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Cyberboard R3: Building the retrofuturist, cyberpunk keyboard of my dreams

Although I’ve reviewed plenty of the best gaming keyboards in my time, there’s one thing I haven’t done: Build one.

If you, like me, are new to the burgeoning hobby, you might be wondering where to start. I decided to start my journey big — with the Angry Miao Cyberboard R3. With its retrofuturist LED Matrix and Wes Anderson-inspired color offerings, calling it unique is an understatement.

It ships in a fairly bare-bones form, without switches, stabilizers, or even keycaps. And still, the Cloud White’ variant shipped to me has a sticker price of $620. Yikes.

Like many DIY projects, it was time-consuming and expensive — but in the end, it was an incredibly rewarding experience.

Journey starts with decision paralysis

A dramatic photo of the Cyberboard R3

With the Cloud White Cyberboard R3 delivered, I immediately fell into a massive hole of decision paralysis. The color I didn’t have a choice on, so that was the easy part. But I hadn’t actually banked on it being a bare-bones plank.

At first I thought, “Oh, I’ll figure that out.” But that’s when I truly learned just how deep the custom mechanical keyboard world goes. Without even realizing it, I had taken the red pill.

Most of us are only familiar with common brand names like Cherry, Kailh, and Romer-G switches, all of which are used on a variety of relatively mainstream mechanical keyboards, but I suddenly could pick from names like Gateron, Halo, Topre, Boba, Outemu … and I couldn’t make up my mind.

I gathered that the Boba U4T switches would fit my taste for strong tactile switches quite well, but they were difficult to obtain where I’m based, and with the review embargo fast approaching, I couldn’t risk the slow shipping options offered by international sellers.

A messy shot with the parts to be installed onto the Cyberboard R3
Niels Broekhuijsen, Digital Trends

There was no going back, but I picked the blue pill anyway. After all, Angry Miao just released the oh-so-tactile Cyberswitches, Cyberstabs, and O21C keycaps I spotted in product shots that fit just the look I wanted to go for: As retro as it gets.

This keyboard has a 5-pixel-tall LED array, weighs as much as a typewriter, and the cloud white wasn’t cloud white at all. It was cream white, but I actually quite prefer it over flash white. But the beige O21C keycaps matched the not-Cloud White finish, and with a tint of gray and a few orange accents, I was in love.

Is this what I was afraid of?

The Cyberboard R3 has a gasket mount with lots of foam

Then came build time. I’d been putting it off for a while as my mind was busy with other things, but someone close to me told me to build the Cyberboard – it’d be a good distraction.

And, oh, it was. I flipped on the studio lights, cleared my workspace, and got to work. It started with disassembly of the keyboard. I gently placed on my trusty detailing cloth to keep from scuffing it, and tore its belly open. One spaying later, I was greeted with the layers of foam, PCB, more foam, and finally, the top plate.

I had read that a big thing is to lubricate the stabilizers and switches. Having decided that I didn’t have the time to do the switches, nor find the correct type of grease, I did at least lubricate the stabilizers with Volkswagen G 052 150 A2 Lithium grease. I had a tube of this around, and it was going to have to do. Don’t judge me.

I clicked the stabilizers into place and reversed the process. The keyboard turned itself on when I installed the battery-containing backplate, so I fumbled to turn the power off.

Then, it was simply a matter of pressing all the switches into place, ensuring none of them had bent pins, and chuck the keycaps on. With that, the build was complete.

The Cyberboard build is nearing completion
Niels Broekhuijsen, Digital Trends

This all took me a grand total of …  about an hour, maybe 90 minutes — and that’s including taking photos along the way. I suddenly understood why people tear apart the switches and manually lubricate them before installation — it’s meditative.

I know, I didn’t do that step, but I sure wish I didn’t have a million other things to worry about and a deadline – all I wanted to do was grab the switch puller and forget all about life’s problems for a few more hours.

Let’s talk about the Cyberboard R3 itself

So far, I haven’t really said much about the keyboard itself, have I? Now that it’s built, lets dive in a little. As said, this is the third revision of the board, though that doesn’t really matter.

Angry Miao says that the new design is based on a gasket mount instead of a top mount, the lighting matrix is brighter and has a higher refresh rate, Bluetooth switching is improved, and the PCB has a dual layout with both ISO and ANSI — but the base design is the same. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.

A pretty shot of the Cyberboard R3, fully built

The construction quality is about as solid as it gets. It comes shipped in a fancy, but appalling-smelling carrying case (you know, the smell of a fresh mousemat when you first unroll it), and has a perfect paint finish. And did I say that this keyboard is heavy? With all parts installed, it weighs in at well over 6 pounds — my laptop weighs less than half as much.

Typing on the Cyberboard is an experience unlike any other I’ve experienced. The Cyberswitches offer excellent tactile feedback, stronger than any tactile keyboard I’ve typed on. Landing on the hefty Cyberboard, each switch feels like the response you get is only within that switch — there is no rattle or motion that reverberates into the rest of the keyboard.

My daily go-to Logitech G915 TKL, for which I painstakingly paid $267, feels like a cheap toy in comparison — but it is much more practical. Let’s get into that.

Not everything is perfect

The lighting array on the Cyberboard R3 does look stunning

If it’s not clear yet, the Cyberboard R3’s hardware is absolutely sublime – I’ve personally never experienced anything like it. Let’s just say that I finally truly understand why the custom mechanical keyboard market is exploding: The end result is simply better when you do it yourself. A whole lot better.

But there’s one quality where the Cyberboard R3 is a letdown: The firmware and software. The standard lighting effects can be described as limited at best, and when switching lighting modes for the LED array, the main typing area seems to forget what mode it was on.

But only sometimes. That’s not even the biggest issue, though — the bigger problem is that the in-switch lighting cannot be customized in anyway. That’s OK — it looks best switched off anyway with the retro look I went for.

An overview photo of the Cyberboard R3
Niels Broekhuijsen, Digital Trends

Then there is the tortuous labyrinth you have to go through to customize the lighting on the LED array. To adjust the LED array to your liking, you have to use Angry Miao’s website to create (with extreme patience) or download effects, and install them through the effect-loading software, the installer of which is fully in Chinese and has Windows asking if you’re sure you trust it. Thankfully, it does have an English option once installed.

The clock also doesn’t display the correct time, nor can I get it to, and somehow, the battery indicator mode isn’t centered. What’s up with that?

Not for everyone, but it isn’t meant to be

To say that the Cyberboard is a product I recommend is difficult. That’s mostly because I feel it isn’t really meant as a daily-use keyboard. Yes, you can opt to use it as such and, yes, it would be comfortable, but it’s priced far out of the mass market. This white variant has a sticker price of $620, and you’ll still need to add switches, keycaps, and stabilizers, which can easily drive the cost up by another $150 to $200.

So, if you do get one, you’ll want to conserve it. At least, I know I would. It’s a functional showpiece – a collector’s item. You wouldn’t daily drive a Ferrari, either. If you want a recommendation for a daily custom board, look at something like the Keychron Q1.

But it’s not like any of it matters. The R3 was sold out within hours of launching, so even if you wanted to, you couldn’t buy it anyway. At least until the next round of pre-orders. I do understand why: It truly is a wonderful piece of typing equipment.

Editors' Recommendations

Niels Broekhuijsen
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Having failed to grow up, Niels never quit his gaming hobby and decided to turn it into his work as a freelance technology…
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