US$149 / AU$249 at Mwave
Mechanical keyboards have risen in popularity for several years
with the re-introduction of something remarkable in the peripheral
world: innovation. When keyboards became highly commoditized and
inexpensive, paired with many computer systems including a
perfectly good to excellent typing device, the larger keyboard
But people missed the ability to have choice, quality, and
pizzazz. Keychron is one of the companies that rose to fill this
gap. Their latest keyboard, the Q1, is an excellent addition to
their existing portfolio of keyboard sizes, styles, and
For a customizable mechanical keyboard that comes with
high-quality keyswitches and is compatible with others, the Q1 is
also affordable. A basic assembled version runs $179 (currently
$169). Keychron will sell you alternative keyswitches, keycaps, and
other parts for competitive prices, or you can source from many
other companies and projects.
Keychron sent for review an assembled standard keyboard, three
sets of its Gateron Phantom switches types, alternative keycap
sets, a solid-wood wrist rest, and a few extra specialty keycaps.
This allowed us to test swapping out keyswitches and keycaps and
type using three keyswitch styles.
The keycaps included and alternatives offered by Keychron are
double shot, a very tweaky method of using die-injection molding to
merge the key's label and color in one pass and the surrounding key
body in the second pass, or shot. Unlike silkscreened and other
methods that put ink onto a keycap, the label on double-shot keycap
never wears away.
We tried a number of keyswitches and keys in testing the Keychron
Q1. Just a sampling of what's possible appears. Image: Keychron
The Q1 is a so-called 75% keyboard. Where a 100% keyboard has a
full function row, separate area for navigation (like home, end,
forward delete, and arrow keys), and a full numeric entry keypad, a
75% keyboard has an abbreviation function row, no keypad, and a
handful of navigation keys, including arrows. (There are common
alternatives, too, like a 60% for laptops and a tenkeyless that
omits just the keypad.)
The keyboard's case is a highly produced piece of aluminum:
milled by CNC, anodized, sandblasted—it's fancy looking, nice to
the touch, likely to last through winters and wars, and heavy. Its
mass is a large contributor to the 3.5-pound (1600g) assembled
The Keychron Q1 composites many layers together—configurable in
kit versions—to achieve stability and comfortable resistance while
typing. Image: Keychron
You can swap
keyswitches even while the keyboard is connected and active. Image: IDG
The Gateron Phantom keyswitches—available in assembled versions
and as separate purchases—comes in quiet (red), gentle (brown), and
clicky (blue) versions. As a decades-long touch typist who taps in
thousands of words a day, I prefer clicky keyswitches. The keyboard
arrived configured with quiet (red) switches; I swapped in some
clicky ones to test the contrast.
I found typing to require slightly more effort than with my
usual mechanical keyboard, a mildly clicky keyboard, but that's
also due to the newness of the keyswitches and getting used to the
ever-so-slight difference between a 100% and a 75% keyboard. For
the fundamental task of allowing comfortable keyboard entry, the
Keychron Q1 succeeds.
Accompanying documentation warns an owner about taking care with
seating keyswitches. But despite my best efforts, I managed to bend
one of the two pins on a few of the keyswitches I inserted. There's
a knack that takes some practice.
There's a knack to
avoiding pending a keyswitch pin with just two to line up. Image: IDG
The keyswitches are slightly translucent, allowing RGB LEDs to
shine through if you've enabled them. Keychron likes to emphasize
these are south-facing LEDs, meaning the light emits from near the
bottom portion of the socket, passing the light more readily to
view. A few keyboard shortcuts let you adjust the LED lighting
pattern and brightness, and toggle it on or off.
While Keychron had several models for sale already, the
company's goal with the Q1 was to build it around the open-source
QMK firmware project and pair it with the open-source VIA keyboard
programming software. You never need to learn either name to use
the Keychron Q1. But the keyboard likely appeals more to people who
want some combination of QMK's flexible configuration and VIA
programming to create specialized keyboard layouts that can be
swapped in and out, design macros for complex tasks—or produce the
equivalent of laser-light shows with keyboard's RGB LEDs.
The Keychron Q1 has a USB-C jack and comes with what it calls a
premium coiled aviator cable, which will remind some of us of
keyboards of yore. The cable is actually two parts, one coiled and
one straight, and each of which has a USB-C jack at the end; a USB
Type-A adapter is included. The two halves connect with an
industrially styled metal screw lock—possibly overkill, but very
much keeping with the aesthetic.
For average typists and even mechanical keyboards lovers, the
Keychron Q1 is likely overkill. But it's quite pleasing to look at,
nice to type on, and offers a lot of customizability to grow into
at every level of its design. If you want a fancy keyboard at a
not-too-fancy price that you can explore making your own, the
Keychron Q1 checks all the boxes.