Keychron K3 wireless keyboard review: compact with compromises
Keychron’s keyboards are an appealing option for anyone looking for a relatively affordable wireless mechanical keyboard. Its latest model is the Keychron K3, which starts at $74. The K3 combines the low-profile design of the K1 with the compact 75 percent layout of the K2. The result is a keyboard with a slim and compact form factor, with a height that sits somewhere between a typical mechanical keyboard and a keyboard with laptop-style switches.
It’s a tempting prospect if you’re after a compact, portable board that won’t take up too much space in a laptop bag. The K3 also features several other useful features like hot-swappable switch options that let you completely change the feel of your keyboard without having to do any soldering and cross-compatibility with Windows and Mac. But unless you really want or need a thin keyboard, the K3’s low-profile design comes with compromises that hold the keyboard back from being the perfect choice for everybody.
- Mac and Windows compatible
- Wired or wireless operation
- Hot-swappable switches
- Low-profile switches an acquired taste
- Reduced battery life compared to previous models
- Limited keycap compatibility
$84 at Keychron
How we rate and review products
The Keychron K3 is available with either a white backlight for $74 or an RGB backlight for $84. In terms of switches, you have the choice of a set of low-profile switches made by Gateron or a set of Keychron’s hot-swappable optical switches. Keychron claims these optical switches are more responsive and durable, but more important is that, unlike the Gaterons, they’re hot-swappable, meaning you can remove and replace them without having to do any soldering. Varieties of these optical switches include linear (white, red, or black), tactile (brown), or clicky (blue or orange) switches. That’s a good amount of options, and Keychron is currently selling sets of these for $19 (regular price $25).
My model came with a US ANSI layout with RGB backlighting. I primarily used Keychron’s brown optical switches during my time with the K3, but I switched to its stiff clicky orange switches for a few days to see what they were like. Keychron tells me a version of the keyboard with a UK ISO layout will release in July.
If you’re familiar with the keyboard layout used by most laptops, then you’ll immediately feel at home with the Keychron K3’s so-called “75 percent” keyboard layout. It’s a lot more compact than a full-size keyboard layout (one that has a number pad on the side) or even a tenkeyless (same thing, minus the number pad), but it still includes arrow keys and a function row, as well as five out of the six keys normally placed above the arrow key cluster. (There’s no dedicated “Insert” key, but the built-in shortcut is Fn + Delete.) The function row also offers Mac- and Windows-compatible media keys, like brightness and volume control.
Its 75 percent layout includes arrow keys.
The compact layout finds room for the most commonly used keys.
For many people, especially those accustomed to a laptop, I suspect this will be all the keys they’ll require, and I never found myself needing a key that’s not present on the keyboard. I also don’t think there are any keys that are wildly misplaced, like the original K1’s annoyingly easy-to-hit backlighting key. That’s helpful because the Keychron K3 doesn’t let you natively remap its keys, meaning you can’t reconfigure the keyboard to change key locations or add others that might be more important for your needs.
Keychron advertises that you can technically remap your keyboard’s keys at the OS level using programs like Karabiner on the Mac or SharpKeys on Windows, but it’s a bit hacky and means your keyboard’s layout will change if you ever need to connect it to another device. I don’t think most people will have major problems with Keychron’s 75 percent layout, but beware if you’ve got muscle memory built up from using another compact board.
There is one layout customization option built into the keyboard, and that’s a small switch on the top-left of the keyboard to swap it between Mac / iOS and Windows / Android layouts. The keyboard also comes with Mac-specific Command and Option keycaps out of the box, but if you’re a Windows user like me, there are Alt and Windows keys included for you to install on the board during setup. Just use the included keycap puller to whip off the Mac keys and press the Windows keys firmly onto the switches in their place. (Here’s a quick video guide in case you’ve never done this before.)
Swapping the keyboard’s switches is relatively simple.
The other switch on the top left of the K3 is a slider to swap it between its wired and wireless modes. Wired mode works as expected over the K3’s included USB-C cable, while wireless mode lets you pair with up to three devices over Bluetooth 5.1. I paired the K3 with a Surface laptop, iPhone, and iPad, and the keyboard switched between them with no issues.
Wireless users should note that battery life has taken a dip compared to the K2. With the backlight off, Keychron says the K3 should last around 99 hours, down from 240 hours with the K2. With the backlight on, battery life drops as low as 34 hours (down from between 68 and 72 hours). That’s likely because the K3’s slim form factor means Keychron can only fit in a 1,550mAh battery rather than a 4,000mAh one like the K2. I was switching between wired and wireless modes throughout the review period, which meant I never saw the keyboard’s battery life run down to zero. But these numbers mean you’ll likely have to recharge the K3 on a weekly basis if you want to keep the lights on.
On the underside of my review sample, there is a pair of flip-out feet to adjust the angle of the keyboard. I’m told these were added as a revision compared to the first boards, which came with two sets of feet for you to swap between if you wanted to change its angle. I can’t speak for how annoying a system this might have been, but the new feet support two different angles, and they’re easy to use. Keychron tells me it still has stock of the model without flipping feet and that this new model should be in circulation by late May. Build quality is otherwise solid, with little flex in the keyboard’s casing on my model.
The flip-out feet can be set at two different heights.
I mean, just look at how thin this thing is.
One of the nicest things about buying a mechanical keyboard with traditional Cherry MX-style switches is the customization options you get. If you want a more colorful or interesting set of keycaps or if the keycaps on your board wear out over time, then it’s normally easy to swap them out for a new set. Swapping out actual switches after the fact is generally a little harder because it often requires soldering, so it’s not popular in quite the same way.
In some ways, the Keychron K3 flips this dynamic on its head. Its hot-swappable keyswitches are easy to swap out without needing to pick up a soldering iron, but while its keycaps are just as easy to remove, there’s not much reason to. That’s because there are no third-party keycaps on the market that are fully compatible with Keychron’s low-profile design at the moment. The Cherry MX-style cross design suggests they should be, but when I tried some I had lying around, the stabilizer alignment on keys like the spacebar didn’t line up. Keychron tells me it plans to release new keycap sets later in the year for the board.
It’s a shame because it would be nice to have the option of replacing Keychron’s stock keycaps. They are made of thin ABS plastic rather than the more premium PBT or thicker ABS, and their gray-and-orange color scheme is plain dull. At least their legends are crisp, they’re nicely curved to let your fingers find their placement, and their double-shot construction allows the keyboard’s backlighting to shine through and illuminate each key label.
Swapping out the switches themselves was much easier than pulling out a soldering iron, though it still took a little bit of elbow grease to remove some of the more stubborn ones using the included tool. It works by clipping the metal hook around each switch and wiggling until it comes free. Swapping out all the switches took me around half an hour while watching TV in the background, plus an extra 15 minutes on either end to deal with the keycaps.
With limited keycap compatibility, you better get used to the K3’s stock caps.
As well as being hot-swappable, the benefit of these low-profile switches is how thin they allow the board itself to be. At its thickest point, it’s a little over 22mm off the surface of your desk, and Keychron boasts that its low-profile optical switches are just 10.77mm tall, compared to 17.9mm for a conventional switch.
But being so low-profile makes these optical switches a bit of an acquired taste. Whether I used the brown optical switches that originally came installed in the board, or the stiff and clicky optical orange switches, I never loved the typing experience of the Keychron K3. It’s not awful. This isn’t a mushy rubber dome or MacBook butterfly keyboard. But the limited key travel of the K3’s low-profile switches feels unsatisfying if you’re used to, and like, regular Cherry MX-style switches.
Here’s what typing sounds like on the Keychron K3 with low-profile optical brown switches:
Here’s what typing sounds like on the Keychron K3 with low-profile optical brown switches(opens a new window)
Here’s what typing sounds like on the Keychron K3 with low-profile optical orange switches:
Here’s what typing sounds like on the Keychron K3 with low-profile optical orange switches(opens a new window)
Of the two switches I tried, I preferred the stiff and clicky orange switches over the tactile browns. The stiffness of the orange switches combined with the more tactile click went some way to making up for their low travel, while I ended up making more typos while typing on the browns.
At the end of the day, I just plain like the height of a standard MX switch. That extra distance gives your fingers space to make mistakes and pull back before pressing the wrong key. In contrast, there’s something jarring about having a key bottom out so quickly. If you’re used to typing on slim keyboards like Apple Magic Keyboard, then the K3’s low key travel might feel more pleasant and familiar. But as someone who likes regular MX-style switches, I wasn’t a fan.
There are Windows- and Mac-specific keys in the box.
RGB lighting shining through the keycaps.
The Keychron K3 is a feature-packed mechanical keyboard at a reasonable price. It works great over USB-C or wirelessly, and it has a 75 percent layout that covers the keys most people need, as well as a useful selection of function keys on top of that. The hot-swapping process is easy, and Keychron has a suitable selection of switches that work with its hot-swap system.
But Keychron has had to make a series of compromises to make a keyboard this slim, and you have to want a low-profile keyboard to put up with them. Battery life has taken a dip compared to the K2, and the K3’s low-profile switches can be an acquired taste. The lack of support for third-party keycaps is also unfortunate.
If you’ve got a strong preference for a low-profile keyboard and you’re not interested in trying out third-party keycaps, then the K3 is a nice package. But it can’t match the versatility of Keychron’s other boards.
Photography by Jon Porter / The Verge
Testing & Conclusion – The Keychron K3 Low Profile Wireless Mechanical Keyboard Review
by E. Fylladitakison July 13, 2021 9:00 AM EST
- Posted in
- Mechanical Keyboards
- Wireless Keyboards
Introduction, Packaging, and the KeyboardTesting & Conclusion
Per-Key Quality Testing
In order to test the quality and consistency of a keyboard, we are using a texture analyser that is programmed to measure and display the actuation force of the standard keyboard keys. By measuring the actuation force of every key, the quality and consistency of the keyboard can be quantified. It can also reveal design issues, such as the larger keys being far softer to press than the main keys of the keyboard. The actuation force is measured in Centinewton (cN). Some companies use another figure, gram-force (gf). The conversion formula is 1 cN = 1.02 gf (i.e. they are about the same). A high-quality keyboard should be as consistent as possible, with an average actuation force as near to the manufacturer’s specs as possible and a disparity of less than ±10%. Greater differences are likely to be perceptible by users. It is worth noting that there is typically variance among keyboards, although most keyboard companies will try and maintain consistency – as with other reviews, we’re testing our sample only.
Keychron lists the following specifications for its switches. Our unit has the brown versions.
The machine we use for our testing is accurate enough to provide readings with a resolution of 0. 1 cN. For wider keys (e.g. Enter, Space Bar, etc.), the measurement is taking place at the center of the key, right above the switch. Note that large keys generally have a lower actuation force even if the actuation point is at the dead center of the key. This is natural, as the size and weight of the keycap reduce the required actuation force. For this reason, we do display the force required to actuate every key but we only use the results of the typically sized keys for our consistency calculations. Still, very low figures on medium-sized keys, such as the Shift and Enter keys reveal design issues and can easily be perceptible by the user.
At first glance, the Keychron K3 appears to be somewhat inconsistent. This is due to the minor tolerances of the optical sensors that the switches are using. As the travel distance is very short, even small actuation point differences translate to large differences in force. The average actuation force is 53 cN, which seems high for Brown-type switches, but it actually is not (as with the table above, Keychron quotes 50 +/- 10). Again, due to the very short travel distance, the resistance of the springs must be higher, or the keys will feel extremely spongy and easily bottom down.
I always try to use every keyboard that we review as my personal keyboard for at least a week. My typical weekly usage includes a lot of typing (about 100-150 pages), a few hours of gaming, and some casual usage, such as internet browsing and messaging. I personally prefer Cherry MX Brown or similar (tactile) switches for such tasks. As I frequently use a laptop, the 75% layout of the Keychron K3 was not an issue for me. Users who only or mainly use 100% keyboards will definitely have to take a short learning curve.
Not only the size but also the extremely low height and travel make the Keychron K3 feeling more like a laptop keyboard than a mechanical keyboard. Regardless, the typing experience is exceptional. The keyboard is very responsive and the feeling of each keypress is fantastic, with very little fatigue even after using it for several hours straight. Its stock Brown switches feel fantastic and are relatively quiet, making the Keychron K3 ideal for productivity in public places. Only in very quiet places, such as small libraries, the use of this keyboard would be annoying to other people in the immediate area.
For gaming, the Keychron K3 does not offer any advanced features other than its very low-profile and short travel switches. Theoretically, the shorter travel distance would cut a few milliseconds off someone’s reaction time. However, any difference is minuscule and has zero real-world meaning. If anything, the lag of the Bluetooth transmitter is much greater than any advantage the shorter travel could ever offer. The zero gap between the top rows also is not ideal for FPS/Action games. It is not a bad keyboard for gaming though, as it is very responsive and exceptionally comfortable. As long as the user is content with the 75% layout and doesn’t seek advanced features, the Keychron K3 will not disappoint.
The battery life of the Keychron K3, with the keyboard used solely for productivity, was roughly 80 hours with the backlighting turned off. That is not bad at all but was lower than the advertised 99 hours. In the manufacturer’s defense, my typical workday can be brutal for any keyboard. Turning the backlighting on and maxed out, the battery life dropped down to about 30 hours, close to the manufacturer’s 34-hour specification.
At first sight, the Keychron K3 feels as if it is more of a fashion item rather than a proper mechanical keyboard, with our initial thoughts being that the company is trying to put too many eggs into one basket. However, the K3 actually is a surprisingly good mechanical keyboard for those that need to combine mobility and productivity with a tiny bit of fanciness for under $100.
The quality of the Keychron K3 is very good, especially considering the price range and the features of the keyboard. Although the design is relatively simple, the materials are great and the assembly job is exceptional. Furthermore, even if a switch gets damaged, a whole pack of switches is just $19 and they are easily replaceable, which bodes great for those who like keeping their devices around for as long as possible. It is also worthwhile to mention that the company was very quick to listen to feedback, redesigned the rear cover and added rear feet to the retail version of the keyboard. This is a very rare choice for any company to make, as the vast majority of designs are never altered up to their end-of-life, signifying that Keychron actually cares about having the best possible version of a product in circulation.
In terms of aesthetics, the Keychron K3 is a little bit all over the place. It is designed to be very thin and elegant, matching a clean, modern desktop. The orange keycaps stand out too much in such an environment but, fortunately, the company includes normal grey keycap replacements for these. The RGB backlighting also is a little extravagant for visually calm and quiet environments but could work under certain circumstances.
The hands-on performance of the Keychron K3 is unexpectedly good, especially for a keyboard with such a short key travel. It is amazingly comfortable and feels great, even after hours of typing. However, it has few advanced features and virtually zero programmability, which will dishearten advanced gamers and coders alike. The 75% layout greatly reduces the footprint of the keyboard and makes it ideal for 14” or larger laptop bags but also requires a learning curve if one is not used to working with such layouts.
Keychron designed the K3 mainly with mobility in mind, for users who need a high-quality keyboard that fits in their bag. Although its battery life cannot compete with electronic keyboards designed for maximum mobility, it is long enough to get most users through a regular business trip or short vacation, especially when the backlighting is turned off. If there is no compartment in your bag just for the keyboard though, it would be wise to purchase the travel pouch offered by Keychron, or another similar pouch, as the keycaps will easily come off if the keyboard is not secured well.
The Keychron K3 is listed on the company website for $84 with the RGB backlights, or $74 with the white backlight.
Introduction, Packaging, and the Keyboard
Introduction, Packaging, and the KeyboardTesting & Conclusion
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Keychron Mechanical Keyboard Backlight Bluetooth Computer…
🕹️ Gaming hardware, 🖥 Computer accessories and peripherals
|For office, home, light gaming
|Bluetooth & Wired
|Wireless, Bluetooth, Lighting
|Laptop, PC , Tablet, Smartphone
|Gateron Blue Switch
|More details 3
Description Keychron Mechanical Keyboard Backlight Bluetooth Computer Accessories & Peripherals
96% layout (100 keys), wireless white LED backlit mechanical keyboard with numeric keypad in a compact design designed for productivity and tactile typing. Connects to 3 devices via Bluetooth and easily switches between them. With a highly reliable Broadcom Bluetooth 5.1 chipset and wide compatibility, K4 version 2 is best suited for home, office and light gaming when connected to your smartphone, laptop and iPad. It also has a wired mode with a USB Type-C connection. With a unique Mac layout, the K4 has all the Mac function keys you need while still being compatible with Windows. Additional caps are included for Windows and Mac operating systems. The K4 can last up to 240 hours (with backlight off) with a large 4000 mAh battery, which is one of the largest among mechanical keyboards. Simultaneously press N-key (NKRO) in wired mode or 6KRO in wireless mode. The keyboard features charming white LED backlighting with modern key lettering that syncs with your mood; available in static white or flashing light mode. A durable Gateron mechanical switch with a lifespan of 50 million clicks provides Blue switches with unparalleled tactile sensitivity.
New Favorite Daily Driver
Ray G. Gist
I work as a technician and spend 8 -10 hours per day for your car. One of my favorite features is the 3 bluetooth receiver profiles. I switch between two different Macs throughout the day (one is my Mac Book Pro and the other is the Mac Pro I have on my desk) and this keyboard makes it incredibly easy and fast. There are multiple LED lighting settings and it’s easy to find one that isn’t too bright for my taste. Battery life has been fantastic so far (over 3 weeks), but…
9011 3 Posted on October 04, 2022
Bluetooth lags made it unbearable UPDATED 01/14/2020
Andrew G. Grimes
K4 with red Gaetron mechanical switches with white LED on plastic base Physically, I really like the keyboard. It works great when connected via a USB cable, but wirelessly it lags when typing. Sometimes without entering a key, and sometimes it just keeps going and running like you’re stuck. FIX: I decided to try again before sending it back. So far I haven’t had Bluetooth latency issues and everything has been working great…0003
Kira is cheaper, better and uglier** brother.
Junior R. Rojas
Level 1 ($260) that doesn’t have Bluetooth. The USB port is on the left side and is held in place by molded plastic very firmly, which is a common cause of this type of keyboard failure. In general, the keyboard makes a very solid impression. The lighting works well and the keycaps are not bad, although the color isn’t great. I rarely use bluetooth, but it works fine. **Edit: No longer disgusting. Revain has a complete set of replacement keys…
Great keyboard with bad design
Anthony H. Hales
I bought this keyboard because the product description said it had a USB-C cable to connect the keyboard. What wasn’t clear was that it’s USB-C for the keyboard and regular USB for the computer. I wanted both ends to be USBC so I can get rid of the weird dongle on my Mac. Another reason I bought this keyboard was because it could connect to multiple devices via bluetooth. I found that Bluetooth works without problems, but…
Dissatisfied with everything
Lost bluetooth connection and lag when reconnecting, terrible customer service is a bonus.
Darren M. Munajj
Slightly disappointed with this product despite all the good reviews . One day it lost its Bluetooth connection so I had to reconnect it. If I don’t use it for a while, it usually takes a few seconds to reconnect. I have never seen such lag with my existing Logitech keyboard. Consider returning within the return window. Update 1: It keeps losing Bluetooth connection after a few months so I have to use it…0003
Brown optical switches with white backlight
90 002 Jeremy L. Lunn
United Kingdom, Belfast
I am a tactile girl, but not the flip of a blue switch. I had a keyboard with red switches for a while and while they are fine, I make a lot of mistakes and it didn’t work while playing. Some time ago I bought myself a 60% keyboard with brown optical switches to play with and fell in love with. For this reason, I chose the Keychron K4 as my everyday device for work, study and play. However, there were a few things that bothered me about this keyboard; height…
90 280 Published October 04, 2022
great mechanical keyboard for typists: compact, professional looking and inexpensive.
I can’t say enough good things about this keyboard. I love mechanical keyboards because my job requires me to type a lot in 10-12 hour shifts and they relieve hand/finger/wrist fatigue. The fact is that many mechanical keyboards are made for gamers, so they are quite large, have additional customizable keys, unnecessary lighting effects, and require network connection (cough, my Razer). no compact keyboard has the 10 keys I need. So…
All is well!
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