Gift Guide: A few ideas for the mechanical keyboard fans
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The world of mechanical keyboards is a very deep rabbit hole and it’s no secret that more and more people have fallen into it in recent years. So if you have somebody in your life who keeps talking about lubing switches, gasket mounts and the pros and cons of ABS versus PBT keycaps, chances are you might want to buy them something related to that for the holidays.
One weird thing about the mechanical keyboard world is that a lot of items are only available through time-limited group-buys, with shipping dates that may be a year or more out from now. That’s especially true for keycaps and highly custom keyboards. For obvious reasons, we’re not going to recommend those here. This is a guide for 2022, after all, not 2023. We’re going to highlight a few keyboards, but for the most part, we’ll focus on accessories. We’re going to assume that you’ll want a keyboard that is easily customizable, so while there are some pre-builts on this list, they are all moddable.
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There has never been more choice in mechanical keyboards and if you are so inclined, there is no limit to how much you can spend.
At the bottom end, there’s the Tester68. You can find it for as little as $15 (Walmart), though the going price seems to be around $35 on Amazon. It’s plastic/wireless-only, but for the money, it’s an affordable way to get your feet wet and start modifying your keyboard without worrying too much about breakage.
Once you move up in price, you get to the likes of Akko’s 3068B, a 65% hotswap keyboard (so you can easily replace the switches — more about that later) that comes with Akko’s own — and very good — switches, some decent keycaps and both wireless and wired connections.
The real sweet spot for mechanical keyboards right now, though, is in the $125 to $175 range. Here you get better quality materials and boards that sound and feel really nice, with the ability to modify them to your heart’s desire.
I’m a big fan of the KBDfans KBD67 lite, now in its fourth generation. It’s made from a sturdy plastic, comes in a wide variety of colors and is even available in the European ISO layout, if that’s your thing. It’s a nice step up from the lower-end boards and if you want to upgrade later, KBDfans also sells an aluminum case ($125).
If you’re looking for a larger board, NovelKeys’ NK87 Entry Edition ($135) is also great, for example, but the company to beat right now (at least in this price range) is Keychron with its Q-series keyboards. There are wired aluminum hotswap boards that come with switches and keycaps, but can be easily modified. At this point, the company offers every imaginable layout, ranging from 60% to full-size boards, including some unusual styles like the excellent Q5 with its 1800 layout or the Q8 in the (semi-)ergonomic Alice style (that’s my personal daily driver right now).
At the higher end, the sky is the limit, but if you have the money to spend, I’m a big fan of Mode Designs. I recently reviewed the Sonnet and loved the experience, but that’s sadly not going to be available in time for the holidays. But the Mode 80 is, so if you have $400 to spend, the fit, finish and sound you can get from that board is a step up from the cheaper boards and it’s easy to see that Mode — just like similar higher-end keyboard manufacturers — really understands the market and what drives mechanical keyboard enthusiasts.
Instead of a keyboard, maybe you’re just looking for some accessories.
If you know the kind of style the person you are buying for is into, then keycaps may be a nice option. Drop is one of the few companies that has a limited set of GMK keycaps available without having to wait until late 2023 for a group buy. GMK white-on-black is the classic here and you can’t really go wrong, though the price point at $110 may not be that easy to swallow, but it’s quite low for a set from Germany’s GMK. But Drop’s own and new DCX keycaps are also really nice and a bit more affordable at $99. Like the GMK sets, these are ABS keycaps and available in black-on-white and white-on-black. For half the price, Keychron’s Cherry-style PBT keycaps offer some additional color choices and enough keycaps to be compatible with virtually every keyboard in the market today. If you’re looking for something different, check out Cannon Key’s selection, which typically ranges from $65 to $79.
Maybe you want to buy some switches, too? It’s really hard to recommend those, since this really depends on preference and some of the best ones aren’t easy to find. But you can’t really go wrong with something like the justifiably hyped Gateron Oil King linear switch, for example. Or if you want something a bit weird, the Akko CS Sponge with its double tactile bump is a fun one, too, and very affordable (actually, all of the Akko switches punch well above their weight). Another classic is the C³Equalz X TKC Tangerine linear switch. It’s as smooth as it gets, but then you’re in the premium category.
How about some stocking stuffers? Maybe some Durock Switch Film? A cool desk mat? Or an easier to use switch opener? Or maybe a lube station — because there’s nothing quite as
boring relaxing as lubing a hundred switches.