Finding a good mechanical keyboard can be a complicated affair. The search is made worse if you are a Mac user and want one that plays nice with your device, as the mech market is heavily tilted toward Windows users. The Keychron K8, however, might be just what you are looking for.
That is because it is a rare breed: A mechanical keyboard that comes with a Mac layout. By default, all the keycaps are ready-made for Mac use (there are Windows keycaps in the box if you want to switch). There are even dedicated Siri/Cortana and screenshot buttons (great on a Mac). Throw in a very reasonable starting price of $69 (most quality mechanical keyboards are $100-plus) and we are off to a good start.
Better yet, you can connect to three devices at once and change between them at the flick of a switch thanks to its cable and Bluetooth 5.1 combo. For someone like me who frequently flips between a Mac and a Windows PC, that is an absolute godsend. Before I got the K8, I was getting by with two full-sized mechanical keyboards on my desk, each connected to a different computer. Leaning over from one to the other was a pain — literally and figuratively. Now, all I need to do is push a switch on the K8 and a second later I am typing on my second device.
There is also a control for changing from the Mac to the Windows keyboard layout and vice versa. The two operating systems place their modifier keys (think Alt or Command) in different places, so this switch is perfect for avoiding unexpected keypresses.
A joy to type on
The K8 is configured in a “ten-key-free” layout (I have the U.K. version), which means the numpad of a full-sized keyboard has been lopped off (most laptops are ten-keyless). That makes it much more compact than its larger brethren and ideal for travel and cluttered desks. This is something I was reluctant about before getting the K8, until I realized the only reason I wanted a numpad was to use the large Enter key at the end, and then only infrequently. Once I got over myself, I grasped that the ten-keyless option is much more practical.
Keychron offers even more compact alternatives like the K6, but these squash the arrow keys close to the main bulk of the board. The result is they can be harder to find by touch, making it a less practical option for apps and games that use the arrow keys. The K8, on the other hand, does not suffer from this inconvenience.
The K8 comes with three different switch options: Gateron red, blue, or brown. These determine how the keys feel when you press them — whether they feel smooth or clicky, for instance. Gaterons are essentially clones of the popular Cherry MX switches but come in cheaper, and their inclusion helps keep the K8’s price reasonable. If you change your mind about the switch you want, there is a hot-swappable version of the K8, which lets you substitute in different key switches should you desire.
My K8 has Gateron blue switches, which are analogous to Cherry MX blues. These are tactile, meaning you can feel a small bump as you press down on the key, and produce an audible click in use. That bump is great for writers, programmers, and anyone else who spends hours every day typing, as it gives feedback to help you avoid thumping your fingers on the keys too hard and making them “bottom out.”
Gateron reds are smooth and good for gaming, while browns have the tactile bump but are quieter than blues.
The result is that this keyboard is a joy to type on. When you are writing for a living, the last thing you want is tired, fatigued fingers after a day’s work.
After a month’s use, I have not even come close to that with the K8. In my pre-Keychron makeshift solution, the secondary keyboard I was using had red switches, which lack the tactile bump of blues. The difference is like night and day in terms of fatigue.
Note that the keys are not low-profile but are the usual chunky fare you get with a mechanical keyboard. Remember how I said finding a good mech for Mac is tough? Well, try finding a Mac-focused mechanical keyboard with low-profile keys like you get on a MacBook or the iMac’s Magic Keyboard.
You basically have the Keychron K1 and the Vinpok Taptek … and that is about it. If you are desperate for a low-profile keyboard with a Mac layout, one of these is your best bet.
Battery life and extras
Another reason why the K8 is such a comfortable keyboard to type on is its adjustable stand. You can have it lying flat on your desk or propped up using one of two different stand heights, making it easy to customize to your needs.
What it lacks, though, is a wrist rest. I cannot say this has been a huge problem so far, but it would certainly be a great addition and is something to be aware of if you are thinking of buying the keyboard.
Presumably, its exclusion was one way Keychron managed to keep the cost down, another being the lack of a cable adapter. The bundled cable only fits USB-A computers, so you will need a dongle if you want to use it wired with a MacBook or USB-C Windows PC (wireless is obviously not a problem).
If you want backlighting, you get it on every version of the K8. There is a model with plain white backlighting and one with the full RGB smorgasbord for an extra $10 (although it currently lacks software customization). Regardless of which you opt for, there is a dedicated backlighting button, which on the RGB version cycles through different lighting effects.
The downside to backlighting is battery drain.
The downside to backlighting is battery drain — a key concern for wireless keyboards. Keychron says you will get around 240 hours from the K8’s 4000mAh battery if you turn the lighting off. Using a single LED color plummets the battery life to 68 hours, while using RGB drops you 72 hours. That is a drastic decline.
Yet in practice, it is not at all bad, provided you use the K8 over its cable every now and then. I have mine connected to my main computer using its cable, while my secondary device connects over Bluetooth. That way I do not excessively drain the battery, and frequently top it up over the cable. The result is that in over a month of all-day usage, I have never come close to running out of juice.
That is just one reason why the Keychron K8 excels and is a great keyboard option. Sure, it would be nice to have a wrist rest, but there is precious little else to complain about. It is one of the few mechanical keyboards out there designed for Mac users, yet it also plays nice with Windows and whatever other device you want to connect. The switches are top-notch, using it is comfortable, and it has a fantastic price. That makes it an offering that is hard to beat.
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