0.01 (zero point zero one) has teamed up with Massdrop to bring this 65% collaboration to life. With a floating key design the Z70 looks slick, understated but every bit as capable as its competitors.
Is the Z70 the right keyboard to choose over the Pok3r or Tada68 keyboards? Compare and find out below.
Sold via Massdrop, this keyboard isn’t readily available. Massdrop is a group buy website that offers deals on products, like the Z70, from time to time. You’ll have to subscribe to Massdrop to be notified when the next Z70 drop is on.
Massdrop offer the Z70 as an assembled board or kit (-$10). Switch choices are either Cherry, Gateron, or Zealios (+$60).
|CNC aluminium case||Keycaps wear incredibly fast|
|Floating key design||Split Backspace|
|PBT keycaps||Split spacebar positioning is off centre|
|Dedicated arrow keys||3u spacebars x2|
|Partial navigation cluster||Doesn't wake Windows|
|Split spacebar||Fn key problems|
|Bright backlight||Key chatter|
|Fully programmable||Programming tool only available on Windows|
|Right-angle detachable USB-C cable||Non-standard layout|
|Mac compatible (to an extent)|
A new take on the 65% layout
An established keyboard designer, 0.01 has design experience from his time with Varmilo, and this experience shows when looking at the Z70. Design elements from various 60% keyboards have been combined to create a hybrid 65% keyboard.
Ergonomic elements grace this keyboard, as well as split Backspace, and split a spacebar. Arrow keys sit to the bottom right of the keyboard and surrounding keys have shrunk in size in order to adjust. Instead of the conventional six key navigation cluster, 4 of the more utilised keys sit to the right of the Z70.
An ergonomic layout
While this is a step in the right direction to better ergonomic support it may take some adjusting to fully appreciate the layout. Backspace is now the \| key which makes it smaller and puts it lower than what I’m familiar with. In place of the Backspace key are the \| and `~ keys.
Some people may be familiar with a split Backspace setup but for me I tend to stay with the conventional ANSI layout. It’s what I grew up with and it’s what feels natural to me when typing. I could try and relearn a better layout, however, my muscle memory instinctively knows the location and size of the Backspace key and it’s hard to go against it. Especially when I switch between keyboards quite regularly.
There’s also the split spacebars which are not found on conventional keyboards. Preference for one spacebar over the other lies with the user. Some users solely use the same thumb for the spacebar and this means the other half is wasted space. Split spacebars are desirable as they can trade pinky for thumb usage of certain keys. And thanks to the ability to reprogram the Z70 this unused space can have more purpose.
Fully programmable improvements
So, rather than fight muscle memory I opted to reprogram the Z70. I changed the \| and `~ keys to be Backspace and change the Backspace to be Delete. Now, this isn’t the best solution but for me it’ll do for my time with the Z70. This solution is only makeshift as it does help but doesn’t restore my full typing functionality.
Programming the Z70 is easy. It’s all performed via a Windows program (at least at the time of writing) and every key can be reassigned or removed to suit your needs, like what I did. Adding keys to Fn layers is a breeze, as well as moving the Fn key entirely to somewhere better. There’s the ability to program macros as well as open programs.
I’m a fan of moving forward with cable connectivity. Ideally there’d be no cables needed in a perfect world, however, with the slow adoption of USB-C for devices means an abundance of cables. Although not the best cables, the Z70’s cables are right angle and sufficiently do the job.
Despite only having 3 modes (on, off, breathing) the LED’s of the Z70 really do shine. They’re not your standard white. These are Frosty White LEDs which means they’ve got a slight blue tinge to them. Complaints from other users that the LEDs are too bright and cause difficulty seeing the keys do exist, though you can turn down the LED brightness.
A case for good aesthetics
When I look at the Z70, I think it’s a great looking piece of equipment. Its simple design is composed of the black (or silver) aluminium case, and floating keycaps with simple font. The black looks stunning and the case is really a sight to behold.
I am a big fan of the left side position of the USB-C port, this allows for the keyboard to rest completely against something without protrusion, however, you may have an entirely different experience.
Split spacebar on the Z70 is not good. It’s not just the implementation of the split spacebar but also the keys used for the split. The problem lies in the sizing, the two 3u keys used to make up the spacebars. Here’s KBC’s Poker’s keysizes.
Keycaps are generally measured in units or u for short. Alphas and numerical keys are 1u, |\ are 1.5, and so forth. Notice how you don’t see any 3s on those layouts. That’s because no keys are 3u and 3u keys are seldom used (Filco Minila has a 3u spacebar). 3u keys are very far from standard and barely any keycap manufacturers cater to this size.
While the theory behind it is solid, 0.01’s execution of the split spacebar is flawed. Having the split of the spacebar between the H and J keys means my right thumb position sits in the chasm rather than on the spacebar. I let a few people rest their hands on the Z70 and perform a typing test, only to have them also make note of this awkward placement.
This wouldn’t be a problem if the keycaps were decent. But they’re not. They’re terrible. They don’t look bad but at the rate they wear, they will. The keycaps are PBT which won’t shine over time and won’t wear like ABS. If you’re a fan of PBT blanks then you won’t have a problem with the Z70’s keycaps due to how fast the letters will rub off.
I’ve actually got 2 of these keyboards. Here’s a picture of one that I tried for the day and haven’t continued to use.
At a glance they look fine, the font isn’t gamer-y nor is it over the top. It’s over time that keycaps start to show their true colours. Unfortunately that isn’t much time.
The profile of the keycaps are OEM.
First round flaws
Though this is a first round of keyboard there are just a few things that need refining. I’ve had a few instances of key chatter on the Backspace which does have the potential to be problematic and irritating. Key chatter is when a keyboard registers one press as multiple. Eg, pressing “A” and getting “AA”.
Also, I’ve experienced issues with the certain Fn combinations. Things like volume keys working sporadically (usually after I’ve woken up the computer and started doing something that requires volume). There’s also difficulty with the keyboard working after waking Windows, simply unplugging and replugging the cable back into the computer brings the Z70 back to life.
If you’re on a Mac and you want to reprogram the Z70, you’ll need to find a computer with Windows.
And that leads me to my biggest problem, the price of the Z70. With a final drop price of $159 I expect a keyboard on par at least with the Pok3r or Tada68 keyboards. Both of these keyboards are cheaper (the Tada68 with the aluminium case is $160) with features as good or better than the Z70, and when compared to these two more refined keyboards it’s hard to justify the price.
All of these keyboards either have or offer aluminium cases. The Z70’s weight is a bit over 500g, while the Pok3r is 800g, the Tada68 is 618g with the stock case, and with the aluminium case it’s 1.4kg. Though the Z70’s aluminium case looks good it lacks the weight to give it that premium feeling.
It’s not just the premium quality that these two keyboards offer. It’s the reliability of these keyboards that makes them better than the Z70.
Pok3r vs Z70
|Cheaper||Not fully programmable|
|More reliable||No dedicated arrow keys|
|Premium aluminium case||No dedicated navigation cluster|
|Easier programming||Only Cherry MX switch option|
|Programming doesn't require a computer||No split spacebar|
|LEDs with more modes and even RGB|
|Double-shot ABS keycaps on LED models|
|PBT keycaps on non LED models|
|DIP switches to change between keyboard profiles|
|No split Backspace|
|No 3u keys|
With the option for LEDs and even RGB LEDs, there’s a wide range of options when it comes to choosing a Pok3r. Colour options is black or white and pricing varies from $130 to $140 for non-backlit and RGB models.
Its case is superior, the programming doesn’t require software (though one is coming), keycap offerings are either printed PBT or double-shot ABS. There’s even DIP switches on the back to change keyboard profile, or swap keys around. It works straight out the box with Windows, Mac, or Linux machines.
Tada68 vs Z70
|Significantly cheaper without case||No preinstalled LEDs|
|More reliable||Only Gateron switch options|
|Aluminium case if one of the best||No split spacebar|
|Website based programming allows any OS to program||No floating key design|
|Significantly better PBT keycaps||Non standard layout|
|No split Backspace|
|No 3u keys|
With a price tag the same as the Z70, the Tada68 gets you an excellent aluminium case. This thing is hefty and well worth the money. Combined with the Tada68 this whole unit weighs roughly 1.4kgs. Otherwise the base model without the heavy aluminium case is sub $100 and well worth the money.
Programming is all done via a website so there won’t be any OS compatibility issues. Keycaps are thick PBT which are much better than the Z70’s. The Tada68 does lack LEDs, however, they can still be added with a soldering iron afterwards.
So which keyboard should you buy?
Get the Z70 if you’re willing to stick out the first iteration in hopes of the future. Those of you who preference a split Backspace and spacebar should look into the Z70 as well.
Looking for more information on compact keyboards?
Last update on 2019-10-24 at 10:14 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API