das keyboard 5q

Posted On 10/26/2018 By In Keyboard Reviews, Reviews

Das Keyboard 5Q Review: Those Lights Though

The Das Keyboard 5Q is the flagship entry in the company’s Q-series. There’s a lot to like about the 5Q, but it has some serious lighting issues.

  1. Introduction
  2. A Closer Look
  3. Switches, Keycaps, & Lighting
  4. The Das Q Software
  5. Teardown
  6. Tests
  7. The Verdict
  8. Where To Buy

Introduction

We already covered a lot about Das Keyboard’s latest push, a “Q”-themed affair with multiple parts and pieces. There’s the new cloud-based Q software and all the controversies around it, and then we got deep with the Das Keyboard X50Q review. The X50Q and 5Q have a number of similarities, not the least of which is the Q software, but there are plenty of differences, too.

Fundamentally, although they share the same Das Keyboard DNA, they’re from different, uh, species? (This metaphor is already failing, sorry.) We’ve said this before: The X50Q was born from the gamery X40 line, and the 5Q has more of a professional heritage. Other things they have in common include:

  • Q software
  • Thick aluminum plates
  • Full-size layout
  • RGB lighting via SMD LEDs
  • Omron-made Gamma-Zulu switches
  • Three dedicated media buttons (although they’re different from one another)
  • Volume knob at the top right edge (although, again, they’re different from one another)
  • Really flat typing angles

A Closer Look

The 5Q is meant to be the flagship Q-series keyboard–”Q series,” meaning keyboards that support the cloud-based Q software–more than the X50Q. A 4Q model is forthcoming, too. Although the 5Q definitely got the snazzier volume knob, it unfortunately did not get the dedicated media keys. Instead, it has three media buttons that look like extra-thin chiclet caps and feel much worse. They barely move at all, actually, which makes them feel like they’re broken. They let you dial up the backlighting in 11 steps (counting “off”), play/pause, and skip tracks.

das keyboard 5q

The 5Q looks a little more traditional than the X50Q, but their plate construction is actually quite similar. Both have this odd plate-on-plate thing going on, where there’s a backplate and a top plate sandwiched directly on top of one another. The X50Q had a black-on-white plate color scheme, but the 5Q is black on black, which looks more chilled out. In both cases, though, this design enhances the rigidity of the keyboard; the 5Q is solid as a rock, resisting flexion of any kind.

Gone is the iconic Das Keyboard fin from the upper right corner, replaced in spirit (we guess) by the giant volume knob. (The knob, for what it’s worth, has a big fat satisfying tactile feel when you press it. When you turn the knob, you get an actual click, too.) The 5Q does have that DK lip all around the edge of the top panel, though.

das keyboard 5q

Like the X50Q, the 5Q is really flat and has a pair of feet that flip up but don’t give you much of a typing angle boost. Both keyboards come with wrist rests, although the X50Q’s snaps into the chassis whereas the 5Q uses magnets. Fortunately, the magnets are quite strong, so much so that I had to double check that there was nothing else holding the wrist rest onto the chassis. Whereas the X50Q’s wrist rest is a solid matte black piece of plastic, the 5Q’s has a nice, soft rubber surface that feels just lovely. This rubbery finish should cut down on shine long-term, which is great, but it does seem to be quite a dust catcher. And it’s black, so every speck of dust shows up like a beacon in the night.

Another little change is that the indicator lights on the 5Q are just above the arrow keys instead of up in the upper right corner.

The top panel has an almost sparkling, slightly textured metal finish that actually resists fingerprints and shine exceptionally well and matches the finish of the keycaps.

Switches, Keycaps, & Lighting

The keycaps are actually quite different from those on the X50Q, which is good, because the latter are unfortunately industry standard-issue gamer ABS matte black shiny things. The 5Q’s keycaps are doubleshot, with a translucent back so the LEDs shine through brightly. Their textured surface nicely avoids shine. The font on the keycaps is the same gamer-ish, slightly-hard-to-decipher-at-a-glance-sometimes as on the X50Q, although I swear the size of the font on the 5Q’s caps is a tiny bit smaller. 

As we’ve said before, Das Keyboard’s Gamma-Zulu switches are basically Logitech Romer-Gs in feel and in specification. Both are made by Omron. They’re light and tactile with high actuation and short travel. I find this style of switch perfectly comfortable to type on, but if you like deeper travel, heavier switches, or a stronger tactile feel, these are not for you.

das keyboard 5qThe lighting on the 5Q is a major issue. On paper, it should be excellent: It uses the light pipe design of the Gamma-Zulu switches to provide a clean, focused beam of light under the keycaps legends with little to no bleed on the black backplate. But there’s something terribly wrong with the LEDs.

The moment I kicked on the 5Q’s lights, I could tell something was off. Every time I blink, it feels like I’m seeing tracers. I can’t even stare directly at the keyboard without feeling nauseous. When I interviewed Das Keyboard founder Daniel Guermeur about a range of topics, I brought this up. He said that Das Keyboard was aware of that particular issue, but that only 0.5% of people seemed bothered by it, and anyway it was fixed in a firmware update. Call me special then, because even after installing the latest firmware on this keyboard, the lights still make me ill.

For some reason, red doesn’t bother me much at all, but any multicolor layout or anything heavily blue is a one-way trip to headache city. Orange is probably the worst, for some reason.

Why would this be happening? It seems to be the way the lighting is getting blended. As Guermeur told me, keyboard makers can blend the colors of the LEDs’ lights via the plastic on the LED itself or through the light pipe and keycap legend. The former is a dangerous game, as Logitech has discovered the hard way, and Das Keyboard is playing it as well. But that’s only part of it.

Das Keyboard offers a feature on the 5Q called “RGB+”, which is a term I hadn’t heard before. Guermeur told me that’s because Das Keyboard came up with it to describe their own LED and customized electronics. RGB+ is supposed to increase the refresh rate of the lights as well as the speed of the special lighting effects commands. All that customization is kind of expensive, which is why it’s exclusive to the 5Q for now. Unfortunately, for me at least, it’s a swing and a miss, because these lights make me ill and look discombobulated to my naked eye.

It’s doubly unfortunate because Das Keyboard tried to make something extra high quality; you don’t make custom stuff to cut corners. It’s just that the work they put in seems to have been in vain.

The Das Q Software

I’ve written ad nauseum about this software:

The TLDr is that the cloud part of software works as advertised, although it is is bit of a chore to program in the notifications. However, the Mac and Linux support are still being worked on, and you can’t program macros or make key assignments. Those features are coming, I’m told, but it’s too bad they weren’t there at launch.

Teardown

Let’s get a closer look at this lighting, and other things. Eight hex screws keep the top panel on. They’re hidden under the front lip of the top panel, but they’re easily accessible and removable from underneath. You have to remove another eight Phillips screws to get the backplate/PCB assembly out of the bottom of the chassis.

Here’s where you’ll find some goop. You can see that they hot glued the magnets for the wrist rest in place, leaving a bit of a mess. They did the same to the USB connector plugged into the PCB. I can’t say I’ve seen that done before. I supposed it technically makes for a stronger connection, but if you want to take the keyboard all the way apart, it makes things difficult.

das keyboard 5q

The 5Q has two side-mounted lights for some extra flair. These are hidden under the lip of the top plate, but the idea is that they provide some underglow on your desktop. It’s neat. The X50Q has them as well, but the design is completely different between the two keyboards. The X50Q’s has multiple delicate-looking pieces, whereas the 5Q just has two solid translucent pieces of plastic that slot in. It’s a simple and effective design.

The PCB evinces quality. It’s a beautiful fire engine red color, and the solder points are nice and clean. There are, however, a lot of chips on this thing. You’ll often see two or even three LED controllers on an RGB keyboard–the X50Q had three MB15043GP controllers–but the 5Q has nine. Nine. I’ve never seen anything like it.

The MCU is an STM32F401VBT6, and there’s a Winbond 25Q16JVSIQ  flash memory chip. Other include a TI AD574 (SN74ACT574), TI CU253C (SN74CBT3253C) multiplexer, TI LM339A quad differential comparator, TI LM324A quadruple operational amplifier, Altera 5M80Z E64C5N CPLD, and a Microchip 25LC08C SN. I’d be lying if I said I understood what all of these chips actually do.

Looking at the disassembled 5Q, though, you can see how much the physical materials contribute to the 5Q’s sturdiness: The top plate is 2mm aluminum, the backplate is 1mm aluminum, and the PCB itself is another 1.5mm.

Tests

Here’s what the Gamma-Zulu switches sound like:

 

The video shows just what I found with the X50Q: The switches aren’t very noisy, but the wider switches are a bit loud, and there’s a lot of ping noise. I stopped noticing it after a while, but it can drive those with more sensitive ears a little crazy.

Using Switch Hitter, we can confirm that the 5Q does offer NKRO.

The Verdict

The Das Keyboard 5Q is not without some entries in the “pro” column. The construction quality is excellent; the thing is just super solid. The finishes on the chassis and keycaps not only match one another, but they’re superb at resisting grime and shine. I love the wrist rest and its soft rubber. I could definitely get used to the big ‘ol Q button, too, with its thick click and ringed underlighting.

The Q software is going to be a turnoff for some people and a huge selling point for others. Yes, it’s cloud-connected and lets you set up all kinds of cool notifications with IFTTT and Zapier, and that’s exciting. But it lacks the ability to program keys or create macros, although as I wrote earlier in this review, I’m told those features are yet to come.

But the lighting problems alone make me extremely wary of the 5Q. Maybe your eyeballs and brain won’t be affected, but mine go berserk when this keyboard is lit up. Backlighting that genuinely makes me nauseous is a total dealbreaker for me, even though I like so many other things about the 5Q.  

das keyboard 5q

If you’re really taken with the whole Q thing, and you think you can handle the lighting weirdness, the 5Q is better than the X50Q in my opinion. But I don’t think it’s worth the risk, and frankly a $249 keyboard shouldn’t have problems that severe.

ProsCons
Very solid constructionNausea-inducing lighting
High quality chassis and keycap finishQ software lacks features
Comfy wrist restWeak media buttons
Powerful softwareHoly crap, it’s $249???

Where To Buy

Even though I’m telling you it’s probably a bad idea to buy this thing, you can snag a Das Keyboard 5Q directly from Das Keyboard or on Amazon.

Related reading:

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Seth Colaner

Editor in Chief of Keychatter. Irrepressibly interested in things. Loves devices that click and clack. Data nerd. Proud Midwesterner. Pass the buffalo chicken dip.

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