So you want to get into custom mechanical keyboards?
In recent years we have seen explosive popularity not only in mechanical keyboards but also in custom mechanical keyboards. You may be wondering what the difference is between a pre-built device like the one made by Razer, Logitech, Corsair, etc., and a custom one.
As the name suggests, a custom keyboard means you can choose the body of your keyboard, you can choose the switches, you can choose the keycaps, and if you want to go even deeper, you can choose custom cables in a color of your choice or special, one-of-a-kind, artisanal keycaps that are usually hand sculpted by incredibly talented people in the community.
The only problem is that putting together an entire keyboard can be a project that can take months as you would buy some of the parts separately. Not to mention that certain keyboards can easily cost $ 400-500, and keycap sets can also cost $ 120-200 in some cases.
This can be incredibly daunting for beginners, some of whom are not sure they are ready to invest that kind of time and money, and that’s a loophole that Keychron is looking to fill with the Keychron Q1.
Meet the Keychron Q1
Right off the bat it is clear that the Q1 is a completely different beast from the rest of the Keychronic keyboards. The company’s other keyboards typically had that “keychron” look, just like all Razer keyboards look in a certain way.
With the Q1, Keychron seems to have studied the custom keyboard scene and even picked up feedback from the community during the design process before going into production.
The end result is a keyboard that seems to have all of the “must-have” features that enthusiasts seek from a custom board, but at a price that won’t burn a hole in the wallet for beginners while retaining some classic Keychron functions .
Specifications & functions
- VIA support from day one out of the box
- Seal holder design
- ANSI / ISO circuit board options
- Hot-swappable circuit board for mechanical 5-pole switches
- Full CNC aluminum body
- Screw-in stabilizers
- South facing RGB
- Windows / Mac switch
Design and build quality
The Keychron Q1 is a 75% keyboard. This means that the number pad and several other keys such as Scroll Lock, Print Screen and Pause / Break are no longer necessary. However, unlike 60% or 65% (which are other popular form factors), it retains the F-key row. Productivity, it will be there.
It also uses standard keycap sizes and layouts, which means buying a custom keycap set for the Q1 is no problem.
The model that was sent to us came in a beautiful blue finish, and Keychron even offers customers the option to order a custom badge so that their keyboard feels really unique and personal! This badge can be removed and replaced with a switch and keycap in case you need an extra key.
The Q1’s weight was also pretty good and hefty, which may be strange to hear as many mainstream brands tend to market their keyboards as being lightweight, but a heavy board means it can move less around on a table and add to one better sound signature.
However, many other reviews have indicated that the Q1 sounds pretty pingy, which we agree with. It could be due to the quality of the aluminum you choose, but be aware that Keychron is aware of this.
The company actually built a piece of foam into the bottom of the keyboard to muffle the sound, but that’s clearly not enough. It’s so thin and thin that we think it didn’t make that much of a difference. Keychron states on their website that they will actually include extra pieces of foam for the retail units that should hopefully solve the sound problem.
Sound and typing experience
Speaking of sound, this is an aspect of mechanical keyboards that those not interested in the hobby may find difficult to understand. This is because in addition to the look and feel of a keyboard, the sound of a keyboard can also be an important factor as many enthusiasts try all kinds of switches and combinations to get the perfect sound.
This is where some of the Q1’s features come into play.
The Q1 uses a seal mounting system. This consists of pieces of foam strips that enclose the keyboard housing with the plate and the circuit board. Instead of the more traditional mounting styles that simply screw the plate and circuit board into the case, a gasket retainer is designed to provide a softer and more flexible typing experience.
This is because the foam helps make the board feel less stiff while at the same time absorbing some of the vibrations that affect not only the sound but also the typing feel. The end result is a board that doesn’t feel very hard to the touch when you drive through it and has a softer sound signature.
As for the typing experience, Keychron has outfitted this board with Gateron Phantom Red switches. Gateron is a manufacturer of switches and this phantom range was developed exclusively for Keychron. It is available in red (linear), blue (clicky) and brown (tactile).
Surprisingly, there was little to no spring ping / crunch right out of the box, and the switches were pretty slick too. This is because these switches are actually factory lubricated, which can be a hit or miss for the most part, but in this case we think it will be good for most beginners and newbies in the hobby.
We envision that further tuning or using different switches could greatly benefit the sound and typing experience, it’s not a bad starting point.
The stabilizers (a component used to stabilize longer keys like Shift, Space, Enter, and Backspace) were also another pleasant surprise, as they were neatly lubricated out of the box. While it could be further improved, it sounds way, much better than what you’d find on other mainstream mechanical keyboards.
This brings us to our final point of the Keychron Q1 test and possibly the most important point – customizability.
This is an important tenet of the mechanical keyboard hobby, and it means taking a keyboard and adding switches, keycaps, and other modifications to make your board really sound, feel, and look the way you want it to be.
Many mainstream keyboard brands make it incredibly difficult (not impossible) to customize by using non-standard components or weird keycap sizes that make it nearly impossible to use with aftermarket keycap sets. These problems are practically nonexistent with the Q1.
The Q1 has a hot-swappable board, which means you can easily swap out the switches for any available aftermarket switch without having to desolder the old ones and solder the new ones in.
It also uses standard keycaps and layouts so finding a set that suits your tastes won’t be a problem. The stabilizers are also screw-in stabilizers, which the community largely prefers to clip-ins, and they are also compatible with popular types of stabilizers from Cherry, GMK, Zeal, Durock, etc.
Lastly, the Q1 can be configured with either QMK or VIA, the latter being basically point-and-click software that allows you to rebind and reassign keys in seconds, an important feature for those looking for the best want to make it out of your keyboard.
Keychron clearly set their sights on GMMK and GMMK Pro when they developed the Q1, and frankly, while both keyboards might look superficially similar, there are some subtle differences and key lessons that Keychron took from the introduction of the GMMK Pro that give it could have a slight edge, such as better tolerances for other brands of stabilizers.
Remember, however, that this hobby is all about “preferences,” so it doesn’t necessarily mean that one is better than the other. For example, the inclusion of a knob on the GMMK Pro could be a determining factor for some.
Who is the Keychron Q1 for? If you’re new to the mechanical keyboard scene, you might be intimidated by the long waits for keyboards and keypads to reach their customers, but with Keychron planning the Q1 to be a stock item, you can get started right away.
It might also appeal to veterans who have been in the hobby for a while. The ability to fully customize it thanks to the hot-swappable board could make a great replacement keyboard for testing new switches.
It’s also very cheap at $ 179 for a fully assembled version (which includes switches and keycaps), but if you want to pick your own switches and keycaps, the barebones version is $ 149.
All in all, for its price and features, the Keychron Q1 feels like hitting way beyond its weight is a great place to start.
Filed in. Read more about keyboards.