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OnePlus unveils its first mechanical keyboard: Mac layout, custom switches

Hand typing on OnePlus Featuring Keyboard 81 Pro

OnePlus is finally ready to detail its first mechanical keyboard. No, we didn’t need another company to start making mechanical keyboards. But if you’re looking for a new Bluetooth keyboard that plays particularly well with Macs, has a compact layout, and a rotary knob that looks stylish and functional, OnePlus will have one more choice for you come April.

Announced today, OnePlus is jumping into the mechanical keyboard race with a strange name, the Featuring Keyboard 81 Pro. The “81” refers to the key count, while “Pro” is assumably meant to make workers and power users think the keyboard’s a good fit; but the name doesn’t quite roll off the tongue. The outlier here is the “Featuring” bit, which refers to the OnePlus Featuring “co-creation” platform that builds products based off user feedback. Community users are said to have contributed to the 81 Pro’s design, including its proprietary switches. OnePlus’ press release today claimed it will release “many” more Featuring products.

OnePlus-y touches include a logo-stamped Esc key.
Enlarge / OnePlus-y touches include a logo-stamped Esc key.

Another huge influence on the 81 Pro is keyboard-maker Keychron, which is said to have helped engineer the product. That includes its layout, which matches the layout of the Q1 Pro that Keychron is currently crowdfunding. In addition to macOS, the keyboard is supposed to work with Windows, Linux, and Android, OnePlus’ press release said. The keyboard’s product page also claims support with iOS. Similar to some wireless Keychron keyboards, like the Keychron K14, there’s a toggle on the keyboard’s side for switching from Mac to Windows. Considering the lack of USB-A ports among Macs, the Bluetooth 5.1 keyboard charges over a USB-C to USB-C cable (there’s also a USB-C to USB-A adapter).

OnePlus will offer its first keyboard with “Marble-mallow” keycaps. According to OnePlus’ announcement, the keycaps “produce a soft bounce in each press for ultimate comfort, enhanced hand-feel, and optimal durability.” OnePlus claimed the 81 Pro will be the first keyboard leveraging this unspecified “thermoplastic” material, which it said has a similar feel to charging cables and wristbands. However, until we try out these keycaps for ourselves, we’re not convinced of the material’s purported benefits over that used in typical keycaps.

Interestingly, the Marble-mallow keycaps will only come on the keyboard if you buy it with linear switches. OnePlus said the switches, called Summer Breeze, were designed with community feedback. Those who opt for tactile (Winter Bonfire) switches will get standard PBT plastic keycaps. All keycaps are said to be doubleshot, to prevent the legends from wearing off.

OnePlus didn’t share any details about its new switches’ specs (we asked OnePlus and will update this story if we hear back). But if you don’t like them, they should be easy to remove, since the keyboard includes hot-swappability.

The Bluetooth keyboard claims up to 100 hours of battery life with its RGB lighting set to its lowest brightness. One downside compared to some of the best wireless mechanical keyboards is that the 81 Pro only has one Bluetooth profile. Other cable-free keyboards can pair to multiple systems and let you quickly toggle across connected devices with a switch or key combination.

We’ve seen a small uptick in prebuilt mechanical keyboards paying attention to sound lately. Telltales of a mundane mechanical keyboard prebuilt with minimal love are rattling stabilizers, metallic pinging, and other distracting sounds. OnePlus will start off on a good foot by attempting to minimize these issues with, similar to some Keychron keyboards, a double-gasket mount that sandwiches the polycarbonate plate with 10 gaskets. There’s also sound-absorbing foam on the bottom case and between the PCB and plate. While it would have been much more interesting to see OnePlus invent its own mechanical keyboard design instead of borrowing so heavily from Keychron, Keychron proved to us when we tested the Keychron Q2 that it knows how to reduce pesky noises.

A diagram of the 81 Pro's internals.
Enlarge / A diagram of the 81 Pro’s internals.

Those who haven’t used the VIA app before may find programming the keyboard’s open source QMK firmware tedious and slow at first. But it should allow a similar amount of customization, including for the knob, to other high-end prebuilts.

OnePlus will start accepting preorders for the 81 Pro in April. However, we wouldn’t commit to making a purchase yet, considering we still don’t know the keyboard’s price or how the Marble-mallow keycaps or new switches will compete. With its aluminum build, key layout, and Bluetooth connectivity, however, the 81 Pro is pretty similar to the Keychron Q1 Pro, which Keychron expects to sell for $199.

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