iQunix may not be a big name in the west, but the F96 KAT is a keyboard that should be on your radar. It features nearly every key from a full-size keyboard in a compact 96-key form factor. Add to that thick PBT keycaps in the rare KAT profile, genuine Cherry key switches, wireless connectivity, programmability, and more, and you have the recipe for quite the interesting keyboard. Join us as we take a closer look.
- Current Price: $169-229 (iQunix Website)
Like many of you, iQunix was a new brand to me. That isn’t surprising since more companies than ever are jumping into the mechanical keyboard game (just ask Philips). What is surprising is that iQunix set out to break the mold of what we expect from production mechanical keyboards. The F96 KAT is equal parts gaming keyboard and a love letter to the mechanical keyboard community.
The board has many interesting features but none more-so than its neat 96-key layout. As you can quickly tell, there isn’t an ounce of wasted space on this board. It features virtually all of the keys you’d find on a full-size keyboard but compresses them all together into a space saving layout that’s little bigger than a standard tenkeyless. If you need a number pad but also want to save on space, this layout gives you the best of both worlds.
The F96 KAT feels premium, right from the get-go. The packaging is nice with heavy duty cardboard that comes apart in two pieces. The keyboard is protected by a plastic dust cover and a plastic sleeve. It also comes with a nice braided USB-C to A cable, a Bluetooth 4.0 dongle, as well as an extender, and some documentation. It’s when you take the keyboard out that it really begins to impress.
It features an all aluminum case. That’s entirely aluminum, not just the top plate like most gaming keyboards. It also stands apart from the majority of customs I’ve seen because the case is actually composed of separate plates for the back and sides. The screws are exposed, which I’m not a huge fan of, but they blend in well with the silver case, so it’s not too distracting from the overall clean look.
The other unique feature is the keyboard’s use of KAT profile keycaps. These keycaps are very similar to SA profile, which you’ve probably seen vintage terminals. KAT keycaps share the tall, spherical design of SAs but reduce the height and round off the edges for a more comfortable typing experience.
KAT keycaps are the rising stars in the keyboard community because, like the layout itself, they’re a middle-ground. Many enthusiasts swear by SA profile keycaps, but a good many find them too tall to comfortably use. KAT keycaps solve that while keeping the same basic shape and row curvature as SAs.
Aside from shape, the keycaps are excellent in general. They’re made of smooth PBT which feels great to type on. As a denser plastic, it’s also much more resistant to shine over time. The legends are big and centered in the style of SA, which looks great, and they’re applied with a dye-sublimation process to ensure they’ll never chip or fade. Put another way, these keycaps will look as good in five years as they do today (assuming you keep them clean). They’re also thick-walled, which makes for a solid typing experience with a satisfyingly thocky sound profile.
Under the hood, the F96 KAT uses genuine Cherry key switches. Since Cherry lost their patent some years ago, the quality and variety of switches has vastly expanded, but the name alone carries a certain pedigree, and, by now, most of us know what to expect from the Red, Brown, Blue, and Silent Red/Pink varieties that are available. My was kitted out with Cherry MX Brown RGB switches that offered a light tactility that felt great to type on. Whether you’re firmly in the Cherry house or are experimenting with other brands, these switches are as reliable as they come and are perfect for gaming, writing, and general use.
You can pick up the F96 in a couple of different versions, which impact the final price. The KAT is available with or without backlighting. Upgrading to RGB will cost you $20, but it really does look great underneath these caps. There are 18 different preset lighting effects, many of which are color customizable inside the iQunix F96 software. You can swap between these and also choose a static color for the full board (which is also the color used for single hue effects) using a quick key combination.
The board is also available in Wired or Wired+Wireless configurations, the latter of which increases the price by another $40. The premium is fairly steep, in my opinion, but going wireless also gets you a Bluetooth dongle so you can use it even if you don’t have Bluetooth built into your PC. You can connect to three different devices at a time and quickly swap between them with FN+1-3. The connection process was fast and the connection was reliable — something that’s far from a guarantee with a metal case. I didn’t experience any dropouts or noticeable lag when typing, but for gaming I would recommend keeping it connected with a wire to make use of the full N-Key Rollover, anti-ghosting, and 1ms response rate (the same features found on big-brand gaming keyboards like the Razer Huntsman and Logitech G915).
The F96 also has another major feature going for it that many enthusiast keyboards lack: full programmability. Using the software on iQunix’s Download page, you’re able to customize the lighting, remap keys, and record full macros. The software isn’t as fully featured as something like Corsair iCUE, but it accomplished everything I needed it to, from full static lighting presets (no custom animations, though), to remapping keys, the recording sequence macros. The macro applet even lets you add mouse movements and edit delays to nail perfect timing and basic automation — just be aware that some games like World of Warcraft frown on automation, so take care which games you use these features on.
The iQunix F96 KAT is a keyboard I’ve been eager to try for months. It really does blend the best of both gaming and enthusiast worlds which allows it to feel of vastly higher quality than most mainstream gaming keyboards while also delivering the performance gamers demand. At $169 to start and $229 fully kitted out, it’s a premium keyboard that won’t be for everyone but feels worth its price in virtually every way. If you’re looking to up your game, this is definitely a keyboard to consider.
The product described in this review was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.