Keyboard, Review

Keychron Q1 Review: Brimming With Potential

Keychron has been in the keyboard scene for quite some time, and its latest product, the Keychron Q1, is really the company’s most exciting keyboard to date. Not only does it have features only typically found on enthusiast-level keyboards, it also offers pretty good value for money.

Of course, the Q1 does have some shortcomings here and there, but for Keychron’s “first attempt” at a keyboard that’s meant to appeal to the custom mechanical keyboard folks, it’s a commendable effort. Keep on reading this review to find out if it’s worth considering!

What It Is

The Q1 is a 75% pre-built keyboard, but unlike Keychron’s previous products, it has (as mentioned) features that are usually only found on enthusiast-level keyboards. These include a gasket mounting system, a full CNC aluminium case, an aluminium plate, a hotswap PCB with VIA support out of the box, as well as screw-in stabilisers made by Gateron.

There are two variants of the Q1. The barebone kit retails at $149 (about RM630), while the fully assembled model, which includes Gateron Phantom switches of your choice and double-shot ABS keycaps, costs $169 (around RM715).

Looking at sheer value for money alone, the fully assembled Q1 is the better option. After all, you’re essentially only paying $20 more (about RM85) for the Gateron switches and ABS keycaps. On top of that, both of these parts are actually quite good too – I’ll discuss them at length in the next section of this review.

In terms of lead time, shipping for the fully assembled Q1 will begin next week, and it is expected to be completed by 15 September. As for the barebone kit, it will start shipping to customers between 15 to 30 September 2021. If you want to get the keyboard as quickly as possible, opt for the fully assembled model.

The Good Stuff

One of the best qualities of the Keychron Q1 has to be its flexible nature. This is thanks to its gasket mounting system, which lends to a soft, very comfortable typing experience. This is in stark contrast to most pre-built keyboards that typically use a stiffer tray mounting system.

As for the Gateron Phantom switches that come with the fully assembled Q1, they’re really quite good. Three switches are offered: Phantom Brown (tactile), Phantom Red (linear), and Phantom Blue (clicky). These switches are factory lubed reasonably well – though they do feel a tad too oily – and more importantly, they have very little stem wobble.

The lack of wobble on these Gateron Phantom switches makes for a more stable typing experience, which is a desirable trait for any mechanical keyboard switch. Out of the three switches, my favourite is the Phantom Red. Though it has a clacky sound signature, it is quite muted with a smooth downstroke.

I’m also pleasantly surprised by how good the Q1’s Gateron screw-in stabilisers are. They are lubed quite well out of the box to minimise rattling, but they do tick slightly after some use. Nonetheless, with some proper tuning, I’m sure these stabilisers can be even better. I don’t feel the need to swap them out with aftermarket stabilisers.

Stock keycaps are usually not of particularly good quality, but that doesn’t entirely apply to the keycaps that come with the fully assembled Q1. This keyboard is bundled with double-shot ABS keycaps, and while the legends don’t look particularly sharp, the keycaps themselves do feel nice and smooth to the touch.

Basically, these stock keycaps are above average, especially for a pre-built keyboard.

Another hardware of the Q1 that’s worth a mention is the PCB. Thanks to its hotswap nature, I can easily swap out switches whenever I want to without needing to solder. This PCB also supports VIA, so I can seamlessly change the mapping of the keyboard with the software – not a feature you typically find on a pre-built keyboard.

The badge on the top right corner of the Q1 is worth a mention too. It’s a nice bit of personalisation – you can get your own badge designed here for $30 – and if you don’t need one, it can be swapped for a key of your choice. There’s already a hotswap socket underneath the badge.

Oh, there’s also the coiled cable that’s bundled with every pre-order of the Q1. While it’s just a regular sleeved cable that’s coiled, the aviator connector is a nice touch.

With all of these positives in mind, the Q1 is shaping up to be a fantastic keyboard for those who are new to the custom keyboard scene, especially with its $149 starting price. However, it does have one big shortcoming, which could be a dealbreaker to some folks.

The Bad Stuff

There’s really only one major negative with the Keychron Q1: it doesn’t have a very pleasant sound profile. The flexible nature of the Q1 is due to the soft gaskets that isolate the plate from the case, but because these gaskets are so soft, a lot of case ping is generated with every key press.

This case ping is especially evident on keys closer to the edges of the Q1, such as the backspace and enter keys. It’s worth noting that the aluminium plate of this keyboard actually has eight cutouts for the gaskets, but only four of them are installed with the gaskets out of the box.

There are 10 extra strips of gaskets bundled with the Q1, so we installed them to the remaining four cutouts on the aluminium plate to see if the case ping can be eliminated. Thankfully, this does minimise the unpleasant metallic tone, but if you listen closely, you can still pick up on it.

Of course, by installing all of the gaskets to the plate, the Q1 also loses quite a bit of flexibility. While it doesn’t feel particularly stiff, it’s definitely not as “bouncy” as the stock configuration. Personally, I think this is a worthy tradeoff to minimise the case ping.

However, with the case ping mostly gone, the Q1’s hollow sound profile becomes more evident. Keychron is aware of this issue, so the company is bundling extra bottom case foam in a bid to solve it. Our review unit only came with a single case foam, so we don’t know for sure how the extra foam can improve the sound profile of the Q1.

Is It Worth It?

Despite its less than ideal sound profile, I still think the Keychron Q1 is worth getting. After all, its feature set still provides very good value for money. Besides that, the Q1 has a lot of modding potential too.

A big part of the custom keyboard hobby is the customisation that we do to our keyboards to improve typing sound and feel. I reckon the sound profile of the Q1 can be improved quite a bit by installing more foam, or using denser gaskets to further isolate the plate from the case.

With all of these in mind, the Keychron Q1 is an excellent first keyboard to get into the custom keyboard hobby without putting too much strain on your wallet. If you’re keen to get the Q1, you can place your pre-order over at Keychron’s online store right here.