When keyboard maker Keychron announced that it will be making a fully-customisable wired Quantum mechanical keyboard (QMK) with 75 per cent layout called the Q1, I put myself into the waiting list. And when it became available in Aug, I immediately bought it. Why?
Ever since I started using a Mac (just before the turn of the century), finding a great mechanical keyboard to use with the Mac is as difficult as trying to find delicious char kway teow in the air-conditioned food courts. You know there is some char kway teow in there, but it is probably not as good as the ones in some run-down hawker centres.
Trust me, I have used many iBooks, PowerBooks, MacBook Pros and iMacs. In fact, I almost always put aside the Apple Magic Keyboard the moment I finished setting up the iMac. I still very much prefer the clicky tactile feel of mechanical keyboard, especially since I practically type for a living.
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Most of the time, I have to resort to using Windows mechanical keyboards to use with my Macs. Often, these keyboards lack the software to work probably with macOS. So why do I think Q1 will succeed when most failed? Read on to find out.
In case you are wondering what is QMK? It is an open source community that is centred around developing computer input devices, such as keyboard and mice. Hosted on GitHub, there are over 1,700 developers contributing to this open source firmware over the years, thereby supporting more than 2000 keyboards and keypads brands.
The Keychron Q1 is built in this spirit of open source. And it offers customisability for each key switch, keycap and plate. You can choose the colour of the aluminium case from black, blue or grey (version reviewed).
You can order Q1 as barebone, which means you will need to buy and install the key switches and keycaps on your own. On the plus side, its hot-swappable sockets are mounted on its printed circuit board (PCB), so you can swap switches without soldering. This PCB supports both 3-pin and 5-pin MX mechanical switches.
Or you can order the Q1 fully assembled, which is what I did since it is a birthday gift to myself. Not only is it less of a hassle, you get the extra perk of having exclusive Gateron Phantom switches installed on Q1. Keychron has worked with Gateron to create these exclusive switches – available in red (linear), blue (clicky) and brown (tactile) – which are said to offer less wobbliness, increased stability and improved sound quality. I opted from the blue switches, as I prefer the clicky sound when I type.
Also included in the Q1 are Gateron screw-in stabilisers that offer stability and smoothness but is still compatible other 3rd-party stabilisers like Cherry or Everglide. In addition, the Q1 features a gasket-mount design for flexible typing and satisfying typing sound. According to Keychron, Q1 has one of the most flexible boards with a maximum flex is up to 2.5mm.
Most importantly to me, the Q1 is built with the Mac users’ experience in mind while retaining compatibility with Windows devices. At the back of the keyboard, you will find a USB-C port and a toggle that lets you easily switch between Windows and Mac.
It also comes with an additional set of customised keycaps for both Windows and macOS systems. Plus, you will be able to save two different layouts in the keyboard, one for each system.
The first thing that comes to mind when I take the keyboard out of the box is how heavy the keyboard is. It weighs a whopping 1.6kg, which is certainly quite heavy for a computer keyboard.
+ Works superbly with Mac
+ Strong and sturdy build
+ Looks really cool
+ Fully customisable
+ Can easily change switches and keycaps
+ Works with VIA software seamlessly
+ Awesome exclusive Gateron Phantom switches
– Very heavy
– No wireless option
– Not cheap
But thanks to its aluminium top and bottom case, the Q1 is superbly built. You can rest assured that your table will probably fail you first before this keyboard does. The aluminium casing not only gives the Q1 its sturdiness, it also makes it looks really sleek and cool. Seriously, I think anyone who sees this keyboard will be in awe with it.
The RGB lighting is designed to be south-facing. In other words, they face the typer unlike many mechanical keyboards for better visibility. Plus, you can easily toggle through the lighting effects to get the one you like.
I also like that the keycaps of Q1’s function keys have the macOS functions like brightness levels, Expose and sound controls. The keycaps might be OEM, but it feel premium enough for me.
Not to mention, I like that I can toggle between Windows and macOS easily. That means I no longer have to go to Settings in macOS to change the Command key’s function.
The VIA software (available in Windows, Mac and Linux) is actually easier and more intuitive to use despite the Q1 coming with QMK firmware. Using VIA, you can remap each key, create macros, save or load your keymap. For instance, I remapped the Delete key to where I feel more comfortable with, instead of the awkward default spot of being above the Backspace key.
I always thought Gateron switches to be more inferior than Cherry MX. But now, I think the Phantom Blue is on par with my favourite Cherry MX Blue switches. It is as clicky and loud as the Cherry MX Blue switches. It just makes typing and writing this review just that more wonderful and enjoyable.
Furthermore, the key travel is perfect with the keys nicely spaced out. And I did not make much mistakes while typing my stories or emails.
Perhaps, the only nitpick I have is that Q1 does not have any wireless option. Not a big deal to me, but just saying for you to know. The bigger deal might have to be its price, as such fully-customisable keyboard does not come cheap. With the personalised badge include, I have around S$300 on this keyboard. But I think it is worth every cent.
Before the Keychron Q1, I have a habit of keep changing keyboards as I am just not happy with them after a while. But since the Q1 sat in front of my iMac, I have not seen the need to change keyboard anymore.
In my opinion, the Keychron Q1 is undoubtedly the best Mac mechanical keyboard in the market with its superb build, sleek looks, full customisability, fantastic Mac support and overall great performance.
VALUE FOR MONEY: 9/10
OVERALL: 9.5/10 [SGEEK Editors’ Choice]