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By: Henz Llarves | Date Posted: May 25, 2022
Ask me three years ago if a full-sized keyboard was the right size for me I’d have said yes. Ask me now and I’ll give you an entirely different answer. That doesn’t mean I don’t like full-sized keyboards, it’s just that I’ve learned that I don’t really need every key on a full-sized keyboard.
The gamer look is something I can live without but I understand that there are people seeking this appeal. Not just for gaming the 619 is worthy of daily use especially if your budget tops out at $60USD.
At the asking price for the 619, it’s a very hard keyboard to pass up even with the way it looks. Alpha and numerical keys can be programmed. It comes in two sizes and two colors. There’s backlighting, floating keycap design, and a metal plate but the hidden gem are the Gateron switches.
Look at all this value:
|Aluminium alloy plate||Does flex when on the desk (explained below)|
|Yellow ABS chassis-mounted feet||Unappealing gamer aesthetic|
|Floating keycaps||Keycap font has noticeable defects|
|Textured double-shot ABS keycaps||Yellow feet are a bit over the top|
|Height adjustable||Reports of difficulty waking computer (firmware update – details below)|
|Rubber pads to prevent movement|
|Key and LED management software|
|13 backlight settings|
|On-the-fly keyboard changes (details below)|
|Multimedia keys via Fn combination|
|Standard bottom row|
|Braided detachable USB|
As mentioned at the top of this review, I’m no longer a full-size keyboard fan. I think the trade-off for more desk space is worth the inconvenience of having to use Fn key combinations for things like the arrow keys. It’s been over 2 years since I’ve had a full-sized keyboard on my desk but now, with the James Donkey 619, my workspace is feeling cramped and cluttered.
That’s not the fault of the James Donkey 619 especially considering it comes in two sizes, full size and tenkeyless – TKL (missing the Numpad). It’s a behemoth that’s built like a tank. The aluminium alloy is cold to the touch and the ABS plastic feet have a slick aesthetic to them. There are slats all over giving the 619 an aerodynamic look. The underside is plastic and hides the two prop-up feet and rubber pads.
Underneath you can see the movement preventing pads and fold-out feet
A black and yellow color scheme engulfs the 619 from the feet through to the shine through LEDs. I say it’s more of an orange but all in all, it mixes well. There is a white variant that also stands out and is quite appealing but is only available on the full-size variant. Whether or not you enjoy the look of the 619 is up to your personal preference but it’s hard to say this is a dull keyboard.
But, does a keyboard really need this bright yellow look? Personally, I say no. While I am a gamer, I don’t really subscribe to the gamer aesthetic and the James Donkey 619 embodies this appeal wholeheartedly. I do think the color scheme works but the 619 isn’t appealing to me.
What I do like about the aesthetics of this keyboard is the slightly subdued font and that James Donkey logo. It’s fun and has character. And, it’s apparent that these two concepts were the main considerations when it came to the creation of this keyboard.
Fun keyboards should be used for fun things and so once connected to my PC, via the detachable braided cable, I fired up a typing test. 82 words per minute. Accurate enough for me, as I switched from Cherry profiling on my Pok3r to OEM profiling on the James Donkey 619.
Keycap profiling is the height and contoured shape unique to each profile. Credit to u/jacobolus.
Well, with that out of the way it was time to see how the 619 fairs in a few rounds of competitive Overwatch. Equipped with NKRO and anti-ghosting technology, the 619 is capable of fast-paced gaming with lots of simultaneous key presses without dropping keystrokes.
I play between SR 3000 – 3500 and I didn’t have any performance issues using the 619. LED lighting can be adjusted to what type of game you play. So, depending on your choice of game you can toggle which keys illuminate to suit your needs. There are 5 gaming and 8 additional lighting modes to choose from. The brightness is enough to identify which key you’re after in the dark and on the brightest setting won’t blind you either.
Those of you who like to customize your key placement can do so with the James Donkey software. There’s no installation equipment in the box so I’ve linked the software here.
From backlighting to key programming, the 619 software offers a reasonable selection of customization.
While a bit flashy with unnecessary noises, the software can control the lighting, create shortcuts, program the alpha and numerical keys, and set macros.
I prefer Gateron switches over Cherry MX as they’re cheaper and feel smoother. They do wobble slightly more than Cherry MX switches but in daily use, you won’t notice it.
Gateron’s switch colors follow that of Cherry MX switches, there’s blue (loud and clicky), brown (bump, no click), and red (no bump, no click, quietest option). Which color of switch is best is entirely up to your preference. Generally brown is a good starter switch if you’re not willing to get a switch tester.
James Donkey’s keys sit above the plate and aren’t housed in a shell. This is called a floating key design and gives the illusion of the keys floating above the keyboard.
Speaking of the keycaps. I prefer PBT keycaps as they don’t shine over time and have a nicer texture to them but they are expensive. PBT texture feels nicer on my fingers and helps prevent slipping. Unfortunately, the 619’s keycaps are ABS, however, they also feature a similar texture to PBT keys. This is a nice inclusion.
Light is also able to shine through the keycaps thanks to the double-shot manufacturing process. Also expensive, double-shot keycaps are made with two plastics. One is used for the outer casing and the other is used for the alphas or lettering. This process means the lettering won’t wear off over time and the plastic will wear uniformly. Secondary functions are printed on, however.
While good value for money, there are certain aspects of build quality that are a little lacking. At a glance, the font of the keycaps may look alright but look closer and you’ll see they aren’t as well refined as they should be. Looking at the navigation cluster I can see uneven lines and letters that are larger than others, for example, the “Home” key. The font isn’t too gamer-y but nearly the rest of the keyboard is.
Note: the S in “Ins”, the K in “Scrlk, and the M in “Home”
Another aspect of the James Donkey 619’s construction is the undershell and feet. These are both made of ABS plastic, with the feet being bright yellow and the undershell black. This plastic shell feels cheap while tapping on it helps to solidify this notion. I’d prefer if the underside was also metal but it’s a trade-off needed to keep the price low.
Picking up the James Donkey 619 by the sides and attempting to flex will yield zero results. Put the 619 down on the table and press in the middle and the keyboard bows a little. This flex isn’t noticeable when typing but only when excess pressure is applied at the centre. This won’t damage the 619 and is only a fault if you’re actively looking for one.
I’ve seen reports of people having problems waking up Windows with the 619. I didn’t encounter any of these issues with the 619, however, there is a solution should you encounter this problem – a firmware update. It can be installed through the James Donkey software. Launch the software and follow the prompts to choose either the 108 (full size) or 87 (TKL) model you own.
The Price of the James Donkey 619 is low. It’s low because it comes with features and inclusions that keyboards higher in price don’t even offer. Sure, there’s something to be said about pedigree and build quality but sometimes price speaks louder.
At the time of writing this, the James Donkey 619 is on sale for under $60 USD which is a bargain. I did a dummy order for 110 switches, the closest I can get to 104, and the price was $46.25.
This means that at $60 it’s a hard price to beat. I’m so impressed with the value of this keyboard that it’s my pick for the best full-size mechanical keyboard for under $100. Beating out several contenders at nearly double its price.
If you are put off by the James Donkey 619‘s loud appearance then there are solutions. The side feet can be removed by a hex key to reduce the bright yellow coloring. This will of course remove the ability to prop up and will also lower the keyboard. Otherwise, the 619 may not appeal to you.
Equally, if you’re looking for RGB then this isn’t what you’re after. The orange (advertised as yellow) backlight works fine and it’s possible to enjoy the preset lighting modes.
But, if you’re looking to do some gaming then you should get the James Donkey 619. I’ve found the 619 to be reliable and capable in fast-paced gaming environments. The NKRO functioned as intended and zero keystrokes were dropped. This keyboard won’t let you down during tense gaming moments.
Even if you’re just looking for a great keyboard for typing consider the 619. I’ve typed over 8,000 words on it and I’ve enjoyed every keystroke. If there’s one thing to be said, I have moved back to blue switches but I did appreciate brown switches. It’s solid, sturdy, cheap, and feature-packed. It does things keyboards nearly double the price don’t do and it’s hard to fault.
For the price, this is a great keyboard. I find it hard to suggest something better if you don’t really care about the look of the keyboard and mainly care about the functionality.