The editors of MMO13 have repeatedly reviewed compact mechanical keyboards, but our guest today is different from most of his fellows. Let’s get acquainted – a compact low-profile kid Keychron K7 on opto-mechanical switches.
Keychron K7 is a novelty from Keychron, a company that has earned a good reputation among keyboard enthusiasts around the world and is actively developing business in the Russian market in these difficult times. K7 is a mix of popular solutions, including low profile, 68% form factor, hot-swap support, wireless mode on the latest Bluetooth protocol, and support for all major operating systems: Windows, Android and Mac. We were doubly lucky, as there were two sets of switches in the editorial office – tactile Banana (yellow) and linear White (white).
Traditionally, let’s start with unpacking. The keyboard is packaged in a stylish black cardboard box with additional protection inside. The kit, in addition to the keyboard itself, includes a Type-C cable, a keycap remover (puller), a switch remover, a quick guide, a complete manual, a dust cover and several specific keycaps for different operating systems. Nothing superfluous, but at the same time everything is in place.
Picking up the keyboard feels good build and unusually light weight for mechanical keyboards, which is only about 400 grams. The Keychron K7 is based on an aluminum plate and it gives it a decent margin of safety for such a thin form factor. At the bottom of the keyboard, you can find five rubberized anti-slip Velcro feet and full rubberized feet with double height adjustment – in the case of such a low keyboard, a really reasonable solution. I tested the keyboard on a bare, glossy IKEA desk and a large cloth desk mat, and found no stability issues.
On the end side on top is all the communication functionality – an OS selection button, an operating mode switch (wire, Bluetooth and off), a battery charge indicator and a Type-C connector. Everything is done conveniently and competently – there is no risk of accidental pressing, and the switches themselves sit tightly in place. The final impressions of the assembly are positive. K7 is a thin monolithic bar with low weight, firmly standing on legs.
The first thing that catches your eye when you start work is silence. The sound of hitting the backplate, the sound of return and the noise of the switch are minimal. The sound of operation on the Keychron K7 turned out to be much quieter than the sound of my spare membrane keyboard lying in the table in case of sudden emergencies, not to mention my workhorse – dashing, albeit pleasantly knocking Varmilo Miya. Unfortunately, the sound of pressing is not too noble by the standards of mechanical keyboards, but at the same time it is not annoying and does not cause negativity. In any case, this nuance should be regarded from the point of view of individual preferences. Those who enjoy the clatter of traditional mechanical keyboards may be disappointed. At the same time, those who want mechanics, but are not ready to put up with noise, on the contrary, finally got a compromise solution that combines the quality and reliability of mechanics with quiet operation.
The keyboard has an open design, the so-called skeleton with buttons floating above the body. This solution is common in the world of mechanical keyboards, but still requires getting used to due to the specifics of low-profile switches with an early actuation point and due to the thin case, and even with a 68% form factor. However, I would not say that the keyboard is beyond extraordinary in terms of ergonomics, and the issue of getting used to is unlikely to become significant if the absence of function buttons and a number pad is not a critical factor for the user.
One of the most interesting elements of the keyboard is opto-mechanical low-profile switches with the ability to replace. I had two sets of switches at my disposal: tactile non-clicking Bananas, as well as the lightest in the Keychron line of switches called White – a solution more designed for gamers.
The typing on low-profile switches differs in feel and sound. I wrote about the sound at the beginning of the article. As for the typing, it took me a while to get used to due to the unusually short travel (the travel and actuation point of the low profile switches are almost half that of the full size counterparts). At the same time, the pressures themselves make a purely positive impression.
The first ones I tried were the yellow Banana switches – they are tactile with a trigger bump at the very beginning, which significantly distinguishes them from their closest relatives – Brown switches with a resistance bump located below the pressure point. Due to this, Banana give an interesting effect of resistance immediately at the moment of pressing, after which they smoothly go down and back. In my opinion, a very good solution, especially for printing. For games, these switches turned out to be tight – the pressing force of 57g is quite large, especially for users who are accustomed to light linear switches. Some sandiness when pressed, as it seemed to me, is present in Banana switches, but with such a short stroke in real work it is not felt.
After a week on the Banana switches, I moved to my home harbour, the ultra-light White linear switches with no tactile bump. The pressing force is only 30g, which is even less than on my main keyboard with 35g. Printing impressions have become less expressive, as is often the case when switching from tactile switches to linear ones, but in games the situation has noticeably changed for the better. Lovely smooth switches, great for gaming.
Summing up the switches, I can say with confidence that I liked both types of switches. The only problem at the moment is I can’t decide which ones I want to use more on a regular basis. However, it is never too late to change them, since the keyboard supports hot-swap – replacement of switches without soldering. This operation is performed in the standard way: having previously removed the keycap, the switch is clamped with a metal puller and removed. It took me about 30 minutes to completely replace the switches in a leisurely mode.
Continuing the topic, I would like to note the excellent stabilizers of large buttons and minimal wobble (staggering) of ordinary keys on the Keychron K7. The buttons on the stabilizers sit like a glove, besides they are lubricated from the factory, which can be seen immediately after removing the keycaps. A small wobble of regular keys is present, but it is almost not noticeable due to the short stroke.
Keyboard keycaps are made of ABS plastic by double molding. The Russian engraving was done at a later stage, so the RGB lighting only passes through Latin characters. The fonts are well chosen – no fanciful gaming abominations. The plastic itself is pleasant and tenacious to the touch with a coating (perhaps it is the plastic itself), reminiscent of a soft touch.
Unfortunately, the plastic is very easily soiled, and ABS itself is not famous for its resistivity and polishes over time. However, Keychron sells separate keycap sets for all of their keyboards, including the PBT keyboards, but there is no PBT version for the K7 yet. In addition, finding an alternative set of keycaps for K7 can be problematic due to the rarity of low-profile sets. Keep this in mind if you don’t like the original colorway or if it’s vital to have a PBT set.
Keychron does not currently have its own keyboard software, so the functionality is tied to the FN keys, of which there are two. The first (FN2) activates the function row F on the numbers, while the second (FN1) is responsible for additional functions such as multimedia, backlight control, etc. All information is provided in the complete manual. For remapping (remapping buttons), the developer recommends using third-party software – Karabiner for Mac or SharpKeys for Windows.
The keyboard is equipped with a 1550 mAh battery and it takes about 3 hours to fully charge, and the claimed battery life is about 34 depending on the scenario. I could not measure the exact battery life, but in two weeks of combined use (without backlight + backlight at medium and high brightness), the keyboard had to be charged twice, that is, the official characteristics correspond to reality. The connection itself, using the Bluetooth 5.1 protocol, works without delay and at a good distance (officially up to ten meters). The keyboard supports up to three simultaneously connected devices.
The automatic shutdown mode when idle helps to significantly save battery, to which I had almost the main complaint – it is not customizable (it can only be turned off) and works after 10 minutes, while waking up takes 4-5 seconds. As a result, every time you get distracted by Discord, Telegram or Youtube, you have to constantly return to the already disabled keyboard, which needs time to turn on. Apparently, the Bluetooth connection does not work out as quickly as it can, for example, the Razer Blackwidow Mini, which uses its own Wireless module. In the latter, by the way, the shutdown period can also be configured in the software. I hope that in the future Keychron will release software or add the functionality of setting the timer on the function keys (at least the mode of 20 and 30 minutes).
What conclusion can be drawn after two weeks of work on Keychron K7? The device left a purely positive impression, even if it takes time to get used to. According to the main criteria, I had no complaints about it – assembly, compactness, customization of switches without soldering, a decent choice of switches themselves (there are options for mechanical Gateron, as well as for opto-mechanics Gateron and Keychron), high-quality stabilizers, support for different operating systems and the ability to connecting multiple devices. In general, everything is done as it should, however, there are minor comments, including on keycaps and the power saving mode. Someone may not like the silence, which is excessive by the standards of mechanical keyboards, or the boring sound background in work.
The MMO13 portal thanks foxgamer.ru, the official distributor of Keychon in Russia, for providing the sample.