Mechanical keyboards range from about forty bucks to over $200. If you’re looking for something economical, but with enough extra features to make it a pleasant upgrade, Aukey’s KM-G3 keyboard is worth your consideration.
Aukey recently sent me their upgraded keyboard to try out. I’m no stranger to mechanical keyboards, both super-premium and budget, but what intrigued me about this model was a full and semi-customizable set of RGB LEDs. For the uninitiated, that means that each key on the board gets access to a rainbow of colors, just like the fancy models from Razer and Corsair.
Between this and the more premium aluminum plate beneath the keys, it’s a step up from Aukey’s basic model (all plastic and no user-set lighting) for just $25 more. At $65 for a full-sized, 104-key board with all-mechanical switches, it’s a compelling value proposition.
Full Size Layout, Real Mechanical Keys
Aukey’s mechanical keys come from low-cost Chinese supplier Outemu, a popular pick for budget boards. They’re clones of the Cherry MX Blue design, offering light-to-medium pressure with an audible “click” on the activation.
Oddly for a keyboard ostensibly targeted at gamers, there aren’t any Red clones (lighter springs with no bump or click), but I actually prefer the feel of the Blue switches even for gaming. If you’re not a fan of loud switches, or your work or play environment simply can’t accommodate them, you’ll have to look elsewhere. As clones, the Outemu switches are pretty good, offering only a little bit more “chatter” in the activation than the real thing. For a keyboard this inexpensive, they’re more than acceptable.
The KM-G3 offers an entirely standard layout for full-sized ANSI boards: full number pad on the right, no oddly-sized bottom row. Keycaps are a standard profile with cheaper ABS plastic and shine-through lighting. They’re nothing special, but they show off the lights and are easy enough to read. Thanks to the standardized layout, you can replace them with any ANSI-compatible keycap set and be confident that everything will fit and look great.
Big And Small At The Same Time
The keyboard’s body housing is matte black plastic, but the plate holding up the switches is an attractive brushed aluminum with exposed screws, making this model look a bit more presentable than the usual budget boards. Even so, it’s otherwise understated, a welcome look in a sea of “gamer” keyboards adorned with flashy logos and graphics.
The body is also surprisingly compact for a full-sized board, with only a few millimeters between the outer switches and the edge of the case. It’s the first full-sized board I’ve been able to use comfortably without needing to adjust my mousepad further right than its “tenkeyless” position. This is one big board that will travel well. Even with the compact body, plastic feet can fold out to give the board a more angled typing position.
Blue LED indicators show when you’ve activated caps, scroll, or num lock, or locked the Windows key. One thing I wish Aukey had provided was a detachable USB cable (see the popular Magicforce board for a budget implementation of that idea) to make precise routing easier. And that’s about it in terms of the physical design: simple, compact, flexible, effective.
There’s no management software and no programming, it’s completely plug-and-play. The trade-offs made to reach the low price seem entirely acceptable for a gamer on a budget, or a regular typist who wants a full-sized Blue-switch board.
Lots Of Lights, But Fewer Options
The highlight of the feature set (no pun intended) is the board’s RGB lighting. And at first glance, the KM-G3 does have some pretty lights indeed: in its primary modes it can replicate the rainbow rave look of more expensive keyboards with no problem. But there’s one major downside to its lack of Windows software—you won’t get access to easy programming for either the keys or the lights.
The colors can be adjusted manually, but if you’re hoping for access to some of the crazy effects offered by elaborate lighting APIs, you’re out of luck.
That being said, this deficiency isn’t overly debilitating. While the lack of software means no macro keys, customizable controls are available in virtually every PC game, and you can reprogram keys manually in Windows itself if you need something more permanent. The FN+Windows key will lock the Start menu button, a handy plus for gamers who don’t want to lose focus of the gaming window accidentally.
Even the lack of complete customization for the lighting isn’t a total bummer because there are several modes built into the PCB of the keyboard itself. You’ve got standard all-one-color options, plenty of seizure-inducing rainbows, both standard and key-reactive, and controls to modify brightness and rate of animation.
The keyboard is even pre-programmed with a few game-friendly lighting setups bound to the 1-5 keys, which will be familiar to players of standard FPS games. These can be further customized by pressing the FN+Home command: you can cycle every key on the keyboard through nine colors (including no lighting), allowing for a wide selection of basic color layouts, minus animation effects.
If all you really want to do is make a color-coded layout that matches your most-played games, it’s doable, if not as quickly or as easily as it would be a with a full driver program. Users can reset the keyboard’s lighting effects to factory settings with FN+Escape. The only downside to this on-the-fly programming setup is that, even with the light programming mode active, sometimes keystrokes will still be sent to your computer.
A Solid Upgrade Pick
Is the Aukey KM-G3 worth the asking price? For general typists who want a little extra bling on their budget board, I would say yes. The design is sound and functional with no unnecessary complications.
Gamers might be turned off by the lack of a driver program for macros and full lighting programming… or they might enjoy it, depending on how much dislike they harbor for the notoriously annoying management programs from Razer, Logitech, et cetera. I appreciated the metal switch plate and the very compact body, but wish there was a detachable USB cable and a linear switch option for those who need smoother or more quite keyboards. But, my minor issues with the design aside it’s a solid little board. For $65, it’s an excellent value and a good place to start if you’re looking to get into the mechanical keyboard craze.
Here’s What We Like
- Great Value
- Full RGB lighting
- Aluminum key plate
- Compact size for the layout
And What We Don't
- No driver programming
- Fixed USB cable
- No Red switch option