Keychron K1 Review

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Get Keychron’s K1 Mechanical Keyboard

Written by Tommy Thai

A low profile, Bluetooth enabled, portable keyboard

In late 2018, Keychron launched a Kickstarter campaign which boasted an ultra-slim wireless mechanical keyboard that allowed its users to fully experience premium typing comfort. Within an 1 hour into the launch of their pledge, the team was able to successfully attract the interest of many and raised over US$ 40,000 in just 3 hours. Needless to say, the concept was a definite success.

Skip to early 2019 and the team at Keychron have produced and delivered their product; with the first batch of boards being shipped to their supporters and second round of production starting almost immediately.

Summary
Slim and Low-Profile
Tenkeyless (no numpad)
Aesthetic RGB Capabilities
Bluetooth and USB Type C
Aircraft-grade aluminium
Not reprogrammable
Only a Clicky Switch option
Typing experience feels different
Low profile Case

Lets see what the fuss is about.

Slim and Low Profile

This board is definitely slim and low profile compared to current mechs on the market. Clearly these 2 principles are what the Team at Keychron have chosen to create their design around as it’s also their main marketing point.

They’ve elected to use low profile switches, rather than MX style switches. This help keep the board super thin and sleek.  The case design has the switches exposed, making it allowing it to be classified as low-profile.

From this design choice however, this keyboard does not have foldable feet to adjust the angle it rests at. It simply has 4 rubber feet on the underside.


Form Factor

You can either purchase this board as a Tenkeyless or Full-Sized Keyboard. If you favour more space on your desk and can live without a numpad, I highly recommend trying a TKL Keyboard.

All versions of the keyboard have a non-standard bottom row; however, this isn’t much of an issue as using this board already requires a learning curve. The board has two 1.5u modifier keys at each end and a space bar which is slightly smaller than the traditional 6.25u. This is not noticeable in the slightest.

Another important characteristic of this board is the fact it’s a slight amount less compact than a traditional TKL because of the switch placements and spacing.


A Nice RGB Aesthetic

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Close up of the RGB Surface Mounted Diode

You can have up to 16 different LED settings which will definitely add that extra Wow-factor and impress some people. If you don’t like the light show however, you can simply keep the RGB off by pressing two buttons.


Bluetooth and USB Type C

This keyboard can be used as both a wired and wireless device, being able to connect via USB C or Bluetooth. I was able to get up to 15m before the Bluetooth connection dropped off. As is, this already exceeds the realm of practicality, because at 15m seeing text on an office screen is next to impossible.

In my experience connecting this device to different devices was straightforward and simple. All I had to do was hold down FN+1,2 or 3 and the Keyboard will appear as a connectable Bluetooth keyboard labelled “Keychron.”


Long Battery Life

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2000mAh Rechargeable li-polymer battery and PCB

The battery life is really good considering this is an RGB device as well, though obviously having lights on impact how long you can use the board for. Charging the device is easy enough with Type-C becoming more common and cables readily available.


Aircraft-grade aluminium doesn’t Flex or bend

As you’d expect, because the board is made from “Aircraft Grade Aluminium,” it does not flex or bend easily. Even though the plate is does seem thin, it is impressively durable and of high quality.

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Minimal amount of clearance between plate and PCB allowing the board to be as slim and low-profile as possible.

From Kickstarter to real life – all promises fulfilled!

As far as I can tell, everything advertised and promised on the Kickstarter has been successfully translated into a tangible form. All the features promised seem to be incorporated and are present.


Not reprogrammable

This Keyboard is NOT PROGRAMMABLE and does not have additional downloadable software, so you cannot have macros or personalised layouts. Though this isn’t a real reason to disregard the Keychron K1, many consumers do sometimes expect additional software features such as remappable keys or even RGB control.  

Though as the current boards offered by Keychron are fairly standard and are still in large form-factors with most keys present, there isn’t major reason to provide programmability.


Only a Clicky Switch option

The tactility produced by Keychron’s keyboard is actually due to the switches click mechanism, rather than switch stem design. Traditional mechanical key switches that are labelled as tactile don’t produce “click” noises i.e. Cherry Browns or Cherry Clears.

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Close up of Click Mechanism

There is currently only one switch offering for this board and that is a Clickly Fraly Blue switch. Unfortunately, Clickly switches aren’t the best keyboards to use in tranquil shared environments, as the sound produced from each keystroke may potentially annoy the people around you.

The sound made by these switches aren’t as crisp and sharp as Khali Box Whites, yet they do still sound better than MX Blues which use plastic click-jackets.

Mechanical keyboards are often associated with audible typing and keystrokes, so perhaps Keychron wanted to emphasise that this board is a mechanical keyboard, by using a switch that produces the iconic click sound.

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Teardown-The insides of a Fraly Blue Low-Profile Switch

Switches require de-soldering to remove but honestly, there is no point in doing so.


Opinion of the Typing experience

A chiclet or membrane keyboard is one that has any force required to actuate the switch at the very start. When you press the key with enough force, eventually it will collapse and actuate. When using a mechanical keyboard however, you normally have a little bit of pre-travel before you actually actuate the switch— something like 2mm into the keypress.

The switches are on the lighter side, actuating at 45g and bottom-out at 60g with a total travel distance of only 3mm—1mm less than mechanical switches.The lighter weighting is a consciously chosen feature, as the team at Keychron wishes to minimise the chances of finger fatigue for typists.

Additionally, The lack of key switch wobble is very impressive; the low profile keycaps and switch design helps ensure that depresses are very linear and consistent.

Low profile stem – standard MX keycaps won’t work with low profile switches

Though the Keychron has a flat profile similar that of chiclet keyboards, the typing experience is rather unique.

Actuation and tactility of the click mechanism happens at 1mm, with bottoming out occurring shortly after. And admittedly, this low-profile switch design does feel weird to me. The combination of pre-travel, light tactility and bottoming-out all happening in a short span makes the typing experience on this board feel strange.  

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Some might see this boards flat profile and immediate assume that the board will have a generic laptop-style chicklet mechanism

Keycaps

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Simple and respectable font and icons

These Keycaps are White ABS that have been coated in a Satin black finish and have laser etched lettering. This method of producing key fonts is quite common on lower-end, budget mechanical keyboards such as the Ajazz Ak33. This is because it is a lot cheaper and easier to mass produce in comparison to double shot keycaps.

As you can see, the keycaps are not traditional by any means. in fact they are Keychron’s own creation in the attempts of creating a low-profile keyboard. Unlike traditional profile mechanical keyboard keycaps, a Keychron K1 standard 1u switch has a top-face length of 1.55cm. Surprisingly, this is actually far greater in length than the top-face lengths of; SA (1.3cm), DSA (1.2cm) or Cherry keycaps (1.3cm). There is no sculpt or spherical concave on the keycaps, with a design reminiscent of a Chiclet keyboard.

Depending on what you are used to, the typing experience will be different initially. The spacing between each cap is normal. however, because of the square keycap shape in tandem with the lack of concave, typing on this board might not feel right for some.

This keyboard does not use traditional mechanical keyboard switches, so you will not be able to put different keycaps on this board. Though custom keycaps are one of the bonuses of mechanical keyboards, that’s only for switches which use MX “+” stems and Stabiliser inserts— features which where not intended for this board in the first place. I am unsure if Khali low-profile keycaps will fit this keyboard (as I do not have any on hand), however the current stock keyset isn’t too different from the very limited set available on the aftermarket so there is little-to-no point in changing them. The non-standard bottom row and modifier keys may also be a nuisance to change.


Will the Keycaps on the Keychron satisfy a real mechanical keyboard users? Let’s see.

My initial impression when I used this board for the first time was a mixture of doubt and concern. There are multiple reasons why premium RGB keyboards don’t use coated ABS keycaps; being prone to show oil marks and easily scuffed and scratched.

The image of inconsistent oil shine and smudges is not aesthetically pleasing in the slightest, and unfortunately the Satin black keycaps on this board only emphasise and exaggerate the issue. Even on the product page the keyboard can be seen to have finger oils clearly visible and glistening.

Oil shine is visible

With long-term usage, the matte finished keycaps will turn a ,and stay permanently glossed. Smudges and smears are easily noticeable as they contrast the unreflective keycap surface. Unfortunately, this is just the nature of such a keycap. After using this board lightly for only a couple of days, some of my keycaps have already loss their Satin Finish.

My other concern was the fact that I might accidentally scratch off the coating of the keycaps, leading to a permanent area where RBG light will also be able to shine through, ruining the clean typeface.

As the ABS is translucent with paint on it, in theory, it would be possible to ruin the keycaps by scratching it with your nail. HOWEVER, after numerous attempts of clawing my fingernails into the keycaps, I was unable to penetrate the coating—the feeling was like that of “scrapping your nails on a chalk board.” This was really impressive given my initial prejudice. I honestly did not expect these keycaps to be as durable as they are. I was able to indent them, but unable to easily remove the black coating. Additional, tests however do show that it is possible to damage the finish, however, requires an object of great hardness.

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Depending on who uses this board, I believe the appearance of the keycaps will vary drastically— from a combination of finger oils, glossed and scratched keycaps.

I believe it is unfortunate that the keycaps can be so easily criticised. Currently there are no existing instances of non-ABS, Laser-etched low-profile keycaps and having Keychron specifically go out of their way to design and make double-shot keycaps is an unrealistic expectation—especially given this was a Kickstarter project.           


Concluding Thoughts

Keychron has set out and delivered on all their Kickstarter promises. They’ve achieved a solid, portable mechanical keyboard companion. Featuring the latest USB C connection, and the option for 3 Bluetooth devices, this keyboard is bound to work with most devices.

Battery life is great, provided you keep the backlighting off. However, to some people it may be a worthwhile trade off to keep the well designed RGB backlighting on.

Despite the exceptional build quality, it’s a shame that the switches aren’t in line with other low profile switches. It’d be nice if the switches catered to linear and tactile users alike, or the clicky switches had a little more click to them.

While the K1 might not be a mechanical keyboard enthusiast’s ideal keyboard, for most people this keyboard will fit right in at home, the office, or wherever you decide to take it.

You can get the Keychron K1 here

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