hexgears dreadnought

Posted On 02/13/2019 By In News

Feeling Out Kailh Sun Switches On The Hexgears Dreadnought

A few months ago, the Kailh Sun Switch appeared on an actual product, a full-size keyboard from Hexgears. At the time, I asserted that although it was good to see the switch land on something, the Hexgears keyboard was the wrong something. At CES 2019, I had the chance to clack on the keyboard in person. My previous assessment is unchanged, but I do have more insight now, as well as some notes on the keyboard itself.

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I had only a few minutes to try out the Sun Switches, but my initial impression is that they feel light but stiff. That’s a somewhat counterintuitive sensation, although I didn’t find it unpleasant. It does stand in contrast to the Logitech Romer-G and Das Keyboard Gamma-Zulu switches, two other (almost identical to one another) switches with a centered LED design. Those are both lightly tactile and feel a little loose. Given that these three switches are pretty much the only centered-LED options you can buy right now, those who like a heavier switch and are interested in a centered LED are thus once again thwarted.

The Sun Switch is clicky–another way it’s different from the two aforementioned tactile Omron designs–and the click is quite light. Thicc clickers need not apply.

The closest thing I can compare it to, subjectively, is the Kailh Box White switch. Looking at the specs of the two switches, there are indeed some striking similarities:

 Kailh Sun Switch (PG1511B)Kailh Box White (PG1511F)
TypeClickyClicky
Pretravel1.8mm (+/-0.5mm)1.8mm (+/-0.3mm)
Total Travel3.5mm (+/-0.3mm)3.6mm (+/-0.3mm)
Operation Force50gf (+/-10gf)45gf (+/-10gf)
Tactile Force55gf (+/-10gf)55gf (+/-10gf)
Bottom-out Force80gf (approx.)55gf (approx.)

A key difference is the bottom-out force, which I inferred from the switches’ respective force diagrams. But I don’t put much stock in that number; first of all, force curves issued by vendors should be considered illustrative only, and in my own force testing, I’ve discovered that bottom-out force is typically far lower than those diagrams would often make it appear. The 55gf bottom-out force that appears on the Box White’s diagram is probably closer to reality.

The only other notable difference is that the Box White has a lighter rebound, which could partly explain the sensation I had that the Sun Switch was stiffer.

Sun Shine

As I wrote in that previous article, the keycaps and chassis on this keyboard are all wrong for the Sun Switch, which means I couldn’t make any sort of reasonable evaluation of how the switches look when aglow. (This is not to mention that the bright lights of the Las Vegas Convention Center made it hard to see much nuance in any keyboard’s lighting.) However, visiting the keyboard in person meant that I could at least see what the Sun Switch looks like close up.

hexgears dreadnought

The LEDs didn’t appear to be exceptionally bright, which is not a bad thing per se. The translucent stem has a diffused light that looks as lovely as I’d hoped. Further, you can see that the legends and sublegends are evenly lit, which you wouldn’t get with a north-located LED. But I have to say that my initial concerns about the transparent top housing of the Sun Switch proved to be prescient. It bleeds light all over the place, just like all RGB switches do.

If you like that look, fine. But Kaihua already has RGB switches, so what’s the point of the Sun Switch? The best thing about the switch’s design is that it has the centered LED and translucent stem, so you get Cherry MX compatibility but with smarter LED placement. It’s begging to have an opaque switch housing–a de facto light pipe–to make legend backlighting bright and even, while keeping light bleed to a bare minimum.

It could be classy, but it just looks like another set of RGB switches on this Hexgears keyboard. Which we need to talk about.

The Hexgears [Name Here]

When it first emerged, this keyboard bore the boring moniker “GK760.” The Kono Store fellows, who are helping Hexgears market in the U.S., have pushed the company to come up with more creative names. The current maybe-name is “Dreadnought.” It’s unclear if that’s meant to evoke a type of guitar, a type of warship, or a heavy woolen outer garment, but it sounds vaguely cool enough. Cooler than [bleep bloop, I am a robot name generator] “GK760,” anyway.

The Dreadnought is a bit of an odd duck. It’s simultaneously angular, chunky, and svelte. The back is a big wedge with feet on the bottom, and the front bezel sharply jags downward at what looks like a 35°-ish angle. Around the arrow keys, there’s a severe indentation whose purpose escapes me, other than as an aesthetic conceit to frame in that cluster of keys.

There are tons of keys and buttons. It’s a full-size layout, with an additional five vertically oriented G keys on the left side, and a dedicated macro recording key above them (next to the Esc key). The upper right side of the Dreadnought is home to a wide volume roller and a mysterious glowing green button that sits next to the indicator lights.

The switches sit sort of halfway into the chassis, with the top part of the switch housings peeking up above the top cover. When you take in the side view, you can see the shape, and how the thin keycaps-plus-jutting-switches complete an attractive, aggressive look. In other words, if you step back and just take the keyboard in from an abstract perspective, it’s a fine look.

But it feels like something that looked really cool in a CAD drawing but doesn’t quite land in real life. The thinness of the keycaps is incongruous with the bulk of the Dreadnought, and their curvy scoops are at odds with the sharp chassis angles.

Another twist: Although most of the keycaps are scooped, the bottom row of modifiers and the spacebar are actually convex. I’m not sure what the reasoning is for this, and I’m conflicted about it. On one hand, it’s bizarre to me, and a little surprising the first time you feel it. On the other hand…it’s not a terrible idea. I think. Throngs of us already flip our spacebars to give our thumbs a nice little slope to smack instead of always hitting an edge. This convex shape seems to be a nod to that convention. I’d be lying, in any case, if I said I didn’t like how the convex spacebar felt after I played with it for a bit.

What follows, then, is that someone got the idea for this spacebar and then decided to maintain continuity by making most of the bottom row caps similarly shaped. But then, none of the keys to the right of the modifiers is convex; the arrow keys, et al, are all concave.

Having some shape–any shape–in the keycaps is a relief from flat chiclet caps, and I can’t say I didn’t like the feel of them in that regard. But like chiclet caps, these are just so thin, and you can feel it when you type. They feel just a little unstable compared to normal keycaps, and they’re missing a certain je ne sais quoi.

Maybe the Hexgears Dreadnought’s idiosyncrasies are right up your alley. Regardless, for now, it’s the only way you’ll be able to type on a full set of Kailh Sun Switches. (Not that it’s actually on sale at the moment, but it should be coming soon.) My sense is that the Sun Switch will be ideal for people who love the feel of the Kailh Box White switch but want a more elegant backlighting solution. Now if only Kaihua would make them without a transparent switch housing…

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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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