Keychron keeps doing it. Since we reviewed the Keychron Q2 in January 2022, it’s revamped the Q1 and launched 12 other Q-series boards, from a regular old full-size down to an ultracompact. There’s even an HHKB. But maybe the most uncommon is the Q10: a 75 percent Alice layout mechanical keyboard with a milled aluminum chassis. Like other Keychron Q-series keyboards, it’s a fantastic keyboard for the price, with a bunch of enthusiast features at middling-gaming-keyboard prices. Like them, it’s for a certain type of person: someone who sees a $200 keyboard and says, “How is this so cheap?!”
Imagine that someone split a keyboard down the middle, rotated each half slightly, kinked the outside columns back the other way a little, and stuck it back together. That’s Alice — named for the TGR Alice, a 60 percent keyboard from Malaysian designer Yutski that ran as a 40-unit group buy back in 2018 and inspired a legion of clones, imitators, variants, and spinoffs.
Like other Alice boards, the Q10 is not quite a split keyboard, and it’s not quite an ergonomic keyboard. You can’t control the angle or the tenting nor position the halves independently. They aren’t far enough apart to really keep your forearms parallel to each other, shoulder-width apart. And the Q10, in particular, is a little tall. But it’s a little more comfortable than a standard keyboard since it lets you keep your wrists at a more neutral angle to your forearms. I feel like it opens up my shoulders a little more. It also looks cool.
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For $215 with keycaps and switches or $195 without, the Q10 is, believe it or not, an absolute steal. The Q series is Keychron’s attempt to make an off-the-shelf mechanical keyboard feel like a high-end custom, and it mostly works — if your vision of a high-end keyboard includes phrases like “gasket mount” and “milled aluminum chassis.”
My review unit weighs 2244g, or just under five pounds, with the stock keycaps and switches. It’s meant to go on a desk and stay there. Keychron is following the keyboard community here: most custom keyboards over the past decade have been made from milled aluminum for a few reasons. Aesthetically: metal keyboards look nice, heavy things feel high-end, and they don’t slide around your desk when you type. And practically, the per-unit cost of CNC-milled aluminum scales linearly, which is important if you’re only making 50 or 100 of something for people who don’t mind paying hundreds of bucks each. It’s only in the past few years that enthusiast keyboard manufacturers have gotten the scale necessary to make plastic cases, just as more established manufacturers started making milled-aluminum ones.
Like the other Q-series boards, it’s gasket-mounted: the switch plate sits on strips of squishy foam between the top and bottom frames. This gives the entire assembly a nice bounce: if you push hard enough on any key, you can see all the keys move downward en masse and bounce back up. Small silicone bumpers between the top and bottom frames prevent metal-on-metal contact, further reducing vibration and eliminating the high-pitched ping that solid-aluminum cases often have. There’s a layer of sound-damping foam between the switch plate and PCB. The switches are lightly lubed, and the stabilizers are… less lightly lubed.
These are all ways enthusiasts mod their keyboards to give them deeper, fuller sounds and reduce high-pitched clacking or pinging. To put it another way: to compensate for the fact that they’re milled out of solid aluminum. Another is the tape mod (or Tempest mod, after the guy who popularized it). It involves applying layers of tape to the back of the PCB to change the sound profile. It’s cheap and easy, and it works. I’ve done it to several keyboards. The Q10 comes pre-tape-modded with a thin sheet of “acoustic tape” in lieu of the layer of acoustic foam other Q-series boards have.
With the stock keycaps and Gateron Pro Red switches, the Q10 feels and sounds great. And I don’t even like light linear switches. It’s not quiet, necessarily, but most of the sound comes from the keycaps clicking against the switch plate. There’s no resonance or ping whatsoever. Even the space bars — usually the loudest keys on any keyboard — are pretty quiet, probably because they’re the size of typical Shift keys. I personally do not type with enough force to feel any bounce from the gasket mount — it feels about the same as an integrated plate to me, to be honest — but it seems to help the sound profile, and it ain’t hurting anything.
The stock screw-in PCB-mount stabilizers are okay. They’re generously but inexpertly lubed, and the backspace key is louder than I’d like. If it were my keyboard, they’re the first things I’d tweak. Still, by preinstalled stabilizer standards, they’re pretty good.
This is the first time I’ve used an Alice board, and it took me almost no effort to get used to. It helps that the layout is mostly standard. Generally, the keys are the size you’d expect them to be and about where you’d expect them to be.
The bottom row might be the trickiest adjustment: there are three 1.25u modifier keys to the left of the first space bar and a function key to the right of it. On the right-hand side, there’s another space bar, then a solitary 1u modifier that, by default, acts as the board’s function key. If you are used to relying on those right-hand modifiers, you might have to get creative. Fortunately, that’s all fixable: the Q10, like all of Keychron’s Q-series boards, is fully programmable using VIA, a flexible and popular app in the keyboard community for customizing RGB lighting and key mapping.
The Q10 includes both Mac- and Windows-compatible keycaps in the box and has a switch to toggle between two different sets of layers, which you can program independently. This is a killer feature for anyone who regularly swaps between Mac and Windows because it means you can do more than just swap the locations of a few modifiers: you can have completely different layouts. What, just me?
The Q10 isn’t yet in the official VIA repository, so I had to download a JSON file from Keychron’s website, import it into VIA, and toggle V2 compatibility in the settings menu before I was able to remap the board, but that’s pretty common and should eventually be fixed (Keychron’s older Q-series boards are already in the official repository).
Unless you opt for the barebones version, the Q10 ships with Gateron Pro Red (linear), Blue (clicky), or Brown (allegedly tactile) switches, as well as doubleshot PBT keycaps in OSA profile. The keycaps are fine. They’re pretty thin, and the modifier legends look like they were typeset in a real rush, which is a shame on a board that’s otherwise quite polished. But they’re essentially free, and they come with Mac-style legends on the function row.
I say “essentially free” because the bare-bones version of the Q10 is only $20 less than the version with switches and keycaps. It’s hard to find 89 good switches for $20, much less keycaps. Even if you have a bunch of keycap sets lying around (don’t judge me), they might not have every key you need for an Alice board, so you might as well spend the $20.
There’s a 1.75u right shift key, which is common in aftermarket keycap sets. The Delete key is a row higher than it ought to be, and Home is a row lower (though you can of course remap those with VIA), and there’s that column of five macro keys along the left-hand side. As is customary with Alice-style boards, there’s a second B key, one on each side of the split. Some keycap sets are starting to include the second B, and you can cover the space bars with standard 2.25u and 2.75u Shift keys in a pinch, but the Q10 is still a little more difficult to cover than a standard 75 percent board. Keychron sells a few compatible keycap sets on its website, along with different switchplates, switches, fancy cables, and so forth.
The Q10 has a hot-swap PCB with south-facing RGB LEDs, so you can use pretty much any MX-compatible switches and keycaps without worrying about interference. (North-facing PCBs can cause issues with Cherry-profile keycaps unless you use long-pole switches). Like my friend Flo Ion at Gizmodo, I found that some of the cutouts in the function row are a little tight to squeeze a keycap puller or switch puller into, so I wound up taking the top frame off when I swapped switches or caps.
Even if you leave the frame on while swapping caps, you should consider installing switches with the frame off, so you can apply counter-pressure to the hot-swap sockets. It makes it easier to seat switches and avoid pushing the sockets off of the back of the PCB. Plenty of people, including my editor, just yolo it. It seems to mostly work for them, but I bend a lot fewer switch pins this way. Just saying.
You should install switches with the frame off
Keyboards with volume knobs are the big thing right now, and I really like that the Q10’s knob is on the top-left corner instead of the right. It feels more natural to me, a left-handed person. The left macro column is also kind of neat, and both the knob and the macros are easy enough to program in VIA. Plenty of gaming keyboards have left macro columns, but they’re not as common on enthusiast boards.
What’s not to like?
So what’s not to like about the Keychron Q10? It’s pretty tall: the front edge is almost 20mm high. If you rest your wrists on the desk when you type, you might need a wrist rest, depending on the size of your hands and the height of your keycaps. (Keychron sells one that’s curved to match the Q10, which I used for a couple days and then stopped using). If you hover like a proper typist, this is a non-issue, but who does that?
Like the rest of Keychron’s Q line, there’s no wireless option. That’s fine. Bluetooth support on QMK / VIA boards is pretty wonky, and battery life is usually terrible. On a five-pound board with a nonstandard layout, easy programmability is more important. There are plenty of decent wireless boards out there. That’s just not what the Q-series is for.
The board comes with a braided USB-C-to-C cable and an A-to-C adapter. It also comes with a keycap puller, switch puller, hex wrench, and screwdriver. They are dinky but serviceable in a pinch, and it’s a nice touch that suggests the keyboard is meant to be messed with. The caps are, as I mentioned, thin.
Do you take plastic?
The Q10 is very good at being the thing it’s trying to be: a solid-aluminum Alice-layout keyboard with a bunch of enthusiast features. If you want a really heavy Alice keyboard, it’s practically the only off-the-shelf option aside from the 65 percent Keychron Q8 and the Feker Alice75, which is a hundred bucks more expensive and has worse software but does have Bluetooth and 2.4GHz wireless.
It is a very good keyboard, but you really have to want a five-pound gasket-mount keyboard. If you don’t want a five-pound keyboard but do want an Alice board, there are a few options out there. Epomaker’s site has a few 65 percent Alice boards, including a gasket-mounted 65 percent Alice kit with a stacked acrylic case and VIA support. The only in-stock Alice with a knob on the left that I can find is the Orange Boy Ergo, and it’s only in stock in the sense that you can buy the parts — you need a soldering iron for that one, and not just for the switches. That’s a great option if you love building your own keyboards — which I do — but it’s the opposite of the Q10’s whole readymade vibe.
As I was drafting this review, Keychron came out with the V8, a plastic version of the Q8, and there’s already a pre-launch page for the V10. Like the other V-series boards, it loses the aluminum case and gasket mount — not to mention half the price tag — but keeps most of the other enthusiast features of the Q series. If you’re curious about the Q10’s layout but aren’t ready for a $200, five-pound keyboard, that’s the one to watch.
Photography by Nathan Edwards / The Verge