OnePlus’ debut mechanical keyboard, the Keyboard 81 Pro, may be little more than a redesigned Keychron Q1 Pro with a couple of tweaks. But the Keychron Q1 Pro is one of the best mechanical keyboards available today, and the tweaks OnePlus has made to its design range from “inoffensive” to “actually kind of neat.” I wouldn’t go as far as to say the Keyboard 81 Pro is better than the Q1 Pro, but it’s a nice alternative version with its own strengths.
As a reminder, Keychron’s Q1 Pro is a wireless version of the Keychron Q1. It’s made of a solid aluminum chassis, with a gasket-mounted switch plate that gives it a premium typing feel and is packed with extra features like hot-swappable switches (helpful if you want to change its typing feel without needing to solder) and the ability to reprogram it using the powerful customization software VIA.
Depending on which design and switches you’re after, the OnePlus Keyboard 81 Pro costs between $219 and $239 (the version I’ve been testing), compared to $199 for the knob-equipped Q1 Pro it’s based on. For many people, I suspect that will be the end of the conversation — why pay a premium of between $20 and $40 extra for this keyboard unless you’re a OnePlus superfan?
It’s a fair point, but the OnePlus Keyboard 81 Pro has more going for it than just the OnePlus branding and color scheme. For starters, there’s its added kickstand, which allows you to adjust its typing angle in a way that’s surprisingly not possible with the standard Q1 Pro. The adjustable bar is reassuringly stiff, and once I set it to the height I wanted, I didn’t feel it shifting over time. It’s a neat addition, even if it’s able to elevate the keyboard to a height that’s past the point of being comfortable to type on.
Second, OnePlus has opted for a more traditional keycap shape compared to the Q1 Pro that I personally really like. As standard, the Q1 Pro comes with Keychron’s spherical-angle (KSA) keycaps, which you could describe as having a retro-inspired look to them. But the OnePlus keyboard instead ships with cylindrical keycaps, which have a more modern look and feel.
The exact style of keycap you get varies depending on which switch type you go for. The $219 tactile switch version (aka Winter Bonfire) gets you largely darker gray double-shot PBT keycaps, while the more expensive $239 model with linear switches that I’ve been using (Summer Breeze) comes with more lighter gray double-shot keycaps made out of a material OnePlus calls “marble-mallow.” Hold one of these keycaps in your hand, and it’s possible to squeeze and flex them before they pop back into their original shapes.
They don’t flex like this when attached to the keyboard, but otherwise, the “marble-mallow” keycaps have the nice matte roughness I’d normally associate with PBT and also feel a little bit tacky like rubber. They’re pleasantly grippy with legends that are good and crisp. The big question is how this material will hold up over time. PBT plastic has a reputation for not developing a shine as it’s worn down with use, but it’s difficult to know if the same is true of this flexible marble-mallow, at least in the amount of time I’ve had with the keyboard. You get Mac keycaps installed on the Keyboard 81 Pro by default, but there are extra Windows keycaps in the box, and like the Q1 Pro, you can switch between the two operating system layouts with a small switch on the top edge of the keyboard.
Third, the Keyboard 81 Pro actually feels quite different to type on compared to the Q1 Pro. They both have switch plates made out of polycarbonate, but OnePlus has opted to use custom-branded switches that correspond to the color scheme of the overall keyboard. So the Winter Bonfire color scheme comes with “Winter Bonfire” switches (which are tactile and have red stems), and the Summer Breeze color scheme comes with linear “Summer Breeze” switches, which have navy blue stems. (Yes, it’s confusing that the keyboard uses blue to denote linear, which is commonly used on clicky switches, and red to denote tactile when it is usually the color used for linear).
The Keyboard 81 Pro’s spec sheet doesn’t offer many specifics on the linear “Summer Breeze” switches that came in my review sample. But they share some similarities with the linear red Keychron K Pro switches in the Q1 Pro. Keychron’s name is printed atop each switch, and they have a similar medium weight and a smoothness. The big difference is in how the keyboard feels when you bottom out a switch, which is less crisp and bright and more of a muted thud. I wouldn’t say it’s better or worse, but it’s certainly quieter, which may appeal to anyone who needs a keyboard for office use or for use on video calls. I can’t speak for the tactile “Winter Bonfire” switches, but here’s a typing sound test of Summer Breeze.
Otherwise, yes, the Keyboard 81 Pro is just a Keychron Q1 Pro with a OnePlus-inspired makeover, and some parts of the redesign work better than others. I like, for example, the overall color scheme, the alert slider-style controls on the top side of the keyboard, the red USB cable, and the shiny raised section around the volume dial, which obscures the messy square cutout you’ll find on the Q1 Pro. But I’m less of a fan of the transparent volume dial itself (it looks a little cheap), and I could take or leave the OnePlus logo on the escape key. I’d love if OnePlus had included an alternative escape key with a standard “Esc” legend.
Although you can get a full rundown of the Keyboard 81 Pro’s features in my review of the Keychron Q1 Pro, here’s a summary of some other specs worth knowing about:
- The keyboard is hot-swappable, meaning you can replace its switches using a simple pulling tool with no need for soldering. You get a combined switch and keycap puller in the box.
- The keyboard is remappable using VIA, an excellent app. The software recognized the OnePlus keyboard immediately and worked as well as with the Q1 Pro.
- Yes, it’s RGB, but the keycaps aren’t shinethrough, so you’re only going to see the light between each keycap, which is relatively underwhelming. I’d recommend leaving the keyboard’s RGB lighting turned off because…
- Using RGB will significantly cut the keyboard’s battery life. Even with its RGB turned to its lowest setting, you’re looking at a battery life of 100 hours versus 300 hours with the lights turned off entirely. Best save them for when you’re using the keyboard wired.
- As you can hear in the typing sound test above, Keychron has done a great job on the keyboard’s stabilizers, which I can’t hear rattling at all.
The OnePlus Keyboard 81 Pro is neither better nor worse than the Keychron Q1 Pro that it’s based on, nor is it a simple rebadge. It’s quieter, feels different to type on, and it’s height-adjustable for good measure. I’ll leave the decision of whether these changes are worth paying a $20 to $40 price premium up to you.
Photography by Jon Porter / The Verge