Ergonomic keyboards can have a rather clinical appearance that reeks of mundane office life. The Keychron Q8 compact mechanical keyboard goes beyond the limited functionality of standard boards with advanced features, satisfyingly responsive keystrokes, and user-friendly open-source software.
Of the different ergonomic keyboard designs on the market, the Q8’s Alice layout is among the least intimidating appearances. Its design favors the natural angle of our wrists when typing without completely rearranging the standard QWERTY configuration, and its 65% layout removes the increasingly unnecessary function row in favor of a smaller, more convenient build.
For users switching from a standard 100% layout, the Q8 is a clean and smooth transition that takes little time to get used to. Typing speed and accuracy may take a small hit at first, but the overall comfort and customization make this a keyboard worth adjusting to.
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The Keychron Q8 mechanical keyboard is more than just a smaller and quieter alternative to standard boards. Both Windows and Mac users can utilize the open source software to fully customize their accessory, whether it’s changing the background lighting, setting macros, or remapping the entire board.
Tip: Change between Windows and Mac by flipping the switch on the back of the board.
Prior to the Q8, I hadn’t had much experience setting macros on a keyboard. Using the free VIA configuration software, Keychron allows users to customize up to 15 different macros, or unique keystroke combinations. I was initially intimidated by VIA’s macro assignment tool, especially since the program also handles keymapping and lighting.
However, it only took a minute to really understand how to create a macro and map it to a key. My biggest gripe during this process was that VIA froze a few times while using the keymap tool. It wasn’t an issue that persisted, just a few instances of a delayed response to key inputs.
In VIA, simply select a key on the digital board and choose from the multitude of inputs available to assign. I did get a little overzealous at first and accidentally reassigned an entire row of keys. Thankfully, setting them back to normal took little effort.
The Q8 features over 80 keys across the Alice layout and 5 layers to swap between, meaning users have more than 400 keys they can change around.
You can change more than just the keys’ functions. With my Keychron Q8, I received a keycap set that includes different color, style, and purpose keys. The first thing I did was swap out the Escape, Backspace, and Enter keys to a more aesthetically pleasing color and replaced the preset Mac keys with Windows-specific alternatives.
Replacing the keys is simple, so long as you have the small keycap puller that came with the keycap set. Having replaced the thin keys on my laptop, I was surprised that I didn’t feel like I’d break them at any point.
Maybe my favorite part of customizing the Q8 was the lighting. RGB lights typically show through the keys and illuminate the entire board. The glow of my Razer BlackWidow V3 is sometimes a little too much, especially if I’m trying to take a photo of my desk, which I do often as it frequently changes.
The Q8’s lighting is isolated beneath the keys and bleeds out only in the spaces between. It may be a slightly harsher light (which you can adjust in VIA to be more subdued), but I find it to be far more pleasing than the standard RGB you’ll find on most boards. There are 13 underglow effects, and while I tinkered with them all, I favor the Christmas tree effect of “raindrops.”
Though Keychron’s board is a bit more technical than a gaming keyboard, it really lets users have fun with customization. The official Keychron store sells different colors of keycaps, unique plates, coiled aviator cables, and more. Even the board’s aluminum chassis is available in standard black, silver grey, or a bright navy blue.
Since I started writing ages ago, my fingertips knew only the flat touch of laptop and standard office keyboards. It wasn’t until I ventured into Razer’s territory with the BlackWidow V3 that I finally understood the concept behind responsive typing. Every mechanical clack is a productive input that stirs some semblance of accomplishment. Still, there was still something about the BlackWidow I didn’t like—no matter what I did, it made it impossible to enjoy an active gaming lobby without being called out for the overly aggressive clacking. The Keychron Q8 has been quite the opposite experience.
Whereas the BlackWidow V3 produces a harsher sound with each keystroke, the Q8 can deliver the same quality with a more hollow, softer response. When compared side-by-side, the Q8 is far more satisfying and, when tested during a game of Phasmophobia, far less damning. Teammates noted the clicks weren’t as prevalent with the Q8, and my increased survival rate suggested even the game noticed the change.
The difference is night and day, and while Razer’s mechanical keyboards are too loud for a public space, I would have no reservations about bringing the Q8 into an office setting. That is if it were a bit more convenient to travel with.
- Polling Rate: 1,000Hz
- Switches: Hot-Swappable, Gateron G Pro Red, Blue, or Brown
- Case: CNC Aluminum Body
- Gaskets: Double-Gasket Design
- Keycaps: Double-shot OSA PBT
Keychron opted for a 6063 aluminum body, which adds quite a bit of heft despite the keyboard’s smaller size. Razer’s BlackWidow V3 is approximately 3.7 inches longer than the Q8, yet still weighs over 1.5lbs less. The trade-off is a far more durable build that will hold up much better over years of use, especially since 6063 aluminum is more corrosion resistant than 6061 aluminum and is less prone to physical damage than any plastic case.
Though the body is smaller and the keyboard is powered by a detachable USB-C cord (USB-A adapter included), the Q8’s weight makes it more cumbersome to transport. I often work away from the office on my laptop and prefer using an external keyboard, but traveling with the Q8 proved to be more difficult, especially since some of the spaces I work out of are a decent walk through a hotel or resort. On top of fearing that the aluminum body would put too much pressure on my small laptop, it made the walk more uncomfortable.
However, in a stationary setting, the aluminum lends ample stability. I put the Q8 through hours of abuse nightly, and I can say with confidence it has yet to move from its spot unless I’ve intentionally pushed it aside or lifted it.
As impressed as I was with the solid aluminum body, it’s what’s underneath that sells the efficacy of the Q8. Keychron went for the unexpected and included screw-in stabilizers that you’d normally only find in custom-built keyboards. To the average user, the stabilizer isn’t going to be a huge selling point.
Alternatively, those familiar with the inner workings of these peripherals know that the best stabilizers prevent buttons like the Spacebar and Enter key from being wobbly, shaky, or unstable during use. Plate-mounted stabilizers are the most common and are attached directly to the plate located within the keyboard, providing the least effective stability.
The Q8’s screw-in stabilizers are attached via a small screw that prevents the stabilizers from moving. Even when removing the key cap, the stabilizers will remain in place. This is the best you’ll find for any keyboard, so while the option to customize the Q8 is there, there’s no reason to adjust the current stabilizers beyond personal preference.
Even the switches are about as good as you’re going to get on a mechanical keyboard. The hot-swappable, pre-lubed switches can be easily changed, though I can’t imagine, barring a mechanical failure, that it’s necessary. Should you want to swap out the switches, though, Keychron offers a decent selection, including the Chery MX set, Gateron Cap V2 set, Gateron G Pro set, and the Kailh Box set, all available in different colors and sold in increments of 12, 35, or 110.
Further enhancing the user experience of the Q8 is the double-gasket mount design, which gives each key its satisfying sound by separating the inner plate and the case. Keychron also outfitted this model with a tape mod that improves noise reduction.
Coming from the BlackWidow V3 and a standard laptop keyboard, the gentle clacking and softer resistance caused by the double gasket mount and tape mod are welcomed.
Every keyboard in my office serves two purposes—I use them to write on for at least five hours a day, then game on for several hours more. Generally, they don’t last as long as I hope they will, and even my BlackWidow V3 has been starting to show signs of wear and tear after a year. I’m optimistic about the lifespan of the Keychron Q8, though, as everything feels like it was made to be beaten up.
For writing, the layout took a little time to get used to. I was dismayed to find that my typing speed had dropped a full 10 words-per-minute (wpm) when I first started using it. I’ve since built up my speed, though am still falling short of my usual 97 wpm and 100% accuracy. It’s far less condemning when I use it for gaming, and if anything, I’ve noticed an increase in my stamina.
Even though I have little reason to toy with the customization, I appreciated how easy VIA made it and how user-friendly it was to create a list of macros. Just for fun, every use of “Keychron” in this review was input by a macro assigned to the volume knob push button. There was no real rhyme or reason beyond seeing just how much could be changed. As it turns out, if it’s a key on this board, it can be whatever input you want.
Barring some minor issues with VIA which don’t surface often at all and the heft that makes this compact keyboard surprisingly annoying to travel with, Keychron’s customizable mechanical keyboard is a solid product capable of multiple use-cases. It’s even a great option if you love to build your own keyboards, as Keychron sells a barebone version of the Q8’s Alice layout that can be tailor-made right from the get-go.
The Keychron Q8 has provided a better user experience than my Razer BlackWidow. If not for the considerably higher price tag, I would definitely recommend it to anyone that’s suffering from the painfully audible clacking of plastic-on-plastic.
Here’s What We Like
- Solid, durable metal build
- Responsive, quiet keys
- Comfortable, ergonomic design
- RGB lighting is vibrant
And What We Don’t
- On the costlier side
- Aluminum frame is heavy for travel
- VIA software can be buggy
- Rechargeable option would be nice
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