Why Keychron’s latest keyboard just became my daily driver

The Keychron Q1 HE keyboard sitting among other keycaps.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

We’ve seen an influx of high-end gaming keyboards like the Asus ROG Azoth over the last few years, but Keychron has something different with the Q1 HE. It takes the wildly popular Q1 design and updates it with Hall Effect switches and a 2.4GHz wireless connection, taking the solid foundation of a mechanical keyboard and tricking it out with features built for gaming.

The end result is a keyboard that feels as it good as it looks, and that comes with plenty of features in tow. Although it’s expensive at $220, you can’t find another keyboard around this price that boasts everything the Q1 HE does. However, you’ll have to deal with a few rough patches to unlock everything the Q1 HE has to offer.

A test of patience

The Escape key on the Keychron Q1 HE.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Setting up the Keychron Q1 HE was bumpy. There’s an insert in the box that runs you through all of the various connection modes, as well as some basic hotkeys for adjusting brightness, changing lighting effects, etc. I didn’t pay much attention to it — I know how to connect a keyboard to my PC — but it didn’t work.

In particular, the 2.4GHz mode didn’t work. I could connect the keyboard with a wire or through Bluetooth, but the low-latency 2.4GHz mode is the claim to fame with the Q1 HE. About an hour of troubleshooting and three firmware updates later — Keychron has different tools for driver installs and firmware updates, which often use the terms interchangeably — I finally stumbled on a Reddit thread that solved my issue. The 2.4GHz receiver had become unpaired from the keyboard, and I simply needed to re-pair it.

I stumbled on no less than half a dozen posts from the last few months with the exact same problem I had, and across various Keychron models. A note on the instructions about re-pairing, or even a support page, would go a long way.

It doesn’t help that managing the Q1 HE is done entirely through your browser. You’ll need to be patient while you pair and re-pair the keyboard when adjusting settings and updating your firmware. More mainstream options with robust, local applications can handle setup and management better. What the Q1 HE trades in convenience, however, it makes up for in quality.

Going to HE

A key switch installed in the Keychron Q1 HE.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

The Keychron Q1 is a familiar keyboard. The Q1 HE updates the original design with Hall Effect, or magnetic, switches, hence its new name. You can purchase the keyboard as a bare-bones kit, but it’s much better preassembled with Gateron’s Double-Rail Magnetic Nebula switches.

These fall in the middle of Gateron’s magnetic switch lineup, offering a linear feal with 40 grams of force and lubrication from the factory. Although I generally prefer a lighter switch, these Nebula switches feel right on the Q1 HE. You need to apply just a bit of extra pressure, giving you more control over the various options you have during the 4mm travel.

The key switch for the Keychron Q1 HE.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

I’m getting ahead of myself, though. A magnetic switch is fundamentally different than a standard mechanical key switch. Instead of a fixed actuation and reset point, these points are fluid and adjustable. A sensor at the bottom of each switch can measure the distance between two magnets in the switch, with up to a 0.1mm level of accuracy. That’s what you’re getting on the Q1 HE.

You can adjust the actuation point for games, giving you a hair-trigger response on key presses, but you can do so much more. Dynamic actuation and reset points offers better response to quick presses on the same key, and you can add up to four functions to different points when pressing and releasing a key. Perhaps the most impressive thing magnetic switches offer is dynamic force on presses, allowing you to control, for example, your volume depending on how hard you press down a key.

Switch settings for the Keychron Q1 HE.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

None of this matters if the keyboard feels terrible to type on, but the Q1 HE has a top-notch feel. The double gasket mount provides silky response when you’re slamming away at the keys, and built-in sound dampening cuts the ping you’d normally get from the aluminum shell.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen magnetic switches — the BOOG75 I looked at earlier this year uses them — but Keychron comes out swinging with so many features that go beyond the switches.

More than magnets

Toggle switches on the Keychron Q1 HE.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

The standout feature is wireless. You get Bluetooth and a low-latency 2.4GHz connection, and you can even store up to three Bluetooth pairings on the keyboard itself. It’s hard to find a keyboard that offers such high quality, and it’s even more difficult to find a wireless one.

As with other Keychron keyboards, you also get support for both Windows and macOS, along with dedicated keys for each operating system. It’s a joy to be able to bounce between my Windows desktop, a MacBook Pro, and my Steam Deck without swapping dongles or cables.

Extra key caps for the Keychron Q1 HE.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Such broad support is really due to the open-source software that Keychron is using. It uses QMK firmware, which Keychron provides, but you’re free to flash your own firmware as well. QMK is an open-source project, and it gives you a ton of flexibility if you’re willing to get your hands dirty.

You don’t need to flash any special firmware to unlock the Q1 HE’s power. You’re given a browser-based editor with a surprising amount of power, allowing you to record and store macros, rebind keys, and adjust your lighting effects. The power here really focuses on productivity and macros more than it does lighting, however.

Lighting settings for the Keychron Q1 HE.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

There’s per-key RGB lighting available, but you’re given very few options to customize it. Instead, Keychron includes 20 or so effects, some of which you can adjust the colors for. The effects look good, but if you’re looking to trick out your lighting in a way some software allows you to — such as Corsair’s iCue — you’ll be disappointed.

Macro settings for the Keychron Q1 HE.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

The real power lies in remapping keys and setting macros. Keychron gives you four layers on the keyboard, two for macOS and two for Windows. Although you can never access all four at once, it’s great that you can configure your options for both operating systems and store the settings on the keyboard. From there, you just need to toggle between them to unlock your configuration.

Despite the power, getting around the utility isn’t easy. Settings don’t always apply correctly, and you’ll need to click through several menus to do everything. For instance, you need to set a macro in one menu, commit it, then go to another menu to rebind a key to use the macro. It’s not a deal breaker, but the process is a little less fluid than what you get with more mainstream options.

Master of all

The Keychron Q1 HE sitting on a pink background.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Despite some bumps with setting up the Keychron Q1 HE, as well as a few kinks in the software, this is an exceptional keyboard. The typing experience is fantastic out of the box thanks to a double gasket mount and plenty of sound dampening, and you have access to some of the smoothest switches on the market.

You can get nearly everything here in other keyboards for around the same price. But Keychron really stands out with wireless support and mapping for both Windows and macOS. It’s difficult to find everything the Q1 HE has to offer in one package, even at the premium price of $220 that Keychron is asking.

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