The Keychron K3 Low Profile Wireless Mechanical Keyboard Reviewby E. Fylladitakis on July 13, 2021 9:00 AM EST
Mechanical keyboards have been a focus of the peripherals market for nearly a decade. Offering better feel and promoting a better experience over regular membrane keyboards, the mechanical keyboard market has a wide depth of enthusiasts willing to spend sometimes hundreds of dollars on a unique design. As a result, dozens of companies now compete with hundreds of products and, with the lack of any significant innovation, led to an overly saturated market, making it very difficult for any designer to differentiate from the competition.
The Keychron K3: Something Different
In today’s review, however, we do have something that truly stands out amongst mechanical keyboards – the Keychron K3, a design that goes against most mechanical keyboard design norms. As a mechanical keyboard designed for mobility, it features a 75% layout, low-profile switches, and wireless connectivity, all in one. Its current listed price on Keychron's website is $84 with brown switches, which is what we are testing today.
Founded back in 2017, Keychron is a very new company in the PC peripherals market. Still, its products have become rather popular in this short period of time on a global scale for keyboard enthusiasts. The company’s headquarters are in Hong Kong and it also holds an office in France. This is our first review of its products, so we have the chance to check out firsthand what makes its products so popular.
Packaging and Bundle
The packaging of the Keychron K3 is aesthetically simple but functional. It is but a black box with the keyboard’s schematic very lightly etched on its top side, yet it has very thick walls and substantial inner padding considering the low weight of the keyboard, eliminating the chance of shipping damage.
Inside the box, we find a wire keycap puller, a switch puller, the removable USB to USB-C cable, and a few extra keycaps to switch between Win and Mac layouts. Keychron also includes a quick start guide and a datasheet. Finally, Keychron also provides a thin plastic top cover for the keyboard.
The Keychron K3 Low Profile Wireless Mechanical Keyboard
The top surface of the Keychron K3 is aluminum and responsible for the high mechanical strength of the keyboard in conjunction with its relatively low weight. From a purely practical point of view, the keyboard is extremely easy to clean, as a simple blow can remove most debris from the flat surface of the keyboard. The cable of the keyboard is detachable, which does create the risk of damage at the connector but it also is very convenient for frequent transportation.
The Keychron K3 features a 75% layout with 84 keys, extremely similar to that frequently used on 13.3-15.6” laptops. The bottom row of the keyboard has a 6.0× Space Bar, three 1.5× keys on the left side of the Space Bar, and three 1× keys to the right side of the Space Bar followed by full-size arrow keys.
The strange layout might make it difficult for someone to find replacement keycaps, as those designed for standard ANSI/ISO layouts will not fit. The keycaps are made from ABS plastic and have medium-sized, sharp characters printed on them. Both the main and the secondary character is printed at the top of the keycap, so as to be equally illuminated by the LED of each switch. Keychron includes a standard grey ESC keycap for those who dislike the orange hint, as well as keycaps to switch between a Mac OS layout and a Windows layout.
The bottom of the keyboard is almost entirely plain, with only four rubber feet attached to it. The rear feet are a bit taller, offering a slight tilt. This approach was not really convenient and Keychron realized that almost immediately, with the new keyboards that ship out now having two-level adjustable feet.
At the rear of the keyboard, we find two switches. One switch manipulates the keyboard’s output to match that of a Windows/Android layout or that of a Mac OS/iOS layout. The second switch can be used to switch between wired and wireless operation or to turn off the keyboard completely. Wireless operation is entirely based on Bluetooth, with the keyboard capable of pairing with virtually any Bluetooth-capable device, including smartphones and tablets.
The backlighting is very well applied, with brilliantly sharp characters and minimal bleeding around the keycaps. Only on keys with long etched labels, such as the Caps Lock or the Command keys, the backlight does not light up the whole label evenly. That is due to the very low profile design of the keyboard, as the keycaps are very short and the LED very close to the label.
For transportation, the Keychron K3 is lightweight and feels robust. However, the floating keycap design is not ideal for taking bumps - especially lateral bumps to the sides. If there is a nice and soft bag compartment in your laptop’s/tablet’s bag for it, it will be fine, otherwise you might be searching for its keycaps every time it gets in and out of a bag. Keychron also offers a faux leather, envelope-like case, which is beautiful and protects the keyboard, but purchasing that would drain an additional $25 from your bank account.
Keychron offers the K3 with either its own low-profile switches, or Gateron switches, in either Red, Blue, or Brown types. Our review sample has the brown version of Keychron's own switches - the Keychron variants are slightly shorter than the Gaterons, reducing the overall height by 1 mm and the travel by 0.25 mm. Their stems copy the classic Cherry MX cross style, making the keyboard compatible with any keycaps designed for Cherry MX switch stems, even full-height keycaps. A mix between low-profile and full-height keycaps seems silly but may form an interesting gaming layout. Another interesting feature of these switches is that they can be hot-swapped and mixed, with Keychron offering each pack of 84 switches for just $19. Note that you cannot hot-swap between Gateron and Keychron switches – only the Keychron-based version of the keyboard allows for the hot-swapping of switches.
Removing the plastic bottom cover reveals the keyboard’s PCB, which is secured to the top part of the keyboard. A very thin battery is attached to the plastic bottom cover, with its size hinting that the battery life of the keyboard with its LEDs powered on will be rather short. It is a common 1400 mAh battery, a replacement for which will not be hard to find if that time ever comes. A tiny blue PCB soldered onto the mainboard hosts the CYW20730 BlueTooth transceiver chip. The heart of the keyboard is a Hua Fenda Technology HFD64KG800 MCU, which also handles the RGB lighting features. We could find no information online regarding this chip but the Keychron K3 has very few advanced features and, therefore, we are not concerned about its processing power (or lack thereof).
Read on for our testing and thoughts about using the K3.
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brockhold - Tuesday, July 13, 2021 - linkBased on the photos of the controller, I believe this is nearly the same internally as the Royal Kludge branded combo USB+Bluetooth keyboards. Looks nice.
kkilobyte - Wednesday, July 14, 2021 - linkWake me up when they offer something else than the US-ANSI layout.
Tyler_Durden_83 - Wednesday, July 14, 2021 - linkWhen they do, wake me up too :-)
Lord of the Bored - Wednesday, July 14, 2021 - linkI mean, THIS isn't an ANSI layout.
It isn't a GOOD layout, but it isn't ANSI.
kkilobyte - Wednesday, July 14, 2021 - linkThat's actually how Keychron itself describes the layout on its own website (on the K3 firmware upgrade page).
This is clearly a design that takes the main characteristics of the US-ANSI standard: large left shift key (ISO has two keys there), "Alt" key on the right of the spacebar (instead of Alt Gr.), "small horizontal" Enter key. Even though *strictly speaking*, the position of the cursor keys don't make it an exact ANSI layout.
But that was not my main point. What was is that the only available language layout is English/US, so that's actually useless in many countries.
Moreover, many non-US layouts are based on ISO, not ANSI, so it is not possible to simply replace the keycaps to adapt to a non-US language.
C@mM! - Wednesday, July 14, 2021 - linkBeen using one as my work keyboard for a few months, its pretty good. Only issue I have is the USB light shines thru the keycap above it.
Hoping for a 96% layout in the low profile, that'd be perfect for me personally for home usage where I play a few games that require a keypad but I hate full size keyboards for ergonomic reasons.
zepi - Wednesday, July 14, 2021 - linkI wish they did ISO-layout as well.
isthisavailable - Wednesday, July 14, 2021 - linkDoes this support n key rollover?
Frazombie - Thursday, July 15, 2021 - linkUseful timing of the article, I've been keeping my eye on Keychron for a while. Like some of the above comments, the key thing stopping me hitting buy is the lack of ISO/UK layouts, particularly on their low profile options like the K3 (which would be my first pick) - please pay attention Keychron! ;)
One other thing this article raises - you mention 'advanced' and gaming features... I'd like an article exploring that! Just how genuinely useful/impactful are some of those features? Or are they just marketing hype? Anti Ghosting, NKRO, Macros, etc - Are they more marketing than anything else? Does a genuinely well engineered keyboard mitigate much of the value of those features? (vs a basic membrane) Can any be done in software? (e.g. macros) Will a wired low profile/fast actuation keyboard have lower latency than a wireless keyboard despite its 'advanced' features? ... This is an article I would love to see written, and to show empirical test data to prove the points, from a reputable source like Anandtech. ;)
Hresna - Saturday, July 17, 2021 - linkI switched from a colicky DAS Keyboard to a browns K2 a few months ago and have been very pleased. I miss the tenkeys at times as I use software that has them mapped uniquely but I can get around that with a tenkey pad and/or my stream deck mini. My main gripe is I got the rgb version hoping I could customize the colour layout but you can’t at all. You can cycle through about 20 presents and that’s about it most are flashy, and there doesn’t seem to be a brightness setting.