Review: Keychron C1
First, a little about the scene. Considering how niche it is to care deeply and with great discernment about a computer peripheral, I found the nice keyboards online community pretty welcoming. The forum I engaged them in was YouTube, and while there's no shortage of "this keyboard costs $1000" videos, there are also a lot of "this one's honestly pretty good ($60)". And unique among communities like this, people are pretty quick to remind you that their preference for one thing and not the other is a preference and not a self-evident truth that others are denying for sinister and machiavellian reasons. There are a few professional reviewers in the mix but they seem bribe-resistant, and the central premise to all the vids is "here's my rig / check out these mods I did", which is a format I enjoy for basically any field of activity.
The scene has a consumer therapy / unboxing aspect, which is probably present in any "[item] fan" group-- there's a lot of nice keyboards coming out and some of the people on here just keep buying them. But maybe this catch-em-all impulse only applies to the people that make the videos, maybe the lurks like me just have one or two. Then there's a surprising crafts aspect, which is mostly about how to lube the key switches so they feel better and sound better and what lube to buy and how much lube to use and which lube is better for which part of the keyboard, and it's all people who clearly needed to force themselves to get over saying "lube" on camera though some still seem to blush a little, which is cute. But the most striking thing about looking at keyboards online is the ASMR aspect-- many of the video reviews end with a minute or two of just typing sounds, with soft lighting and no dialogue or music. It's hypnotic. Among enthusiasts, the feel of the keys and the sound of the keys are about even in terms of valued traits, and although everyone seems to be looking for a slightly different sound, everyone swirls around a benchmark, which is "thocc", wanting "more thocc" or "a little less thocc". Thocc is a deeper and slightly muffled "click" where the sound has a softer attack. It's deep, sonorous, and desireable, by association with "thicc" (referring to a person of robust carriage). There are a lot of factors that affect the sound, and lots of modifications the hobbyist can make to improve the sound. Furthermore it's understood that the sound can be achieved only through modifications that only the user can make.
This combination of how-to and ASMR puts these videos in an interesting space. Unlike other ASMR videos, where an elf whispers nonsense towards you or an acrylic nail taps on a 5lb bar of frozen chocolate, the end goal with the keyboard vids is that you could achieve your individual sound-- the vids are a catalog of possibility, not a performance. And the strong how-to aspect somewhat tempers the consumerism-- it's understood that if you care about stuff like this, you're going to lube the switches yourself, so it's more of a brag to say "I got this $40 keyboard to look like Bauhaus and sound absolutely buttery" than "I spend money on things".
OK so that's the scene, that's the field I was traversing. As for the actual keyboard I got, the one I got was the Keychron C1, which is, and I hope this is obvious, "honestly pretty good ($60)".
I ordered it from the factory and it shipped out immediately. They were sold out of the one with the rainbow LEDs under the keys, which would've been a fun add-on but probably is something I wouldn't really use that often and besides that it was $20 more. I also didn't get the one with Bluetooth connectivity, because I like connecting things with cords, and Bluetooth is just one more thing that could break. Getting frills you won't use is a risk you don't need. The cord is a cloth-wrapped USB-C ⟶ USB-C, and comes with a little USB-C ⟶ USB-A adapter. That seems like a mistake-- why ship a cord and an adapter when you could just ship the proper cord? But then I realized that without the adapter I can use the cord to plug the keyboard into my phone and use that (with the phone in airplane mode) as a low-distraction typing environment, akin to Bela's Neo 2 [file photo] or Shea'la's Pomera [artist's reconstruction]. It works pretty good like this, although to be honest the set-up is way too goofy (and the keyboard far too loud) for me to consider bringing this arrangement to a coffee shop.
The keycaps are replaceable, and of course I already started looking into designing a kustom set (which seems pretty easy to accomplish), but I like the ones that are on there now. The look and feel is like, Health Goth? Is that a valid signifier anymore? They're black and slightly off-white with one carrot-orange accent, and every touchable surface is technical plastic in matte finish. Every instance of friction, weight, or force required seems calculated; the whole thing feels purposeful, borderline villianous. I'm here on purpose and I have selected each component to my own specifications. That's nice.
Regarding my original reason for wanting a new keyboard (to get one that's cleanable), yes, I can easily pry off all the keycaps on this and shake the chips out, I can do this at any time. I can even take the keycaps off and soak them in Dr Bronners if I want to really get back to factory clean. And if one of the letters stops working or something I can just replace that one underlying switch (about 40 cents each) instead of replacing the entire keyboard. I already field-stripped the whole thing into its component parts (keycaps, switches, case, circuit board) and put it back together, so I feel confident that I can fix whatever might eventually break. It's great.
For the internal switches I selected the "reds", which are linear switches. That means you press them and they go all the way to the bottom smoothly, with no click or change in resistance. The actual keypress event (where the computer registers that a key has been pressed) happens well before the key hits the bottom, so you can just dance about the keys rather than like, stomping around all the time. The other kinds of switches on option are tactile (brown), which gives you a little "bump" feeling at the keypress event, and clicky (blue), which has the bump and an audible click sound. A few people prefer the clicky switches, but everyone else sorts themselves into Tactile Gang and Linear Gang. Never thought I'd be in anything called Linear Gang but here I am I guess.
The sound has a great thocc although there's some very slight ping/reverb coming from all the springs, leaving a faint ringing if I really slap the spacebar. I probably wouldn't care about this if I didn't watch the videos about it, but that's the price you pay when you Deep Listen. Honestly might open it up and lube the springs but I'm giving myself two weeks of using it as is before I start modding.
The price, as I said, was $60, which is much more than the $10 one could easily spend on a keyboard that's totally regular and basically fine. But if this makes typing the slightest bit more enjoyable, for essentially a lifetime of use, isn't that worth it? This style of keyboard is ostensibly better than the cheapo regular kind because it's less impactful on the fingers, easing hand and wrist strain. Surely that's important, even if I'm not currently cognizant of any change in that regard. As far as productivity, that isn't the best lens to view this through but I tested my typing speed on the old keyboard and this one, and I got a noticeable bump, 11% faster. If I were to monetize the lifetime gains of an 11% increase in typing speed, I'm sure I would put it at at least $60, so I at least break even here on productivity alone. But like I said that's no way to go through life, by the numbers. It's nice and that's all I desire.
Incidentally if anyone out there needs help justifying a seemingly frivolous purchase hit me up I'm a beast.
- Here's a playlist of only typing sounds, from my favorite keyboard reviewer, Switch and Click: [youtube]
- While writing this I found myself scanning through the wikipedia page on Cognitive Biases. If you're interested in a list of ways human thinking is commonly corrupted I recommend this one. [www]. I always thought this would be a good set-up for a comic series-- each cognitive bias gets a page where some Happy Hooligan or Debra Duck falls into an easy trap.
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