In the past few years, mechanical keyboards have become popular among PC gamers and typists who want a particular feel when using their computers. But the options for mechanical keyboards designed to be used with Macs have remained few. Using a Windows keyboard with a Mac can be frustrating, as it has the incorrect layout and won’t have Mac-specific function keys. Your options shrink even further if you’re looking for a wireless mechanical keyboard.
That’s why the $74-and-up Keychron K1 is such an interesting product. Born out of a crowdfunding project last year, the K1 is a wireless mechanical keyboard that’s specifically designed to be used with a Mac. (A Windows-specific version is also available.) It uses Bluetooth to connect to the computer, it can be paired with up to three different devices at the same time, and it has a Mac-specific function row, with keys for media controls, brightness, Mission Control, and Launchpad. It also has dedicated keys for Siri, voice dictation, and screenshots.
In addition, the K1 has options for a four-level single color backlight or a full RGB array and 87- or 104-key layouts. The key switches on it are different than most other mechanical keyboards: instead of a thick, sculpted layout, these are “low-profile” switches with flat keycaps. The K1 isn’t even really recognizable as a mechanical keyboard at first glance; it looks like a laptop keyboard or any other standard computer keyboard. The switches underneath the keycaps are Fraly Blue type, a low-profile clicky switch with 7.6mm of height, 3mm of travel, and a 1mm actuation point. “Blue” mechanical key switches are considered tactile, as they have a noticeable bump when you hit the actuation point. The slimline switches allow the K1 to have a total height of just 18mm, which is considerably thinner than most traditional mechanical keyboards.
Adding to the list of features is a USB-C port for charging or cabled connection (a switch on the top of the keyboard allows you to choose wired or wireless operation) and the ability to switch to a Windows or Android layout if you move between devices. The K1 doesn’t come with different keycaps for the various layouts, but there are a few extra blank keys in the box. Keychron says the 2,000mAh battery is good enough for 15 hours of use with the single LED model and 10 hours of use with the RGB version.
Even with that comprehensive list of features, I wasn’t able to fall in love with the K1 as much as I hoped in the couple of weeks I’ve been using it. My issues started with the most important part of a keyboard: the switches and keycaps. The blue switches are very clicky and noisy, sounding like a million little mouse clicks as I type out word after word. I’m also not a fan of the tactile style. I much prefer a linear-style switch that has smooth travel all the way through and a far less annoying sound. That’s certainly a personal preference, but the K1 only has an option for the loud, clicky, tactile switches. Using this in a public place like a coffee shop or open office setting is basically out of the question.
Worse than the switches are the flat keycaps. Where a standard mechanical keyboard has sculpted keys that let me feel things out with my fingers and stay in the correct positions, the flat, slippery caps in the K1 caused me to consistently press the wrong key or multiple keys at the same time. Even most laptop keyboards I’ve used, which is basically all of them, do a better job at informing my fingers of where they need to go. Most traditional mechanical keyboards allow you to change the keycaps if you prefer something else, but while you can remove the K1’s keycaps, you’re not likely to find a replacement set for its unique, low-profile switches.
The key layout also caused issues with the RGB backlighting on the model I’ve been testing. The key to switch between the 18 different lighting modes is located just below the right shift key and right next to the left arrow key, so I manage to press it basically any time I want to use the arrow keys. That will switch the board from a totally sane, static backlight to one of the more bizarre repeating light patterns many times a day, and it’s really annoying. There’s no software to configure the lighting either; all of it is controlled by this key. Even if you dim the lighting all the way to off, pressing this key will reset the brightness levels to the default, so there’s no reliable way to turn off the backlight and keep it off.
It’s a shame that these problems tarnish the overall experience with the K1 because it does do a lot of other things right. Its wireless connection has been rock solid with both an older MacBook Pro and a new MacBook Air, it lasts me the better part of a week between charges, and the dedicated screenshot key is a godsend on a Mac keyboard. (I’m less enthused by the Siri and voice dictation keys, but those are easily ignored.) I also love that it gives me the option to work in a wired or wireless mode, and it can work just as well with a Windows 10 PC or Android device as it does with my Mac computers. It’s an extremely versatile keyboard, which isn’t something I can say about most of the mechanical keyboards I’ve used.
But the most important thing about a keyboard is how it makes it feel to type, and the K1 just doesn’t feel right to me. Your mileage may vary: if you’re a fan of clicky, tactile switches, the K1 might not bother you as much as it bothers me. The K1 has given me hope that someone else will be able to perfect a mechanical keyboard for Macs, though, so I’ll be interested to see who can iterate on this idea in the future.
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