The $40 Mechanical Keyboard: Is It Any Good?
About this time last year we put together a roundup of affordable mechanical keyboards aimed at gamers. We looked at a dozen popular options from brands such as Corsair, Logitech, Roccat, Tt eSports, and many others. The most economical keyboard featured in that roundup was $70, which is affordable by mechanical keyboard standards, but remains pricey compared to membrane alternatives.
Since then we've seen and tested a few more mechanical keyboards, such as the Corsair K70 RGB Rapidfire, the Division Zero X40 and Das' Prime 13 (this last one, not really meant for gaming but a superb keyboard nonetheless), all nice options, and all priced at well over $100.
Enter the MechanicalEagle Z-77...
So, what if you want a mechanical keyboard but only have $40 to spend? Not long ago that wouldn't have been an option, but with the market now flooded with loads of Cherry MX knock-off switches, this has enabled companies to develop very affordable mechanical keyboards.
One such case is the GranVela MechanicalEagle Z-77, available on Amazon for as little as $35 without backlighting and $40 with it. This is a fully mechanical keyboard using knock-off blue switches in a tenkeyless (87-key) layout.
The size and design is similar to the Thermaltake Tt eSports Poseidon ZX featured in last year's roundup. The Poseidon ZX also uses non-Cherry MX Blue switches, though Tt eSports backs them with a five-year warranty. Still, at roughly twice the price of the MechanicalEagle Z-77, we wondered how much better keyboards like the Poseidon ZX could possibly be.
Looking at Amazon where the MechanicalEagle Z-77 is predominantly sold, user reviews are overwhelmingly positive. The model I have on hand has 130+ user reviews, 80% of which have scored it with 5 stars and just 3% of the users awarded less than 3 stars.
This seemed promising, so we were curious to take a closer look.
The MechanicalEagle Z-77 comes in black or white and although they list five switch options, we can only find the blue switch model right now. Seeing as this keyboard excludes a number pad, it measures a mere 357mm wide, 157mm deep, and 30mm thick.
Despite its modest specifications, the board weighs a hefty 1044 grams due to the inclusion of a durable steel back plate. The bottom of the keyboard has been constructed from hard plastic and appears durable as well. There are also two rubberized feet on the rear side to elevate the angle of attack.
As you might expect, there aren't any extra features such as USB pass-through or dedicated media keys, which is understandable given the price, as well as its use of USB 2.0.
Design-wise the MechanicalEagle Z-77 looks fine but certainly isn't as attractive as a premium product. The keycaps look cheap and the font is ugly, in my opinion.
What truly spoils the look of this keyboard are the multi-colored lights. While backlighting is an impressive feature to offer at this price point, GranVela has dropped the ball by having each row lit with a different color -- no, this doesn't count as RGB lighting.
The top row of F-keys are red, the number row below that is orange, then we have green, blue, purple and pink. There are some cool lighting effects that can be enabled, but ultimately you are still forced to use rainbow lighting. The lighting scheme is distasteful enough that I simply disabled it. The good news though is that the company offers a non-backlit version and you'd save $5 by opting for that model.
Looks aside, the MechanicalEagle Z-77 is surprisingly nice to use. The blue switches offer a strong tactile feel with a satisfying click that felt consistent across the board. Keycap wobble is minimal, in fact this board is Cherry cap compatible and GranVela has padded out the switches with circular guides that hold the key better and reduce wobble.
Although this is a basic mechanical board, it still has a handful of secondary functions such as a Windows key lock, backlighting adjustment, media functions and lighting effects. Compared to other mechanical keyboards using non-genuine Cherry MX switches such as the Poseidon ZX, the MechanicalEagle Z-77 feels just as good.
At roughly half the price of many affordable mechanical keyboards, there is no denying that the MechanicalEagle Z-77 is an exceptional deal. The board is backed by a limited one-year warranty, though the manufacturer also offers a 30 day hassle-free money back guarantee.
Had this model come with single color backlighting and more tasteful keycaps, I feel it would have been the ultimate budget mechanical keyboard. Maybe soon.
Pros: Inexpensive. Off-brand 'Blue' switches feel tactile and consistent. Solid construction.
Cons: Unattractive keycap font and multi-color backlighting.