Keychron K3 wireless keyboard review: compact with compromises

Keychron’s keyboards are an interesting choice for anybody searching for a comparatively inexpensive wireless mechanical keyboard. Its newest mannequin is the Keychron K3, which begins at $74. The K3 combines the low-profile design of the with the compact 75 % format of the K2. The result’s a keyboard with a slim and compact type issue, with a peak that sits someplace between a typical mechanical keyboard and a keyboard with laptop-style switches.

It’s a tempting prospect in the event you’re after a compact, transportable board that received’t take up an excessive amount of house in a laptop computer bag. The K3 additionally options a number of different helpful options like hot-swappable swap choices that allow you to fully change the texture of your keyboard with out having to do any soldering and cross-compatibility with Home windows and Mac. However until you actually need or want a skinny keyboard, the K3’s low-profile design comes with compromises that maintain the keyboard again from being the right alternative for everyone.

The Keychron K3 is out there with both a white backlight for $74 or an RGB backlight for $84. By way of switches, you’ve gotten the selection of a set of low-profile switches made by Gateron or a set of Keychron’s hot-swappable optical switches. Keychron claims these optical switches are , however extra necessary is that, in contrast to the Gaterons, they’re hot-swappable, that means you may take away and change them with out having to do any soldering. Varieties of those optical switches embody linear (white, pink, or black), tactile (brown), or clicky (blue or orange) switches. That’s a very good quantity of choices, and of those for $19 (common worth $25).

My mannequin got here with a US ANSI format with RGB backlighting. I primarily used Keychron’s brown optical switches throughout my time with the K3, however I switched to its stiff clicky orange switches for just a few days to see what they had been like. Keychron tells me a model of the keyboard with a UK ISO format will launch in July.

Should you’re acquainted with the keyboard format utilized by most laptops, then you definitely’ll instantly really feel at house with the Keychron K3’s so-called “75 %” keyboard format. It’s much more compact than a full-size keyboard format (one which has a quantity pad on the aspect) or perhaps a tenkeyless (similar factor, minus the quantity pad), but it surely nonetheless contains arrow keys and a operate row, in addition to 5 out of the six keys usually positioned above the arrow key cluster. (There’s no devoted “Insert” key, however the built-in shortcut is Fn + Delete.) The operate row additionally affords Mac- and Home windows-compatible media keys, like brightness and quantity management.

For many individuals, particularly these accustomed to a laptop computer, I think this will likely be all of the keys they’ll require, and I by no means discovered myself needing a key that’s not current on the keyboard. I additionally don’t suppose there are any keys which are wildly misplaced, just like the ’s annoyingly easy-to-hit backlighting key. That’s useful as a result of the Keychron K3 doesn’t allow you to natively remap its keys, that means you may’t reconfigure the keyboard to vary key areas or add others that is perhaps extra necessary on your wants.

Keychron advertises which you could technically remap your keyboard’s keys on the OS stage utilizing applications like or , but it surely’s a bit hacky and means your keyboard’s format will change in the event you ever want to attach it to a different machine. I don’t suppose most individuals can have main issues with Keychron’s 75 % format, however beware in the event you’ve bought muscle reminiscence constructed up from utilizing one other compact board.

There’s one format customization choice constructed into the keyboard, and that’s a small swap on the top-left of the keyboard to swap it between Mac / iOS and Home windows / Android layouts. The keyboard additionally comes with Mac-specific Command and Choice keycaps out of the field, however in the event you’re a Home windows consumer like me, there are Alt and Home windows keys included so that you can set up on the board throughout setup. Simply use the included keycap puller to whip off the Mac keys and press the Home windows keys firmly onto the switches of their place. (Right here’s a in case you’ve by no means finished this earlier than.)

The opposite swap on the highest left of the K3 is a slider to swap it between its wired and wireless modes. Wired mode works as anticipated over the K3’s included USB-C cable, whereas wireless mode helps you to pair with as much as three units over Bluetooth 5.1. I paired the K3 with a Floor laptop computer, iPhone, and iPad, and the keyboard switched between them with no points.

Wireless customers ought to notice that battery life has taken a dip in comparison with the K2. With the backlight off, Keychron says the K3 ought to final round 99 hours, down from 240 hours with the K2. With the backlight on, battery life drops as little as 34 hours (down from between 68 and 72 hours). That’s doubtless as a result of the K3’s slim type issue means Keychron can solely slot in a 1,550mAh battery somewhat than a 4,000mAh one just like the K2. I used to be switching between wired and wireless modes all through the overview interval, which meant I by no means noticed the keyboard’s battery life run right down to zero. However these numbers imply you’ll doubtless should recharge the K3 on a weekly foundation if you wish to preserve the lights on.

On the underside of my overview pattern, there’s a pair of flip-out toes to regulate the angle of the keyboard. I’m informed these had been added as a revision in comparison with the primary boards, which got here with two units of toes so that you can swap between in the event you needed to vary its angle. I can’t converse for a way annoying a system this may need been, however the brand new toes help two totally different angles, and so they’re simple to make use of. Keychron tells me it nonetheless has inventory of the mannequin with out flipping toes and that this new mannequin needs to be in circulation by late Could. Construct high quality is in any other case stable, with little flex within the keyboard’s casing on my mannequin.

One of many nicest issues about shopping for a mechanical keyboard with conventional Cherry MX-style switches is the customization choices you get. If you’d like a extra colourful or attention-grabbing set of keycaps or if the keycaps in your board put on out over time, then it’s usually simple to swap them out for a brand new set. Swapping out precise switches after the very fact is usually just a little more durable as a result of it typically requires soldering, so it’s not well-liked in fairly the identical method.

In some methods, the Keychron K3 flips this dynamic on its head. Its hot-swappable keyswitches are simple to swap out while not having to choose up a soldering iron, however whereas its keycaps are simply as simple to take away, there’s not a lot motive to. That’s as a result of there are not any third-party keycaps available on the market which are totally appropriate with Keychron’s low-profile design in the intervening time. The Cherry MX-style cross design suggests they need to be, however after I tried some I had mendacity round, the stabilizer alignment on keys just like the spacebar didn’t line up. Keychron tells me it plans to launch new keycap units later within the yr for the board.

It’s a disgrace as a result of it could be good to have the choice of changing Keychron’s inventory keycaps. They’re manufactured from skinny ABS plastic somewhat than the extra premium PBT or thicker ABS, and their gray-and-orange coloration scheme is apparent uninteresting. No less than their legends are crisp, they’re properly curved to let your fingers discover their placement, and their double-shot development permits the keyboard’s backlighting to shine by and illuminate every key label.

Swapping out the switches themselves was a lot simpler than pulling out a soldering iron, although it nonetheless took just a little little bit of elbow grease to take away a few of the extra cussed ones utilizing the included instrument. It really works by clipping the metallic hook round every swap and wiggling till it comes free. Swapping out all of the switches took me round half an hour whereas watching TV within the background, plus an additional quarter-hour on both finish to deal with the keycaps.

In addition to being hot-swappable, the good thing about these low-profile switches is how skinny they permit the board itself to be. At its thickest level, it’s just a little over 22mm off the floor of your desk, and Keychron boasts that its low-profile optical switches are simply 10.77mm tall, in comparison with 17.9mm for a standard swap.

However being so low-profile makes these optical switches a little bit of an acquired style. Whether or not I used the brown optical switches that initially got here put in within the board, or the stiff and clicky optical orange switches, I by no means liked the typing expertise of the Keychron K3. It’s not terrible. This isn’t a mushy rubber dome or MacBook butterfly keyboard. However the restricted key journey of the K3’s low-profile switches feels unsatisfying in the event you’re used to, and like, common Cherry MX-style switches.

Of the 2 switches I attempted, I most popular the stiff and clicky orange switches over the tactile browns. The stiffness of the orange switches mixed with the extra tactile click on went some option to making up for his or her low journey, whereas I ended up making extra typos whereas typing on the browns.

On the finish of the day, I simply plain like the peak of a typical MX swap. That additional distance provides your fingers house to make errors and pull again earlier than urgent the fallacious key. In distinction, there’s one thing jarring about having a key backside out so rapidly. Should you’re used to typing on slim keyboards like Apple Magic Keyboard, then the K3’s low key journey may really feel extra nice and acquainted. However as somebody who likes common MX-style switches, I wasn’t a fan.

The Keychron K3 is a feature-packed mechanical keyboard at an affordable worth. It really works nice over USB-C or wirelessly, and it has a 75 % format that covers the keys most individuals want, in addition to a helpful collection of operate keys on high of that. The new-swapping course of is simple, and Keychron has an acceptable collection of switches that work with its hot-swap system.

However Keychron has needed to make a collection of compromises to make a keyboard this slim, and it’s important to need a low-profile keyboard to place up with them. Battery life has taken a dip in comparison with the K2, and the K3’s low-profile switches will be an acquired style. The shortage of help for third-party keycaps can be unlucky.

Should you’ve bought a robust choice for a low-profile keyboard and also you’re not focused on making an attempt out third-party keycaps, then the K3 is a pleasant bundle. However it could actually’t match the flexibility of Keychron’s different boards.

Images by Jon Porter / The Verge

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