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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Keychron Q1 overview: an enthusiast-quality keyboard proper out of the field

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Keychron’s new mechanical keyboard, the Q1, has achieved one thing very spectacular. It’s taken the sorts of options and stage of high quality usually reserved for costly, assembly-required customized keyboards offered in restricted runs, and made it out there in a single, beginner-friendly bundle.

These high-quality options embody assist for open-source firmware that enables the keyboard’s format and performance to be endlessly personalized, hot-swappable switches that allow you to change its typing really feel with out having to do any soldering, and a stage of building that’s miles forward of most mainstream keyboards at this $169 value level.

It’s this deal with a extra premium building that’s new territory for Keychron, an organization that’s made a reputation for itself providing comparatively inexpensive mechanical keyboards full of user-friendly options like wi-fi Bluetooth connectivity and handy assist for each Mac and Home windows.

The Q1 sits midway between Keychron’s mainstream roots and these extra premium customized keyboards. It’s not wi-fi, and it’s additionally not as inexpensive as Keychron’s earlier keyboards. Nevertheless it’s additionally a bundle that you need to finally be capable to purchase with out the sort of problem and lead instances that may include many area of interest keyboard purchases. Keychron won’t be a family title in the identical method as Corsair or Logitech, however browse its site and also you’ll discover that the majority of its keyboards are at present in inventory and able to ship.

All of it makes the Keychron Q1 an easy mechanical keyboard to advocate.

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The Keychron Q1 is a 75-percent aluminum keyboard, which suggests it has about as many keys as a typical laptop computer keyboard, together with a operate row. It’s out there as an entire bundle for $169 in black, grey, or blue, with matching ABS double-shot keycaps. In any other case, you possibly can go for a $149 bare-bones mannequin that doesn’t include switches or keycaps, however that solely saves you $20 which doesn’t appear worthwhile to me. Except you’ve already obtained switches and keycaps mendacity round, I’d personally simply go for a completely assembled model. You possibly can simply swap out each the caps and switches later, and {hardware} to simply take away each is included within the field, no soldering required. One exception is when you’re in Europe and wish an ISO model of the keyboard — this model is simply out there as a bare-bones equipment.

The Q1’s design will look immediately acquainted to anybody who’s laid eyes on a GMMK Professional, a preferred keyboard launched earlier this yr. One notable distinction is that in the meanwhile the Q1 doesn’t have the choice to put in a rotary knob on its prime proper, which the GMMK Professional consists of to behave as a quantity management, however which may also be remapped to fill quite a lot of different capabilities. Keychron says it’s going to finally promote a model of the Q1 with the same rotary knob in October for $179, nevertheless it’s not out there at launch and received’t be out there as an aftermarket improve for current Q1s.

As an alternative, on the highest proper you’ve gotten the choice of together with an additional key or swapping it out for a small sq. plate with a design of your choice printed on it. I’d want the additional key, personally.

A easy toggle switches the keyboard between its Mac and Home windows modes.

A stable aluminum case with no top modify.

Rounding out the bodily tour, on the highest left you’ll discover a bodily change to place the keyboard in its Mac and Home windows modes (keycaps for each come within the field, as is commonplace with Keychron’s keyboards). On the underside there are 4 ft to cease the board sliding round on a desk, however there are not any top adjustable ft. Their absence didn’t trouble me.

The Q1’s design and building is a fairly large departure from Keychron’s earlier keyboards, which have been made out of cheaper, lighter supplies however have additionally included user-friendly extras like Bluetooth assist and height-adjustable ft. The Q1 won’t be as characteristic wealthy, however its general construct high quality is on one other stage from Keychron’s different boards. I usually suppose it’s a mistake to equate “heavy” tech with “high-quality” tech, however on this case the Q1’s heavy-duty building completely makes it really feel extra premium.

An aviator cable, when you’re into that form of factor.

Spend any time on mechanical keyboard boards and also you’ll rapidly uncover that there are a bunch of mods folks prefer to make to their keyboards, both to make them really feel nicer to kind on, sound higher, or simply look plain cool. What’s particular in regards to the Keychron Q1 isn’t that it’s doing something significantly new, however that it comes with a variety of the commonest mods utilized.

Its USB cable is the obvious instance. One of many best modifications most individuals make for his or her keyboards is to exchange the boring USB cable that comes within the field with one thing extra attention-grabbing, perhaps lined in a pleasant braided material, curled right into a coil, or with a totally extreme aviator connector midway down the road. Effectively, that’s precisely the cable that comes as commonplace with the Q1. I’ve by no means personally been a fan of over-engineered cables like these, however judging by customers on Reddit, I’m within the minority. At the very least it doesn’t have an effect on the way in which the cable works.

Elsewhere, there are extra examples of sometimes aftermarket mods being included as commonplace. Take a look at the Q1’s Gateron-manufactured screw-in PCB stabilizers (the mechanisms below longer keys just like the spacebar that cease them from wobbling), and also you’ll see that lube has been utilized to cut back their rattling, which is one other tweak folks advocate to your keyboard. I think about most fanatics will need to tweak the quantity of lubricant to get precisely the sound they like, however for me the quantity that got here utilized did an excellent job at lowering the clatter they’ll in any other case produce.

The Gateron “Phantom” switches that include the board even have lubricant utilized, within the hope of constructing them really feel smoother to kind on. The switches can be found in a typical collection of linear crimson, tactile brown, and clicky blue varieties, and I used the brown variations for almost all of my time with the board. Regardless of the Phantom branding, it was exhausting to inform the switches other than common Cherry MX Browns, with that ever-so-slight tactile bump that you simply both love or absolutely hate. I’m a proud member of the previous group.

The most typical modification folks are inclined to make to their keyboards is with the keycaps, and sadly I don’t have a solution for you about whether or not Keychron’s inventory keycaps can reside as much as the standard of aftermarket alternate options. I didn’t get a overview pattern of the ABS caps that Keychron gives with totally assembled variations of the Q1. As an alternative, I’ve been utilizing one in every of Keychron’s $40 sets made out of a extra sturdy PBT plastic. They’re not excellent, however for this value, I feel you might do so much worse. I’ve no issues with the sturdiness of the keycaps, however look intently and also you’ll see that the printing of their legends isn’t nice, and there’s a sort of haziness to them that just about appears to be like just like the ink is bleeding out into the world round every letter.

In distinction, ABS (which is what the keycaps that truly include the keyboard are made out of) usually has a popularity for being much less sturdy than PBT, because of the way in which it will possibly develop a shine over time with use. However contemplating they solely are available in at a $20 premium alongside a set of switches, I feel it is sensible to seize a set.

Keychron’s $40 PBT keycaps are good, not nice.

The USB-C cable attaches to the highest left of the board.

No compact keyboard format goes to be excellent for everybody, so it’s nice that the Keychron Q1’s format is totally customizable. Higher but, it’s customizable because of its assist for QMK, a strong open-source firmware commonplace that’s appropriate with a plethora of various configuration software program. Keychron recommends utilizing the software Via to configure the Q1’s layout, which is usually a well-designed and user-friendly piece of software program to make use of.

The one criticism I’ve in regards to the customization course of is that it’s a bit unintuitive the way it works while you’re utilizing the keyboard in its Home windows mode. If you wish to alter the format used when the keyboard’s in its “Home windows” mode (there’s a small change labeled Mac / Home windows on the highest left of the board), you’ll want to regulate “Layer 2” in By way of or your QMK software program of selection, which isn’t apparent at first look.

The Q1 additionally technically has an RGB LED constructed into every one in every of its switches, however this isn’t the keyboard to get if you need an obnoxious glowing object in your desk. None of Keychron’s keycap choices have any transparency to permit gentle to shine via them, and the case itself doesn’t depart a lot room for gentle to shine via. You’re left with what small quantity of sunshine is ready to bleed via the skinny gaps between the keycaps, which fits me simply fantastic as somebody who turns off the lighting on each keyboard he makes use of anyway.

There’s so much going into the typing expertise of the Keychron Q1. There are the aforementioned pre-lubed switches, in addition to the truth that its circuit board is mounted on a gasket slightly than being screwed into the case, giving it a slight quantity of flex as you kind. After which there’s the keyboard’s heavy 3.5Ib (1.6kg) building, which retains it firmly planted in your desk as you kind.

I’m not going to fake to know which of those deserves many of the credit score for the general really feel of the Keychron Q1. All I do know is that this keyboard gives the very best out-of-the-box typing expertise of any keyboard I’ve ever used, and it’s in a unique league from most mainstream keyboards at this value level.

Typing has a splendidly crisp and clear really feel to it, accentuated by the dearth of rattle coming from the area bar. I feel it sounds nice to kind on with the tactile brown switches I’ve been utilizing. It’s the sort of keyboard that’s a pleasure to make use of each single day, no matter whether or not you’re writing hundreds of phrases of copy, gaming, or something in between.

I feel lots of people are going to be very pleased with the way in which the Keychron Q1 feels as inventory, nevertheless it’s additionally a fairly simple keyboard to mod your self. Keychron gives a small Allen wrench within the field, which grants easy accessibility to the internals of the keyboard by way of the eight screws on its underside, and there are additional gaskets and foam if you wish to experiment to get a unique sound and really feel from the board. It’s a reasonably painless course of to disassemble the keyboard, although you’ll must be cautious in regards to the small ribbon cable that connects the principle circuit board to the smaller board that homes the USB-C connector. In the end, this appears like a keyboard that’s designed to be taken aside, in contrast to many different keyboards which have scary-looking guarantee stickers that it’s important to break to entry key screws.

The keyboard technically comes with RGB switches…

…however you’d be hard-pressed to see them in most conditions.

Midway via scripting this overview, a colleague despatched me a message asking for a keyboard advice, and with out hesitating I advisable the Keychron Q1. Wanting being wi-fi, it principally does every part you might need from a compact mechanical keyboard. It’s simple to swap out its switches, it’s simple to customise its format, and it’s a dream to kind on.

The Q1 has been in comparison with the sorts of customized keyboards that may value a number of a whole lot of {dollars}, and almost all of which require some meeting by the tip consumer. However clearly it’s by no means going to be higher than these boards, not out of the field. Not due to any lack of construct high quality, however as a result of it’s that little little bit of self meeting that really tailors a customized keyboard to your precise wants.

With a bit work, a bit little bit of lube right here, or some change upgrades there, I’m certain the Q1 may method the extent of high quality of a few of these customized boards, and Keychron’s design is completely happy to accommodate tinkerers. However I feel what’s most spectacular is how shut the Q1 will get as commonplace. It’s a tremendous keyboard for somebody who simply needs to purchase one thing totally assembled and with no prolonged ready interval. Except you’re dead-set on a wi-fi keyboard otherwise you want the additional keys afforded by a bigger mannequin, the Keychron Q1 is a straightforward option to make.

Pictures by Jon Porter / The Verge

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