OnePlus has now ventured into another product category after smartphones, TVs, tablets, audio, monitors, smartwatches, and mobile accessories. I’m talking about the brand’s foray into the keyboards segment with its all-new Keyboard 81 Pro. While OnePlus has delivered some impressive products in all the other product segments I mentioned before, keyboards are especially tricky as enthusiasts are extremely particular about their likes and dislikes with regard to their typing preferences. On top of this, instead of testing the waters with an affordable device, the brand has jumped directly into the premium category of mechanical keyboards. To ensure top-notch quality from the get-go, OnePlus has partnered with Keychron, which is a seasoned player and has some of the most popular mechanical keyboards in the market. Thanks to this collaboration, the OnePlus Keyboard 81 Pro closely resembles Keychron’s most popular offering in the market – the Q1 Pro. The OnePlus Keyboard 81 Pro retails at a premium price of Rs 17,999, but how does it fare? Read my detailed review to find out.
Design and portability
OnePlus Keyboard 81 Pro aesthetics are heavily inspired by the Q1 Pro, but as most of you might not be familiar with the latter and since OnePlus has made some noticeable additions, I’ll go over the design aspects in detail here. The most striking aspect of the Keyboard 81 Pro for me is its build quality. The CNC-machined aluminium chassis of the keyboard feels incredibly sturdy and while typing, you won’t feel even a slight wobble irrespective of the force that you put on the keys. The keyboard comes with a kickstand, also made out of metal, which allows you to adjust its elevation as per your requirement. Even while using the keyboard with the kickstand, I found that the chassis remained exceptionally stable. However, all this sturdiness comes at the cost of added weight. The OnePlus Keyboard 81 Pro weighs around 2kg, which makes it hard to carry around on a daily basis as most laptops don’t even weigh this much.
Now that I’ve discussed the chassis, let’s talk about the gasket-mounted switch plate, the hot-swappable switches, and the keycaps. The gasket-mounted switch plate allows you a soft actuation to ensure that the keyboard doesn’t make too much noise and provides a comfortable typing experience. I found the typing experience with this keyboard to be extremely comfortable and at no point did I feel the need to press the keys hard. The swappable switches allow you the freedom to completely customise your typing experience as you please without putting in too much effort. In fact, the brand has even included a switch and keycap puller in the retail box, to make the process simple.
The keyboard also comes with RGB lighting, which could appeal to gamers. The backlight doesn’t make the keycaps glow but illuminates the backboard, you won’t benefit in terms of legibility in the dark with this feature. On top of this, the battery life takes a hit due to this backlight (300 hours without RGB and around 100 hours with RGB), which isn’t a fair tradeoff if you ask me.
OnePlus has even provided some replacement keycaps with the keyboard in the retail box to allow users the option to switch, depending on the device and platform they are using. In this same direction, the keyboard also comes with a physical switch at the back that allows it to shift between Windows and Mac keyboard layouts. Right beside this switch is the slider for shifting between Bluetooth and tethered mode. The keyboard comes with a USB Type-C port for connectivity.
The keyboard comes with support for open-source firmware like QMK and VIA, which provide real-time control over the keyboard without reflashing firmware. With these, you can customise RGB lighting effects, remap keys, or pretty much do whatever you want with the keyboard. This level of control over the keyboard is precisely what pro users want from their typing machine and Keyboard 81 Pro excels in this department.
OnePlus has even added a few personal touches to ensure that the keyboard has a unique appeal. The Escape and Enter keycaps come in the brand’s trademark red colour and there is a transparent volume knob on the top right that’s placed neatly within a separate metal casing.
The key caps on the Keyboard 81 Pro will remind you of old-school keyboards. While the key spacing is generous, I would have appreciated slightly broader keycaps. However, this is me nitpicking rather than presenting a major concern as I found my typing experience with this keyboard to be really comfortable, as I mentioned earlier. Much like with every other aspect, you get impressive build quality here too. The Winter Bonfire keyboard that I received from the brand comes with red tactile switches, in contrast to the blue linear switches on the Summer Breeze variant of the keyboard. If you have prior knowledge of mechanical keyboards, you would find this colour scheme confusing as usually, blue switches are tactile and red switches are linear. Anyhow, thanks to the Winter Bonfire switches (Red), the keyboard offers great tactile feedback. As many gamers prefer to have clear tactile feedback for keypresses, this could be a good option (especially in addition to the RGB lighting I mentioned above).
I personally found the key travel and the keypress sound to be optimum and despite using the keyboard for long durations at a stretch, I didn’t feel any discomfort.
While the typing experience with the Keyboard 81 Pro is immensely comfortable, using the volume knob on the 81 Pro is the most satisfactory feeling I’ve had with any keyboard. If you are looking to buy a mechanical keyboard due to the nostalgia factor, which many people have done in recent years, this volume knob will dial up this feeling even further and roll back the time for you.
For its asking price of Rs 17,999, the keyboard seems pricey, and any discounts would increase its appeal substantially. All said and done, the OnePlus Keyboard 81 Pro is an exceptional device that would please anybody who is looking for a mechanical keyboard that stands out from the crowd. The keyboard’s deviations from the Keychron Q1 Pro design such as the metal kickstand and transparent volume knob are not merely aesthetic but meaningful inclusions that improve the user experience. The brand has even included a keycap and switch puller in the retail box to ensure that you can customise the keyboard as per your preference. All these things combined ensure that the OnePlus Keyboard 81 Pro offers a tremendous typing experience.
Editor’s rating: 8.5 / 10
- Impressive build quality
- Kickstand enables comfortable typing
- Volume knob feels satisfying to use
- Heavy weight makes it difficult to carry
- Premium price