Posted On 05/11/2017 By In Keyboard Reviews, Reviews

REVIEW: Input Club x Massdrop K-Type

Page Contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. Packaging, Unboxing, and Contents
  3. External Build
  4. Internal Build
  5. Switches
  6. Layout and Function Keys
  7. Summary & Conclusion
  8. Full Gallery
  9. Where to Buy

Introduction

This review was done with an early production sample, so parts of the review will be incomplete at the time of publication. I will update the review accordingly as I get updates and a finished production board. 

The Input Club are a collective of some of the finest minds in the mechanical keyboard community, and the brainiacs behind the Infinity 60%, the Infinity ErgoDox, and the WhiteFox (with Matt3o). The Input Club are back with a brand new addition to their lineup, the K-Type TKL. The K-Type will be available exclusively on Massdrop for $199. The buy will start on May 16th, at 6 a.m. PST. Notable features of the K-Type include:

  • Standard Tenkey-less layout
  • Fully programmable from command line or online configurator
  • RGB Backlighting (per key & underglow)
  • Custom Kaihua switches
  • Open source software and hardware
  • Machined aluminum frame
  • 2x USB Type-C connectors

Packaging, Unboxing, and Contents

Inside the box

  • To be updated when I get a production keyboard in a production box.

External Build

Case

For me, the case is the first part of any keyboard that really makes an impact on my expectations as soon as I tear it out of the box. Basic judgements on appearance and build quality are made seconds after picking up any keyboard. The K-Type case has far exceeded the expectations I had for it based on past Input Club keyboards. The closest cousin to the K-Type, the WhiteFox, had the plate screw into the bottom case from the top, leaving exposed screws that gave the keyboard a rather “homebrew” / upside-down look. The K-Type, on the other hand, looks much closer to a polished Apple product than the homebrew board it really is. The diffused acrylic centerpiece allows the RGB lighting on the underside of the PCB to shine through with a pleasing soft light. The case all fits together exceptionally well, feels very sturdy, and has a minimalist design that really allows the K-Type to look at home in almost any environment.

Reverse side (rubber pads, feet, etc.)

My sample unit sadly doesn’t have the removable magnetic feet that the final version will have. I have however seen and used a sample with the magnetic feet and really loved the execution. Instead of traditional “feet,” the K-Type utilizes a single bar that attaches to the bottom case magnetically to raise the keyboard. Unlike other very low profile keyboards (such as GON or Winkeyless) where feet have to be screwed on, the K-Type’s magnetic feet is a great solution that finally makes raising/lowing the keyboard angle quick and easy.

Keycaps

The K-Type ships with doubleshot PBT caps with clear POM legends to clearly allow the RGB switch lighting to shine through. These OEM profile caps are made by Tai-Hao and utilize a Helvetica inspired font. Finally, shine through caps without a shitty-gamer font! The caps are relatively thin, as are all Tai-Hao caps, but far better than most stock ABS laser etched caps by a long shot. The caps don’t “bleed” light either, and really help create a very clean looking keyboard.

PCB

  • As mentioned, I have a sample unit K-Type and I am unable to get into the case. Once I get my hands on a final version this will be updated further.

One of the most interesting new features of the K-Type are the brand new hot-swap sockets made by Kaihua. These are worlds better than holtites for switch swapping, as they are specifically made for switches. The new sockets are rated for around twice the usage of traditional holtites and designed specifically for keyswitches, making them the obviously superior.

Another unique feature of the K-Type are the two USB-C ports on either side of the keyboard. This can be used as a simple cable routing solution, though they also let the K-Type connect to any other keyboard running KLL. You can use the extra port to charge phones and other USB devices, though the extra port will not act as a hub, so no plugging in a flash drive or mouse.

The PCB also utilizes Cherry stabilizers. The included stabilizers are not produced by Cherry, but feel on par with any “genuine” Cherry stabilizers I’ve used. Switching caps is quick and painless with Cherry stabilizers, something that can’t be said about Costar variants. I didn’t have any rattle or inconsistent feeling from any of the stabilized keys. Should users want to swap out the stabilizers, they could due to the hot-swap sockets, though I wouldn’t recommend it as I don’t see any reason to go through the hassle.

Switches

I’ll be honest, I think over half the battle with selling this keyboard to those on the fence about is going to be selling the idea of Kaihua switches to them. Kaihua switches will be the only ones offered with the K-Type on the initial drop, with an option for the custom tactile switch designed by Jacob Alexander (Haata). This has been a point of some controversy within the community because in the past Kaihua hasn’t always had the best reputation. A large part of that was due to the switches they made for Razer, which are nothing short of some of the worst MX switches around.  The recent switches made by Kaihua are actually quite excellent. The sample unit I received had tactile brown switches that were on par with Cherry and Gateron. The bump was slightly more noticeable than either, which is something that I was quite fond of. Actuation was smooth and consistent among all of the switches on the keyboard.

I think one of the biggest challenges for the first drop will simply be overcoming the bad reputation that Kaihua/Kailh have had in the past. Unfortunately I’ve already seen many people talking about how awful the switches are without having ever tried them at all, or without having tried the newer switches. I personally know Haata has really put a lot of effort into the custom switch he designed (that Kaihua will manufacture), and will be giving my opinion of those sooner than later as well!

The new Kaihua switches are slightly different than other MX switches in a few distinct ways. First off, like older Kaihua switches, the housings are not interchangeable with Cherry style housings. Secondly, these new RGB Kaihua switches feature a lightpipe that makes them better suited for SMD RGB lighting than any other MX style switch.

Unlike a normal  top-housing, there is a clear tab that goes down through the bottom housing that helps guide the light through the switch. This unsurprisingly makes a huge impact on the vibrance of the lighting, as well as evenly distributing the light. Don’t just take my word for it, have a look at the lightpipe in action:

In the image above you can see a comparison of light distribution between multiple style switch casings. The first and last switch are the stock Kaihua’s with the internal light pipes. The second from the left is a Kaihua but with the RGB bottom housing but no light pipe), and the third from the left is a Kaihua with a standard bottom housing. As you can see the new switches really do a phenomenal job of guiding the light through the switch and providing extremely even lighting to the cap above.

Layout and Function Keys

The K-Type, like all Input Club creations, will be completely programmable. The keyboard will use the Keyboard Layout Language (KLL) that is a dynamic language for keyboards created by Jacob Alexander. Users will be able to use the online configurator, which in my opinion is the easiest and  best in the business, to map layers and macros. The K-Type configurator (which has yet to be released) will also allow users to manage the RGB lighting. The in-switch lighting and underglow are separately. They  underglow and in-switch lighting are technically dual displays that can interact with each other.

Summary & Conclusion

The K-Type set out to be a keyboard that enthusiasts, casual users, and gamers alike could all enjoy, a monumental task by all counts. In many ways I think the K-Type succeeds at what it set out to do. The quality of the case is far better than any off-the-shelf keyboard, and the RGB options are shaping up to be the best in the market.

On the other hand, because the keyboard tries to cater to so many different sub groups of the keyboard community, it simply won’t be considered the “top dog” in any of the sub communities. The casual users and gamers may be slightly put off by the price, and go on to say “well, I could get _____ with a metal case, RGB, and some programmability for $50 less.” On the other hand, the hardcore enthusiast community has always been partial to physical layout options (winkeyless, stepped caps lock, split backspace,etc), high profile cases, and kit options that let them utilize any switches or stabilizers they want. Technically, due to the modularity provided by the hot-swap sockets, this could be seen as a kit, but I doubt the community in general will see it that way.

Now, to be clear, I’m not holding the lack of “enthusiast” options against the K-Type at all. The entire keyboard is open source, meaning the firmware and hardware files (PCB, case) will all be publicly available. This is really a huge deal. Anyone that is so inclined will be able to make a K-Type from scratch, or make one with options that may not be available in the production version. Due to how the case and plate are one and the same, and how complex the PCB is, making things like physical layout options just doesn’t make sense in all honestly, but if there is truly a desire for options like those we do have the tools as a community to have them made.

Where does all of this leave us? It still leaves us with a damn fine keyboard, that in itself is close to flawless. After extensively using the keyboard I can’t really come up with any issues or imperfections I’d want to see changed. The K-Type will inevitably be a huge success, and to be honest I think it will have a lot of staying power within all areas of the keyboard community. Sure, it may not check all of the boxes for everyone, but it will become the best option for multitudes of people. The K-Type in many ways is the pinnacle of keyboards designed by the community, for the community, and is definitely be something I’ll recommend and stand behind.

Pros

  • Excellent build quality
  • RGB is vibrant with buttery smooth transitions
  • New Kaihua switches are very nice
  • Stock keycaps are doubleshot, PBT, and have a nice font
  • Price ($199), for what you get the price is fantastic
  • 2x USB C ports
  • Open source hardware and firmware

Cons

  • No true “barebones” option
  • Limited switch options
  • Price, will seem expensive to people not directly in the “enthusiast” community

Final score: 9.7/10

Full Gallery

Where to Buy

The K-Type is available exclusively on Massdrop for $199, and will be available starting on May 16th. 

 

 

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