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Quick Review: Keychron S1 QMK Low Profile Mechanical Keyboard

Mac and Low Profile Enthusiast Typing

Christopher Coke Posted:
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Hardware Reviews 0

Keychron has been on an incredible run since last year, delivering a wide range of keyboards designed to bring enthusiast features to affordable price points. In November, we reviewed the Keychron K3 Pro, an excellent low-profile wireless mechanical keyboard perfect for Mac users and gamers on the go. Never content to rest for very long, the company launched the Keychron S1, an even higher-end version of this low-profile keyboard complete with a full aluminum case and improved typing quality.

In this quick review, we’ll be taking a look at this new, more premium keyboard and exploring exactly what it brings to the table. At only $15 more for the hot-swappable version, it’s a good value but drops an important feature for users on the go. Let’s see if it’s worth adding to your wish list. 

Specifications

  • Current Price: 
    • White Backlight: $109 (Keychron
    • Per-key RGB Backlight: $119 (Keychron
    • Per-key RGB Backlight (Hot-Swappable): $129 (Keychron

If you haven’t read our review of the Keychron K3 Pro, we highly recommend you do so for a fuller picture of what the S1 offers. The keyboards are very similar and this article will focus more on what sets the S1 apart.

Keychron S1 - What Is It?

The Keychron S1 is an enthusiast-orientated low-profile keyboard. Like the K3 Pro (and the standard K1 - K7 low-profile keyboards), it uses a 75% layout that keeps the function row, arrow keys, and a selection of navigation and editing buttons. This layout makes for a great middle ground between productivity and gaming, saving space on your desk, and also makes it easier to slip into a bag and travel with. It features native Windows and Mac support, and can swap between both OS layouts on the fly using a selector switch on the back of the keyboard. 

Functionally, the S1 and K3 Pro are nearly identical. They both feature hot-swappable Gateron mechanical key switches and RGB backlighting. They both feature doubleshot PBT keycaps. QMK and VIA programming is a key feature of each. 

The biggest differentiator is that the S1 trades Bluetooth connectivity for a heavy CNC-milled aluminum case. The K3 Pro, then, is for the portable user who may need to take their keyboard on the go and connect to multiple devices. The S1 is for the keyboard enthusiast that enjoys low-profile typing but probably won’t be moving their keys between desks.

It may seem like a small difference between the two, but it turns out to be an important one. Before settling on either, you’ll need to consider which use case suits you best, because there’s a clear distinction between which board works best for whom. 

Keychron S1 - Impressions and Performance

The heavy aluminum case on the S1 sets it apart from any other low-profile mechanical keyboard I’ve tried. At 960 grams (2.2 pounds), it’s surprisingly hefty the first time you take it out. And in the world of mechanical keyboards, heft goes hand in hand with perceived quality. Even compared to my Nuphy Air75, the S1 feels noticeably more premium in the hand. 

The case also changes the typing experience to a small degree. While the feel will be dictated on which choice of Gateron Low Profile switches you choose (available in linear red, tactile brown, or clicky blue), the case lends bottom outs a deeper, more solid sound. The rigid metal is also more resilient if you’d like to add anything extra in the case, like a tape mod to increase its poppiness. The K3 Pro bulged with a bit of tape added but the S1 handles it well and sounds better with that small touch of modding. 

The case is a double-edged sword, however. It certainly makes the keyboard sound and feel more premium in the hand, but it’s not good for wireless signals or for carrying in a bag. Bluetooth signals are notoriously weakened when used inside metal cases, and Keychron has opted to remove the feature entirely here. That makes it less useful for taking on the go unless you also want to carry and drape a USB cable on every desk you use. Likewise, the extra weight in a bag is noticeable. Paired with a full-size laptop, and you’re apt to have a sore back at the end of the day.

So the S1 is a better fit for low profile fans who want the best typing experience possible. And to that end, I think it actually works quite well. The case makes it an effective low profile counterpart to the company’s hit Q-series mechanical keyboards (which also lack Bluetooth). It also has the best keycaps of any keyboard of its type. The Nuphy Air75 comes close, but those are dye-sublimated while these are doubleshot, so more robust and will be impossible to chip or fade. 

The S1 also wins out with its support for QMK and VIA. The K3 Pro had this as well, so it has parity there, but VIA’s powerful open-source programming is an absolute asset the non-Keychron competition currently can’t match. Rather than rely on software, VIA allows you to quickly remap keys, store macros, and program advanced features like mouse control or dual function keys on the firmware level. It’s easy enough for a novice to grasp and once those changes are set, they’ll work on any computer regardless of operating system or IT policy. 

Final Thoughts

So while the S1 and K3 Pro are very similar, they preset a clear choice for two different types of users. Both keyboards are great, but if you’re looking for a keyboard to take on the go, the K3 Pro is the best choice. For at home typists and gamers, the S1 is the superior choice and won’t cost you a major premium to make the upgrade.   

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

8.5Great
Pros
  • Excellent typing experience
  • Doubleshot PBT keycaps and an aluminum case
  • Gateron low profile switches are smooth and pleasant to use
  • Windows and Mac support (with a physical switch)
  • QMK/VIA programmability
Cons
  • No wireless connectivity
  • Heavy case isn't especially portable


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