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Keychron Q8 keyboard review: Alice layout is interesting, but not optimal

Keychron has been releasing QMK custom mechanical keyboards at a blistering pace, but my wrists are enjoying the Alice design of this latest rock-solid aluminum model.
matthew-miller
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer on
Pros
  • Substantial weight and stability
  • Ergonomic layout
  • High-quality design, fit, and finish
  • Optional customizable knob
  • QMK VIA software support
  • Mac and Windows compatibility
Cons
  • Expensive
  • No function row
  • No tilde key

It seems like Keychron has been releasing a new mechanical keyboard once a month and after I adopted the big Q5 model with its dedicated number pad and knob, the Keychron Q8 grabbed my attention. I used an ergonomic Microsoft keyboard for years at the office, so I was excited to try out the Q8 with its Alice layout, which isn't technically fully ergonomic, but it is more ergonomic than a standard keyboard.

The Keychron Q8 has keys that are based on a 65% keyboard that is split into right and left halves with a small gap in the middle. The two sides are angled in orientation and also slightly tilted upwards to follow the slanting keyboard design. True ergonomic keyboards I used before had some downward tilting as if I was hanging on a cliff edge, but I don't see that kind of arrangement here.

Keyboard hardware

The Keychron Q8 keyboard connects to your computer through its USB-C port with a gray 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 this keyboard with Windows 10 on my Surface computers.

The keyboard is constructed of CNC machined 6063 aluminum with a hefty weight of 4 lbs (1820 grams). While I like lighter Bluetooth keyboards when I move my keyboard between workstations, keyboards that connect via cables should be heavy and immobile. The Keychron Q8 remains in place when typing with a lovely stable platform.

keychron-q8-alice-2

An interesting arrangement for a mechanical keyboard

Matthew Miller/ZDNet

South-facing (towards the typist), RGB LED lights with 13 different effect options are a nice touch. Press fn1 + Q to change the lighting effect. You can also press fn1 + Tab to toggle the backlight on and off. Brightness is controlled with fn1 + W (increase) or Fn + S (decrease).

Review: Keychron Q1 QMK custom mechanical keyboard: A premium, affordable experience

The keyboard has several layers, including the bottom aluminum case, acoustic tape, the PCB, steel plate, gaskets, aluminum top case, switches, and keycaps. I was sent the fully assembled knob model in "Carbon Black - A" for testing. There are five other colors available and several keycap kits to swap out the keys if you prefer a different look to your keyboard too.

The keys are set at a 5-degree angle, and the bottom case is not adjustable. I used a Keychron wooden palm rest and even though it doesn't match the curved bottom of the keyboard, it still gives me a nice place to rest my wrist. The keyboard is 358 mm in length and 136 mm in width.

keychron-q8-alice-3

The left side of the keyboard contains the smaller part of a space bar

Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Keyboard software

The Keychron Q8 is a quantum mechanical keyboard that can be programmed and remapped using the VIA software application. The VIA software lets you fully configure the keyboard, including adding in macros, media controls, and much more. I've only touched the surface of the VIA software and am impressed by the possibilities of using this open source software to create an extremely productive and efficient keyboard experience to help you get work done.

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 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.

Also: The 5 best mechanical keyboards: From mini to macros

Four layers of key settings are provided with layers 0/1 assigned to Mac OS 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 to work 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 the office or gaming with the 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 quickly with this switch set. It's fairly affordable to change out the switches if you want to try something else too.

keychron-q8-alice-1

The right side has the directional arrows and the larger part of the space bar

Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Keychron also incorporates Gateron screw-in PCB stabilizers so that the larger keys have stable and smooth performance. There are stabilizers for the shift, enter spaced bars, and backspace keys. The Q8 also supports third-party stabilizers, including Cherry and Durock.

The retail package includes the keyboard, keycap puller, switch puller, screwdriver, and hex key. 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 Q8 QMK keyboard with directional arrows over on the right, and two small space bars, with fn1 and fn2 buttons in the gap between the space bars.

Also: Keychron Q5 keyboard review: Greater functionality for a greater price

Daily usage experiences and conclusion

The Keychron Q8 keyboard is available in a barebones model for $175 up to a fully assembled model with a knob for $205. ISO models are available, with six color combinations and three switch options to choose from.

I was excited to try out the Alice layout on a mechanical keyboard, and if you want something a bit unique that provides some ergonomic features, then you might want to consider it. However, I've been spoiled by Keychron's other models, such as the Q5 and Q1, that support every text entry experience I need. I found the lack of a tilde key, a missing function row, and number keys that were not intuitively accessible to slow me down a bit and also cause a few errors in my text entry over the past couple of weeks.

The Keychron Q8 is a very well-constructed keyboard with solid design, hefty weight, and action that doesn't get any better. The layout is unique, and some people are sure to love it, while others may want to consider a more standard design from Keychron.

Alternatives to consider

The Keychron Q8 keyboard is an interesting mechanical keyboard, but if you have other ergonomic mechanical options, check these out.

Editorial standards

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