Keychron K2 Hot–Swappable review – great value 75% keyboard
The new design on the Keychron K2 is a significant improvement over its predecessor.
The Keychron K2 was a massive hit among the 75% keyboard community, but the original K2 had one enormous flaw. It was pretty chunky and flat, which wasn’t very ergonomic or comfortable. Version 2 of the keyboard brought a sloped profile along with the hot-swappable version of the keyboard. This is the model we’re testing today. Is the Keychron K2 Hot-Swappable worthy of its price? Does the new, angled design come with improved ergonomics? And just how good is this keyboard? Find out below.
What’s in the box
Unboxing the Keychron K2 hot-swappable, we uncover the keyboard itself, along with an angled USB-C cable, one keycap, and one switch puller, a couple of extra keycaps for the Mac OS, and a bright orange Esc key. You also get the short guide, a layout of the k2 (which might come in handy when swapping keycaps), and a plastic keyboard cover. Our version of the keyboard comes with Gateron brown switches and plastic bezels instead of aluminum ones.
The cable is thick, braided, and of high quality. It isn’t too rigid and is easy to move around, but it does have one big flaw. It’s pretty short. The cable measures 125 cm (49 inches) and is short of reaching your rear I/O if your PC’s on the floor. Those who keep their case at the table, on the other hand, will have no issues with the cable length. Everyone else will have to find another way to reach a USB port: a USB hub or an extension cable.
As for the two pullers, they’re simple but easy to use, and they definitely won’t break. The keycap puller looks brittle, but we assure you, after using it to swap keycaps like five times, it’s pretty sturdy. The switch puller is made of metal and is easy to use. As for the extra keycaps, they’re of the same quality as other keycaps. That means double-shot ABS with a fine, sandblasted aluminum-like texture. Let’s move on to the build quality and design of the keyboard.
Build quality & design
The Keychron K2 hot-swappable features a case made of quality plastic that feels great under the fingers. It has a slightly rough texture that’s extremely pleasant to touch, and it looks and feels high-end. Overall, a nice-looking and sturdy case. The keyboard is well built. It doesn’t flex even when we put our whole strength into bending it and has zero squeaks.
The base plate is metal, improving the overall stiffness of the board and making it sound a bit pingy while typing (more on this later). Overall, the build quality of the keyboard is exceptional.
Moving on to the design, the K2 hot-swappable features a 75% form factor. You get the function row with secondary (mostly) media controls available by combining the fn key with function keys. The 75% layout also features a selected assortment of extra keys such as Page Up, Page Down, or del. You also get a dedicated RGB effects key and the print key that has its unique legend. The 75% form factor is very portable while offering both arrow keys and function keys with almost the same length as 60 percent and 65 percent keyboards. This means (way) more room for your mouse and greatly improved portability compared to full-size keyboards.
This form factor is easy to get used to since most keys are there where you expect them to be. The right shift and the right alt, ctrl, and function keys are shortened (1.75U and 1U, respectively). Further, the arrow keys and the last column of keys to the right are “glued” tightly to the rest of the keyboard, creating a tightly packed and portable layout. Overall, we love the 75% layout, and if you want most of the keys from a TKL keyboard but crammed inside a 65% surface area, this is the form factor to get. The keyboard is of the same length as a 65% unit while only about 10mm taller.
The keycaps are surrounded by thin plastic bezels that look attractive and improve the K2’s minimalistic design. You can get the aluminum bezel version, which has thicker sides and is a bit heavier than our plastic bezel unit. Next, we have the angled case design that massively improves comfortability. The bottom row of the keyboard is about 10mm shorter than the top row, and while this doesn’t sound like much, it does make for a much comfier typing experience compared to the original version, which was completely flat from top to bottom.
When we turn the keyboard around, we see four thick rubber feet that make the keyboard very stable and next to impossible to move. Two dual-angled kickstands accompany the rubber feet. They also have rubber pads on the bottom that do their work as supposed to. Overall, the keyboard is not among the heaviest on the market (about 670 grams), but it’s very stable when on the desk and is quite hard to move around, even during the most heated gaming moments.
The left side is where Keychron put the USB-C port and two switches, one for selecting the connection mode (BT, off, and wired) and one for choosing the platform (Mac/iOS and Windows/Android). The USB-C is great to have, but the angled approach is a bit finicky. As we said, the provided cable is short, and if you have a USB-C cable lying around, you won’t be able to pair it with the keyboard unless you’re okay with it protruding massively on the left side. If you don’t want to use a USB hub or an extension cable, you’ll have to get an angled cable.
On top of the non-ergonomic placement of the USB-C port, Keychron made another mistake that could bother some users. You see, when using the K2 over cable, the bright green light next to the USB-C port is turned on all the time. And since Keychron still doesn’t have software to accompany its keyboards, you can’t switch the light off. When in Bluetooth mode, the light turns red when the battery’s low and will light up while charging the battery, but once you yank the cable, the light will go away. If you prefer using the keyboard in wired mode, get used to the notification light.
Keycaps, switches, and stabilizers
Moving on to the keycaps, the K2 hot-swappable comes with double-shot ABS keycaps that have a nice texture. It’s not as rough as on PBT keycaps, but since these are ABS keycaps, the texture will disappear after about half a year, replaced by a shiny, plasticky surface. The keycaps are double shot with a clean font that is rough around the edges on some keycaps. Keys such as caps lock, shift, or page up have issues with clarity, which is most likely due to the cheaper double-shot molding process.
The function keys also feature sub legends placed on top of keycaps. They are easy to read in the dark with backlighting turned on. But since the K2 hot-swappable features north-facing LEDs, main (bottom) legends on function keys are next to impossible to see in the dark, even with backlighting turned to the max. Our keyboard has white LED backlighting with four brightness levels. The lowest makes black keys quite hard to read in the dark, so we suggest using at least the second brightness level. You also get 17 different lighting effects and a dedicated button for cycling through them.
As for the max brightness, it’s more than enough for all keys to be fully visible sans the f-rom bottom legends. Do note that the caps lock key features red backlighting while turned on. The keycaps aren’t too loud while typing, and they make a pleasant sound while typing. They’re higher-pitched than PBT keycaps but also a bit quieter. Overall, decent keycaps. They feel great but are ABS and are made with a cheap version of double-shot molding, leading to readability issues on specific keys.
Keycaps are Gateron Browns, which are tactile switches. Compared to Cherry MX Brown, Gaterons have more substantial tactile feedback and about the same level of wobble. They aren’t too loud and are pretty smooth. A bit of lube should go a long way in making the switches quieter and smoother. Overall, solid to excellent (if lubed).
Since this is a hot-swappable keyboard, you can remove the default switches and use whichever switches you want. The keyboard supports both 3-pin and 5-pin switches, and swapping them is extremely easy. Swapping the switches will be a breeze, even if you’re a mechanical keyboard newbie. Overall, the hot-swappable function can be convenient to have. Even if you don’t plan to replace the switches, it’s good to have a hot-swappable keyboard if one of the switches dies.
The stabilizers used on the K2 hot-swappable are pre-lubed and are very decent for the price. They wobble just a bit and are quiet for the most part. The one stabilizer that brings the overall impression down is the one stabilizing the backspace key. It has a nasty rattling sound when pressed on the middle or the left side. Overall, we like the stabilizers, especially considering the price. Except for the rattlesnake, that is the backspace one.
Connectivity & battery Life
The Keychron K2 can be used in wired or Bluetooth mode. The keyboard uses Bluetooth 5.0, which improves connection stability and prolongs the battery life. Supported platforms include Windows, Mac OS, iOS, and Android, selectable by the button on the left side. In wired mode, the keyboard functions great, without noticeable lag and with zero stutters.
When in Bluetooth mode, we didn’t notice stuttering while typing or playing slower-paced games. However, when playing CoD: Modern Warfare, we experienced a couple of laggy key presses but nothing that would affect the gaming experience. That said, we recommend using the keyboard in wired mode when playing fast-paced multiplayer games.
We also recommend turning off the auto-sleep mode, which turns the keyboard off after being idle for 10 minutes to conserve the battery. The thing is, turning the keyboard back on takes a second or two, which isn’t great when you want to pause a YouTube video quickly. It’s not very laggy, but it’s laggy enough to be annoying.
The battery inside the keyboard is a chunky one. With 4000mAh, it can provide up to 240 hours of usage per Keychron. Real-life experience confirms the advertised battery life. We got 11 days of use without backlighting and about five and a half days with the backlighting turned to level 2. And that’s with the auto rest mode off. Overall, excellent battery life.
Typing on the Keychron K2 Hot-Swappable is very pleasant. The switches and keycaps aren’t loud, the metal backplate isn’t pingy (across most of its surface), and the keyboard doesn’t feel “hollow.” Some of the keys on the upper left side (q, w, r, w, a, s, d, 1,2, tab, etc.) sound a bit pingy. This isn’t a significant drawback; you have to fully focus on the sound while typing to notice the difference. We reckon opening the case and inserting a sound dampening foam (the protective foam that comes with the keyboard can also be used) would dampen the sound enough to make the typing experience more consistent, quieter, and more enjoyable.
When combined with the default keycaps (OEM profile), the keyboard’s not too tall, so you probably won’t need a wrist rest. Now, if you plan to use this keyboard for long gaming sessions (2 hours plus), we recommend getting a wrist rest since holding the WASD keys non-stop for hours can put a lot of strain on your wrist. If you plan to replace the keycaps, do note that picking a tall profile, like the SA profile, requires a wrist rest. Without one, the keys are too tall and will cause wrist strain even after just half an hour of typing or gaming.
Overall, the typing experience is mostly great. Default OEM keycaps are excellent both for typing and gaming. The angled case provides pretty good ergonomics and doesn’t require a wrist rest. Gamers should get a wrist rest though. The upper left group of keys is a bit pingy when pressed, but that could only be present in our unit.
Keychron K2 Hot-Swappable – conclusion
The Keychron K2 Hot-Swappable is one of the best deals on the hot-swappable mechanical keyboard market at the moment. The plastic bezel and white backlighting version costs only $79, which is a great price for a hot-swappable keyboard. If you want aluminum sides and RGB backlighting, you’ll have to pay $99, which is still a solid price for a hot-swappable 75% keyboard.
Overall, this is an excellent 75% keyboard that does offer a lot for the money. Excellent build quality, pretty good typing experience, Bluetooth 5.0, long battery life, solid keycaps, bright backlighting, Windows, Mac, and smartphone functionality, and a selection between Gateron Brown, Red, and Blue switches. And even though the 75% form factor isn’t super popular among manufacturers, we did manage to find a couple of excellent alternatives to the Keychron K2 Hot-Swappable in its price bracket.
The Royal Kludge RK84 is an excellent alternative to the Keychron K2 Hot-Swappable. The RK84 offers the same features, hot-swap included, along with a selection between wired, Bluetooth 5.0, and 2.4GHz dongle connectivity. If you want to game wirelessly, the 2.4GHz option offers better stability and less lag than Bluetooth. The other alternative is the Yunzii KC84. This is another hot-swappable 75% keyboard with higher quality PBT keycaps and RGB backlighting, but without wireless connectivity.