Think OnePlus and you are likely to think smartphones, TVs, audio gear, and, more recently, even a tablet. So, to see the brand veer off and make a premium mechanical keyboard came as a bit of a bolt from the blue. It’s called the Keyboard 81 Pro and it’s part of a new Featuring initiative that’s meant to appeal to its core OG fanbase.
Designed and built in collaboration with Keychron, one of the biggest names in the mechanical keyboard business and the folks behind the superlative Q1 Pro keyboard, this is a keyboard well worth considering for enthusiasts and heavy users alike, even if the price is nothing to scoff at.
Looking past the striking similarity it shares with the Q1 Pro from which it has been spiritually inspired, the Keyboard 81 Pro is an 81-key (hence the name), tenkeyless, 75% mechanical keyboard—ergo, no numeric pad and about three-quarters the size of a full-sized keyboard. OnePlus sells two versions of this keyboard—a “Winter Bonfire” version ( ₹17,999) with red, tactile switches and louder, clackety keys, and the “Summer Breeze” version ( ₹19,999), which I tested, with the quieter blue linear switches and keycaps made of softer, marble-mallow material.
Whichever version you choose, you will certainly notice how heavy the Keyboard 81 Pro is, with its sandblasted aluminium chassis and adjustable metal kickstand, the latter for adjusting the typing height. The nearly 1.9kg heft lends the keyboard a premium and luxurious feel. Not even the most frenetic typing will move this around on a desk, but if you like the idea of carrying your keyboard to work and back, this is not for you. Think about it—most modern consumer laptops don’t weigh as much as the Keyboard 81 Pro does.
The muted colour scheme is on brand for OnePlus, with a range of grey hues for most keys, interspersed with a pop of bright red for the Escape and Enter keys and a transparent rotating knob for volume control. Around the rear are toggles that let you switch between Windows and Mac layouts—OnePlus has provided replacement Windows/Alt keys and a tweezer tool to swap out the keycaps and switches in the box—plus an alert slider-style toggle for switching between wired and wireless modes. The bundled red braided USB-C cable for wired mode is a bonus, and it comes in handy if you want to use the per-key RGB lighting and not drain the 4,000mAh battery too quickly.
Bear in mind that the keys aren’t backlit, so the lighting only serves to illuminate the whole set-up. If you want, you can customise the lighting, assign macros to key combinations and remap the keys via the VIA web-based configuration utility. You could even assign the volume knob to perform a zoom function or adjust screen brightness. Fair warning: The VIA app is complicated and takes a bit of getting used to.
Having used the Keyboard 81 Pro for a couple of weeks now, I find the typing experience is without compromise, as long as you are used to the smaller width of a 75% keyboard. You do get keys like Page Up, Page Down and Home along the right, and the keys are slightly separated, on an island of their own, which helps distinguish them visually when you are getting used to the new keyboard. While I did miss the numpad, the keys are well spaced out and the volume knob is easily accessible in a pinch. Though, one has to say, the clear plastic on the knob feels a little out of place with the grey and red vibe, but, as an analogue element to amp up the nostalgia factor of using a mechanical keyboard, it does its job.
The big win is just how quiet it is, particularly if you are used to mechanical keyboards. Each key has a sufficient amount of travel but the linear switches and the double-gasket design cushion the key from making direct contact with the metal chassis. As a result, you get the delightfully pleasant typing experience without that plasticky clacking sound that would be a sonic menace in a quiet office. It’s not a lot louder than the membrane-based Apple Keyboard I use with the Mac Studio and, coupled with the soft marble-mallow material for the keycaps, soft to each (key)touch as well. If the typing sound is key to your usage of the mechanical keyboard, you could consider the louder Winter Bonfire version. The adjustable kickstand is another win in my books—since it is fully adjustable at any angle, one isn’t limited to a few preset degrees of articulation. That it allows for the keyboard to be flipped and stood up vertically when not in use, showing off the engraved OnePlus “Never Settle” motto on the underside, is a nice touch.
For its asking price of ₹19,999 for the Summer Breeze variant, the keyboard is undeniably pricey, clearly targeted at power users with a taste for refinement. The impressive all-aluminium build and the stable typing experience it entails, the exceptional typing experience and the distinctively premium styling that will appeal to true OnePlus loyalists, all make the Keyboard 81 Pro a great first showing and a fine piece of typographic hardware. Just as long as you set it down on a table and never plan to move it.
Tushar Kanwar, a tech columnist and commentator, posts @2shar.
Also read: The joys of using a mechanical keyboard