Keychron is one of the best-known names in mainstream mechanical keyboards. It has a dozen keyboards to its name (including the Q1), so it’s safe to say they know a thing or two about designing a quality set of keys. Even so, the Q1 makes its debut as one of the best surprises of the year. It’s a love letter to the custom keyboard community, packed to the brim with features usually reserved on expensive custom key sets, and coming in at only $169. If you’re willing to put in the time to apply some simple modifications, it becomes the hands-down best value mechanical keyboard available for the money. Move over GMMK Pro and IDOBAO Bestype, the Keychron Q1 has arrived.
- Current Price: $169 (Keychron)
- Width: 145 mm
- Length 327.5 mm
- Front Height 21.6 mm (without keycaps)
- Back Height 34.8 mm (without keycaps)
- Feet Height 2.4 mm
- Angle 5.2°
- Weight: 1600 g ± 10g (the fully assembled weight)
- Body Material: Full CNC machined aluminum
- Plate: Aluminum
- KeycapsvDouble-shot ABS keycaps, not shine-through (fully assembled version)
- Switches: Gateron G Phantom (fully assembled version)
- Backlight: South-facing RGB LED
- Switch Support: Hot-swappable (5 pin & 3 pin)
- Stabs: Gateron screw-in PCB stabs
- Connectivity: Type-C cable
- Cable: Premium coiled Type-C cable (incl. Type-A to Type-C adapter)
What is the Keychron Q1?
I admit, I’m exactly the type of user inclined to fall in love with the Keychron Q1. As someone who spends hours every day typing at his computer, I value a nice keyboard. I’ve progressed from gaming keyboards to custom keyboards (or sometimes just modding nice keyboards by lubing the stabilizers). But as a school teacher by trade, I don’t have the hundreds of dollars to throw at buying what YouTube says is the “best” mechanical keyboard. Custom keyboards are on the rise, but it’s an expensive hobby to get into, especially if you don’t you’ll even find it to be that much better than what you’re already using.
That’s where the Keychron Q1 comes in. The team at Keychron has clearly been watching the rise of keyboard streamers like TaehaTypes and the incredible rise MK content creators have experienced. People are abuzz for custom keyboards and all of the bespoke features that come with them. To keep it short: the Keychron Q1 has just about all of them.
Here are the highlights:
- Gasket mount for a bouncy typing feel
- Full aluminum case
- Full programmability at the firmware level (no software needed to carry your keymaps/macros to other machines) with QMK and VIA
- Full RGB
- Hot-swappable, south-facing switches for solder-free changing and compatibility with high-end keycaps sets
- Pre-lubed screw-in stabilizers for less rattle and more stability
- Case foam
- PCB foam
- A customizable badge that can be swapped out for another switch or knob (rotary encoder) (coming soon)
- An included braided aviator cable that matches the case color
- Fully assembled or barebones purchase options
- Tons of accessories all available in one location with guaranteed compatibility (separate purchases, or course)
- Windows and Mac support, selectable with a switch on the back of the keyboard (that doubles as a hardware layer swap switch)
- An actually affordable price
All of these features give the Q1 feature parity with keyboards that cost twice the price and sometimes more. Now, simply having a feature doesn’t necessarily mean it’s implemented well, but by and large, Keychron has. They could have charged $100 more for this kit, and if they were a smaller company, they absolutely would have needed to.
What Keychron brings to the table (outside of experience) is scale. While most custom keyboards rely on group buys to fund production — users pay upfront and then wait for the production run to complete, incurring all the risk — Keychron is big enough to sign on for large orders upfront, keeping the cost down. It also has the benefit of being able to learn from the experience of companies like Glorious whose GMMK Pro was criticized in a few key areas despite being very good overall. Keychron didn’t hit those same pitfalls and is better out of the box because of it.
So, in a nutshell, the Keychron Q1 is an all-aluminum, hot-swappable mechanical keyboard with a bouncy, super flexible typing experience, that can also be programmed to your heart’s content. It’s not perfect out of the box and doesn’t have native software for recording deep macros as easily as a dedicated gaming keyboard or advanced features timers or game-integrated lighting. But, feels great to type on, still works great for gaming, and with a little time spent modding can sound downright amazing at a fraction of the cost of a group-bought custom.
The Stock Keychron Q1
The stock Keychron is a solid keyboard but has a few quirks that may or may not bother you. It comes with your choice of Gateron Phantom Red, Phantom Brown, or Phantom Blue switches (or others if bought separately). It’s also Carbon Black, Navy Blue, or Space Gray anodizations. Depending on which color case you choose, you’ll receive a matching set of doubleshot ABS keycaps.
I was sent the Navy Blue with Phantom Red switches, as well as a set of swap-out PBT keycaps and a walnut wrist rest to try. These are separate purchases ($40 and $25 respectively), but only two of many supporting accessories available to buy. There are more than a dozen alternate PBT keycap sets to choose from (as well as one ABS), three different plate materials (aluminum, polycarbonate, and brass), a huge array of switches from Gateron, Kailh, Cherry, and Keychron to choose from, as well accessories for lubing switches. In short, you can pick up just about anything you’ll need to customize your keyboard right from Keychron, excepting harder-to-find switches and odds and ends like a paintbrush to apply your lube.
Starting with the case: it’s great. The anodization was consistent and well-done. The Navy Blue is deep and rich, matching the pictures well. There are no tilt feet, which is normal for an aluminum case, but there is a 5-degree angle so you can type comfortably without a wrist rest if you choose. It comes together in two halves that are secured with eight gold-colored socket-cap screws on the bottom. You’ll need a hex-bit to remove these but I appreciate Keychron’s attention to durability. These screws will be harder to strip than a normal phillips-head fastener and the socket-cap has much more to material in general.
The ABS keycaps are decent, but I would recommend upgrading to PBT if you can stretch your budget. They’re an improvement over Keychron’s normal keycaps thanks to their doubleshot molding. The legends are made of a separate piece of plastic, so they’ll never fade, and the keycap walls seem to be thicker than Keychron’s normal ‘caps too. The color scheme on the Navy Blue model looks so great, I was disappointed I couldn’t buy the same colorway in PBT. Still, ABS will shine over time and it has a lightweight sound profile.
The PBT keycaps, on the other hand, are dye-sublimated (so, single-shot with dye-stained legends and colored sides). They’re definitely better but aren’t the most impressive in overall quality with some bleed along the bottom edge due to the dying process. They’re also in the taller OEM profile instead of lower-profile Cherry profile that’s popular on high-end sets. Still, it’s worth a buy for their increased thickness, durability, and more dense sound.
Disassembling the case, you’ll find that it includes a thin layer of foam under the circuit board to reduce hollowness and reverberation through the metal case. There’s also a thicker layer of foam between the plate and the PCB to absorb sound. Another small touch: the USB port is a separate daughter circuit board, which means it should be replaceable without having to trash your whole keyboard if it breaks.
The stabilizers also come pre-lubed and were pretty good out of the box! My backspace key had a bit of rattle to it, but as a whole, the Q1 is much better than your average prebuilt mechanical keyboard. Likewise, the sound of those larger keys was more consistent with the rest of the board and more stable with since they were held in place with an actual screw.
I was also happy to find that the board was recognized immediately by VIA. VIA is a small app that allows you to program the keyboard with having to go through the hassle of actually flashing firmware. It was all the power of QMK but its changes apply immediately. The graphical interface is also very simple and easy to understand, even if you’ve never used it before. The implementation doesn’t seem finished, though, as there was no tab for mapping lighting commands. You can manually add these with the “Any” keymap function, but it new users won’t want to deal with that, so hopefully an update comes soon.
The Q1 has another high point to it: the gasket mount. Gasket mount refers to strategically placed strips of poron foam around the edges of the plate, on tabs to keep it from moving during use. Rather than screw the plate into either side of the case, the two halves clamp down on these tabs which are cushioned by foam. The effect is twofold: typing vibrations are dampened because they hit the foam before traveling into the case; and, the keyset will physically flex up and down for less stiff typing experience.
And oh what flex. When pressed, the keyset noticeably travels. Don’t worry, the effect is subtle enough when typing that you won’t be distracted by your keys noticeably bouncing, but it creates the softer typing experience that made gasket mounts become so popular. Frankly, it puts the GMMK Pro to shame as its gaskets did almost nothing out of the box. This is gasket mount as it should be at a fraction of what you would usually be paying for its implementation in a full aluminum keyboard.
Even with all those positives, there are some issues that need addressing — and at least one, they say they are. The biggest is the amount of ping the case makes when typing. It resonates with every keystroke and is distracting. Keychron has said that they’re including extra foam in the box for retail units to address this issue, but in my testing, I had to add a thick layer of spongy neoprene to dull the effect with foam as a material. I can’t test their solution, but this should be improved on retail units.
Second, the Phantom Red switches nearly negated the RGB backlighting. Like Gateron Ink switches, the housings are color-matched to the type of switch. That means the RGB LEDs are essentially hitting a red filter before shining out. Note in the picture above that the LED is shining blue but most of what’s visible is still red. The only way to fix this is to change switches or disable RGB.
Easily Modding the Keychron Q1 to Awesomeness
Ping aside, the Q1 sounds alright out of the box, but it can be made to sound great. With a full set of easy to apply mods, I find myself preferring the Q1 over any other my other custom keyboards, including the RAMA KARA and KOYU, my GMMK Pro, Drop ALT and CTRL (high profile versions), KBDFans KBD75V2 and even my beloved KBDFans D60 WKL, despite it being the cheapest of the bunch. I’m not alone. A short typing test I recorded has been met with enjoyment by every commenter on YouTube and every person on Keychron’s Discord and beyond I’ve shared it with. It’s damn good for the money.
Have a listen to the fully modded result first:
Keychron Q1 Typing Sounds
Let’s take a look at how the keyboard sounds with these mods applied! This was recorded before the new keycaps came in, so what you’re hearing is with Keychron’s PBT keycaps.
Keychron Q1 – Modding Guide
1. Lubed the stabilizers, added stabilizers pads (Stabilizers)
Step one was to lube pull out the stabilizers and relube them for myself. I coated the stems and housings in Krytox 205g0 and the wires with Permatex dielectric grease. I also used a set of KBDFans’ foam stabilizer stickers on the PCB to cushion the stems when bottoming out the stabilized keys. This eliminated all stabilizer rattle and, I have to say, I loved the sound of these Gateron stabilzers! I would buy another set if I could find them anywhere.
2. Added 2mm neoprene foam to the case — then went back and swapped out for 50mil Kilmat automotive sound deadening material (Remove Case Ping)
I tried a couple of options to eliminate the ping and reverberation throughout the case. First, I removed the stock thin foam and replaced it with a sheet of 2mm sponge neoprene cut to size. I used this, but other kinds of neoprene would also do the trick (the neoprene sheets used for children’s crafts are also good). It eliminated all audible ping in a normal typing posture but did reduce the total amount of flex, which is one of the things that makes the Q1 special. I also noticed that on my typing test, my microphone was able to pick out a minor amount of ping that remained if you held your ear an inch above the space bar.
To solve both, I picked up a pack of Kilmat 50 mil (1mm) sound deadening sheets. These are typically used to line the inside of your car doors to reduce reverberation and rattle for automotive sound systems. I cut it to size, inserted it foil side down, and it worked even better than the neoprene. There is no more ping whatsoever. This is admittedly an expensive solution, but there’s enough there to cover more than a dozen keyboards, if not twice as much.
3. PE Foam Mod (Improved Acoustics, Layer 1)
This is a new mod and one of the biggest and best things you can do to make the Q1 sound fantastic. The PE foam mod is based on the Jelly Epoch custom keyboard that released earlier this year and currently sells for $900-1000 in the aftermarket. Essentially, you take the thin polyethylene (PE) foam the board came in and cut out a sheet that matches the size of the PCB. You then cut out squares for your stabilizer and leave that positioned below the plate as you mount your switches. I also used the stock PCB foam.
This small layer of thin foam essentially acts as a high pass filter, cutting out some of the lower frequency switch noise. The result is a poppy or “creamy” sound that is very similar to Jelly Epoch and so nice. This is one of my favorite mods. Bonus points in that it doesn’t impact RGB very much at all.
4. Tempest Tape Mod (Improved Acoustics, Layer 2)
This mod struck me as weird at first but it actually does have a positive impact on sound. The tape mod, as its name implies, involves papering the back of the PCB with painter’s tape. I used two layers here. The effect, I believe, is similar to the PE foam mod in that you’re filtering what makes its way through the case and tweaking the way frequencies will reflect on the inner chamber of the keyboard. If you apply this mod, just be sure to cut gaps for the USB daughter board and the plate screws.
While the case was open and tape was out, I also put little bits of tape near the screw holes to create the “break” Keybored talks about in his excellent Q1 mod video. (As an aside, his video made me smile. We essentially did the same things for most of our mods).
5. Standard switch and keycap swaps
The other changes I made were meaningful but standard fare for keyboard customization. The first change was to swap out to NovelKeys Silk Black switches. They’re a heavier linear switch produced by JWK and are lubed with Krytox 205g0 from the factory. They’re great out of the box, so no lubing is required (on the V2 version being sold now; V1 did require extra lubing for the best experience) but still benefit if you’d like to clean them and apply yourself. They have a very light, clacky sound that works wonderfully with the PE foam and tape mods.
For keycaps, I went with EPBT x GOK Black on White. They’re thick, bright white keycaps with extra caps for different layouts should I want to change in the future. They’re also lightly texture, which always feels nice under the fingers. The shorter height also lends itself to a clackier (higher-pitched) typing experience.
Keychron Q1 vs GMMK Pro
The biggest comparison potential customers are likely to make is against the Glorious GMMK Pro. Both are entry-level, all-metal custom gasket mount keyboards. Both keyboards are a good value for the money. Both can be customized out the wazoo.
But in a head-to-head battle, there’s no question: the Keychron Q1 is the better buy, and here’s why. Despite the fact that these keyboards look very similar, the Q1 is more successful on the fundamentals of what it’s trying to do. Where the gasket mount on the GMMK Pro existed to check a marketing box, the Q1s actually works and is delightfully flexy. Where the GMMK Pro proclaimed its customs stabs as Greatest Of All Time (GOAT), they were anything but and were actually sticky on my model. Here, they not only work but they sound great!
There are things the GMMK does better. Glorious packed so much foam in that keyboard that ping just wasn’t an issue. The RGB is also better and includes those stylish side RGB strips. On top of that, if you’re a gamer, the Glorious Core software will allow you to record normal macros with the ease of a record button. The Q1, on the other hand, puts macros inside VIA/QMK which isn’t nearly so user friendly for macro recording. Then there’s the knob — it’s cool and genuinely nice for controlling volume. The Q1 will eventually have one available for purchase, but it looks like it will require a separate circuit board, so could be cumbersome to install.
Finally, we have that “matching” $169 price. Even though it looks like both keyboards are priced identically, remember that the GMMK Pro doesn’t come with switches or keycaps. Buying those from Glorious will set you back another $70, making the Q1 a significantly better value.
The Keychron Q1 is one of the biggest surprises of the year. The out-of-box experience is good and will be better with the added foam on the retail units. What really sets it apart is how good it can become with a handful of easy mods. When fully outfitted, this is the best sounding and feeling aluminum keyboard you can buy under $200. If you’ve been considering a custom keyboard, or even just a Keychron, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. On its own, this keyboard is an 8 but with the mods described here easily becomes a 9+. Don’t sleep on the Q1.
The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.