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An excellent keyboard by any standard.
- All metal construction
- QMK and VIA compatibility
- Gasket-mounted plate
- Brand: Keychron
- Wireless: No
- Backlight: RGB SMD
- Media Controls: Yes
- Num Pad: No, TKL
- Switch Type: Gateron Phantom
- Replaceable Keys: Modular hotswap
- Stable and solid typing
- Outstanding build quality
- Ultra heavy base
- Programmable keys and backlight
- Not travel friendly
- Not wireless
- Extremely thick
Keychron Q1 other
As a veteran keyboard builder, I love the $169 Keychron Q1 75% ten-keyless (TKL) keyboard. Its near-perfect typing experience dominates the competition. While it's not right for those who need ergonomics and Bluetooth, it's perfect for typists who don't need a ten-key keypad.
Is the Keychron Q1 Mechanical Keyboard Right for You?
While wowing me with its marvelous and muted typing experience, the Q1 isn't without flaw.
If you're looking for the heaviest 75%, modular, hot-swap keyboard, it's the best in its class. But for those of you looking for ergonomics or wireless, there are more suitable options. A strong candidate that covers ergonomics and wireless is the Kinesis Freestyle2, a split mechanical keyboard.
Who Are Keychron?
Before I get into the pros and cons, you might want to know more about the company behind the Q1. Keychron is a newcomer to the mech market with a reputation for quality. Its first designs focused on products for the Mac. But it's since moved on to building general-use keyboards.
The Keychron Q1 is their newest flagship product, this time catering to the high-end, enthusiast market. Their selling point here isn't just hotswap sockets. Keychron has distinguished itself from the competition with an ultra-heavy case. To my knowledge, this is one of the heaviest 75-key keyboards ever made and probably one of the most gravity-challenged keyboards of 2021, period.
Although gasket-mounted plates, and other typist-oriented features, appear in multiple keyboards, such as the Mojo68, the Rama Works Kara, and the Ikki68 Aurora, I haven't seen them paired with heavier framed designs. Considering that gaskets reduce the shock of bottoming out, I'm surprised to not see them used with keyboards designed for stability. Potentially a heavy case, gasket mounts, and Poron could mean the triple crown for a stable typing platform. To date, no keyboard combines those three components.
Dimensions: 145 x 327.5 x 21.6 mm
Weight: ~1,600 grams
Plate: 6063 Aluminum
Switch type: Barebones or Gateron Phantom Red, Phantom Blue, Phantom Brown
Ports: USB Type-C (USB-C)
Case material: 6063 Aluminum
Case colors: Carbon Black, Space Gray, Navy Blue
Sockets: Kailh Hotswap
Keycaps: Double-shot ABS, top-key legends
Cable: Black, detachable, braided, coiled USB-C
Extras: Keycap puller, switch puller, extra "Poron" material, additional keys for macOS, optional rotary encoder
Modular Hotswap Sockets and Gateron Phantom Switches
Keychron offers three default keycaps to go with the latest Gateron Phantom series switches. To be honest, I can't tell the difference between the Phantom series and the Ink series (I reviewed the Ink series in 2020). Both have the same weights, actuation curves, and colored transparent switch housings. A more relevant comparison would be to compare regular 2021 Gaterons to the Phantom switches. In my initial testing, the difference seems to be the Phantoms are smoother. My guess is that Gateron used lower friction plastic or lubricant.
Keychron Q1 Teardown
A teardown of the Q1 reveals several innovative design features. My favorite is the ability to customize the specific level of shock absorption of the keyboard. But aside from that, there are three other components that Keychron used to great effect.
Poron Gasket-Mounted Plate
Gasket-mounted plate designs float the plate, PCB, and switches on top of a series of Poron-foam gaskets. Whenever you type, the gasket depresses, softening each keypress. Typing hard enough causes the entire plate to drop a millimeter or two. The effect causes a reduction in the harshness of bottoming a key out. Although the keycaps are not silenced, gaskets also chop down on typing sounds. That's because a special advantage of Poron over other kinds of foam is that it exhibits extreme energy muffling properties.
However, the substance that Keychron refers to as Poron looks and feels exactly like neoprene. I'm not sure whether Keychron used Poron on the inter. Then there's a denser layer of a kind of urethane foam that also appears to be a Poron layer. This layer pads the interior of the aluminum case.
Keychron included extra Poron in its kit. If you want, you can increase the amount of Poron between the plate and the base. However, I found that this actually increased the sensation of bottoming out of keys. After some experimentation, I found that fewer pieces of Poron improve the comfort of hard key presses.
Screw-In Stabilizers Vs. Plate-Mounted Stabilizers
The biggest source of rattle and noise production on a keyboard is oftentimes the space bar. Different keyboard stabilizer types cause different kinds of problems though. Costar stabilizers are easier to remove but suffer from stability and noise issues. Cherry stabilizers produce less rattle but are difficult to service. Screw-in stabilizers offer the best of both. They produce less noise, are super stable, and aren't difficult to service.
Typing on the Q1's space bar feels, to overuse a word, solid. While screw-in stabilizers demonstrate a tremendous amount of side-to-side wiggle, the opposite is true of their typing stability. They are enormously stable, thanks to the fact that they are literally screwed into the motherboard. I suspect, though, that space bar removal is a big advantage here. It appears that the stabilizer's play allows for space bar removal from extreme angles. So you can pull it without the risk of damage to the keycap. I can't help but feel that screw-in stabilizers are the future of high-end keyboard design.
Poron looks and feels like neoprene on first inspection. But pushing my finger into the material reveals the difference: Poron seems more durable and resistant compared to neoprene. Rather than yielding to touch as neoprene would, Poron feels almost solid and inflexible. I've read that there are different formulations of Poron, some offering consistency equivalent to neoprene.
The functional use of Poron on the base seems to further stabilize typing. I can't imagine there's a more stable typing machine out there.
Thick Aluminum Base
Another interesting feature Keychron's use of a weighted aluminum base. The base by itself weighs in at 872 grams, which is only 94 grams less than my steel-plate Varmilo VB87M 87-key keyboard. In other words, the base alone weighs more than a larger, steel-plated keyboard. The full keyboard weighs 1,623 grams, almost double my Varmilo.
The extremely heavy base makes for a stable, solid typing experience. Personally, I dislike the feel of metal-plate keyboards for touch typing. Because aluminum and steel are such great conductors of vibrations, you tend to feel on your other fingers whenever you strike a keycap. However, Keychron's approach here was to dampen each keypress while maintaining the solidity of a metal plate. The end result is solid and stable typing.
Lots of Customization Options
Keychron includes customization options for the case and switches. In future, two bare-bones models will be made: ISO and ANSI. At launch, though, only the case color and switches are customizable. The case colors include black, dark blue, and gray. As mentioned earlier, the switch options are a bit more interesting as they cover Gateron's latest switches: Phantom Red, Phantom Blue, and Phantom Brown.
The ultimate customization option is the ability to reprogram the keyboard from top to bottom. QMK or VIA can do just that, although it requires understanding how to flash your keyboard with firmware. It's not hard but there's a slight learning curve.
While I don't use VIA and have no familiarity with it, I am familiar with QMK. It's not hard to use, particularly if you're already familiar with flash ATMega32 processors. Those of you who have unlocked the bootloader of an Ender 3 will know what I mean.
But for those who do like to create their own custom layouts and color schemes, Keychron published their Q1 QMK source code on GitHub. The broad compatibility with QMK is probably because it uses an ATMega32 microchip, which is one of the most common processors used on QMK-supported keyboards. It's also commonly seen on 3D printers and other consumer electronics.
Backlighting and Animation Effects
The animation effects are about what you would expect on a high-end keyboard. The Q1 uses RGB SMDs instead of LEDs so there's a tremendous amount of color variation, like on all RBG backlit keyboard. However, it's worth noting that can set custom colors using QMK Configurator, so if you need a particular shade, that's possible. On top of that, there are numerous animations, including several multi-hued, rainbow-like variations.
While the backlight looks good, Keychron's standout feature is how they combined front-facing lighting with transparent switch housings. The combination allows for more intense animation effects, since the light is visible from the portion of the keyboard that faces the typist. However, while this is an interesting visual, I'd have preferred shine-through keycaps with front-printed lettering.
What's Not Good?
While great, not everything is perfect with the Keychron Q1.
No Function Layer Markings
Something I found irritating on the Q1: there are nonfunction layer markings on the keycaps. Because there's no documentation, this led to a lot of guesswork as to how to control backlights.
Expensive For a Keyboard in This Class
While $169 isn't the most expensive 75% keyboard, it's also a fair bit more expensive than the competition in this particular market segment. Razer, for example, sells a wired 75% for under $100. And while Razer's 75% isn't nearly as nice, $69 is enough to buy another low-end mechanical keyboard, such as the Vissles V84.
Front-Facing Lighting Paired with Top-Printed Legends
LED lighting scheme is designed for front-lit shine through keycaps.
That's partly by design as the keycaps aren't shine-through. The goal was to use a semi-transparent switch housing to allow for various visual effects.
No Capslock Status Indicator
Most keyboards include some kind of indicator that capslock is turned on. The Q1 doesn't provide any hint that you might be accidentally yelling at your friends and family over email.
The Future Will Mean Lower Prices
Gasket-mounted plates, screw-in stabilizers, and dampening material like silicone and Poron are the future. While the Keychron might seem like a good deal today at $169, next year there will be similar options for less money.
Should You Buy the Keychron Q1?
If you're looking for a high-end typist's keyboard, the Keychron Q1 beats the keycaps off the overpriced Razer BlackWidow. But if you want an ergonomic or wireless keyboard, look elsewhere.
For those looking for a low-cost hot-swap alternative, I suggest the Glorious Modular Mechanical Keyboard. The GMMK offers the same modular hot-swap design with a focus on entry-level keyboard enthusiasts.