If you want a truly clean, cable managed setup, you have to go wireless. At least, that’s what everyone keeps telling me as my cranky old man hands clutch my wired mouse and keyboard. But wireless peripherals have come a long way in the past few years, and even budget models are starting to pop up and show real promise.
Wireless mechanical keyboards, in particular, were always a bit harder to come by than wired models, and—as with most new wireless tech—they often commanded a premium over their wired brethren. Even now, most wireless mechs cost $100 and up—but a few budget brands have finally swooped in to capture the sub-$50 price point. One of those brands is Velocifire, who has made a name for themselves over the past few years for actually decent budget keyboards. They offer two wireless models: the 87-key tenkeyless TKL02WS and their brand new 71-key compact TKL71WS. They recently lent us the smaller keyboard to try out, and I have to say: for under fifty bucks, it’s pretty good.
My main keyboard is not cheap by any means, and if you’re a true mech fan, I do recommend a high-end model to give your fingers a treat. But there are plenty of situations where a budget model makes sense: maybe you’re just getting into mechanical keyboards and want to see what they’re all about, or maybe you just don’t have the desire to spend $150 on such a small portion of your setup. In my case, I have a high-end keyboard at home, and a budget model stashed at my parents’ house in Michigan for when I’m visiting family. (Incidentally, it’s also a Velocifire.)
Like most budget keyboards, the $45 TL02WS uses Outemu switches, which are low-cost clones of the Cherry MX switches you find in brand-name decks. While many budget keyboards use clicky Outemu Blue switches (which are nice, but insanely loud), Velocifire offers a number of Brown-switch keyboards, which I personally prefer—they don’t have the loud click of the Blues, but they still have a subtle tactile bump as you press the key down. They actually feel pretty similar to their Cherry equivalents, which is nice for a lower-end board.
That said, the board itself is obviously not the highest end—it feels just a bit flimsier than even other Velocifires, but part of this may be due to its lightweight form factor (which, given its 71-key layout, is probably intentional, and designed to be portable). The “ice blue” backlighting, at least, is bright and configurable, with multiple different effects you can cycle through with a key combo (like breathing, ripple, wave, and so on). There’s even a bit of RGB flair on the side of the board, which is a neat little touch, even if the keys themselves aren’t RGB.
Which brings us, perhaps most importantly, to the wireless performance. I’ve been skeptical of wireless peripherals ever since I owned Apple’s original Bluetooth keyboard, which constantly lagged and lost connection. Thankfully, things have gotten much better since the old days, and the $45 TKL02WS has no such problems: it feels just as snappy as typing on a wired equivalent. It uses a 2.4GHz USB dongle, rather than Bluetooth, which some people may not like because it takes up a USB port. I, however, consider this a plus, since it’s easier and more reliable than Bluetooth, and works on any PC even if it doesn’t have Bluetooth built-in. The USB receiver even clicks into place magnetically on the bottom of your keyboard so you can toss it into your backpack for working on-the-go.
Battery life isn’t stellar; in normal usage, I got about 24 hours of charge out of the battery—about half of which was active typing, the other half being in standby mode at my desk. (The LEDs turn off after one minute of inactivity to save battery life.) This isn’t as good as some more expensive wireless keyboards, but it’s more than enough to get you through a full day of work, at which point you can charge it in the evening. You could also extend it by decreasing or turning off the backlight, and if it depletes while you’re still in the throes of writing, you can plug it into your PC using USB-C. (Side note: I’m stoked to see USB-C on budget-level hardware. Many companies opt for microUSB as a cost-cutting measure and it’s nice to see Velocifire go with the superior Type-C connector.)
The key layout, while compact, is a little weird—I found myself accidentally hitting the Pause button when I meant to hit Delete, but that could just be my own clumsiness. The function keys are also merged with the number row, requiring a press of the Fn button if you want to invoke F1, F2, and so on (which, frankly, most people probably don’t use much these days anyway). I’m willing to bet a lot of people can get by with a 60% keyboard just fine, but if you live and die by the number row and number pad, this probably isn’t the keyboard for you. I do like that the smaller footprint allows more space for my mouse hand, though—I ditched the number pad years ago, and I’m never going back.
For $45, this keyboard hits all the right notes. It’s affordable, the wireless is reliable, and the keys feel much better than a rubber dome board. If you can’t stomach the high price tags and tethered nature of most mechanical keyboards, Velocifire’s options will serve you well. For a more permanent wireless setup at a desk, I’d still lean toward Velocifire’s TKL02WS, personally, for its slightly more traditional layout. But if you plan on taking this keyboard with you in a backpack, or you’re just a fan of super-compact keyboards (it’s a thing!), the TKL71WS packs a lot into a small, affordable package.