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Keychron Q8 Review: The Affordable, High-End Ergo Custom Keyboard

Christopher Coke Posted:
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Hardware Reviews 0

Keychron has been on a tear this past year, releasing multiple new entries in its line of custom mechanical keyboards. Each of these boards feature enthusiast features, like heavy aluminum cases, VIA support, and flexy gasket mount implementations. This week, it’s released its most interesting yet with the Keychron Q8, Alice layout custom keyboard. It’s one of the first custom keyboards to bring the Alice layout mainstream and we’re here to let you know if it’s the right choice for you.

Specifications

  • Current Price: 
    • $195 - Fully Assembled (Keychron
    • $175 - Barebone Kit

Keychron Q8 - What Is It?

Like every keyboard in Keychron’s Q line-up so far, the Q8 brings a lot to the table. We’ve seen the formula several times so far (see the Q1, Q2, Q3, and Q5 reviews) so we won’t go quite as deeply this time around, but a brief re-introduction is certainly in order.

While Keychron has always been a brand that listens to what its users want and need, the Q series is a love letter to the enthusiast community. From the outset, the team at Keychron looked at what was popular in the custom community, the mistakes other companies had made, and sought to deliver them with a level of quality and affordability that was previously unheard of. It worked with community members to make sure the team was on the right track. And, as a result, virtually every keyboard released in this line-up has been one of the best ways to approach the custom keyboard hobby without breaking the bank.

Every keyboard in the line-up shares key features. They all feature heavy aluminum cases — top and bottom; none of this “aluminum top plate” business. Every keyboard features a gasket mounting style, one of the most popular innovations in the custom keyboard community in years, allowing for a softer typing experience that isolates and softens keystrokes to improve their sound and feel. Every keyboard features VIA support for in-depth, firmware based programming that allows you to take those changes to any PC, regardless of software or IT policy. They each feature screw-in stabilizers, lubed from the factory, and internal foams and pads to improve acoustics.  Every keyboard features hot-swappable switches and per-key RGB. All of the invite the tinker to open them up and try their hand at some basic mods but are also perfectly fine left completely stock. And most importantly, all of them challenge the rest of the keyboard market with how affordable they are for this range of features and build quality.

The Keychron Q8 (or Keychron Alice) carries through all of that, but makes some pivotally important changes. The first is the ergonomic layout. The Q8 splits and angles the keyset, allowing you to place your hands at a more natural posture. It looks strange at first, but is inspired by the Microsoft Ergo Keyboard, so has a strong design lineage behind it. Just as importantly, unlike many other ergonomic keyboards, it keeps the keys staggered, so adapting to the layout is much faster and won’t force you to relearn how to type (but does still take some getting used to).

The Q8 comes to market with two versions. The pre-assembled version retails for $195 and includes everything you need to start typing out of the box. The barebones kit is twenty dollars less at $175 and doesn’t include switches and keycaps, allowing you to save a little money if you bring your own. 

Even more than past Q-keyboards, I would recommend buying the pre-assembled kit. It comes with a full set of Gateron G Pro switches (available in red, brown, or blue), which are very good. They’re prelubed and super smooth — Cherry should be taking notes. They’re really that much better. On top of that you get a full set of Keychron’s OSA doubleshot PBT keycaps. While these are fine, the Alice layout’s shorter spacebars can make finding affordable aftermarket keycaps more difficult. In researching this article, most compatible sets on Amazon start at $45 and go up from there — and even some of those will force you to use Shift keys for the spacebars. The $20 premium for the pre-assembled kit is an excellent value.

Of course, if you do want to change things up, Keychron has you covered there too and will even save you money on keycaps. The company sells a wide array of accessories, including even more switches and keycap options than you’ll find on the Q8’s default options. For this review, they sent over the Hacker Mint keycap set, which is doubleshot PBT in Cherry profile. It’s $40 and the amount of keycaps it includes is incredible for that price. Compatibility won’t be an option for all but the most niche of mechanical keyboards. The quality is also very high with these. I was shocked. Keychron’s doubleshot PBT Cherry profile keycaps are a ridiculously good value.

Back to the Q8. Since the Alice layout is compact, it offers similar levels of flex and bounce to the original Keychron Q1, which was itself impressive. You can literally see the keyset move under your fingers when typing normally, allowing keystrokes to be very smooth and well dampened. This occurs because instead of screwing the PCB to the bottom or top case, it’s instead held between both halves, sandwiched with soft foam strips. It’s delightful, and one of the better implementations we’ve seen from Keychron on a Q-series board.

At the same time, there are some meaningful changes to the internals. For starters, there is no foam inside this case at all. I was taken aback by this, but it really doesn’t result in the keyboard sounding or feeling hollow. Instead, it sounds less dampened and has a bit more character than the similarly sized Q2. The silicone tabs between both halves of the case (added to reduce the pinginess common to all-metal keyboards.

What it does have is a pre-applied paper on the PCB for a factory tape mod. This hasn’t been on any other Keychron keyboard to my knowledge, but definitely adds pop to typing sounds. I’m so pleased to see manufacturers start adding this as it saves modders an additional step to bring out the best sound in their keyboard. At the same time, the paper isn’t exactly like the tape mod as it adds an air gap between the paper and PCB. I chose to replace mine with normal tape to remove the gap and it added deepness to the sound of the keyboard somewhat. 

Of course, the quality of your typing experience will depend on the switches that you use. Since this is a hot-swappable keyboard designed for modding, I highly encourage buyers to try new switches and see how it changes its sound and feel. Since it features hot-swap sockets, there’s no need to desolder. Using the included in the box, you can simply unplug switches and press new ones into place. It’s a great move that enhances the repairability of the keyboard and allows you to continue to explore this ever growing hobby.

Next to those sockets, you’ll bring bright RGB LEDs. These seem to be brighter than past keyboards, but that may be placebo on my part as I don’t have them on hand for a direct comparison. Still, it’s bright, vibrant, and customizable. There are a number of preset effects, but you can also dial in the exact static backlight you would like (one whole color for the keyboard) using built-in hue and saturation buttons. 

This is all done within VIA, the open-source firmware driving the Q line-up and countless other custom mechanical keyboards. It’s not rich in gaming features, but allows you to remap keys in a way that’s simply not possible with premade keyboards. For example, I maintain separate layers for multiple games, allowing me to change keysets on the fly. When I’m typing normally, I set my Caps Lock to perform double-duty as a layer shift when it’s held but function normally when tapped. Doing this, I can have access to every secondary function, media, and lighting control all without ever moving my hands from Home Row. 

Actually using the Q8 is a joy, in much the same way as other Q keyboards were. There’s something special about typing on a heavy, aluminum keyboard. Add to that the special sound and feel characteristics of the gasket mount implementation and (stock) tape mod, and you have a recipe for a very nice typing experience. 

Adapting to the Alice layout takes time, but not much. I was able to type at 70 WPM right after unboxing it for the first time (which was also true of my first Alice keyboard, the Akko ACR Pro Alice Plus). Given my average typing speed is 100 - 110 WPM, this is a reduction but is far better than the 30 WPM I experienced trying the ErgoDox EZ for the first time. Within a day, my speed had bumped to about 90 WPM. By the next day, I was up to speed. 

Typing and gaming on this layout is noticeably more comfortable too. I was rarely sore using a standard layout unless I was churning out multiple articles a day, but the Alice arrangement is flat out more natural and more comfortable to use once you’re use to it. Going back to a normal keyboard really highlighted the improved ergonomics the Q8 offers and had me swapping back before very long at all. 

For gaming, this layout is exceptionally good. The dual spacebar design makes for an easy modifier to access a whole second layer of macros. By swapping the left spacebar to a layer shift, alongside the existing 1u layer button, you can quickly turn the right side of the keyboard into dozens of macro and skill keys. It’s shortcut city, and doesn’t require any extra space or losing the existing functions of the keyboard.

Final Thoughts

The Keychron Q8 is another win. If the Akko Alice was the most affordable way to try the layout period, the Q8 is the most affordable way to try a high-end version, complete with enthusiast features the Akko lacks. The gasket mount implementation is very good and the keyboard feels great to type on. I would have liked to have seen plate foam, but lacking it allows the keyboard to have more character and a poppier sound. The Q8 has been the most exciting release in the Q line-up yet and leaves me even more excited to see where Keychron goes from here. 

The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.

8.5Great
Pros
  • The Alice layout is ergonomic and excellent
  • Heavily aluminum case
  • Packed with enthusiast features
  • Includes great switches and doubleshot PBT keycaps
  • VIA support
Cons
  • No foam in the case
  • VIA can be less user-friendly than other softwares
  • Air gap with built-in tape mod


GameByNight

Christopher Coke

Chris cut his teeth on MMOs in the late 90s with text-based MUDs. He’s written about video games for many different sites but has made MMORPG his home since 2013. Today, he acts as Hardware and Technology Editor, lead tech reviewer, and continues to love and write about games every chance he gets. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight