Dark or Light
logo
Logo

KiiBOOM Phantom 81 Mechanical Keyboard Review: A Desktop Showpiece

Christopher Coke Posted:
Category:
Hardware Reviews 0

KiiBOOM is a relatively new player in the peripheral scene and is launching with a bang. The KiiBOOM Phantom 81 features a completely see-through acrylic case and keycaps, high-speed 2.4GHz wireless, excellent switches, and enthusiast features to deliver an impressively premium typing experience. At $159, it’s a good value with few caveats and is sure to earn a few comments from its eye-catching design. 

Specifications

  • Current Price: $159 (Kiiboom)
  • Name: KiiBOOM Phantom 81
  • Number of Keys: 82 Keys
  • Battery: 4000mAh
  • RGB: 19+ modes, south-facing RGB LEDs
  • Anti-Ghosting: NKRO anti-ghosting.
  • Connectivity: USB-C, Bluetooth 5.0, 2.4GHz Wireless

KiiBOOM Phantom 81 - What Is It?

The KiiBoom Phantom 81 is the first mechanical keyboard from the team at KiiBOOM, a speciality brand currently dealing in premium keyboards and earphones (in-ear monitors/IEMs). Despite being relatively new, their products are impressive. I was honestly struck when the keyboard and IEMs arrived at my door, as the packaging is boutique and much higher quality than I’ve seen from most brands in their earliest years. They make a great first impression. 

Returning back to the keyboard at hand, the Phantom 81 is out to impress with a look and design that’s immediately eye-catching and feels great to use. It features a compact 75% layout that includes a full function row, arrow keys, a metal volume knob, and a selection of navigation and editing buttons, while also maintaining a compact, game-friendly footprint. It uses a fully transparent acrylic case without any kind of glazing, so absolutely nothing is hidden from the eyes. That same design carries through to the switches and keycaps which are also completely clear. 

That kind of design really isn’t enough on its own, however. We’ve seen other brands utilize it, like the Lofree 1% but unless you want your keyboard to look like an ice cube, accents are necessary. Here, KiiBOOM has gone with gold for the plate, knob, rear weight, and even the small plate surrounding the wireless connectivity. It looks surprisingly fantastic, gold and ice, and the Phantom 81 is, in my opinion, one of the absolute best-looking keyboards of its type. The designers nailed the aesthetic and created something that’s at once familiar and unique, and excels beyond the competition in aesthetics. 

They also didn’t skimp on the quality of the case either. The case is made of a top and bottom and each is thick and heavy. The keyboard measures 0.83 inches in the front and 1.42 inches in the back and weighs a bit over 3.25 pounds. The knob and rear weight are each metal, as is the connectivity plate which could easily have been dressed up plastic. KiiBOOM really didn’t cut many corners with this keyboard and it’s all-around better for it.

The same thing applies to the switches and keycaps. The latter are tall, SA-style keycaps and are made of thick polycarbonate plastic (necessary to maintain their glassy appearance). They’re smooth to the touch, but have a pleasant scoop in the middle that seemed to cradle my fingers. The legends are bold and center-printed, but since they’re not dye-sublimated or doubleshot, it’s hard to say how they’ll hold up over years of use. 

The switches on the other hand are KiiBOOM Crystals. They’re medium weight at 55 grams of actuation force but come pre-lubed for smooth, buttery-sounding key presses. Travel distance is shorter than your average mechanical key switch, bottoming out at 3.6mm and requiring only 1.6mm of pre-travel for actuation. Since they’re also crystal clear, RGB shines out from every angle making them an excellent match for the Phantom 81. 

If you’re not a fan, you can easily swap them out thanks to the keyboard’s hot-swap sockets. You can simply pull old switches out and press new ones in, no soldering iron required. The PCB also supports 5-pin switches (which the Crystal are), so you won’t need to snip any pins for your high-end switches to work here. 

KiiBOOM has gone the extra mile in other ways to deliver a premium, custom keyboard-like experience on a budget. The Phantom 81 uses a gasket-mounted design, so instead of having the plate and PCB screw into hard posts, it’s rimmed with silicone tabs. These tabs are sandwiched between both halves of the case, isolating the vibrations and reverberation from your typing, leading to a quieter, softer typing experience. 

Underneath the switches, it uses a sheet of combined plate and switch silicone. The product page says the keyboard uses PORON, and perhaps the black version does, but my sample was definitely silicone. That’s perfectly fine for a design like this and works well, but is worth noting. This also dampens keystrokes and makes typing sound and feel a bit softer. This pad also extends a thin layer beneath the switches themselves, similar to the PE foam mod popular in the custom keyboard community.

The keyboard also hides a couple of other treats for custom keyboard enthusiasts: screw-in stabilizers and south-facing switches. Both are very popular among enthusiasts for the added stability and wider compatibility they offer for third part stabilizers and keycaps sets. If you ever did want to swap out to something more custom in either area, the Phantom 81 should support it with no problem (though note, I did not test other stabilizers, so plate tolerances may still come into play for stabilizers). 

The keyboard also supports tri-mode connectivity and offers native support for both Windows and Mac operating systems using switches on the back. You can connect over Bluetooth 5.0, 2.4GHz wireless, or using a standard USB cable. Wireless connectivity can be swapped between using basic key combinations and is easy and reliable to use. Swapping between Mac and Windows layouts is even easier with only a single toggle switch to manage on the back of the keyboard. 

Battery life is good thanks to the built-in 4000mAh battery. Over Bluetooth with RGB disabled, it will easily run for well over 100 hours. If you’re running backlighting at full brightness and over 2.4GHz wireless, you’ll still need to plug in once or twice a week depending on how much you game. 

The big missing feature here is QMK and VIA programmability. Instead, KiiBOOM provides its own software, which is fine for cycling between the 19 lighting presets and remapping keys for basic functions. It lacks polish, however, and is much more limiting than VIA. KiiBOOM is well aware of the benefits of open-source firmware, however, and has another keyboard in the works that does use VIA. 

KiiBOOM Phantom 81 - Performance

The KiiBOOM Phantom 81 is excellent. I must admit that I didn’t know what to expect when KiiBOOM reached out to me about testing this keyboard, but it’s genuinely been one of the best examples of a production keyboard done right to date. 

The quality here is excellent. The case was flawless and is designed to attract the eye — and it did. Using it at work, multiple people (non-gamers, completely unfamiliar with mechanical keyboards) commented about how neat it looked. It’s an inside look into the circuitry of a keyboard delivered with artistic flair. If you’re looking for a showpiece to spice up your desk and don’t want to build it yourself, this does the trick and then some. 

More importantly, it feels and sounds great to type on. The smooth switches take some getting used to, they feel great to actually use. The typing angle was perfect for me to use without a wrist rest, and the smooth, light switches felt effortless to press while also not being prone to typos. Likewise, I appreciated that the stabilizers came pre-lubed and tight, so I didn’t have to add extra lube to get rid of annoying rattle. It was ready to go out of the box. 

KiiBOOM also did a great job of tuning the sound of the keyboard. Polycarbonate keycaps have a tendency to sound thin, but thanks to the silicone pad under the plate and switches, and those dampening gaskets around the edges, it managed to sound deeper than any other keyboard I’ve typed on that uses them. The only one that sounds better is the AngryMiao AFA Alice which starts at $680 and is in a whole separate category of mechanical keyboards. 

Even though it’s gasket mounted, the typing experience isn’t as soft as I expected. There is a bit of flex you can see when pressing down on the keys but it’s nothing you’ll experience while actually typing, which is a shame. Still, the gaskets do their job of isolating typing sounds from the rest of the case, removing the sharpness of a tray or top-mounted design, and adding a bit of softness to the experience. 

Wireless connectivity is great. The keyboard goes to sleep after several minutes of not being typed on to preserve the battery. Pressing a key wakes it up and reliably had me typing within only a couple of seconds. There is probably room for this to be tightened up some, but it’s hardly an issue that really impacted my use experience. 

The biggest caveat to this keyboard really is its software. While it works, it’s just not very good. Lighting and key customization is limited, but present, so you should keep your expectations close to earth. Razer, Logitech, Corsair, and most other gaming softwares provide much better, deeper options. But, given the age of the company and the size of the team, I’m still happy these options are available at all, even if I would have preferred VIA support from the get-go.

The keyboard performed great for both gaming and productivity. It is very responsive, and using the pre-lubed keys felt great no matter what I was doing. Thanks to the 2.4GHz dongle, it’s able to offer only 1ms of latency, right on par with most wired gaming keyboards. If you can get on with its layout — one I feel is a great middle-ground between gaming and productivity — then you shouldn’t have any trouble leveling alts or topping leaderboards with it at your disposal. 

Final Thoughts

The Phantom 81 is an excellent first release from KiiBOOM. Its aesthetics aren’t going to be for everyone, but if you enjoy its see-through design, it’s one of the best options out there today. With its pre-lubed switches and stabilizers, enthusiast-level typing experience, and fast wireless connectivity, it’s an excellent option at $159.

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

8.5Great
Pros
  • Eye-catching design
  • Excellent build quality
  • Great pre-lubed switches and stabilizers
  • Reliable, fast wireless connectivity
  • Satisfying sound and feel
Cons
  • See-through design won’t be for everyone
  • Limited software
  • No QMK/VIA support
  • Slight delay when waking up from sleep mode


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