Next, put the second silicone foam over the PCB before you secure the fibreglass plate over it.
Finally, press the top casing over the fibreglass plate. You should hear a click sound to ensure the top casing is installed securely in place. While it is easy to install, it is difficult to remove the top casing. The metallic prying tool allows you to pry it open but you risk leaving scratches on the casing. My advice is to make sure the installation is done perfectly so you do not need to pry it open again.
+ Nice box and packaging
+ Affordable for keyboard enthusiast beginners
+ OLED display great for testing purposes
+ Translucent casing allows the RGB lighting effects to flourish
+ Supports both QMK and VIA software
– Uses the rare 7u spacebar
– Only supports screw-in stabilisers
– Difficult to open the casing after installation
Anyway, you are left with the easy process of installing the mechanical switches and keycaps of your choice. These are not included in the box. So, you have to buy them on your own. For this review, I installed Kailh Box White Clicky switches (since I love clicky switches) with the OEM Profile doubleshot PBT OEM Profile keycaps.
My biggest beef with GG86 is its only support for 7u spacebar. Most spacebars are usually shorter at 6.25u. In fact, I searched my keycaps collection only to realise that I only have one 7u spacebar. But it is an XDA profile spacebar.
The domino effect of a 7u spacebar means that your Ctrl and Alt keycaps have to be 1.5u in length, instead of the usual 1.25u. As a result, I ordered a new set of keycaps that include the missing keycaps for this keyboard.
The GG86 has the option for a WKL layout, and it is great for those who prefer it. But I need the Win key very much, so this option does not appeal to me.
Due to the silicone foam at the base, the sound is pretty muted even with the clicky switches I installed. But the translucent plastic means the RGB lighting effects are able to flourish in its full glory. This is especially so with the lights also available at the bottom of the casing.
In addition, the GG86 supports both QMK and VIA software that allows you to customise the keyboard to your heart’s delight. You do need to ensure you download the right firmware for it.
If you are a custom keyboard beginner, you will find the OLED display to be a boon. This is because it allows you to know if your switch installation is successful by just pressing on it and see if it goes on the display.
With its affordable price tag and easy installation, the Gopolar GG86 Tenkeyless Barebones Keyboard is a fantastic entry-level keyboard for those who wants to dive into the world of custom mechanical keyboards.
VALUE FOR MONEY: 8.5/10