In which we review the X50Q, one of the two new cloud-connected mechanical keyboards from Das Keyboard. Wait, “cloud-connected?”
- A Closer Look
- Switches, Keycaps, & Lighting
- The Das Q Software
- The Verdict
- Where To Buy
Let’s get this out of the way up front: The new Das Keyboard X50Q and 5Q have seen some controversy. Right out of the gate–before the gate opened, really–beta reviewers were trashing the new gear and the accompanying software. Then, Das Keyboard itself made the mistake of banning some users from its forums for whipping up open source versions of the Das Q software because DK was late developing them on its own. (An apology from the founder followed.)
First, it’s important to understand that the X50Q and 5Q are, despite their similarities, meant for different audiences. The former (which we’re reviewing here in this article) and the latter are meant for gamers and not-gamers, respectively. The X50 takes design cues from the gamer-centric X40 lines, and the 5Q inherited its looks and build from DK’s more demure, office-friendly pro keyboards.
Beyond that, as I noted in a news post, they have much in common. To quote myself:
“They both have thick aluminum top plates, for example. […] Both are full-size keyboards and are also available in DE, UK, and NO layouts. They both have RGB lighting via surface-mounted LEDs, and they offer removable wrist rests. They also both have three dedicated media buttons and a knob at their top right edge, although the look and shape of those items are quite different from one another.”
Also note that they have the same Gamma-Zulu switches, and they both rely on the new Das Q cloud-connected software, all of which we’ll discuss further down in this article.
A Closer Look
First, let’s take a closer look at the Das Keyboard X50Q. It has the same type of removable aluminum top plate design as the X40 series. (Before you ask, no, they’re not compatible. I know, kind of a bummer for DK fans.)
The overall design is a little odd. Usually, keyboard makers do one of two things: Either they use a “bowl” design, where the backplate is hidden by a top cover, or they mount the switches directly onto a top plate. For the X50Q, Das Keyboard combined the two, in a way. There’s a top plate (that’s removable, as stated above), but the switches are also basically top plate-mounted onto what amounts to…a second top plate. I guess we’ll call it the “backplate” because technically that’s what it is.
This raises the question as to why there’s a top plate at all, other than for aesthetics. On the X50Q, the top plate rests directly on the backplate. Perhaps more strange is the fact that the backplate is white, even though the keycaps and top plate are black. Obviously DK did this on purpose, but it’s true that one effect of the white backplate is that it makes the keycaps looks like they’re floating in a puddle of diffused light. (More on that in the Lighting section below.)
The X50Q is a flat keyboard–as in, it has about a three-degree typing angle. There are two feet along the back that flip out to provide a steeper angle, but even that gets you to only about seven degrees. I can’t say this bothered me all that much, but if you like a good bit of elevation, you’re going to be let down.
It will feel even flatter if you snap on the included-but-removable wrist rest. With the wrist rest on and the feet closed, it feels like I’m typing at almost an inverted angle. The wrist rest isn’t magnetic; it actually snaps into the keyboard from underneath, so it never accidentally detaches. Rather than a soft or rubbery texture, the wrist rest is smooth and hard black matte. It’s nice and deep, giving your palms a large surface area to sit on. It started to shine up after a few days’ of use, though.
On the whole, the X50Q is supremely solid. You have to work pretty hard to flex it at all–this is the result of the two metal plates resting on top of one another–and the thing is heavy. Which is good in this case.
Atop the full numpad are three dedicated media keys and the volume knob/Q button. Points to DK for making these actual switches and keycaps instead of buttons. One is for dialing up the brightness of the backlighting, and there’s a play/pause key and a fast-forward key.
Switches, Keycaps, & Lighting
The X50Q sports Das Keyboard’s Gamma-Zulu switches. Made by Omron and quite similar to Logitech’s Romer-G family, the Gamma-Zulu switches are light and tactile, with a high-ish actuation (1.5mm) and overall short-ish travel (3.5mm). At first they felt somewhat stiff under my fingers, but that seemed to have abated after hours of typing.
Just like Romer-G switches (they’re almost the exact same thing), you’re either going to love or hate Gamma-Zulu switches. The shallow travel, lightness, and gentle tactile bump make for fleet typing. I generally adjust to this sort of keyfeel quickly, and I find that I tend to type more gently on this kind of keyboard. I’m not even bottoming out the switches all the time, which is odd for me, a usually heavy-fingered typer. However, lots of people have voiced their dislike of this lighter keyfeel, so if you tend towards heavier and/or clickier switches, you won’t enjoy Gamma-Zulus.
The keycaps are one of the weaker aspects of the X50Q. They’re just plain ‘ol ABS plastic with lasered legends, they’re about 1mm thick, and they collect fingerprints and shine rather badly. (I don’t know why so many OEMs insist on keycaps like these.) Although it’s purely a matter of taste, the wide and chunky font on the caps could be considered…ugly, perhaps. The primary and secondary legends are squished together somewhat. Granted, that ensures that the backlighting is even under all the legends, but a smaller font would make it more graceful.
I love having a volume wheel at the ready. Although the soft-touch rubber-coated knob on the X50Q isn’t as slick as a horizontal volume roller, it does the trick. It’s all by itself on the far right of the keyboard, so you can easily grab it without accidentally bumping any keys. The motion is stepped, like a lot of mouse scroll wheels, instead of a smooth roll. It’s stiff and tactile, and it nudges the volume by four units on my PC. If I’m extra careful, I can get it to adjust the volume up or down in increments of two. None of that probably makes any difference to anyone, but hey, there it is.
For as quirky as the X50Q’s white backplate design is, it serves a purpose, and that purpose is to make the lighting on this keyboard cleaner and more lovely–in the dark. I’m not a fan of the black-on-white plate look, but once I checked out the lighting in the dark, I got it. The white background makes the black keycaps look like they’re floating in a puddle of light. Because there are two plates, there’s very little light bleed that spills onto the black top plate. The net effect is prettier underlighting that’s also more contained than what you usually see on a keyboard like this one. The legends are lit bright and crisp, in contrast to the softer, dispersed underlighting.
Of course, the tidy lighting begins with the centered LED design that’s inherent to these Omron-made switches. It keeps light bleed to a minimum, but it also controls whatever light bleed does exist. The backlighting on the keycap legends is beautiful, including front-side illumination on a few choice keys.
The Das Q Software
The major selling point of the X50Q (and the 5Q) is the cloud-connected Q software that underpins them both. The software has been a significant point of contention for many users. There are many issues involved, including:
- It took a really long time to finish it
- Mac and Linux versions still aren’t done
- The “cloud-connected” part invites security and privacy concerns
- It’s completely unlike most keyboard software in that it’s designed to make the keyboards notification centers for internet-connected services as well as control hubs for IoT devices
- It’s missing key features, namely the ability to make key assignments and program macros
You can read a full breakdown of the issues here.
Head here for a tutorial on how to use the Q software (that was way too lengthy to fit inside a review).
And with that, let’s look at the guts of the X50Q in the teardown.
You actually don’t have to pop off any keycaps to remove the top plate from the X50Q, which is a little strange but does make this keyboard really easy to clean. If you do take off some caps, you’ll notice Cherry-style stabilizers on board and of course the aforementioned (Omron) Gamma Zulu switches.
Eight screws hold the top plate, which is about 1.5mm thick, to the white back plate, which is itself approximately 1.5mm thick. (The PCB is another 1.5mm thick, which makes for an incredibly sturdy build.) The top plate screws are all hex heads, so you need a small Allen wrench to remove them. Eight more tiny Phillips-head screws hold the backplate plate onto the bottom part of the chassis.
This is where it gets a little complicated and delicate. Everything is a bit connected inside. For example, you can’t get the white backplate off of the chassis without peeling back the fabric tape that helps secure the two clear “wings” in place on the PCB. (These are for the two side lights that flank the X50Q.) The backplate catches on the wings when you’re trying to remove it, so one must be careful.
The USB cable is secured by a pinching mechanism. There’s some flux residue on the underside of the PCB. It’s clear from the handwriting that the keyboard was hand inspected by humans, or at least the PCB assembly was, prior to completion of the manufacturing.
There’s a surprising number of chips on this PCB. Usually you’ll see an MCU and one or two LED controllers. The X50Q has more than that: The MCU is an ARM NXP LPC11U35F/401. There are three LED controllers on board (MBI5042GP), and there’s also an AMS1117 3.3 voltage regulator and a Winbond W25Q32FVSIG flash memory chip.
Here’s what the light, tactile, short-travel Gamma-Zulu switches on the X50Q sound like:
The switches themselves are fairly quiet. The wider keys are quite a bit louder than the alphas, especially the spacebar. Some of them wiggle a bit and make a rattling sound. But most pronounced is the “ping” sound that emanates from this keyboard as you type. It’s noticeable almost all the time and is not ideal.
|Sturdy construction||Loud ping noise while typing|
|Powerful software||Software is fussy and missing important features|
|Excellent centered backlighting||Somewhat odd plate design|
It’s important to separate what’s objectively not great about the X50Q versus what people subjectively don’t like about it. For instance, font is a matter of taste. I personally don’t love the gamery font Das Keyboard used on the X50Q, but surely someone out there loves it. Plus, the bulky font means that the legends are big and bright. The same goes for the white backplate: It feels out of place to me, but others may find the keycaps-on-a-cloud effect it provides quite lovely. It’s understandable that some chafe at the feel of the Gamma-Zulu switches; they have a lighter tactility and a shorter travel than many desktop switches. But other people love that keyfeel.
There are some less subjective issues, though. The shine on both the keycaps and chassis is more pronounced than it should be. The keycaps are industry-baseline ABS plastic with lasered legends. There’s a startling amount of “ping” noise when you’re typing. The software is incomplete and fussy.
But the X50Q is sturdy and solid. The backlighting is excellent thanks to the centered LED design of the Gamma-Zulu switches, and it’s actually aided by the odd plate-on-plate design. The software is quite powerful even as it stands now, if you take the time to fiddle with it (and have a PC, cough cough).
So if you dig a lighter tactile switch, and happen to find the design of the X50Q fetching, and can live with the keyboard’s shortcomings, get one. Be happy, and don’t let anyone steal your joy.
Where To Buy
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