Work & Office

Best 65% keyboard of 2021: In-dept Guide & Review

65% form factor keyboard remains a popular choice in the DIY mechanical keyboard community but 65% form factor keyboard is still a rare sight to household brands for keyboards (such as Razer, Logitech, Corsair, SteelSeries). For me, 65% keyboard hits the sweet spot for being compact while retaining much of my needed keys for my day-to-day workload: save space on my desk, and have all the important keys.

A 65% keyboard removed the Function keys cluster & Numeric pad keys cluster (aka Tenkey cluster). This type of keyboard form factor is perfect for a lot of use cases, such as: programming, gaming, typing, etc. Especially when compact size is a requirement.

Let’s take a look at our picks for the list of top 65% keyboards in no particular order.

List of Best 65% keyboards

ProductConnectivityPrice
Keychron K6Wired/BluetoothHot swappable Standard
Akko 3068Wired/BluetoothStandard Ocean Star
DROP ALTWired/BluetoothBlack Gray
Magicforce 68WiredWhite Black White Gray
Ducky One 2 SFWiredProfessional
Vortexgear Cypher 65%WiredBlack
Royal Kludge RK68Wired/BluetoothWhite Black
18 keyboards are tested, all keyboards are store-bought

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Keychron K6 – Best 65% Keyboard

Keychron K6
Keychron K6 – The King of Underrated Keyboard

Our staff like to call Keychron K6 the King of Underrated Keyboard. The reason is simple: despise their high quality keyboard, Keychron remains unpopular. That’s due to their minimal effort in marketing, instead they put all their effort & budget into product research & development. Ask any mechanical keyboard enthusiasts about buying a Keychron keyboard (seriously, any models), and they will give you an “OK, go for it”.

The reason why we choose Keychron K6 as the top 65% keyboard is because Keychron K6 has everything one may need: hotswappable switches, RGB backlighting, aluminum case (for premium model) or ABS plastic case, Type C & Bluetooth 5.1 connection, Brown/Blue/Red with options between Gateron switches or their in-house LK Optical switches, compatibility with Windows & Linux & Mac OS, and so much more.

That doesn’t mean Keychron not having any shortcomings: ABS keycaps, poor-lighting diffusion (mostly because of keycaps). But you can always resolve those issues easily with just a new set of keycaps.

Read our Keychron K6 in-depth review to find out more about this awesome keyboard.

Best bang for buck
Hotswappable
Type C connector & Bluetooth
Huge (4000mAh) battery
Well build
NKRO on wired mode
Multiple versions
Mac support (with Mac keycaps)
Poor backlighting diffusion
ABS keycaps

Akko 3068 – Affordable 65% Keyboard

Akko 3068
Akko 3068 – Not just eye-catching stock keycaps but also an all-around keyboard

Akko 3068 is just another hidden gem: underrated, undermentioned keyboard that we believe it should deserve more attention from the general crowd. Inside Akko 3068 are the Cherry MX switches: Brown, Blue, Red. For connection, you will have USB Type C port on the back with Bluetooth 3.0 for wireless connectivity. As we experienced the Akko 3068, we found no significant difference between Bluetooth 3.0 and newer versions in terms of delay, pairing speed.

On the newer Akko 3068 silent version, you will find Gateron switches and Bluetooth 5.0. In our opinion, Gateron switches are comparable with Cherry MX swtiches on all front, especially on the Red switches (linear, non-clicky), Gateron Red switch seems to have the upper hand: a more buttery feel.

Akko 3068 use PBT keycaps with several eye-catching themes, which are really impressing to us.

Aesthetic pleasant
Type C connector & Bluetooth
Very well-built product
Cherry MX switches
NKRO
PBT keycaps
Bluetooth on some editions
No backlighting

DROP ALT – Best Programmable 65% Keyboard

DROP ALT raised some eyebrows when it was first announced on Drop platform. DROP ALT was the first premium 65% keyboard that gained a lot of momentum on the mechanical keyboard community.

DROP ALT has everything one may need on a 65% keyboard. RGB backlighting? Check! Aluminum frame? Check! PBT keycaps? Check! USB Type C? Check! What about Bluetooth? Check! Cherry MX? Check, Brown & Blue switches. You want something other than Cherry MX? Get Kaihua switches, they’re one of the best alternative switches. Do you want to program your own layout or key combination? Yes, DROP ALT has that ability to program keys with QMK. In some bizarre cases, you just want the base (PCB + case) to build up your own version of keyboard? Get the backbone DROP ALT.

Reaction from the community
Reactions from the community when DROP ALT was announced
PBT keycaps
Hotswappable switches
Type C connector & Bluetooth
Aluminum frame
Multiple options of switches
Programmable via QMK
High price

Magicforce 68 – Most Affordable 65% Keyboard

Qisan Magicforce 68

The Magicforce 68 comes in 2 versions: Outemu switches version with lower price; and the higher-priced version with Gateron switches. Our first impression is the bold with legends’ font. It’s kinda geared towards gamers with modern, huge & clear font size, combined with white backlighting that makes no effort finding the right key in the middle of night in a low lighting environment. Keycaps are double-injection molded, which make backlighting diffused nicely.

The build quality is surprisingly good for this price point with the plate made from aluminum. However, you will find that the bottom of this keyboard is made from ABS plastic. But nevertheless, this is one hefty keyboard.

For anyone looking to buy the lower-end version with Outemu switches: from our experiences Outemu’s switches are mostly like any other switches from reputable brands. There are 2 differences though: Outemu switches tend to be more shaky & scratchy, and have shorter lifetime (we’re talking about 50 milion of strokes vs 30 milion of strokes). Yes, Outemu won’t last as long as Cherry MX, Gateron, or even Kailh, but they will last for many years to come, and before they break down, you’ll probably look for a new keyboard.

Affordable
Outemu switches & Gateron switches
Aluminum plate
Worthy backlighting
Bold choice for font
Fixed cable
No RGB backlighting

Ducky One 2 SF – Best 65% Keyboard for Gamers

Ducky One 2 SF
Ducky One 2 SF

Fun fact: SF in One 2 SF means Sixty Five.

One 2 SF is the latest iteration from Duky One line up. The Ducky One line up is famous among the gamers community, so it’s obvious that Ducky would come up with a smaller form factor version of the Ducky One 2.

The Ducky One 2 SF is equipped with the famous Cherry MX switches. Keycaps are made from PBT plastic with double-shot injection that allow backlighting to shine through nicely. Talking about backlighting. The reason that the Ducky One line up is famous with gamers community is due to its top-notch RGB backlighting, Ducky One 2 SF is no exception.

On the back of the keyboard is the USB Type C port with detachable USB cable. Ducky advertised its keyboard implemented USB-C HID 1000Hz. That means the keyboard communicates with its host device (meaning computer) 1000 times per second. This technology significantly reduces any lag & latency in any strokes.

Cherry MX Switches: Blue, Red, Brown, Silver
Virtually no latency & delay
Top notch RGB lighting
Doubleshot PBT keycaps
Plastic case
No wireless connectivity

Ducky One 2 SF (Cherry MX Blue) Keyboard
  • Switch type: Cherry MX Blue
  • All New Petite Bezel Design
  • SF stands for Sixty-Five
  • Dimensions : 325 x 108 x 40 mm / 635g
  • 1000Hz polling rate

Vortexgear Cypher 65% – No-frills 65 Keyboard

Vortexgear Cypher 65

If you prefer a subtle keyboard that doesn’t draw much attention then look no further, Vortexgear Cypher 65 is the keyboard for you. This is a basic mechanical keyboard by all means. The case is made from ABS plastic, but high quality ABS plastic. The case is good enough that makes this keyboard surprisingly strong & sturdy. Keycaps laser etched PBT keycaps, that means those keycaps will last a very long time.

The whole keyboard is black, top to toe, with hint of white on the legends. No matter where we look, this keyboard looks just like any $10 mass manufactured keyboard. But on the inside, this keyboard is on a whole different level. On the back of the keyboard, you will find a USB Type C port. Under the keycaps, this keyboard is equipped with Cherry MX switches: Black, Blue, Clear, Red, Silver.

Vortexgear brings their famous feature to the Cypher 65: programmable keys. Using software, you can program up to 3 layers of keys for this keyboard. This feature allows users to customise this keyboard to their preferences.

All famous Cherry MX switches: Black Blue, Clear, Red, Silver
Programmable keys
USB Type C & Detachable cable
Laser engraved PBT keycaps
No wireless connectivity
No backlighting

Vortexgear Cypher 65% - Fully Programmable Mechanical Gaming Keyboard with Detachable USB Cable - Laser Etched PBT Keycaps - Tactile (Standard Space bar, Cherry Mx Clear)
  • ✅ ULTRA COMPACT LAYOUT: Compact 65% Keyboard, The 68 / 69 Key Vortexgear Cypher offers the dedicated arrows that the Pok3r (60% ) doesn't offer.
  • Legends printed: Thick PBT Laser Engraved Keycap
  • Split or standard spacebar for option
  • ✅ PROGRAMMABLE: Full key programming by hardware, The cypher brings it to the next level, allowing you to program up to 100 characters ( against 32 on the previous model from Vortexgear) ; Customizable Layout Built up 3 kinds of layout, the Cypher also comes with multiple layers pre-programmed, including Qwerty, Dvorak, and Colemak.
  • ✅ DETACHABLE USB TYPE C Cable ; Compatible with Windows XP / 7 / Vista / 10 , Mac OS , Linux (only needs Windows operating system to update firmware)

ROYAL KLUDGE RK68 – Affordable 65% Gaming Keyboard

ROYAL KLUDGE RK68

Whether you’re a starter at mechanical keyboard or a budget conscious person, Royal Kludge RK68 is the perfect choice for affordable budget. RK68 comes with 2 version: TTC switches version (only wired connectivity), Gateron version (wired & Bluetooth). TTC switches are known for being budget-friendly switches, while maintaining much of the characteristics of more expensive switches.

This keyboard has so much to offer despise being affordable & inexpensive: USB Type C, Bluetooth (on Gateron version), RGB backlighting. Royal Kludge RK68 offers 18 backlighting effects to choose from. Royal Kludge does not offer a software with RK68. We think that’s a good thing because this will make the RK68 independent from any OS. You can customise this keyboard to your preferences with combination keys.

The Royal Kludge RK68’s exterior is made entirely from ABS plastic. And does not like any keyboard in the same price range, the Royal Kludge RK68 is built like a tank: hefty, well built & sturdy. We do not experience flex from our experiences with the RK68.

Pairing this keyboard to our Macbook Pro 2017 took only a few seconds. With RGB lighting on, the keyboard will last 5 days straight of continuous 8 hours usage. Turning off RGB backlighting will extend battery life to 20 days in our testing.

All famous Cherry MX switches: Black Blue, Clear, Red, Silver
Programmable keys
USB Type C & Detachable cable
Laser engraved PBT keycaps
No wireless connectivity
No backlighting

How did we test

We bought all the keyboards from various stores with our own budgets to keep the neutral of this review to its best. Although there will be some biases by our teams and me because of our experiences & personal preferences. But of course, we will keep that to minimal.

Each keyboard was used by at least 3 persons with various scenarios: typing on Microsoft Word, playing games (CS:GO, Apex, LOL, Red Alert, etc.), programming (some of us are programmers).

While doing those tests, we look for, as we look for any good keyboard:

  • Feels & feedbacks from switches and the whole keyboard
  • Materials & Build quality
  • Exterior & design, especially keycaps
  • Extra features
  • Price & availability on the market

We wrote this guide to the general mass readers so we expect our picks won’t satisfy everyone, so we also listen to what our readers have to say. Remember to leave a comment down below for any suggestions that you might have in mind. We appreciate that.

Switches do matter

We’ve extensively covered a lot about switches (you might want to check that article), but again, switches do matter a lot while choosing a keyboard. For the sake of keeping this section simple, we’ll skip all about membrane switch and just focus on mechanical switches; also, we’ll assume that you know about the basics of mechanical switches.

Depend on the environment that you’ll be working on, and your personal preferences that you should make the decision with choosing the right switches. There are also keyboards offer hot-swapping switches feature that allow you to change switches on-the-go with a simple tool. Of course, this will cause extra money from your wallet; and on the other hand, a hot-swappable sockets will wear down or have defect that cause undesirable problems on customer’s end. We do not recommend buying a hot-swappable switches keyboard unless you know to properly & regularly take care of your keyboard.

First, If you’re using your keyboard in a shared-space environment (such as office), you may want to buy non-clicky version switches, such as Cherry MX Red, Brown (and their compatible switches from other brands) are among the most popular choices & easiest to find. On the other hand if noises aren’t your problem, then go with the clicky Cherry MX Blue or White (or any of similar switches from other brands). Those clicky switches offer great feedback with a distintive ping/click sound while bottoming out.

Second, if you decided to go with non-clicky, you will have to choose between Linear and Tactile. Linear offers a smooth non-surprise bottom out experience, while Tactile offers a bump somewhere in the middle of switch’s travel. Linear switches are great for experienced & fast typers who can predict the point where a keypress will be registered on the switch’s travel. Meanwhile, Tactile switches are great for those who require where or when their keypresses are registered.

Same form factor different weights

Even though 65% form factor keyboards will share a similar size but their weights will be much different. The difference in weight is caused by several factors:

  • Materials: for the case, plate & keycaps
  • Interior: such as adding bluetooth connectivity will require battery, hence extra weight

Let’s talk about materials. The rule of thumb is that the more weight to a keyboard, the more expensive because of much more premium materials that are being used. For example, most budget keebs use ABS plastic for the case (such as the Qisan White Magic), while premium keebs will make use of metal (such as aluminum) for the case, plate (such as the Drop ALT). There will be some keyboards in the middle of the spectrum, that offers (somewhat thin) aluminum case to remain competitive price (the Keychron K6); or keyboards that offer thicker and/or premium plastic (like the Ducky One 2 SF)

Having more weight will benefical when you’re less likely to move around with your keyboard and your keyboard will stay sturday & stable on your working surface (aka your table surface). If you’re likely to move around a lot with your keyboard (we don’t judge), then a lighter keyboard will be much a better choice for you.

Our suggestion is to always choose metal case when you can, because your keyboard will much more durable and will stand the test of time.

Go wireless or stay wired

Wired connection is the default type of connection on every keyboards, even though those keyboards have wireless connectivity. On premium (or high-end) keyboards, USB Type-C is likely the de facto choice. On budget keyboards, you will find mostly Micro USB connection, but keyboard manufacturers are changing quicky to accommodate the new universal standard of USB Type-C (for example the Akko 3068).

Most wireless keyboards will use Bluetooth for connectivity. There are several Bluetooth versions that are being used on wireless keyboards: 4.0, 4.1, 4.2, the latest 5.0. Each newer version is better than the last. You will see changes in each Bluetooth versions improved: lower latency (or delay), faster pairing & connecting speed – useful when pairing new devices or switching between devices, better battery efficiency. So always prioritize choosing the latest Bluetooth version when possible. In term of real world experience, even the Bluetooth 4.0 is usable with hardly recognizable latency. However, if you intend to play games with Bluetooth, always go for the latest.

Most of wireless keyboards use built-in rechargable battery. The battery life depends on a lot of factors on your keyboard: battery capacity, bluetooth version, back-lighting effect, and other features. The shortest time on battery we’ve ever tested so far is continuous 26 hours on a keyboard with RGB backlighting. The longest is Keychron K6 with 72 hours straight. For normal use cases, even with 26 hours is more than enough for most people, assuming you work 8 hours a day, that’s more than 3 days without recharging on Bluetooth & RGB backlighting.

Detachable cable is also nice thing to have. You can change the cable to your liking, for example a braided cable or a color that matches your color palette. Fixed cable will be troublesome when something breaks inside the cable.

Layout & keycaps

There are 2 main types of layout on 65% form-factor keyboard: Separated navigation keys, Clustered-in navigation keys, and everything in between.

Keychron K6
The Keychron K6 with Clustered-in navigation keys

The Qisan Magicforce 68 with Separated navigatin keys

There is no rules to choose which layout to use, and there is no significant benefit, so always choose to your personal preferences.

Keycaps are made with plastic (either PBT or ABS) or rubber. Rubber keycaps are hard to find on stock keyboards, they’re mainly used for gaming for better grip. ABS plastic usually is used with budget keyboard, however, you may find high quality ABS plastic keycaps on premium keyboards. PBT plastic keycaps usually found on medium and high end keyboards. ABS plastic tend to have smoothen surface after some time of usage. PBT plastic will remain the same for a long time.

TLDR: choose PBT whenever you can.

Extra features or complimentary features

Backlighting, media control keys, customisable/programmable keys are some features you will find on keyboards. Each of those extra features will cost you some money to have. They’re nice to have, however not exactly necessary depend on your preferences & use cases.

For example, if you tend to work in low light environment, you should opt for backlighting. Programmable keys is a different story as you will need some programming knowledge to reprogram your keyboard. However, you will have full control over your keyboard. There will be some risk bricking your keyboard. Customisable keyboard will have a software to do the job. Most softwares will run on Windows.

Best 65% keyboards for 2022 and onwards

Technologies for keyboard have matured a lot throughout the years. In the next year of 2022, we don’t expect a new technology will come to mechanical keyboards. So it’s safe to say this list will make it into 2021. Nevertheless, we will still keep opening eyes for any new products with the potential of disrupting our list of best 65% keyboards.

Verdict

A 65% keyboard is the balanced choice between space-saving & having essential keys. We hope that this article helped you making the decision to purchase your 65% keyboards. We love to hear suggestions from our readers to further improved this article.

Update:

  • 12/04/2020: First version published

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