I am currently in the process of choosing my preferred set of key switches (see https://www.keebtalk.com/t/looking-for-advice-to-move-away-from-cherry-mx-blues-to-tactile-switches), and want to find a starter board to go with them. I don’t know whether it would be more cost effective to get a hot-swappable keyboard populated with switches already, or to get some kind of kit instead. I am not looking for anything fancy yet, as I’m just getting my toes wet with all this. I’m thinking further down the road I’ll look into a more custom setup, but at the moment the switches are my priority.
In terms of what I’m looking for, I do have a general idea of what I need:
First and foremost, a full size board. I regularly use most keys on my existing one, so I don’t feel the need for anything compact or reduced
Wireless is not necessary
Switches are optional (I’ll be buying my own set)
Hot-swap is a must
Back-light/LED is a nice to have, but not a need. My current keyboard has basic single-colour LEDs, but I am mostly a touch-typist so I don’t absolutely need this
Key-caps are also optional. My current caps are in good shape, so I have no issue moving them to another board
Colour is not a very important factor
I’ve looked up a few options of full-size boards that are hot-swappable, and have seen options ranging from ~60-150$, these including switches. I haven’t seen much in the way of boards without switches, but all the kits I’ve seen have been significantly more expensive than that.
A bit more info, if relevant. My current keyboard has soldered switches, a few of which seem to be dying. The keys on them are double-shot, so there is some benefit to having them lit. I’m also shopping in Canada.
Any suggestions on brands, stores, etc. would be much appreciated!
I would check out the Zoom98. Your local vendor is Mech.land, so that would be the place with the cheapest shipping to you.
The ordering period runs from Oct 10 to Oct 30, 2023. Often, vendors have extras, too, but you’ll get exactly the options you want with the pre-order. There is sometimes the option for sea or air shipping. As you might guess, air shipping should arrive more quickly but cost more from China.
Keychron also makes many sizes, including full- and near-full. I’d go with the Q or Q Pro series, if you opt for Keychron, but there are less expensive options too. I think the difference is that the latter can be wireless. These can have some case resonance that could be bothersome, depending on preference, though they’ve improved this over the years. I understand it can be remedied with just a little electrical tape between the top and bottom cases next to the screws, hidden (“tape mod”).
The zoom98 doesn’t look like a full size keyboard.
If you use the nav cluster above the arrow keys all the time then not having del, pgup/dn, home/end where you expect them is annoying.
I have a ton of full width keyboards. Definitely the keychron K10 is the nicest sounding hotswap keyboard out of the box, and is cheap. I swapped back to a (non hotswap) filco, but the keychron was pretty good.
I don’t have a lot of time at the moment - but Keychron is the recognized standard in offering 100% hotswappable boards.
The V-series is a good entry-level. So the V6? The Q-series is more deluxe. That would be the Q6. But the V6 should be in your price-range.
There is another manufacturer of 100%-sized aluminium hotswap keyboards. I forget the name at the moment, would have to go look it up. They are comparable to Keychron, but emphases are slightly different, and it’s more ‘off-brand.’ I think Keychron would have better support for a newcomer.
There is a 100% custom kit just completing manufacture now. They are like $600, and probably primarily a soldered boards. So you can forget about that for now. Maybe someday
Wow, thanks for all the info! The Keychron V6 looks like a great value, and even has a barebones kit. I’m kind of surprised that the fully assembled one is only 25$ more for a full set of caps and switches, though I don’t know that it’d be worth getting in my case.
As I browse different brands, the only other one that seemed interesting was Akko. Are they reputable? From what I can tell their boards aren’t quite as “premium” looking, but figured I’d ask.
Yes, Keychron is able to offer discounts through bundling.
They are basically giving you the equivalent of earlier Gateron Pro switches, like 1.0 or 2.0 [which are cheap], along with some mass-produced keycaps.
Their keycaps are in a weird profile, though, and aren’t necessarily the best for a lot of people.
The bundling represents good value, in the sense of “why not,” but the bundled keycaps and switches are not exactly premium. They do make sense if you are interested in trying a particular type of switch that you haven’t tried before [e.g. their Brown or Yellow equivalents]. Or if you need spare keycaps for a testing keyboard or something.
Anyway, it’s up to you whether getting the fully-assembled one is worthwhile. People here, for example, would likely already have switches and keycaps ready for that board.
As for Akko, I’m not so sure about their keyboards. I’ve just seen some negative chatter about it, that’s all. I’d place them on a lower tier than Keychron, for sure.
Their switches are mostly okay though, and their keycaps are usually adequate.
I remember now what was the main competitor to the Keychron.
It’s the MonsGeek M5:
It’s metal like the Q6. It’s probably intermediate in luxury between the V6 and the Q6.
I know it attracted me b/c it may be on sale from Chinese retailers at a lower price than Keychron’s Canadian front-end. However, as you can infer, Keychron should offer you better support if you order from Keychron in your country.
I’ve read conflicting things about the MonsGeek and the Keychron. For example, one person wrote that the MonsGeek should be easier to silence. [if desired.] B/c you can get specialized dampening materials from MonsGeek, presumably. Maybe something to do with the build.
Keychron should also be possible to make relatively silent, though. It has a layered design that probably accommodates more or less dampening materials.
I guess the real question is which is more ready out-of-the-box. MonsGeek admits that its stabilizers, while PCB-mount, are not factory-lubed. If Keychron even has a minor factory-lube, then it could be more-ready [requiring essentially no work for decency.] However, I read of people force-break modding their Keychron anyway, and doing all sorts of user-dampening, lubing the stabilizers, and so-on.
So I’m not sure really which one is more ready out-of-box, or which one can become more silent.
Decided to just go with the barebones V6. I did contemplate also getting that 30$ board, but the shipping ended up being about the same amount, so I hard passed on that. Will continue to look for a cheap testing board in the future, but I’m looking forward to seeing what this one is like.
You’ve also got QMK/VIA support on that one, which you have no need for on a full size board, but it could be fun to try and see whether you could get used to another smaller board in the future.
For switch testing, you may want to leave out the plate foam, or try with and without. It can mask some sounds.
I also recommend seeing whether some vendors have switch sampler packs. CannonKeys does. Switch Oddities also sells single switches of all kinds and are nice people, though the price is higher to support their business model.