Keyboard, Review

Keychron Q5 Review: Stepping Up

Keychron has released a slew of mechanical keyboards under its premium Q series, and the latest entry in the lineup is the Keychron Q5. Naturally, it offers the same feature set as the rest of the Q series keyboards in a 96% layout, or more popularly known as the 1800 layout.

But compared to earlier iterations of Keychron’s Q series keyboards, the Q5 has improved by leaps and bounds. For (essentially) a pre-built keyboard, the refinement of this keyboard is top-notch. Paired with its affordable pricing, the Q5 is definitely worth considering if you’re looking for a 96% keyboard.

What It Is

As mentioned, the Q5 is a 96% pre-built keyboard, and just like Keychron’s other Q series products, it has features that are usually only found on enthusiast-level keyboards. These include a “double-gasket” design, a full CNC aluminium case, a hotswap PCB with QMK/VIA support, as well as screw-in stabilisers.

There are two variants of the Q5. The barebone kit retails at $165 (about RM730), while the fully assembled model, which includes Gateron G Pro switches of your choice and double shot PBT OSA keycaps, costs $185 (around RM820). Want a knob? Just add $10 (approximately RM45).

Looking at sheer value for money alone, the fully assembled Q5 is the better option. After all, you’re essentially only paying $20 more (about RM90) for the Gateron switches and PBT 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.

The Good Stuff

Let’s start with the double-gasket design of the Keychron Q5, which does bring some notable improvements. Aside from the gasket mounting system of the keyboard itself, there are also silicone pads in between the top and bottom case that act as gaskets to reduce case ping.

This, in turn, improves the sound profile of the Q5. Compared to the very first iteration of the Q1, this keyboard has significantly less case ping. It also has three layers of foams for further sound dampening: one in between the plate and PCB, and two more in the bottom case.

All of these result in a relatively quiet keyboard, and I would even go as far as to say that the Q5 has the potential to be a really “thocky” keyboard. I reckon the double shot PBT OSA keycaps also contribute quite a bit to this low-pitch sound signature.

This review unit of the Q5 comes with Gateron G Pro Brown switch, and I quite like it. Although the factory lubing isn’t able to mask the audible scratchiness of this light tactile switch, it’s still smooth enough for a pleasant typing experience. It has surprisingly minimal stem wobble as well for a more “stable” typing experience.

How about the double shot PBT OSA keycap of the Q5? Well, it’s quite good! Yes, it’s not exactly of the same quality and refinement as more premium keycaps – the legends have some inconsistencies – but I like that its texture is not overly rough like some PBT keycaps.

Again, it’s worth noting that this set of PBT keycaps and Gateron G Pro switches are only a $20 add-on with the fully assembled Q5. You’re really getting your money’s worth here.

The screw-in stabiliser of the Q5 is quite good as well. The wires of the stabilisers are lubed out of the box, and it does a decent job of minimising ticking and rattling. That being said, there’s still a hint of rattle on certain mod keys, though it can easily be fixed by adding a bit more lube.

And then we have the typing feel of the Q5. Curiously, even though the keyboard offers quite a bit of flex from the gasket mounting system, it still feels relatively stiff to type on. This could be attributed to the steel plate of the Q5.

However, it still doesn’t feel as stiff as, say, a top-mounted or tray-mounted keyboard. The Q5’s gasket mount also provides an even typing feel across the keyboard.

Last but certainly not least is the QMK/VIA compatibility of the Q5, which gives users the freedom to easily change the mapping of the keyboard. Even though VIA doesn’t automatically detect the Q5 out of the box, it’s not too hard to grab the JSON file from Keychron’s website to start configuring it.

The Bad Stuff

Despite having significantly less case ping than the first version of the Q1, the Keychron Q5 still has some audible pinging, especially on corners keys such as the backspace. While it’s not particularly audible in an environment with some ambient noise, you can certainly hear the pinging in a quiet room.

Granted, there are a couple of mods to address this, such as applying masking tape to the bottom of the PCB (the tape mod) or inserting a sheet of PE foam in between the switch and PCB. Of course, it would’ve been great if Keychron had used thicker foams in the first place to minimise case ping – the bottom case foams are very thin.

Another downside of the Q5 is its frankly iterative design. It essentially looks like a bigger Q1, and the same can be said of other keyboards in the Q series. Suffice to say the Q5 is not an “exciting” keyboard with no eye-catching design element to speak of.

But then again, the Q5 is an affordable keyboard with a large 96% layout at that. You’d be hard-pressed to look for an alternative with a similar feature set and layout at this price point.

Is It Worth It?

If you want a relatively affordable 96% keyboard with a good sound profile, slightly stiffer (but even) typing feel, a hotswap PCB, and plenty of modding potential, the Keychron Q5 is worth it. Yes, it doesn’t have any unique design element, and the case ping (while solvable) isn’t great, but with a $165 starting price, these negatives can be overlooked.

The Keychron Q5 is now available for purchase on Keychron’s online store. To recap, the barebone version costs $165, while the fully assembled model – which bundles Gateron G Pro switches of your choice and double shot PBT OSA keycaps – goes for $185.

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