So you want to get into custom mechanical keyboards?
In the recent years, we’ve seen an explosion in popularity not just in mechanical keyboards, but custom mechanical keyboards. You might be wondering what’s the difference between a ready-built one like those made by Razer, Logitech, Corsair, and so on, versus a custom one.
As the name would imply, a custom keyboard means you get to choose the case your keyboard comes in, you get to choose the switches, you get to choose the keycaps, and if you want to get even deeper, you get to choose custom cables in a colorway of your choice, or specialty one-off artisan keycaps that are usually hand sculpted by incredibly talented people in the community.
The only problem is that since you’d be buying some of the parts separate from each other, putting together an entire keyboard could be a project that could take months to complete. Not to mention, certain keyboards can easily cost you $400-500, and keycap sets can also run up to $120-$200 in some cases.
This can be incredibly off putting to beginners, some of whom aren’t sure they’re willing to invest that kind of time and money, and that’s a gap that Keychron is hoping 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 Keychron’s keyboards. The company’s other keyboards typically had that “Keychron” look to them, kind of like how all Razer keyboards tend to look a certain way.
With the Q1, it seems that Keychron has studied the custom keyboard scene and has even taken feedback from the community during the design process before it entered production.
The end result is a keyboard that seems to come with all the “must have” features that enthusiasts are looking for in a custom board, but at a price that will not burn a hole in the wallet for beginners in the hobby, while also retaining some classic Keychron features.
Specs & Features
- VIA support from day one out of the box
- Gasket Mount Design
- ANSI/ISO PCB options
- Hot-Swappable PCB for 5-pin mechanical switches
- Full CNC Aluminium Body
- Screw-In Stabilizers
- South-Facing RGB
- Windows/Mac switch
Design & Build Quality
The Keychron Q1 is a 75% keyboard. This means that it does away with the numpad as well as several other keys like Scroll Lock, Print Screen, and Pause/Break. However, unlike a 60% or 65% (which are other popular form factors), it retains the F-key row, so if you’re someone who uses F-keys as macros for gaming, or if you use it for work/productivity, it’ll be there.
It also uses standard keycap sizes and layout, which means that shopping for a custom keycap set to fit the Q1 will not pose a problem.
The model that was sent to us came in a nice blue finish, and speaking of which, Keychron even gives customers the option of ordering a customized badge to make their keyboard feel truly unique and personal! That badge can be removed and replaced with a switch and keycap in case you need an extra key.
The weight of the Q1 was also rather nice and hefty, which might be strange to hear as a lot of maintstream brands tend to market their keyboards as being lightweight, but a heavy board means that it will move around less on a table and can contribute to a better sound signature.
However, many other reviews have pointed out that the Q1 does sound rather “pingy” which we agree. It could be the quality of the aluminum they chose, but do note that Keychron is aware of this.
The company actually includes a piece of foam in the bottom of the keyboard to help dampen the sound, but clearly it isn’t enough. It is so thin and flimsy that we think not including it would have made that much of a difference. Keychron states on their website that for the retail units, they will actually be including additional pieces of foam that should hopefully address the sound issue.
Sound & Typing Experience
Speaking of sound, this is an aspect of mechanical keyboards that those who aren’t into the hobby might find difficult to understand. This is because in addition to looks and feel, the sound of a keyboard can be an important factor as well, with many enthusiasts trying all kinds of switches and combinations to achieve that perfect sound.
This is where some of the features of the Q1 come into play.
The Q1 uses a gasket mounting system. This consists of pieces of foam strips that sandwich the case of the keyboard with the plate and PCB. Instead of more traditional mounting styles that would simply screw the plate and PCB into the case, a gasket mount is designed to help provide a softer and flexible typing experience.
This is because the foam helps make the board feel less rigid, while at the same time absorbing some of the vibrations which affects not just sound, but typing feel. The end result is a board that doesn’t feel very harsh when you bottom out and has a softer sound signature.
As for the typing experience, Keychron equipped this board with Gateron Phantom Red switches. Gateron is a manufacturer of switches and this Phantom lineup was created exclusively for Keychron. It is available in Red (linear), Blue (clicky), and Brown (tactile).
Surprisingly right out of the box, there was little to no spring ping/crunch and the switches were also quite smooth. This is because these switches are actually factory lubed, which for the most part can be hit or miss, but in this case we think that for most beginners and newbies to the hobby, it’s good to go.
We imagine that tuning it further or using other switches could benefit the sound and typing experience greatly, it’s not a bad place to start.
The stabilizers (a component used to stabilize longer keys like Shift, space, Enter, and Backspace) were also another pleasant surprise as they were decently lubed out of the box. While it could be further improved upon, it sounds way, way better than what you would find on other mainstream mechanical keyboards.
This brings us to our last point of the Keychron Q1 review, and possibly the most important point as well – customizability.
This is a key tenet of the mechanical keyboard hobby and that is taking a keyboard and outfitting it with switches, keycaps, and other modifications to truly make your board sound, feel, and look the way you want.
A lot of mainstream keyboard brands make it incredibly difficult (not impossible) to customize by using components that aren’t standard, or weird keycap sizes that make it near impossible to use with aftermarket keycap sets. These issues are practically non-existent with the Q1.
The Q1 features a hotswappable PCB which means that you can easily swap out the switches with any of the aftermarket ones available out there without the need to desolder the old ones and solder in the new ones.
It also uses standard keycaps and layout so finding a set that suits your tastes won’t be a problem. The stabilizers are also screw-in stabilizers, something the community largely prefers over clip-ins, and they are also compatible with popular stabilizer types from Cherry, GMK, Zeal, Durock, and so on.
Last but not least, the Q1 can be configured either using QMK or VIA, the latter of which is basically a point-and-click software that lets you rebind and reassign keys in seconds, an important feature for those who want to get the most out of their keyboard.
Keychron clearly has GMMK and the GMMK Pro in their sights when they created the Q1, and honestly, while on the surface both keyboards might look similar, there are some subtle differences and key lessons that Keychron took from the GMMK Pro’s launch that could give it a slight edge, like better tolerances for other brands of stabilizers, for example.
However, keep in mind that this hobby is all about “preference” so this isn’t necessarily to say that one is better over the other. For example, the GMMK Pro’s inclusion of a rotary knob might be a deciding factor for some.
So who is the Keychron Q1 for? If you’re new to the mechanical keyboard scene, you might be intimidated by the long wait times for keyboards and keysets to reach their customers, but as Keychron plans for the Q1 to be an in-stock item, you can get started right away.
It might also appeal to veterans who have been in the hobby for a while now. The ability to fully customize it, thanks to the hotswap PCB, could make it a great spare keyboard to test out new switches with.
It is also priced very reasonably at $179 for a fully assembled version (which includes switches and keycaps), but if you want to choose your own switches and keycaps, the barebones version will set you back $149.
All things considered, the Keychron Q1 for its price and features feels like it actually punches well above its weight and if you’re new and don’t know how to navigate this endless stream of “preferences” in this hobby, then the Q1 could be a great place to start.