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Keychron Q5 keyboard review: Greater functionality for a greater price

Keychron continues to release compelling mechanical keyboards, and the newest model brings the rare 96% layout that includes a number pad, function row, and knob.
matthew-miller
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer on
Pros
  • Substantial weight and stability
  • High quality design, fit, and finish
  • Number pad
  • QMK VIA software support
  • Mac and Windows compatibility
Cons
  • Expensive for a pre-built mechanical keyboard
  • Not ideal for users who prefer wireless portability

I spend a few hours a day pounding away on a keyboard, and for the past couple of years, my default brand has been Keychron. If you spend lots of time entering text on a physical keyboard, then spending $200 may be pretty easy to justify. For the past few weeks, the Keychron Q5 has been serving as my primary keyboard, with its dedicated number pad and rotating knob setting this one apart from past keyboards I've tried.

The Keychron Q5 is an 1800 layout that is 96% of a full-size keyboard. The 1800 layout is not that common as it is designed to pack in as many keys as possible into a smaller area, saving you about an inch of space when compared to a full-size keyboard. I'm perfectly happy getting rid of a bit of dead space to optimize the size for functionality and have been enjoying the unorthodox design. 

Keyboard hardware

The Keychron Q5 keyboard connects to your computer through its USB-C port with a grey Keychron-branded USB-C to USB-C/A included in the retail package. An OS switch is found at the top, next to the USB-C port, so that you can optimize the keyboard for Windows or MacOS. I do not have a MacOS computer, so I only tested the Q5 with Windows 10.

keychron-q5-keyboard-4

The operating system switch is next to the USB-C port

Matthew Miller/ZDNet

The keyboard is constructed by CNC machined 6063 aluminum, with a hefty weight of 5.09 pounds (2,310 grams). While I prefer lighter Bluetooth keyboards when I move my keyboard between workstations, keyboards that connect via cables should be heavy and immobile. With a lovely stable platform, the Keychron Q5 can remain in place when typing and gaming.

keychron-q5-keyboard-2

The left side of the Keychron Q5

Matthew Miller/ZDNet

South-facing (towards the typist), RGB LED lights are provided on the keyboard. By pressing Fn + Q, you're able to change the lighting effect across 13 different options, which is great. You can also press FN + Tab to toggle the backlight on and off. The brightness of it all is controlled with Fn + W (increase) or Fn + S (decrease).

Also: Keychron Q1 QMK custom mechanical keyboard review

The keyboard has several layers, including the bottom aluminum case, silicone gaskets, case foam, the PCB, sound absorbing foam, gaskets, steel plate, aluminum top case, switches, and keycaps. I was sent the fully assembled knob model that is available in three color options, with the silver grey one provided for testing. Keycap kits are available to swap out the keys if you prefer a different look to your keyboard.

The keys are set at a 5.3-degree angle, and the bottom case is not adjustable. I use a Keychron wooden palm rest since the keyboard is quite tall at the front, 30.9 mm with keycaps installed. The back height is 42.8 mm with the keycaps. The keyboard is 390.5 mm in length and 145 mm in width.

Keyboard software

The model I tested includes the knob, and by default, the knob works to control volume with a press-in of the knob toggling mute on and off. You can reprogram the knob to perform other actions, such as zoom in and out, adjust the screen brightness, and more. In addition to downloading and installing the free VIA software, you also need to download the appropriate keymap JSON file from the Keychron website. Once this is set up, then you can set the macro for the knob in addition to mapping other keys as you desire.

Four layers of key settings are provided with layers 0/1 assigned to MacOS and layers 2/3 assigned to Windows. You can customize shortcuts, backlight effects, and a lot more with the software, so spend some time setting the keyboard up, so it works best for your needs.

Switch options

Various switch options are supported, and they are also hot-swappable. The Gateron G Pro Red switches were included with this review unit. Gateron G Pro Blue and Gateron G Pro Brown are other available options. The Gateron G Pro Red switch is a quiet switch, suitable for office use or gaming, with minimal force needed to press the keys. Keychron also sent along a set of Golden Brown Gateron Cap switches. This switch set has a gentle sound level with tactile behavior. While I enjoy the clicky switches, too, the Gateron Pro Red looks great, and I am able to type faster with it equipped. It's fairly affordable to change out the switches if you want to try something else too.

keychron-q5-keyboard-1

Silver gray model with the knob, extra keycaps, and extra switches

Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Keychron also incorporates Gateron screw-in PCB stabilizers so that the larger keys have stable and smooth performance. We use the space bar more than we know it, and I've genuinely enjoyed the response on the Q5 keyboard. There are also stabilizers for the shift, enter, and backspace keys.

The retail package includes the keyboard, keycap puller, switch puller, screwdriver, hex key, Windows keys, and a few extra keys. A 1.2-meter USB-C to USB-C cable (with USB-A adapter) is provided to connect the keyboard. There are 98 keys on the Keychron Q5 QMK keyboard with the number pad on the right, and directional arrows tucked in between the keys and number pad.

Also: Keychron K3 wireless mechanical keyboard review

Daily usage experiences and conclusion

The Keychron Q5 keyboard is available in a barebones model for $175 up to a fully assembled model with a knob for $205. ISO models are available too, with three color and three switch options to choose from.

Keychron also has a new double gasket design in the Q5 that adds gaskets and silicone pads to reduce the sound resonance between the metals and reduce other sounds while supporting the overall typing sound. It's tough to find anything wrong with the keyboard, and spending $200 for a high-quality keyboard that helps you enter text quickly and efficiently is worth it to me.

Alternatives to consider

The Keychron Q5 keyboard is a near-perfect keyboard for many people, but if you don't need the number pad, want something priced differently, or want another brand, here are some other options to consider.

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