Keyboard Builders' Digest / Review
I reviewed the K68, a budget 65% keyboard by Kemove.
Published October 14, 2022
You don't usually see reviews of prebuilt keyboards on this blog, nor ones with more on the classic side of the layout spectrum. Indeed, this is probably the first time I try my hands on writing something like this. What's the occasion?
I received this K68 keyboard from Kemove. (Thanks Dora!)
To clarify things: I got this for free but they haven't asked me anything in return. I just felt I have to write something about it, and what I write is my honest opinion. (You see this at the same time or most likely earlier as Kemove.)
So the Kemove K68 is a nice and very affordable little prebuilt keyboard: 65% layout, hotswap, with wired and wireless modes.
The case is made of plastic, but this is a very well built hefty keyboard which is a good starting point for trying out switches and keycaps, and which you'll especially love if you are into RGB.
In addition, thanks to Kemove's own keycaps, it's also relatively low profile despite being MX compatible.
I took the K68 to my workplace and, after years of flexing implausible ergo split abominations, the K68 was probably the first keyboard my coworkers were able to appreciate – or recognize at all. :D
Is the K68 a good keyboard?
Obviously, this question makes no sense at all, and posts like this drive me crazy on Reddit.
What should you ask instead?
- Who is the K68 for?
- Is the K68 worth the price?
These days you can have the Kemove K68 for $65.
Yeah, it costs $100 ($99.99) normally, but Kemove offered you a 20% discount a few weeks ago (KBDNEWS discount code). And for the Halloween season they have a 30% coupon in effect. After asking if they could adjust my coupon code accordingly, I was told mine is worth 35% now. :D
So the price is $65 in practice.
For this money you get a fully built wireless keyboard with Gateron switches (Cherry is +$20) and the low-pro double-shot PBT keycaps.
Is it worth the price? If you belong to the group defined below, absolutely.
Who is the K68 for?
I'd recommend the K68 for those using ANSI and most likely with a US layout – or for hardcore touch typers with all the symbols in their muscle memory.
For those of you from e.g. Europe with a bunch of funny national characters, this may not be the best choice since this model is only available in ANSI layout and with the stock US keycap set (of course you can replace those any time).
In my native language there are 9 extra vowels. While I've been touch-typing for decades, these extra alphas take up the places of almost all the symbols on the base layer which makes a proper keycap set (indicating the new home of all those outcast symbols) quite handy.
In addition, compared to ANSI, the extra ISO key next to the left Shift is also essential for me (when typing on classic layouts), so you have to consider if you can live without it.
Physical F-keys aren't that important in my opinion (especially if you take the time and optimize your logical layout), similar to the numpad and a classic navigation cluster (see later).
Nice packaging, surprisingly hefty.
We are talking about a plastic case so I didn't expect a relatively heavy keyboard like this. My scale indicates it's over 1kg. (After disassembly it seems a thick metal switch plate is the reason for that.)
Keyboard, keycap puller, switch puller, donge, cable, instructions, DUST COVER!!! Honestly, a dust cover should be shipped with every single keyboard.
The designers at Kemove decided on a more curvy contour. This may increase the overall footprint by 1-2cm, but it isn't a l'art pour l'art thing: It provides a nice grip, and you can lift the keyboard more easily despite it's weight.
The stylish depression at the front of the keyboard has a practical benefit too: when you want to lift the board with one hand, especially if your hand is small.
Up until a few days ago the design was called "butterfly", and the product page referenced Butterfly Lovers, a famous Chinese tale as its inspiration, however, those references are gone now.
Regardless, I'd say the white version (the one I received) is reminiscent of a flattened stormtrooper helmet as well.
By default, you can choose from various Cherry and Gateron switches.
Mine came with Cherry Reds. (I forgot to ask for a specific switch but no problem at all. I've never tried original Cherry Reds. ;))
I'm not a pundit in the field of linear switches but started with Gateron blacks years ago, am using Momoka Frogs/Flamingos at home, and have also tried the Melgeek Plastic switches by Kailh recently.
In my experience, these Cherry Reds aren't on par with the newer linear switch models. They are scratchy and the stem wobble is also considerable.
However, we're talking about a hotswap keyboard so replacing your switches is not a big deal.
(I like to support the PCB/hotswap socket while replacing the switch. With the K68 you have to remove a lot of caps to be able to access the screws and the back of the PCB which means replacing just a few switches as a test is not that easy – at least if you want to be careful and make sure you don't rip off some sockets.)
I had to remove 11 from a total of 24 screws to access the hotswap sockets, however, the disassembly was very easy.
The caps are Kemove's in-house low-profile, double-shot PBT keycaps with legends transmitting light.
This is a sculpted cylindrical set but nothing like Cherry profile with its sharp edges.
Feels nice to the touch, not a cheap feeling at all. Very fine, slightly silky texture.
Of course, low profile is relative. Because of the MX keyswitches, a mechanical keyboard is higher than the average cheap rubberdome. Low-pro caps here mean that the K68's overall height is about the same as a rubberdome, and it's lower than most mechanical keyboards.
But most of the difference lies in the case height and case/plate angle. If you put e.g. an MDA cap on the home row (one of my favorite profiles), you can see the difference is not significant:
The homing dashes are small but sharp – I don't know about you but this is very important for me.
The spacebar has sharp edges at the corners but is rounded in the middle of the key which is a nice touch.
Of course, if you prefer a different profile, the K68 sports MX-compatible switches so you can easily replace the caps with any compatible set of your choice.
With the default caps and red switches, the typing feel and the feedback is very direct, I'd say too direct for me. Hard bottom out. At least without a desk mat. With desk mat it's somewhat better but still not my taste.
I thought that's the result of the mounting style (top mount) and the lack of gaskets which could make impossible a more cushioned typing on the K68 even with switches and caps replaced.
Surprisingly, that's not the case.
I tried out various switches and keycaps, and it turned out that the typing experience can be easily improved, and that the mounting style is maybe not that important as I thought. With doubleshot MDA caps and the Kailh Plastic switches (both shipped with the Mojo 84 I had at hand), the $65 K68 was very close to a $200 keyboard with regards to typing feel. (The difference is more in the materials and design.)
Customizing the layout
To be able to use this board with my workflow and the languages I type in, I made some changes to the logical layout.
Actually, I had these changes in place for a non-programmable rubberdome so at the moment the K68 was recognized by my PC these changes were applied automatically:
- Space-FN (accessing another layer by holding the spacebar)
- Arrows and navigation cluster on the right home box.
- Numpad on the left side.
(I've installed Kemove's software but couldn't find any options to mimic my usual settings, and I wasn't interested in macros, customizing lighting effects or synchronizing lights with the music played on my PC.)
To achieve these changes in the logical layout without any keyboard-specific software, I've been using TouchCursor for many years. AutoHotKey is probably just as good.
Add PKL (Portable Keyboard Layout) to the mix, which itself is a wrapper for AHK, and you can swap the keys on whatever board, programmable or not-programmable.
If you're looking for a budget prebuilt keyboard with ANSI layout and US caps, a wireless board which is a good basis for customization (hotswap, MX-compatible), you should definitely consider Kemove's K68.
I've been using this keyboard in 2.4G wireless mode for 4-5 days at work. In my experience, if I'd prefer ANSI, I could absolutely use this on a daily basis.
After 5 days, the color code indicates the battery level is somewhere between 50-95%. (I'll update this once I'll have to recharge it.)
If you are interested, don't forget to use the KBDNEWS discount code at:
Published on Fri 14th Oct 2022. Featured in KBD #99.
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