Keyboard Builders' Digest
5% off! Keyboards and accessories from Apos.
Keyboard Builders' Digest / Review

Kemove K98 1980 review

This week I tested the Kemove K98 1980, a fully built three-mode wireless hotswap mechanical keyboard with 1800 layout.

KBD.news
Published March 1, 2024
Creators! Feel free to tip me off about your keyboard related projects to bring them to 100K readers.

Kemove is stepping up the game with its new keyboard models: the K98 and K98SE. After the much cleaner, almost feminine features of the K68 "Angel" with its curvy lines, the K98 is definitely something more masculine.

Other than that, the K98s share a "middle name" with the K87 and K87SE: the "1980" is the name of the series indicating that Kemove's concept was to return to the retro trend of the 1980s (as the blue appearance of the K87 is a reference to the popular jeans of the 80s).

That said, almost any MX keycap set looks good on this versatile keyboard, thus it matches any working/gaming environment.

Pic:

TLDR

If you like the 1800 layout, which makes a lot of sense in my opinion, the Kemove K98 is definitely something to consider. Pros: wireless, hotswap, huge RGB firepower, F13 key. Cons: software. Not for the enthusiast who would like to heavily customize his/her keymap. Kemove's offer is especially affordable if you are content with the wired-only soldered K98SE variant, which is available from only $35*!

Disclaimer

While I'm not paid for writing this review, I received the K98 for free. As always, this may introduce all kinds of bias, both positive and negative. Read everything accordingly.

Variants

To begin with, there's a huge 30% discount in effect (feel free to use the KBDNEWS coupon code) which means these boards are available from $35 at the moment. (Yes, you read it right.) Let me use the discounted prices below.

Pic: Kemove K98SE

Kemove K98SE

So I received the hotswap, wireless K98 ($109->$76), the big brother, with Kailh Silver switches. This comes in a dark, Dolch-ish colorway with red accents. However, as usual, Kemove offers the model in a wired-only soldered version too: the K98SE is much cheaper, available for only $35. $35!!! For a fully built 96% keyboard?! Insane. This latter one comes in a light colorway with blueish accents and dark modifiers. Some other brands would call it the arctic fox colorway.

In the box

The box is really neat. White, shiny, quality cardboard. Its design is clean and simple, but the silvery glittering inscriptions make it somehow posh.

Pic: K98 box

K98 box

The K98 comes pre-built, switches and caps mounted. Cable, keycap and switch puller (a basic one, not the P10 I used in some of the photos), plus a leaflet with a list of hotkeys for those who are eager to unleash the full force of RGB lighting.

Pic: K98 contents

K98 contents

The dongle is stored beneath one of the flippable legs. (I always like similar solutions, one less chance to lose it.)

Pic: K98 bottom view

K98 bottom view

The cable is decent, and it matches not just the Dolch colorway but also the diagonal pattern of the bottom. (My photo sucks though.)

The 1800 layout

In the heroic age of computing, most related jobs mainly involved data entry, thus having a dedicated numpad was a must. While much smaller layouts are the trend nowadays, if layers are not your cup of tea, or maybe you are one of the heirs of that early golden age, the 1800 layout is offering the best of both worlds.

Introduced in the '90s (and still in production), the G80-1800/18xx was/is a series of keyboards made by Cherry sharing this distinctive, genre-defining layout: reduced width with most of the keys retained.

Pic: I have to source some 1800s. Only have this 11800 with the trackball.

I have to source some 1800s. Only have this 11800 with the trackball.

I always thought that the 1800 (96%, "fullsize compact", etc.) makes the most sense when it comes to keyboards at the larger end of the layout spectrum, so no wonder it became a popular choice among enthusiasts: you keep the arrow cluster, just like the numpad, but the overall width is still reduced by about 3U or 6 cm, the width of the arrow cluster. Even better, the arrows are a bit offset, which in my opinion is much better than a cramped arrangement without any gaps.

The K98 – similarly to the Luminkey80 – features an F13 key, i.e. the gaps of the F-row are a bit compressed to make enough room for an additional key. This means that the only missing physical keys are the print screen / scroll lock / break triumvirate, plus the End key of the navigation cluster. At least by default – of course you can reprogram any of the keys.

Build quality

I've never had any problems with the build quality of Kemove boards despite the almost unbelievable price. Previously I had the opportunity to abuse the Kemove K68 and also the K68SE. The difference between the fully featured variant and the wired/soldered budget option is really only the lack of the extra wireless and hotswap features. Otherwise they are pretty much the same. Same case (as much as possible) and same quality.

Pic:

The K98 is also very stable while typing, despite the plastic (ABS) case with its weight of 1400g. (More on this later.)

Switches

No barebone kit, only pre-builts in the store. Your options are Kailh Brown/Red/Silver for the K98 and Kailh Blue/Brown/Red for the K98SE.

Pic:

If you prefer something else, opt for the K98 variant which is hotswap – unless of course if you are ready for a long desoldering session.

Both 3 and 5 pin switches are supported.

Keycaps

These are something new. I mean, obviously SA or something very similar with the retro vibe, but with a different feel. I had no problem with the silky smooth low-pro caps of the K68 either, but the caps on the K98 couldn't be more different: double-shot PBT, high in every sense, and the texture is a bit coarse.

Pic: Keycap profile

Keycap profile

Some caps have secondary legends on the front, indicating mostly lighting and wireless related functions, which is alway useful.

Pic: Secondary legends on the front

Secondary legends on the front

The surface feels rougher like e.g. the MT3 but with more spacious top surface in this case. Some of you'll love it, some of you won't. This is pretty much inevitable with everything new. I love MT3 so like this feel too.

Of course you can always replace the keycaps if you'd like, and the dark K98 case is – dressed in various caps – versatile enough to excel in many styles and transform into pretty much anything you'd like.

I tried the Universe by Aihey Studio, as well as the KDS Splatter I received from Apos. Both are huge dye-sub Cherry sets with excellent compatibility:

Pic: Kemove K98 sporting Universe by Aihey Studio

Kemove K98 sporting Universe by Aihey Studio

Pic: Height difference of Cherry(ish) vs SA(ish) caps

Height difference of Cherry(ish) vs SA(ish) caps

Pic: Kemove K98 sporting KDS Splatter offered by Apos

Kemove K98 sporting KDS Splatter offered by Apos

Pic: Like a completely different board

Like a completely different board

Structure & Noise reduction

I gave up on disassembling this so can only rely on the exploded images of the product page. (No visible screws on the bottom, and the bumpons are glued on. I didn't want to destroy them.)

Based on the available documentation, the dampening layers are not foam but silicon: 3.5mm silicon pad under the switches, 7.9mm silicon layer on the bottom. (If these values look unlikely, check out the product page: these are sculpted, much thinner right below the switches.) The top plate acts as a giant diffuser/reflector – works really well if you're into RGB.

Pic: Silicon pad under the switches

Silicon pad under the switches

Other features

SpaceFN? SpaceFN by default?!!! (No, not really. :D) I'd love this, and the symbol on the front of the spacebar suggests this option, however, it doesn't really work. You definitely can set up space as FN, but the space function was gone when I tried it.

Pic: Typing angle: 0/4/6 degrees

Typing angle: 0/4/6 degrees

A quick word about the typing angle: Using the two-stage foldable feet results in different degrees of typing angle: about 4 and 6 degrees. The feet end in the red anti-slip material you can see in the photos, which is both a blessing and a curse. Perfect for various use cases in general, however, if you'd like to push the keyboard away from you, the feet collapse.

Pic: Switches on the bottom

Switches on the bottom

Win/Mac & wired/wireless modes switches on the bottom.

Wired, Bluetooth or 2.4G wireless modes with 4000mAh battery – easy to access.

Pic: 4000mAh battery

4000mAh battery

The LEDs go off after some secs/minutes of inactivity. Maybe I was just hallucinating, but this seems to be adaptive. Out of the box this was a few seconds when connected wirelessly. When plugged in (wired->recharging) and then going wireless again, the LEDs stayed on for much longer, probably minutes.

Software

This is the weakest point of this otherwise great keyboard: no trace of QMK or VIA/VIAL compatibility.

The driver (Kemove Control Hub) can be downloaded from the manufacturer's site:

Pic:

I'm not too enthusiastic about this despite pretty much doing its basic job – but nothing else. No layers, mod taps, etc., so this is not for the keyboard enthusiast but the average gamer or casual user who largely sticks to the default layout. You can rearrange the keys, create macros, but this is not much for many of you.

E.g. when you'd like to swap two alpha characters – recreating any custom layout would require this –, you have to type the character of your choice into an input box. This means you need another keyboard at hand in contrast to a point and click solution, otherwise I can't see how you could swap alphas. Unless of course you use a temporary "cache" key, but I don't think that's the expected strategy. Nor an on-screen keyboard.

Conclusion

The Kemove K98 and especially the soldered/wired K98SE variant are very affordable options if you prefer the 1800 layout – which makes a lot of sense in my opinion, reducing the overall width while keeping most of the keys. Per-key RGB and a decoration strip on the front part help to light up your room. Elaborated plastic case, and features like an F13 key make it a great choice if you can let go customizing your keymap. Before placing an order, make sure you understand the difference between the available variants (and don't forget to use the KBDNEWS coupon code for 30% off)!

Availability

Other products in this article:

Pic: One last shot. I like how this turned out.

One last shot. I like how this turned out.
Do you like this post? Share, donate, subscribe, tip me off!

Published on Fri 1st Mar 2024. Featured in KBD #157.


Related

Custom 1800

A custom CNC milled 1800 by B_Rich with video documentation (+pics).

TrashTruck

TrashTruck is a keyboard based on the GarbageTruck with exploded arrows. Shared by Skribbles4420.

Dolch luggable

A Dolch luggable posted by bakedbeens11.

1800-ish wooden ortho

An 1800-style ortho board by u/MetaWhirledPeas, hand made from a solid piece of poplar from Home Depot.

Costar CSK-7101N

u/lBlanc99 revived and restored a dead Costar CSK-7101N keyboard.

Clueboard 2x1800 Toy edition

Clueboard 2x1800 Toy edition with Buger TH01 posted by Gracelberrypie.

×
top