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John Weland | October 21, 2020

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Keychron K1 (v4)

I’ve tried a handful of various keyboards: mechanical, non mechanical, full sized, TKL, wired, wireless. As a software engineer and writer, I spend well over 70 hours a week at a computer typing. So I embarked on a quest to find the keyboard I wanted to spend this much of my time with. And I found the Keychron K1.

The K1 is just one of a variety of keyboards that Keychron offers. The K1 itself is on its fourth revision, and comes in a myriad of configurations. You can choose between 87-key (TKL) and 104-key (full sized) frames. For either of those, you can choose to have a standard white back-lit or an RGB back-lit body. You can choose one of three switch offerings from Gateron’s low profile lineup: red (linear), blue (clicky), or brown (tactile).

Unboxing the Keychron K1

I’m impressed by Keychron’s presentation. The keyboard itself comes wrapped in a firm bubble-wrap sleeve, which is how mechanical storage is often shipped. The box itself is a classy matte black with a skeleton outline of the K1 in a glossy black. The contents of the box include: the K1 itself, a braided type-c USB cable, and a key cap puller. There is also a handful of replacement keys for Windows v Mac configurations.

Quality

The K1 has a very solid aluminum construction and comes with quite a bit of heft. It has a USB Type-C connection at the top in the center. This is a lot more convenient than some of Keychron’s other keyboards that have the USB connection the the left side of the board — a design choice that I can’t seem to wrap my head around. The USB-C connection may seem silly when you consider a keyboard is still only a USB 2.0 device. But this perk is less about throughput and more about the ease of connection. No more wasting time fighting the cables to connect them, only to realize that it’s upside down, and then having to flip the cable. It is 2020, USB-C all the things.

The K1 comes with two toggle switches at the top of the board. One changes between Windows/Android & Mac/iOS functionalities, while the other allows you to choose between Bluetooth connectivity, “off”, or wired mode. The Bluetooth connectivity allows for the K1 to pair with up to three devices at once. You can toggle which connection is active by pressing fn + 1 – 3.

When I ordered the K1, I was on the fence between the linear red switches and the tactile browns. I already knew I wouldn’t be a fan of the blue switches, as the clickity-clack is just something I cannot tune out. I settled on the red switches with a TLK form-factor as I never use the number pad anyway… or so I thought. Apparently, I used it a lot more than I realized. So typing is taking a little getting used to. That being said, TKL has grown on me.

Pros

  • Swappable key caps for Windows & Mac as well as a settings switch to handle Windows/Android and Mac/iOS. note: Linux works best in the MAC/iOS mode but its not perfect.
  • Swappable switches.
  • A myriad of lighting profiles (colors and effects).
  • Can be used wired, or wireless paired over Bluetooth with up to 3 different devices.
  • The full aluminum body adds a lot of structural rigidity to the keyboard and a fair amount of heft. You could use this as a self defense tool [Hardware Meta does not suggest or support using the Keychron K1 as a weapon… but you could.]
  • USB-C.

Cons

  • Functions & F keys: the F keys [F1 – F12] are not the primary functions of those keys in Linux.
  • No software for configuration.
  • No adjustable feet

The Keychron K1 isn’t perfect

I really only have three gripes with the K1. The first (and probably the biggest) complaint is that in Linux, the function alternative for the F1 – F12 keys is the default setting. For example, if I want to reload the tab in my browser, I would hit F5. But on the K1, this is the brightness for the keyboard lighting. If I want the function keystroke that I’m used to, I have to hold the fn + F5.

My second complaint would be the lack of adjustable feet at the back of the keyboard. While I fully understand I bought a low-profile keyboard, adding feet to allow me to raise the back of the board by 7-10mm would have put this at the optimum position (for me).

Finally, there is a much smaller issue that could do with some attention. That is, software — not necessary to use the K1, but could allow for something extra. Custom lighting profiles, function key overrides, etc. I envision this lightweight software to basically store a configuration and flash the firmware to apply the changes.

Using the K1

Now that I’ve been using the Keychron K1 for the last few weeks, I am getting used to the TKL form factor. The Gateron “reds” are nice; it no longer sounds like a room full of monkeys with typewriters (I was using blue clones for a while). I’m also getting into the habit of having to hold the “fn” key when I want to access F1- F12. If you know of a setting or switch I am missing, please let me know.

All in all, for $97 shipped, it was worth it. This might be my favorite feeling keyboard in a long time. You can pick one up from Keychron’s website though availability seems spotty (keep checking back as it comes in stock regularly).

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