For the last year or so I’ve been using a Drop Alt 65% keyboard. It’s served me pretty well—it’s compact enough to fit in my desk tray, reducing my RSI. But over time there’s been a few nagging issues: the stabilizers rattle, and more annoyingly the board was prone to key chatter (doubling up characters). Pulling out and re-seating the switches would help for a time, but eventually I would get key chatter again. It began to feel like a game of whac-a-mole, where I’d fix one key only to have another one start chattering.
Enter the Keychron Q2. When Keychron released their first custom keyboard—the Q1—I was interested, but it was just too large for my keyboard tray. So I was happy when Keychron decided to release a 65% version.1 I grabbed on on release day, and within five days it was at my door.
I got the Q2 in a barebone configuration, since I didn’t really care for any of the switch/keycap options, and I also got the variant without the knob, since I route audio through my Schiit Valhalla amp that has a nice volume knob.
A few months ago my friend Max sent me some five-pin Gazzew Boba U4 Silent tactile switches that I couldn’t plug straight into my three-pin Alt. The Q2 PCB is five-pin, though, so I dropped the Bobas in:2
For keycaps I decided to go with my Polycaps Octopus ones over the SA Chalk ones I originally had on my Alt.
The final result:
So far I’m finding it to be a pretty good alternative to my Alt. A few notes after a week of use:
- The key-mapping software VIA doesn’t support the Q2 out of the box yet, so Keychron supplied a JSON keymap that you can load into VIA manually.
- I find the south-facing LEDs more useful than the north-facing ones on the Alt. A tip for folks who want a solid color backlight instead of one of the RGB presets: toggle to the solid color option (default is red) and use the Hue/Saturation +/- function keys to find your preferred color (I set mine to a purple hue to match my keycaps).
- The stabilizers come pre-lubed, but enthusiasts might still want to tune them (my left Shift key rattles slightly depending on what side you press on).3
- Youtube reviewers have complained about the spacebar and how it sounds, but on my setup it’s quite muted and I really don’t notice it—YMMV, of course.
- The gasket-mount setup is supposed to result in more flex as you type, but I don’t really notice it—could be that I just don’t use a lot of force while typing these days.4 If you’re prone to bottoming out while typing you might register more of that flex.
- The Boba switches are a bit too stiff for my taste, but they’re very quiet—this is a setup that I could bring in to the office without any reservations. Obviously your choice of switches and keycaps will affect the sound profile of your setup. Max also gave me a batch of Gateron X linear switches, and I may like the feel of those more than the Bobas even though I’ve historically preferred tactiles. I may swap them in a few weeks down the road if I’m still finding the Bobas too stiff.
- A minor quibble: the top-right key (where the knob goes in the other variant) isn’t aligned with the top row of keys. I get that the knob might need more clearance but in my configuration it looks a little funny.
It’s been exciting to see the mechanical keyboard hobby explode in the last decade—I still remember how hard it was to get a proper keyboard with Cherry switches about fifteen years ago. I see the Q2 as a mass-market, ready-to-ship, budget offering for enthusiasts who might tinker a bit with a board (swapping out switches/keycaps) but balk at lubing/tuning stabs and swapping out different plates/foams. I imagine folks who want a true custom board will skip over this to something like the Mode Sixtyfive, Parallel Portal, or a Vega.5 I’m fairly certain I’ll end up in that territory, but more for vanity (that top-right key!) than necessity.
Keychron is also releasing a 60% layout, and a split layout. ↩︎
Except for the CAPS LOCK key, where I used a clicky Kailh Box White switch—it’s nice to hear that click when toggling it on/off. ↩︎
You’ll have to take the plate off to access the stabs, so this is probably something you’ll want to do before you put switches/keycaps on. ↩︎
Ironic, given that my former Domani Studios teammates dubbed me “Thunderkeys” after I brought a mechanical keyboard in and hammered away on it. ↩︎
All of those options are nicer but also require a wait (if they’re even available). There’s something to be said for Keychron producing enough quantities for immediate shipping. You also have to build those boards (the Q2 comes pre-assembled) but that might be part of the appeal for most folks. ↩︎