So I got a new keyboard…

I’m a little bit fussy when it comes to my keyboard.

For something like the last 15 years, I have insisted on using a keyboard with a rotary dial for volume control. This is because I listen to music all day long as I work, and I like to be able to adjust the volume quickly (and my speakers themselves are too far away to reach easily).

For the longest time I was using a Dell media keyboard that came with one of my older computers – a simple membrane keyboard, but it did the trick.

Eventually though, I decided it was time to get a better typing experience and so I went out and bought a Das Keyboard Pro (with Cherry MX Brown switches), because it was the only one I could find that had a volume knob on the keyboard.

This was great and I was very happy with this keyboard for many years – it was a pleasure to type on, the volume knob worked great, and it was super-solid and heavy so it stayed put on my desk.

But eventually I started getting some pain in the wrist of my right hand, and after paying attention to when it came and went, I realized it was caused by me moving my hand from the keyboard to the mouse frequently. Because my keyboard was a full-size keyboard (with a number pad), this was quite a long distance to move my arm.

So even though I use the number pad quite frequently, I started looking out for a good tenkeyless keyboard to replace my full-sized one. (I drew the line at tenkeyless; as a programmer there’s no way I’m giving up my arrow keys.)

The world of bespoke tenkeyless mechanical keyboards has really exploded in recent years, so I was spoiled for choice. But after a lot of thinking, I eventually decided to try out a Keychron K8.

Keychron K8

The first thing you might notice about this keyboard is that despite what I said earlier about insisting on a rotary dial for volume control, this one does not have any knobs whatsoever.

This is because I found that finding a keyboard with a knob that was also tenkeyless was basically impossible. While there are options out there, I’m not looking to spend a fortune on a keyboard… and after a lot of thinking about it, I realized I could probably live without the knob as long as the keyboard had good media keys & shortcuts.

With the volume knob requirement off the table, this is what I was on the lookout for:

  • Mechanical keyboard with “Brown” tactile switches
  • Compact design (no “lip” beyond the keys as in my Das Keyboard)
  • Media shortcut keys (needing to use a function key is OK)
  • Good quality keys (I’ve worn out the printing and texture on key caps before)
  • Not crazy expensive (my Das Keyboard was around $120, so I didn’t want to go any more than that, and ideally less than $100)

The K8 managed to hit all of these options, and it looked nice as well. It also had a few features I didn’t care about, but might end up being useful – for example, it is technically a wireless Bluetooth keyboard, so I could unplug it and use it with my laptop if I wanted to. It also has RGB back lighting, which I really didn’t care about but does look kind of neat at night.

One thing I thought I’d miss was the integrated USB hub in my Das Keyboard – but the fact is that both of my monitors now have built-in USB hubs, and I don’t really plug and unplug devices very frequently anymore.

I do like that I was able to get a matching walnut wood wrist rest – my desk is walnut, so it matches.

The sound of this keyboard is, surprisingly, very different from my old Das Keyboard, despite ostensibly using the same style of key switch. I think this is largely down to the construction of the base – the Das Keyboard was all-metal, with the keys partially sunk into it, so there was a lot of room for echo, which made the keys sound very “clicky.” But this K8 has a more plastic-y construction, so the sound of the switches is more dulled (maybe I should’ve gone for the one with the aluminum construction…). But I don’t mind the difference, and the feel is just as good – a nice tactile bump that gives me a good typing feel and lets me know if I’ve missed a key press.

The space bar sounds a bit hollow on this keyboard – there isn’t much damping under that key – but it’s not bad and I got used to it pretty quickly.

The key caps themselves are very nice – smooth, so I don’t have to worry about wearing off a textured finish – and with the printing being translucent to allow the light through, they labels on the keys won’t wear away with time as they’ve done on other keyboards of mine.

Like a lot of keyboards of this style, the key switches are semi-exposed on a flat backplate – meaning that the keyboard will be easier to clean, since they aren’t recessed like on my Das Keyboard.

That said, after living with it for a while, I started to notice some issues. Firstly, the spacing on the keys seemed ever so slightly off… as if they were a bit closer together, or maybe just that the tops of the keys were slightly smaller. Secondly, the keyboard, despite being plugged in via cable to my computer, sometimes misses key presses when I’m typing very fast – I’ll go to type something that has 2 of the same letters in a row (e.g., the letters “t” in “letters”) and sometimes it’ll come through as “leters” – when I know I pressed the key twice. I’m not sure if I’m just not hitting the key hard enough the second time, or if the keyboard is missing the press… to me, it certainly feels like I’m hitting the key, and I’ve never had this particular problem on my old Das Keyboard (or on my laptop keyboard). Maybe a future firmware update will address it…?

In any case, thus far I’ve been pretty happy with this keyboard – the RBG lighting is a bit of a gimmick to me, but it’s kind of neat, so I don’t mind, and the typing experience has been very good (aside from the 2 things I mentioned).

That said, I may end up going back to my Das Keyboard… in fact, I ended up buying a complete new set of key caps for it, as the old ones were starting to actually wear smooth… but we’ll see. At the very least, I can easily switch back and forth between them as the mood strikes me.

By Keith Survell

Geek, professional programmer, amateur photographer, crazy rabbit guy, only slightly obsessed with cute things.


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