Keychron Q2 mechanical keyboard review: Making the Switch
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If you’re looking for the right way to dive head-first down a mechanical keyboard rabbit hole, the Keychron Q2 is a fantastic introduction. This luxurious Windows- and Mac-friendly peripheral might well be the perfect first step into the hobby.
With a hot-swappable 65-percent design, the fully customizable Q2 is a slightly trimmed-down version of its predecessor, the Keychron Q1. The Q2 is highly versatile and easy to use, so even new enthusiasts can quickly learn how to tweak it for whatever use they want to give it.
Mechanical keyboards and kits, particularly those made for enthusiasts, tend to be more meticulously made than those coming from major manufacturers. At $170, or $150 for a barebone kit without switches and keycaps, the Q2 is built (and priced) to be appreciated. If you come from years of hitting the built-in keys of your laptop, or typing on a $20 peripheral that came with a mouse and a webcam, the Q2 is definitely an upgrade.
Sandra Gutierrez G.
Keychron Q2: Design and features
At approximately 13-inches long and 4.7-inches wide, the 65-key Keychron Q2 keyboard is compact and has the basics for a good typing experience. The layout doesn’t include a number pad or the classic function key row at the top, which may be a deal-breaker if you use those extra keys to model large volumes of data or navigate convoluted spreadsheets. However, the Q2 does have two small function keys to the right of the space bar, which you’ll be able to use to unlock multiple macros possibilities. If you use your keyboard mostly for writing, you’ll be pleased to find the always useful Delete and Home keys which definitely help you move through a document more easily.
Weighing in at 3 pounds and 6 ounces in its barebone state, the Q2 is not exactly an accessory you want to carry in your backpack to work on the go. Some might expect wireless functionality, but wireless mechanical keyboards are still relatively uncommon, especially among hobby-grade mechanical models. Having a cord is definitely not a deal-breaker.
The Q2 comes in three color schemes: Carbon Black, which features a black body and a set of purple, black, and red keycaps; Silver Grey, featuring a silver body and keycaps in two tones of grey, plus yellow caps for the Enter and Escape keys; and Navy Blue, the most colorful of the bunch, featuring a bright blue body with keycaps in dark and bright blue, plus cyan.
As for the keyboard itself, you can get it in one of six versions: Fully assembled ($169.99), a barebone base without keycaps or switches, and a barebone base for ISO keyboard layouts. With each version, you can choose between adding a programmable knob in the top-right corner, or an extra “Insert” key. The knob is a great addition, whether you use it to control your volume or configure it to control another sliding setting, such as zooming in and out or changing your monitor’s brightness.
As with all Keychron boards, the Q2 is fully compatible with both Windows and Mac. The keyboard features a small toggle on the back so you can easily switch back and forth between operating systems. It also includes keycaps for each layout, which you can easily swap depending on which system you use the most.
OK, but does it sound good?
If you’re new to the world of mechanical keyboards, there’s one thing you need to know: Functionality is only part of the appeal of a peripheral. The rest is sound.
The Keychron Q2’s steel plate and printed circuit board, or PCB, are separated by a sound-absorbing layer of foam, and its aluminum body has a double-gasket design with silicone pads. Both of these features aim to minimize as much as possible any unwanted noise, so most of what you hear while typing actually comes from the switches and keycaps. After over a month of heavy typing on the Q2, I can say these features drown out a lot of what would otherwise definitely muck up a clean typing sound. It’s definitely a step up for Keychron.
The fully assembled version of the Q2 comes geared up with Gateron G Pro switches in one of three flavors: red (linear), blue (clicky), and brown (tactile). Just like classic Cherry Reds, Gateron’s red switches are linear, which means they have a very light touch and provide very little tactile feedback. They’re a little bit too sensitive for my taste, though maybe perfect for gamers who look for a quick response peripheral that can keep up with a fast-paced game. After only a day with the red switches, I quickly swapped them out for the “clicky” blues. The force required to actuate these switches was spot on for a heavy typist like myself, but their signature clacking was too loud. It doesn’t help that the Q2’s pre-lubed stabilizers (also compatible with Cherry or Durock parts) give the larger keys a dry clack sound. I finally settled for a set of Gateron G Pro tactile brown switches, which need slightly weaker force to actuate them but are pre-lubed, so they feature a more well-rounded sound and a lot less clicking-and-clacking.
Ultimately, switches are very much a personal choice and respond to the type of user you are and what you use your keyboard for the most. Being a hot-swappable keyboard, the Q2 will allow users to try out a number of switches with either three or five pins, without any soldering, making it perfect for beginners and picky typists.
With the fully assembled version of the Q2, you’ll also get PBT keycaps with an OSA profile, which, according to Keychron, is a variation of the OEM profile, featuring a similar height and an SA-like shape. The keycaps are definitely an improvement from the more old-school-looking caps on the Q1, where you could clearly notice the shine and the corroding effect of skin oil after a few weeks of use. These keycaps are also easily swappable and the Q2’s body has enough space to fit a wide range of keycaps in the market. And if you’re thinking about investing in keyboard building accessories, worry not—included in the Q2’s packaging you’ll find basic tools including a keycap puller, a switch puller, a hex key, and a screwdriver.
Easy customization with VIA and QMK
What Keychron has gained in terms of size going from the Q1’s 75-percent layout to the Q2’s 65-percent, they have not lost in functionality. If you’re an Excel power user, for example, you’ll definitely miss the F keys row at the top of the keyboard at first but that doesn’t mean you should rule out the Q2.
Using VIA or QMK, a pair of open-source configuration apps, you can remap every key on the keyboard, as well as program two extra layers of shortcuts per operating system (four in total). You can easily navigate using the Fn keys to the right of the spacebar. That’s plenty of room to create combos for every key you’d normally have on a larger keyboard, with plenty of room left over to play with. The layers also work independently of each other, so if you constantly connect the Q2 to a Mac and a PC, you’ll be able to customize the keyboard with specific shortcuts and macros for each operating system.
If your day-to-day computing requires hitting those F keys often, downsizing to a 65-percent layout may take some getting used to. Still, after a week of typing with the Q2, I found it easy to access my personalized macros and all those physically absent keys. That said, it isn’t without hurdles; VIA still doesn’t recognize the Q2 automatically, so you’ll need to download a keymap from the Keychron website and manually load it onto VIA. It’s a bit of a drag if you’re constantly tinkering with your profile. Your keyboard will save changes but you’ll need to keep that JSON file on your computer to make further edits.
Technically, that process is more complicated than the proprietary configuration app offered by major manufacturers like Logitech and Razer, which you can download and use to make changes and save multiple profiles without manually handling files. Still, the app’s not hard to learn and Keychron has a lot of educational content on its website to help even the greenest users find their way around and customize RBG patterns and shortcuts.
No Bluetooth support—the biggest drawback
Overall, people seem to agree that having Bluetooth support just makes a gadget better, but that is not necessarily the case. When it comes to mechanical keyboards, Bluetooth is not a common feature, so it’s not even surprising the Q2 doesn’t have it.
The keyboard comes with a USB-C cable (and a USB-A adapter should you need it), which won’t help if you have a ton of accessories to plug into your computer and still haven’t gotten a hub. The length of the cable allows for a certain level of mobility (how much will only depend on your setup) but at 3.6 pounds, the Q2 is not a peripheral that allows users to change positions a lot. Even if it had Bluetooth support, balancing this keyboard on your lap, for example, is a workout on its own, so maybe you’re not missing out on a lot by being tethered to your machine.
So, who should buy the Keychron Q2?
The Keychron Q2 keyboard is a comfortable, durable mechanical keyboard that allows for great customization. If you’re already into building keyboards as a hobby, the barebones version offers a shortcut to a sturdy and durable body, with great compatibility between operating systems. If you’re a beginner, the Keychron Q2 is a great example of what a powerful, fully customizable keyboard can do, and how much it can enhance your experience and interaction with your gadgets.
According to experts, a high-quality mechanical keyboard should cost somewhere between $150 and $200, which doesn’t account for all the hours of research you have to put in to get the right parts. But if you want to skip the hours spent on online message boards trying to decipher mechanical keyboard lingo, you can probably spend $150 on the Q2. It sure can be a great entry point to the hobby and that delicious first taste of a superior typing experience that you’ll never be able to come back from.