About a year ago, Keychron launched its Q series of custom mechanical keyboards which now run the gamut from small 60% boards to full-size options, and everything in between. Whatever your preference, Keychron clearly wants to be in the running for your money. Now the company is releasing the Q8, a rare 65% Alice style board with a joint design.
Unless you’re into mechanical keyboards, chances are you’ve never heard of an Alice-style board. It’s basically a split-down-the-middle keyboard with both sides slightly angled and curved, with little spacebars and B keys on both sides (yes, B keys on both sides.). Otherwise it’s mostly a standard layout with arrow keys and numbers, but no numpad or F keys. and while I hesitate to call it “ergonomic”, the angled keys allow for wrist position quite relaxed. Unlike “real” split ergonomic keyboards like an ErgoDox EZ or Matias Ergo Pro, all you get is a set angle and no trying to lift the middle of the board. In return, however, it is extremely easy to adapt to an Alice layout and, by extension, Q8.
Keychron provided us with a pre-launch review sample and having recently tried out their Q3 TKL and Q8 1800 cards, this may be my favorite of the bunch. The version I have here is the pre-built Carbon Black edition with a pre-lubricated Gateron Pro red linear knob and switches. It’s both a look I enjoy and a switch I can live with (I’d probably replace it with a slightly heavier linear one).
Surprisingly, there is no foam at the bottom of the case to mute the sound. Instead, Keychron opted to pre-apply the popular tape mod and covered the back of the PCB with pre-cut green tape, something I had never seen on a pre-built board before. It might sound like a weird thing to do, but it really shapes the sound by absorbing some of the unwanted high frequencies. It’s good to see Keychron learning from the mechanical keyboard community, and the result speaks for itself. There’s no case ping here either, which also helps shape the overall sound, and while there isn’t much space at the bottom of the case, there should be just enough. to add a thin layer of foam to trim the card a bit. more, if that’s your thing.
Out of the box, the card sounds pretty good. It’s almost “thick”, but not quite. Bolt-on stabilizers need a little extra lube, especially to improve the sound of the larger straight spacer, but half the fun of custom boards is shaping them to your preference and there are still the place here to do so. As with previous Q-series outings, the optional button is nice, with clear steps and a satisfying click when pressed.
I still wish Keychron had more switch options, but since it’s a hotswap card, you can easily replace them. Since the fully assembled versions of the Keychron boards with switches and keys are only about $20 more than the barebones sets, I tend to go for the fully assembled versions. If you’re new to mechanical keyboards, this is the way to go anyway and if you’re already down the rabbit hole, you can always find use for a few extra switches. I’ve also been really enjoying Keychron’s double-shot PBT Cherry profile keycaps lately, which at $40 are a bit of a steal.
Speaking of keycaps: since Alice-style cards aren’t exactly standard (although Akko also released one recently), it’s hard to find consumer keycap sets – ie ungrouped – that support it. In addition to the two small spacebars, Keychron opted for two B keys in the middle because many typists apparently alternate between hands when typing B. In an earlier version, Keychron actually opted for two Gs instead (the slot for this is still on the PCB), but feedback from the community has been swift and almost uniformly negative. Some sets of keys actually feature two B keys, but this is still somewhat unusual. You might need to get a little creative with a function key if you’re only using one anyway. Fun fact: Keychron’s latest Cherry keycaps feature two G keys.
Otherwise, the Q8 follows the lead of the rest of the Q series, with QMK/VIA compatibility to remap every key to your heart’s desire, a CNC-machined aluminum body and a 100Hz polling rate for gamers. There’s also one LED per key, of course, to light up your daily typing session. The PCB can handle both three-pin and five-pin MX-style switches. And like those other Q-series boards, you can switch between Windows and Mac compatibility and like those other boards, the Q8 only comes in a wired version, which remains the standard for custom keyboards.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with the Q8. Like most of Keychron’s recent offerings, you can easily use it as is and be perfectly happy with your choice, but with just a few small mods, you can make it awesome and shape it to your liking.
Pricing starts at $175 for a buttonless barebone kit and $185 with. Add $20 to these and you get switches and keys too. There aren’t many affordable Alice-style keyboards (in mechanical keyboard terms) on the market, but it doesn’t look like Keychron has cut corners here.