Christopher Coke Updated: Jan 12, 2022 7:36 PM Posted: Jan 12, 2022 9:01 AM
Category: Hardware Reviews 0
The Keychron Q1 was one of the biggest surprises of the year, becoming one of the best entry-level custom keyboards on the market with just a few simple mods. Today, Keychron is releasing its successor, the Q2. Featuring a smaller 65-percent layout, a volume knob by default, redesigned internals, and upgraded case and keycap options, it retails for $169 fully assembled and $149 in a barebones kit. Does it live up to the hype? Let’s take a look and find out!
The Keychron Q2 is the second in Keychron’s Q-series line-up of entry-level custom keyboards. It’s a clear upgrade from the majority of premade keyboards and features an all-aluminum case anodized in blue, gray, or black. It’s packed to the brim with enthusiast features but is priced competitively at only $169 for the assembled kit, complete with doubleshot PBT keycaps. Bring your own switches and keycaps and that price drops to $149. It’s an excellent deal and even more so if you’re comfortable applying some basic mods.
While the Q2 shares a lot in common with the Q1, which was released and we reviewed last September, it comes complete with a new more compact layout and a suite of meaningful upgrades: the keyboard is small, the keyboard is thicker, there’s far less ping, the new switches don’t mess with the RGB like the Q1, and the, of course, there’s the volume knob. Everybody loves a good volume knob, and the Q2 has one.
Starting with the layout, the Q2 is a 65-percent keyboard. That means it drops the Function row, Number Pad, and dedicated Navigation and Editing cluster. It keeps dedicated arrow keys, as well as two customizable buttons in a single column of navigation and editing keys along the righthand side (mapped to Delete and Home by default). A dedicated volume knob sits just above that. It’s aluminum and colored to match the rest of the keyboard, though features a square outline as a relic of the original design intent for this to be modular (I’m unclear if it actually is anymore and isn’t being highlighted as such). Around the back is the USB Type-C port and a switch to swap between Windows and Mac layouts, but can also be used as a hardware switch to swap programmable layers on the fly.
The design has undergone numerous improvements since the Q1. The case is thicker and feels heavy and substantial when held. It comes in less than 200 grams less than the Q1 despite being a smaller keyboard. It comes together in two halves, fastened with eight socket-cap hex screws around the rear. It has a nice side profile that makes it easy to pick up and move, though I wish Keychron would move to a hidden screw design for a cleaner bottom half.
Inside the case are multiple layers of foam to dampen typing sounds and reduce ping. It’s a major improvement from the Q1, though still has a bit of ping left to get rid of. There is a nice layer of PCB foam, as well as thin layer of foam in the case and a plastic sheet on the bottom, which I haven’t seen in a keyboard before. Keychron has also added bits of silicone around the screws to further diminish unwanted ping sounds. The plate is also held by thin strips of soft foam to create a gasket mount structure for a soft, flexy typing experience.
Another improvement comes with the keycaps. They’re doubleshot PBT by default this time around, which is a big upgrade from the ABS or dye-sublimated PBT options on the Q1. The colorways look very good, so I commend Keychron for making them quite stylish. They still have a ways to go to feel premium, however. The legends have uneven legends that don’t look very good. I’m not sure if it’s just a bad font or something with the production process, but if you like a clean typeface, you’ll want to look into replacing them. On the inside, the plastic that forms the legends also looks messy. You’ll never see it, but it still stands out compared to literally every other doubleshot keycap set I’ve ever used — including Keychron’s own doubleshot ABS set that came with the Q1. Still, an improvement nonetheless.
Keychron has also changed the switch options this time around. Instead of Gateron Phantoms, we have Gateron Pro switches in the same red, blue, or brown. These switches come lightly factory lubed and have translucent top housings to better display the per-key RGB backlighting. The Phantoms were colored to match the type of switch, and if you chose red, that was the only color backlighting you could see. These solve that and respond very well to lubing too!
Of course, you don’t have to stick with those switches. The Q2 is hot-swappable, so pulling switches out is as simple as grabbing their edges with the included tool and pulling. New switches can be pressed into place, no soldering required. This is a great feature that any new hobbyist should be on the lookout for. With new switches releasing all the time, it frees you up to try as many as you like and makes exploring the hobby much easier.
The Q2 also comes stock with screw-in stabilizers. They’re factory lubed, but were a bit inconsistent on my sample, so I would recommend re-lubing them. The keyboard also supports third-party stabilizers, like the ever-popular Durock V2s, so swapping them out should be easy and complication-free.
It’s also worth noting that Keychron sells just about everything you would need to further customize your keyboard at their online store. Switches, keycaps, cables, palm rests, and more are all available for purchase. Keychron included a selection for me to test and they’re right in line with the quality described thus far. I particularly like the rest wrist rest which looks great and is quite comfortable to use.
Programming the keyboard is done through QMK or VIA. This is powerful functionality that rewrites the keyboard at a firmware level, so your changes will follow you to any PC without the need for software. You can remap keys, program macros, map lighting and media controls, and even assign shortcuts. Using the software, the knob can also be remapped from its default volume control to trigger other settings with each notch along the rotary path, for example to zoom in on a document, scrub a timeline, or scroll a page.
Keychron really worked hard to respond to feedback and it shows. The company has been exceptionally responsive and the Q2 is better it. Other companies could stand to learn to be quite as nimble on their toes as Keychron: in three months, it’s factored in the vast majority of user feedback and delivered a new product that adds it all in. They deserve kudos for that.
If you buy the pre-assembled version, you can simply take it out of the box and be ready to go. The out-of-box typing experience is pretty good, but as always, you’ll get far more from this keyboard by applying a few simple mods. Not everyone will want to do so, which is fine, but consider it. It’s worth the time.
The keyboard feels good to type on using the Gateron Pro red or brown switches. I enjoy linears, so that’s what I opted for and the keys were just as smooth and lightweight as I would have hoped. The new keycaps are spherical and remind me of a low-profile SA form factor and hold my fingers comfortably when touch typing and gaming. Keychron did a great job with feel on the Q2.
It’s also incredibly flexy. The PCB and plate visibly shift downward just from normal typing — none of this keyboard review “press down unrealistically hard” business. This is a gasket mount implementation you can actually feel in normal use, which is great. Typing is very soft under the fingers.
The out-of-box sound leaves something to be desired, however. It’s very lightweight. It’s not exactly clacky; it’s too lightweight for that. My first impression was that the case was too full of foam, but upon opening it, I saw that wasn’t the case either. Maybe it’s the plastic sheet. I’m genuinely not sure, but I would say it sounds “fine.” It’s close to the stock Q1 typing experience, which is going to work for most people, though I would still give the edge to the Q1 in that department.
But that’s where modding comes in.
My goal with this keyboard was to lower the pitch of typing sounds and to bring out a bit of its character that seemed to be lacking out of the box. To do that, I applied two layers of Frog Tape painters tape to the back of the PCB to act as a sound filter. I also put a layer of PE foam between the PCB and the switches, cutting out holes for the stabilizers. I removed the stabilizers, cleaned, and re-lubed each with Krytox 205g0. I put KBDFans foam stabilizer pads underneath each. Finally, I removed the stock case foam and plastic sheet and replaced it with a 50mil layer of Kilmat sound deadening mat to kill all case ping. I also lubed all of the switches before reinstalling them into the board and replaced the stock keycaps with a set of dye-sublimated PBT caps I purchased on AliExpress.
In the video above, hear how it sounded stock and how it sounded after the mods. It’s a big difference and demonstrates what’s possible with the board. Note that there is a slight reduction flex swapping to the Kilmat, but it’s worth it in my opinion for the sound improvements it brings.
The Keychron Q2 is a great keyboard that can easily be made even better. If you have switches and keycaps, the barebones version is a no-brainer at its $149 price. If you would rather be ready to go out of the box, $169 remains a great value for what’s on offer here. I highly encourage anyone considering this keyboard to take the time to apply a few simple mods. The Q2 is brimming with potential and practically invites you to take it apart and tinker with what’s inside. Take it up on that. You’ll be happy you did.
The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.
Chris cut his teeth on MMOs in the late 90s with text-based MUDs. He’s written about video games for many different sites but has made MMORPG his home since 2013. Today, he acts as Hardware and Technology Editor, lead tech reviewer, and continues to love and write about games every chance he gets. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight
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