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Luminkey80 review

The Luminkey80 is a TKL with gorgeous look, personality, and some crazy features like an F13 key.

KBD.news
Published February 4, 2024
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TLDR;

This beautiful "e-retro white" Luminkey80 is a keyboard disguised as a vintage TKL. However, coming in CNC'd case, it's a tri-mode (wired, wireless, 2.4G) tenkeyless with some nice and surprising twists: 13-key F-row, classy badge, a ton of variants, etc. You may consider to go with the barebone kit and add your own caps – let's see why!

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Disclaimer

I received this review unit from Luminkey, a subsidiary of Createkeebs. To make it clear, I'm not paid to write about this product, but as always, receiving a free sample may introduce all kind of bias (both negative and positive in my experience) – keep this in mind while reading this review!

By the way, I was overly excited about this board so have to force myself to stay calm and objective while writing this review. ;)

Brand

LUMINKEY stands apart by focusing on fine-tuning mechanical keyboards to a state of perfection. Whether you're an experienced enthusiast or a newcomer of custom keyboards, or simply seeking a superior typing experience, LUMINKEY caters to all these needs! – Luminkey.com.

Options

Plenty of options color and layout wise: barebone kit or pre-built, winkeyless or full bottom row, anodized black/silver/e-retro white. That's 18 permutations if I'm right. So far! Because there are optional badges (+2), a soldered PCB, aluminum plate, keycap add-on, etc.

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All options look gorgeous, but to ease my decision paralysis, I thought of the bunch of classic retro keyboard models sitting in my attic. To be honest, there was no real question that I would choose the e-retro white one with the elaborated retro look.

In addition, after recent reviews like the black DR-70F and silver Weikav Record it was time to put my paws on a beige keyboard just for the sake of variety. (And yep, let's admit that "e-retro white" is just a fancy way of saying beige.) Despite my unwavering loyalty, I was quite surprised to learn that in fact this is the most popular color option, beating the ano-black and ano-silver versions.

In the box

So the tested sample was a fully built e-retro white Luminkey80 with Gateron Sylva linear switches and 9009 double-shot keycaps.

The board came in a black hard-shell carry case. As always, I don't really expect a carry case, but offering one makes the board look even more premium. That said, the "grip" of the case is a bit basic in comparison to all the other details that went into this product.

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The case is full of goodies like a brief instruction leaflet + another one explaining how to install an ISO Enter (one switch pin has to be trimmed off), colorful accents for the 9009 keycap set, a keycap and switch puller, coiled USB-C cable, wireless dongle, tiny screwdriver, hex key, extra keyswitch, extra screws, washers, gaskets, extra everything! :D Plus a nice CNC alu artisan.

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First impressions

Clean and simple, classy, less is more.

I like a lot of things about this board, but the thing I like the most is probably that Luminkey wanted genuine feedback.

I was wondering if you have any suggestions for improving this keyboard? We will develop new keyboards in the future, so I wanna collect some feedback, we will improve the points in future projects – Luminkey.

Opening the black hard-shell case the Luminkey80 came in, my first impression was that this team takes things seriously. The keyboard is wrapped in a transparent foil, and a sticker instructs you to inspect the board carefully before removing the packaging.

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Second thought? If you don't know what this board is, at first glance you might think that it is really something from the '80s. The keyboard came with the colorful 9009 accents in a separate box, the mounted caps were the two-tone retro beige ones, which blend perfectly into any retro keyboard collection. Of course a second look (and first touch) reveals the signs of the 21st century: e.g. the modern side profile, brass badge and weight, and the sheer mass of the milled aluminum case – almost 2kg.

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Hefty aluminum case, simple but nice brass badge.

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Appearance

I love this retro look, and according to Luminkey's numbers you love it too. With the unaccented two-tone caps this board really blends into my retro collection.

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Wait, it seems it works even with the accents. :D

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Just like the overall design, the cut and weight pattern is clean and simple. No intrusive branding, model name or anything except of the triangle motive. Less is more, again.

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Beautiful color options, but again, I was relieved to see that the retro white Luminkey80 is absolutely resistant to fingerprints, and I don't have to dust it off every minute either – in contrast to some black ones.

Clean and simple badge, and there are additional options you can order. The default one is copper, with optional stainless steel badge variants (silver or black) on offer.

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Nothing really breaks the visual cleanliness of the case, except the USB socket.

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This means there's no visible on/off switch, which, given the Luminkey80 is a tri-mode wireless board, is something spectacular. We will get back to this later.

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That said, the Luminkey80 does not hide its screws, it embraces the sight of them, both in the corners and along the perimeter of the case:

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Layout

Classic TKL layout, right? Look again! The TKL market is pretty crowded, with some relatively affordable models even on the more premium end of the spectrum. To stand out, you have to come up with something interesting, and beside the elegance of the clean design, Luminkey brought to you… drum roll… an F13 key! :D

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Not the first and not the only TKL with this cool feature, but it's nice anyway. To make some room for the extra key, Luminkey slightly redesigned the F-row. Although less wide, the classic gaps stayed, so you can still perfectly feel and use them for navigation between the usual four-key F-groups.

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By default, the extra key indeed generates an F13 keycode, which I find hilarious. Of course you can easily reprogram it in VIA. My prebuilt came with an actual F13 keycap at this particular position but in many official photos the Luminkey metal artisan (part of the kit) is put on this key.

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The plate and PCB allow both ANSI and ISO layouts, however, the ISO keys are not part of the fully built bundle. Along with indicator keys, they are available separately.

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The bottom row arrangement you can see in the photos is the only option.

Features

Highlights

  • Tri-mode (2.4G, wireless, wired)
  • WIN/MAC layout switch
  • Hot-swappable
  • 80% ISO/ANSI Layout
  • VIA support
  • CNC Aluminum Body

Specs

  • Size: 159x136x19mm
  • Typing Angle: 7°
  • Layout: 80% TKL ANSI/ISO
  • Mounting: Gasket Mount
  • Programming Support: VIA
  • Cable type: Type-C Data Cable
  • Switches: LUMINKEY Sylva Linear Switches
  • Stabilizer: Gateron Stabilizers
  • Connectivity: Wireless/2.4G/Wired
  • Compatible System: Windows/MacOS
  • PCB: 1.6mm Hot-swap
  • Plate: 1.5mm PC Plate

Material

  • Case: 6063 CNC Aluminum
  • Total weight: 1980 g.
  • Weight: Copper
  • Badge: Copper (extra badges on offer)
  • Keycaps: PBT Double-shot Keycaps (WOB/9009)
  • Color: Ano-Black/ Ano-Silver/ E-Retro White

Latency data

  • Wired: 2 millisecond
  • 2.4G: 6 millisecond
  • Wireless: 40 millisecond

Polling rate

  • Wired: 1000Hz
  • 2.4G: 1000Hz
  • Wireless: 125Hz

Structure

The Luminkey80 is something you start using and adoring, definitely not something you disassemble and strip down immediately, right? Even the barebone kit comes assembled, add your switches and caps, and it's ready to rock. No need to unscrew anything. Given the elegance of this keyboard, taking it apart would come down as rude if not a sacrilege. No worries, so that you don't have to commit this crime, I've done it for you of course.

Gasket mounting

Gaskets placed on the plate (alu version available).

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Plate

Polycarbonate plate with protruding parts for the gaskets. (Aluminum plate available separately.)

The PC plate has plate mounted, lubed screw-in stabilizers already installed.

LEDs

No per-key LED, only at some positions. Mostly as indicator lights (BL, wired, etc.)

RGB effects can be used only in the Esc position. This is perfect for showcasing e.g. an artisan even if you're not into full RGB. If lighting up your room or burning out your retina by merciless RGB lights is essential for you, the Luminkey80 is probably not your best choice.

Pic: LED (5) indicates charging

LED (5) indicates charging

By the way, firing it up for the first time, with the caps mounted and by daylight, it was quite difficult to see the indicator lights.

PCB

Hotswap PCB, but there's an optional soldered version available as well. Here are some shots of the PCB stripped down:

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Hotswap sockets, ANSI(ish)+ISO support, stepped Caps Lock support, etc. No flex cuts. As you can see, LEDs belong only to some keys.

Foam

3.5mm Poron foam and 0.5mm PE layer on top. Extra 1U PE replacement foams come with the bundle. No hotswap foam on the bottom, only a thin layer of 1 mm PE foam.

Firmware

The Luminkey80 supports VIA. In case you need help, the necessary documentation is available on the official site.

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The color and animation of the Esc LED can be easily set up here too.

Using the Luminkey80

As already mentioned, this was a fully built keyboard, but you can have it as a barebone kit too.

As I tried to put it into use, to my shame, I realized I really have to consult the accompanying leaflet guiding your first steps. Otherwise it would have taken ages to figure out that the on/off switch is hidden beneath the right Shift, and I have to remove the cap to access it. This is one of those crazy things about the Luminkey80.

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I played with the accented keys, and given the hotswap PCB, replacing switches is very easy as well.

Switches

The pre-built board comes with LUMINKEY Sylva switches by Gateron, a switch model specially customized for Luminkey.

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These are decent linears, the color of the housing matches the modifiers of the two-tone 9009 caps, and the green stem the green accented Enter key. Really nice touch.

Inspired by the expansive and soothing natural landscapes, Sylva provides a harmonious and comfortable typing experience – Luminkey.

I wasn't sure about if this is a mere recolor or a unique switch model so consulted Kevin of Milktooth. Material wise there are similar models out there (e.g. Mountain Tops), but none of those matches these specs exactly:

Luminkey Sylva switch specs

  • Manufacturer: GATERON
  • Switch type: Linear
  • Top housing: Nylon
  • Stem: POM
  • Bottom housing: Nylon
  • Spring: Stainless steel (gold-plated)
  • Total travel: 3.7±0.3mm
  • Operating force: 48±gf
  • Total travel force: 55±20gf

Keycaps

So we arrived at the part where I'd like to talk about why grabbing the kit instead of a fully built keyboard may make sense to some of you. And the answer is: keycap legends.

Don't get me wrong, the feel, thickness, color and sound of the caps is great. But the quality of legends is not perfect.

While inconsistent legends don't bother me at all, I know full well that this drives some of you crazy. And to be honest, some legends of these 9009 caps are very heterogeneous.

Compare the "C" of this Control and Code for example:

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Again, I have no problem with this at all, I touch type anyway and don't inspect my caps from unreasonably close distance. In addition, as Bob writes it in the Signature Plastics history post, back in the day, the quality of keycap legends made with pantographs (before CNC tooling was a thing) was different. So I'd say this set perfectly fits the retro concept. However, if you are picky about legends, choose the barebone kit and simply add your favorite set.

Or even better, think about if 80+ switches with these caps above are worth the extra $65.

Wireless

You change between modes by holding the right Control key and pressing Tab. LEDs beneath the 1-5 keys indicate which one is the active mode.

You can find all the parameters in the specs, and when lost, check the FAQ and guides over at luminkey.com.

Slightly related: When disassembling this board, before getting to the batteries, there's another nice touch: finally a Luminkey logo, hidden inside of the case.

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To consider before purchasing

  • Is TKL the right layout for you?
  • Barebone or pre-built: If you are picky about double-shot legends, consider if 80+ switches with the caps above are worth the extra $65 compared to the pre-built version.
  • Can you live without per-key RGB?
  • Do you need more customization than VIA can offer?
  • Price.

Price & Availability

If you think the Luminkey80 is for you, check out the official online store or various regional vendors:

After reviewing two very affordable kits and checking popular alternatives, first I thought the Luminkey80 was a bit expensive. However, when comparing the barebone kit ($215) to cheaper alternatives, for the extra money you get stabs, a coiled cable and a cool aluminum artisan! Competitors may or may not come with these extras. It's up to you to decide if this justifies the difference.

For the sake of completeness: the prebuilt Luminkey80 costs $280.

Conclusion

The Luminkey80 is a beautiful blend of contemporary keyboard design and classic retro look. The 13-key F-row and classy badge make this board special among all the 80% TKLs. I personally love the prebuilt version, but if keycap legend consistency is important for you, go with the barebone kit.

Products in the photos

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Published on Sun 4th Feb 2024. Featured in KBD #154.


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