The Varmilo brand is little known to the general public, but easily recognizable among fans of mechanical keyboards. Briefly characterizing this company, it can be noted that it produces very high-quality, but very “traditional” devices in terms of filling, which are distinguished by their colorful appearance at the same time. In this review, we will look at one of these entertaining keyboards called MA108 Panda. In all external parameters, it is stylized as bears so dear to the Chinese heart – pandas.
|Model||Varmilo MA108 Panda (MA108MG2V/LLPaNDr/W)|
|Polling frequency, Hz||1000|
|Number of keys||108|
|Keystroke resource, mln.||Not limited|
|Key material||PBT plastic (1.3mm)|
|Character engraving type||sublimation printing|
|Switch type||Mechanical electrostatic capacitive|
|Switch Model||Varmilo EC Rose V2|
|Changing the angle of the body||+|
|Ability to record macros||–|
|Backlight||+ (white color)|
|USB cable length, m||1,5|
|Braid material||No tangles|
|Removable palm rest||–|
|Dimensions (L x W x H), mm||137 x 442 x 36|
|OS Compatibility||Windows OS / Mac OS (limited)|
|Peculiarities||Large pad, eight interchangeable keycaps, keycap wrench, panda toy included. Panda themed airbrush on interchangeable buttons and mat. Detachable Mini USB cable|
|average cost||UAH 6099|
Contents of delivery
When the future owner of Varmilo MA108 Panda comes to the post office to pick up his parcel, he may be a little surprised by its size. After all, in terms of weight and dimensions, three keyboards can fit there at once. But that’s just the outer packaging.
And inside, in addition to the main box with the device, there is also a set of nice additions. In particular – a large pad in a separate fabric bag, a plush toy panda and several interchangeable keycaps.
The toy panda is slightly larger than an adult’s hand and will appeal to children.
Replaceable switches are made of thick PBT plastic. They include a green Esc (with a panda symbol), a white spacebar, Num Lock and Caps Lock buttons with transparent windows for better visibility of the LEDs, and four white buttons with stylized A, I, R and B images of pandas.
The complete rug is so large that it did not fit in our modest photo booth. For clarity, we photographed it from two sides, using the panda as a fixed marker. The drawing on the surface is made in black and light colors. On the left is an image of a panda family in reed beds. At the top right there is a hieroglyphic inscription (Chinese experts can tell in the comments what exactly is written there), and at the bottom right you can see the Varmilo logo. Surface dimensions are 900x400x3.5 mm. The texture of the coating is quite slippery both vertically and horizontally.
The edges are overcast with threads and sewn in two rows along the edge and not far from it. On the back of the mat is a regular rubber lining. All this is excellent at the table, not least due to the large weight.
The keyboard comes in a white, shrink-wrapped package with the same panda pattern on the front as on the mat. There is no detailed information here.
There is no special protection from damage inside either, although, given the additional outer box, it is not really needed. The keyboard is wrapped in a soft plastic bag and covered with a plastic overlay. The latter should not be thrown away, as it is specifically designed to protect the keys from dust during long periods of inactivity.
The package includes a leaflet with warranty information, a certificate of conformity, a keycap puller and a detachable USB cable.
The appearance of Varmilo MA108 Panda is ordinary and unusual at the same time. On the one hand, it looks like the usual classic mechanics – square corners of the case, thin frames, standard button layout (not counting four additional keys in the upper right corner). But when you start to look closely, and immediately imperceptible details catch your eye. For example, the surface of the case is plastic, but covered with a texture that is immediately indistinguishable from ebony. The keys have a different color scheme, which is dominated by white, but there are also green and dark gray. The gap is airbrushed in the form of a panda playing in the grass with a dragonfly. And even the knotty Latin script is deliberately depicted in such a way as to evoke associations with bamboo.
The layout of the printed block of keys fully complies with the ANSI standard. The F1 button is located exactly above the number “2”, the Enter and Shift keys are elongated and single-row. The Latin alphabet is printed in the upper left part of the keys, and the thin Cyrillic alphabet is in the bottom right. All inscriptions are made using thermal sublimation printing, which, in theory, allows them to remain resistant to fading and natural wear for a very long time. However, there is little to see on the dark keys, as well as in a dark room, especially with the contour backlight turned on. But in daylight everything is fine. Caps Lock, Num Lock, Scroll Lock indicators are located under the corresponding keys and are part of the overall backlight. All keycaps, except for long ones, have a cylindrical recess in the center. And they are highly resistant to pollution. The Fn button takes the place of the menu key.
Numeric block, editing keys and arrows comply with the standard. In the upper right corner there are four additional mechanical buttons responsible for starting the player, calling the mail client, starting the calculator and calling the My Computer menu.
The keyboard uses very decent and well lubricated stabilizers with internal wires and external mechanisms. Fluctuations or deviations from the horizontal when pressed in them are not observed. The keycaps are molded from PBT plastic and are 1.3 mm thick. All switches are soldered to the board through a metal plate, which gives the device high torsional rigidity and considerable weight. Although there are still some creaks at the junction of the panels.
The main highlight of this keyboard is its Varmilo EC Rose V2 capacitive electrostatic proprietary switches. By the principle of operation and by sensations, they are more than similar to ordinary mechanics, but there is one significant difference – the metal contacts do not physically touch each other. Instead, a charge-accumulating film is glued to the contacts. When the two films are close enough to each other, the keyboard controller senses the rising potential of the electric field and at a certain point counts the key as “fired”. In addition to the reduced delay time (within 5 ms) and the absence of “bounce” of contacts, this method of activation significantly increases the time between failures of the mechanism, since now it only rests on the development of the main return spring and rubbing plastic parts. In general, these “pink” switches have a linear travel and are quite smooth elastic – up to 55 grams of force is required to actuate and up to 75 grams to squeeze the button completely. The activation point is located on the usual 2 mm of the button path, and the full travel is still the same 4 mm. Special walls around the central cruciform fasteners greatly reduce the wobble of the cap around its axis. And the transparent body of the mechanism contributes to a better dispersion of light from the LED located below on the board.
The minimum profile height of the keyboard on the back row of keys with the legs folded is 36mm. With the legs unfolded, the height increases to 53 mm. The buttons have the usual Cherry tilt profile.
Apart from the cable connector, there are no other ports on the keyboard.
To connect the cable on the right side of the rear face is an inverted Mini-USB port. Slightly old-fashioned solution. Yes, and pretty chatty.
The complete cable from regular USB to Mini-USB has a length of 1.5 meters. There is no braid on it, the rigidity is medium. Not far from the connector there is a ferrite ring to eliminate interference and Velcro tape to adjust the length. There are protective caps on the connectors on both sides.
The reverse side of the keyboard is flat. In the center is a metal plate with information about the model and serial number of the device. There are five small rubber feet – in the corners and in front in the center of the keyboard.
On folding legs in one level, there are also decent rubber pads.
The backlighting in the keyboard is carried out exclusively by white LEDs, has four levels of brightness, the ability to completely turn off and two modes of operation – a constant glow and breathing at different speeds. Since the keycaps are not transparent, the backlight turns out to be contour, illuminating only the gaps between the keys and worsening the visibility of the inscriptions in the dark.
The Varmilo MA108 Panda keyboard is devoid of software and a limited set of its functionality is called up through combinations with the Fn key. Below are all the features we were able to replicate.
|Key with notes||Calling the default player application|
|Letter key||Calls the default mail client|
|Calculator key||Launches the calculator program|
|Computer key||Opens the My Computer tab|
|Fn+A||Switch to Mac mode (hold the combination for 3 seconds until Caps Lock blinks)|
|Fn+W||Switch to Windows mode (hold the combination for 3 seconds until Caps Lock blinks)|
|Fn+Esc||Reset the keyboard to default settings (hold the combination for 3 seconds until Caps Lock blinks)|
|Fn+F11||Turn down the volume|
|Fn+F12||Turn up the volume|
|Fn+→||Switching between pulse mode and constant backlight|
|Fn+↑||Increase backlight brightness / increase pulse rate|
|Fn+↓||Decrease backlight brightness/reduce pulsation speed|
|Fn+X||Turn on/off backlight|
|Fn+Right Ctrl||Call context menu|
|Fn+Win||Lock Win Button|
|Fn+Left Win||Fn and right Win switch places (hold the combination for 3 seconds until Caps Lock starts blinking)|
|Fn+Left Ctrl||Caps Lock and Left Ctrl are swapped (hold the combination for 3 seconds until Caps Lock starts blinking)|
|Fn+F1 (Mac)||Increase screen brightness|
|Fn+F2 (Mac)||Decrease screen brightness|
|Fn+F3 (Mac)||Show all interfaces|
|Fn+F4 (Mac)||Show all apps|
|Fn+F5 (Mac)||Decrease keyboard backlight brightness|
|Fn+F6 (Mac)||Increase keyboard backlight brightness|
Ergonomics and testing
As mentioned earlier, the Varmilo MA108 Panda is an extremely standard full-size keyboard that will not take any time to adapt to a new user. Blind typing is immediate, as the button layout is typical ANSI, and their shape and location have not changed in any way. The massive rigid case in combination with rubber feet makes the keyboard very stable and strong. It doesn’t move or flex anywhere, no matter how hard you hit it. The key cover is pleasant to the touch, resistant to wear and dirt. The stabilizers of the long keys are made close to the ideal, and the keycaps themselves have almost no backlash when pressed. The keyboard can be used normally without a palm rest, although with it, however, as always, it will be more convenient. The cable against the background of the keyboard itself looks too simple, and there is a desire to replace it with something more refined. On the other hand, it copes with its main function normally (apart from staggering in the connector).
The tactile sensations from the proprietary switches can be described as pleasant enough. The movement of the Varmilo EC Rose V2 movements is linear, smooth, resilient and predictable. The activation point is fixed, the sound from the operation is quiet. Most of all, they are similar to the refined Cherry MX Black switches. Although the company positions them as a solution for FPS players, they are also suitable for printing, at least for those with a “heavy” hand. It is also worth noting the rather low activation time – the minimum that I was able to achieve is 8 ms, and on average delays are between 20 and 40 ms.
The biggest disappointment in this device was the backlight. Since only the outline of the keys is illuminated, the backlight was turned off quite soon in order to save energy.
From a practical point of view, four additional buttons in the upper right part of the keyboard have become the most convenient from a practical point of view in everyday work. The only pity is that they cannot be reassigned to suit your more specific needs.
The Varmilo MA108 Panda keyboard supports full-fledged NKRO anti-ghosting, which allows you to activate all buttons simultaneously and in any combination.
Keyboard Varmilo MA108 Panda is an interesting piece of mechanics, classic and innovative at the same time. On the side of tradition, there is a massive and strong case, a standard key layout, decent stabilizers and thick PBT keycaps for all keys. On the innovation side, Varmilo EC Rose V2 capacitive electrostatic switches are similar to Cherry MX Black, but have excellent tactile characteristics, high wear resistance due to the absence of physical contact and low activation delays. All this is seasoned with an unusual design with a stylization of the theme of panda bears and an extended delivery set, including a rug and a soft toy.
Of the shortcomings, it is worth noting the contour backlighting of the keys, which is what it is, what it is not. In addition, for this money, I would like to see a decent braided twisted cable with a USB type C connector in the kit of this keyboard.
Varmilo MA108 Panda will suit both avid gamers and those who have to work with large amounts of text. Due to the peculiar linear response and easy smooth activation, it can maintain a high print speed for quite a long time. Given the total cost of this kit, it is unlikely to be appreciated by ordinary users, but rather will become the choice of sophisticated connoisseurs of mechanics and enthusiasts.