Keychron is known for its wireless keyboards like the K6 and K2, but the Keychron Q1 is a whole new class. While dropping wireless support, it offers immense customization options, top-notch build quality, and a great introduction to custom mechanical keyboards, all for less than $200.
The price, however, depends on how much you get (or how little) with the Q1. There have been many keyboards branded as “modular” in the past, but the Q1 perhaps deserves that title the most. In addition to the standard switch and color options you see when ordering the board (which are already more than average), Keychron offers a wide range of accessories and add-ons that allow you to customize the keyboard to your liking. No researching different websites to buy parts, compare prices or choose brands, just Keychron’s accessory store.
Keychron is basically saying, “Don’t worry, we’ve taken care of it for you, buy anything from us.” It’s convenient, but could easily be used as an excuse to make the base keyboard lackluster or overcharge for mediocre accessories . Luckily that’s not the case here and the Q1 offers all the benefits of customization on top of a fantastic keyboard.
The Q1 is a lot of things, but the main thing Keychron has ensured is that the basic keyboard is one of the main selling points.
You have a lot to look forward to here; The body of the board is made from anodized aluminum which is both durable and stylish. It’s a heavy keyboard weighing 1,600 grams with no keycaps or switches. It barely moves on my desk, there’s virtually no flex when typing, and the weight makes the asking price feel a little more justified.
In terms of layout, the Q1 uses a modified version of the tenkeyless layout called the 75%. There are a few fewer navigation buttons compared to a TKL board, but otherwise everything else here is compact and aesthetically pleasing. This layout has become very popular in the mechanical keyboard community due to its unique looks and compact build, and the Q1 does nothing to mess that up. There’s even a spot in the top-right corner to put a volume control knob (or whatever else you might want to use a knob for).
If you get the buttonless version, you can either install another switch here or add a custom badge (ordered from Keychron’s aftermarket) to further personalize your board. Speaking of which, the Q1 comes in a variety of colors, whether you want something safer like Carbon Black or bolder like Navy Blue.
Aside from that, the Q1 also comes preloaded with some quality stabilizers for smoother typing, a dampening plate to make the keyboard a little quieter, full RGB lighting, and the choice of three different switches: Gateron Phantom Blue (Clicky), Red (Linear), or Brown (tactile). My board came with blue switches preinstalled, which sound and feel like you would expect from any “blue” switch, regardless of brand. However, the dampening plate and stabilizers go a long way in making the Q1 feel a step above most other pre-assembled boards.
With customizability at the forefront of the Q1’s marketing, it’s no surprise that there’s hot-swapping. For the uninitiated, hot-swappable keyboards have special sockets installed on their PCBs (the circuit board used in all keyboards) that allow mechanical switches to be installed and removed without soldering.
The switches on a regular mechanical keyboard are soldered on, and even if you build your own mechanical keyboard, soldering the switches is still a common practice. Hot-swapping is a more convenient alternative that has become popular with both casual and hardcore mechanical keyboard fans alike, since you can remove and install switches with relative ease.
“Relative” is the winning word there though; While hot-swapping is undoubtedly less time-consuming than unsoldering and soldering switches on a standard keyboard, it still requires some dedication. Switches are difficult to pull out, and an entire keyboard’s worth can easily last a few hours. The Q1 doesn’t do anything to improve things – it feels like a hot-swappable keyboard you could have bought five years ago.
Not really a hit against the Q1; it’s every bit as good and as bad as any other hot swappable keyboard on the market. Luckily, unlike most hot-swappable keyboards, the customization doesn’t stop there. While there may not be specific tech to make the Q1 more customizable, Keychron still has an ace up its sleeve to stay ahead of the competition.
Simply put, it’s mostly because of how easy Keychron makes it to buy the accessories you need to make the keyboard your own. On the surface, this is an odd selling point – I personally don’t buy products based on price more Money I can give the company after the fact — but it’s still a legitimate advantage over Keychron’s competitors.
The market for mechanical keyboards is large and confusing. Whether you’re looking at keycaps, switches, or mods, there are many different brands and hundreds of products. Keychron aims to fix that by having everything in one place, selling everything and designing with the Q1 in mind. There are switches of all kinds, keycaps in countless colors and stylish wrist rests made of wood and resin.
Things like lubes, coiled cables, and alternative stabilizers provide an opportunity to go even deeper and also customize the actual feel of the keyboard. The gasket-mounted design helps with that too – if you want to disassemble the keyboard, just unscrew a few screws on the back and you’re done.
It’s an excellent choice for newcomers, but also totally out of the way if you want to ignore it entirely or buy parts from other retailers. Because ultimately, when it comes to customization, the Q1’s strength lies in the fact that it just complements the already great base keyboard.
If one part of the customization is missing, it’s the software. The Q1 is QMK compatible (an open source framework for customizing keystrokes and other features like RGB lighting) so any of the many existing QMK programs will work with it. This was the case with most of Keychron’s boards, but the company went further this time, specifically recommending VIA as its program of choice and providing the necessary files to adapt the software to the Q1.
Keychron provides tutorials and all the links you need to get things set up and the software working. You can change the function of buttons, change RGB lighting and program macros to your heart’s content. Still, it doesn’t offer the convenience you might be used to from software from other keyboard manufacturers like Razer Synapse or Corsair iCUE.
This is disappointing considering that Keychron has been teased for years for developing its own keyboard software; It seems like the company has largely given up at this point. Again, VIA works well here, but for a keyboard that focuses so much on physical customization, it would be icing on the cake if the digital side of things were just as premium as the hardware.
The best of prebuilt mechanical keyboards
Despite some minor software fiddling, the Q1 is by far one of the best pre-built keyboards out there. Upon purchase, you have enough initial options to customize it to suit your overall tastes, with room to take things much further with (or without) Keychron’s many accessories. The layout is practical and stylish, the build quality is lush, and the customization is a huge hit for Keychron.
If you’re looking to get a little bit more out of your next keyboard, the Q1 delivers that without breaking into the super high-end price ranges. The Keychron Q1 is an easy recommendation for anyone interested in mechanical keyboards and looking for a quality keyboard that will last them for years to come.
Here’s what we like
- Robust aluminum body
- Hot swapping supported
- Easy access to plenty of accessories
- Unique layout
And what we don’t do
- Layout software is a bit disappointing
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