I’ve seen plenty of mechanical keyboards in the last few years – it seems as if every manufacturer has one, even the likes of Corsair (memory manufacturer) and Coolermaster (Case/power supply manufacturer). So, when someone tells me about a “new” mechanical keyboard being released, I’m a bit jaded these days.
However, when I saw the nKeyboard Mechanic LED Keyboard sample on show at Computex Taiwan last year, I was struck by it’s amazing sound-sensitive lighting and hugely-configurable on-board macro capabilities, and now that they have finally come to production and arrived in Oz, I just had to write about it – read on to find out why it’s different from the rest of the herd.
From what I can tell, the nKeyboard Mechanic LED is made in China by a contract factory to specs developed by a Korean engineer, Dongsik. I’d first dealt him over 10 years ago, when he was at Kanam/Arisetec, one of the first pioneers of Media-Centre PC cases featuring VFD displays and IR remote controls, creating a market that was eventually dominated by Silverstone. Known for being inventive, he’s moved on to keyboards now, and despite the chronic shortages of Cherry switches in the channel, he’s game enough to take on the established players.
The ‘board comes in a premium-feel cardboard box which appears modelled on the successful Filco-style packaging – it’ll fit into a 3Kg courier satchel, but not an Express Post one. Included in the box are a 170cm detachable sheathed USB A-Male->MiniUSB cable, and a folded instruction sheet with slightly-mangled English / random Korean characters.
This particular board features Cherry MX Red mechanical linear (no bump) light-weight switches – if you need to know what the Cherry colour coding means, head over here for an introduction.
It’s fairly unassuming in overall appearance, with no excessive bling or weirdness to give away it’s hidden nature. A 106-key full-size US layout is provided for us here in Australia. It’s 443x170x39(mm) and 1.29kg.
Underneath there’s a label with some simple instructions, and a socket for the MiniUSB plug, with routing for the cable so you can sit the board flat. The socket is a little fiddly to get first time, but you won’t be removing it that often.
Up to this point, it’s pretty much a bog-standard mechanical keyboard with n-Key roll-over and some lighting – what makes it depart from the rest of the herd is next – Macro recording that can give you deja-vu from Inception, and LED lighting that will entertain you for hours.
Macros and more for the mmo-grinding cognoscenti
Adding macros to keyboards is nothing new, I hear you say – been there for a while too. Yes, they have, often via software that’s required to be installed on a host PC, but this board takes macros to the next level.See that bunch of keys above the F-keys? They are grouped according to their functionality from left to right:
Fn: press this with the Macro keys or lighting F-keys to record a macro or activate a lighting function
Q1 ->Q3: used for a macro that plays back a string of single keypresses at maximum speed and loops them
Loop: used when you want a macro that keeps your original typing speed / pause cadence and loops it
T1->T3: A non-looping macro type that keeps your original typing speed / cadence of your input
Auto: a press-and-hold macro type, that does not release the keys you recorded.
All these macros are recorded by pressing Fn and the selected Macro key, then typing the keys you want recorded, and when done, press Fn to save. It’ll blink whilst recording. There’s a G-key lurking at the far-right of the board that’s used to clear macros, although they can also be cleared by recording without pressing any inputs. The G also gets used as a lock-out key for the Windows keys next to the space bar, so you don’t accidentally pop up the Start menu in the heat of battle.
And, to make just about anything possible, you can record a macro key press itself inside another macro, so you can string multiple key-press macros into a programmed sequence, compete with pauses. Might be useful for grinding inside MMO games with repeatable actions to get gold or hack wood
You might also find macros useful to log into bank accounts and websites that request passwords, if you want to avoid saving such details in your browser or password manager (this assumes you care more about being vulnerable to software hacks, than whether people might have physical access to your keyboard). The timing macros would be ideal for this, as they can include pauses for page-loads. None of the keyboard’s functionality is dependant on software outside the ‘board itself, so you could carry it about and use it on just about any random PC, whilst keeping all your customised macros intact.
Since this keyboard was released in Korea before the rest of the world, there’s some Youtube videos available to showcase this feature.
Use your PC to light your room
Backlit keyboards have been around for a while, usually achieving their backlit effect with an array of dumb LEDs or electro-luminescent source. With per-key lighting though, you’ve got a lot more options.
The nKeyboard Mechanic LED has a default option of lighting up the key you press, and a random selection of nearby keys, with the light fading after the key is released.
Fn+Esc: No lighting
Fn+F1 or F2: All the keys lit, to provide finely adjustable backlighting
Fn+F3 or F4: The opposite of backlighting, to the point that pressed keys are dark
Fn+F5: Only the pressed keys light up
Fn+F6: Pressed keys and nearby keys are lit in a wave appearance
Fn+F7: You can specify which keys to light up, and only those keys get lit, all others are dark.
Fn+F8: Like F7, but only the LED-lit keys will work – all the others are disabled and don’t type
Fn+F9: Cycles through different demo modes, presumably included to impress people watching you
Fn+F10: Pulses all the keys slowly on and off – they call it “Breath” mode, slightly creepily.
Fn+F11 the key LEDs react to sound, from a mike buried somewhere inside the board, like an equalizer
Fn+F12: lets you define specific LED sequences, in case you didn’t already find the above suitable
I like the F8 option which lets you customise which keys are lit and then disables all others – if you had to work in a poorly-lit area and did only the same simple tasks over and over in your software via keypresses, this would be perfect, since it would eliminate the chance of pressing a wrong key. Again, Youtube will give you a better idea of how this all works
Cruise Control 3 – the speedening
Just in case you have a pressing need to adjust the repeat speed of any keys you hold down, the nKeyboard Mechanic LED does this too. The Fn+ NumPad keys double as controls for adjusting the repeat speed in 10 steps. They claim 1000Hz polling rate for this ‘board. And, a double press of the Numlock key itself will bring up the Windows Calculator, plus there’s a bunch of volume adjusting keys just above the Numpad.
Manuals and more
I couldn’t find a downloadable instruction manual for the nKeyboard Mechanic LED, so herewith are snaps of the pages
for your reading pleasure for when you’ve lost your manual, and this review is the first hit in your Google search for it.
Pricing and availability
Skydigital tells us that there have been chronic shortages of Cherry switches since early 2014, and as such although they planned to offer this keyboard in all the colours of the Cherry rainbow, only red switches have made it to production in our language and market so far. Cost in Australia is AUD $229 delivered, which works out cheaper than Amazon, and locally, more than non-lit, non-macro Filco boards, but less than the multi-coloured Corsair series. You’ll know if you need the functionality and cool-factor of the nKeyboard Mechanic LED.