Custom Keyboard Spotlight: Hexgears X-1 Keyboard

By Ryan Whitwam

Compact and portable with low-profile switches.

Portable Bluetooth keyboards are usually terrible for typing. They're no better than a cheap laptop keyboard, and don't your fingers deserve more? The Hexgears X-1, which has just launched on Kickstarter in partnership with Input Club Kono Store, is a semi-custom wireless keyboard you might actually want to use.

The Hexgears X-1 comes fully assembled, so there's no soldering required. Happily, that doesn't mean you're stuck with the same boring old switches. What makes the X-1 so interesting is that it uses the low-profile Kailh "Choc" switches we talked about recently. You can get the keyboard with brown (tactile), white (clicky), or red (linear) switches.

The board I have to test uses the clicky white switches, which are quite different than the classic MX blue. Obviously, the travel is about a millimeter shorter, but the click is sharper and happens on both down and upstrokes (that's because of the neat Kailh clickbar design). Having taken a peek at the PCB, it would probably be feasible to desolder the include Choc switches and swap in the heavier versions offered by NovelKeys as they have the same pin configuration. The LEDs are on the PCB, so you don't have to worry about those.

The keycaps on this board have Choc connectors rather than MX-style crosses, so you can't swap them out with custom sets. The caps are a flat profile in ABS plastic, giving the board a laptop vibe. However, the typing experience is worlds better than a laptop. You will still need to adjust if you've been using a keyboard with sculpted profile keycaps, though.

The Hexgears X-1 is apparently modeled after the Bell X-1 supersonic aircraft, but I don't really see the resemblance. At any rate, the top frame and sides are a single piece of aluminum, and the bottom is plastic. I like the compact layout that fits a full number pad in a tenkeyless form factor. Normally, the non-standard key sizes would be an issue, but you're not going to be swapping these keycaps out anyway.

You can use the Hexgears X-1 either wired or wireless over Bluetooth. It has a USB Type-C connector, and a 1,000mAh battery keeps the board running in wireless mode (the Type-C is also for charging). It should run for a few months on a charge unless you turn on the fancy RGB LEDs. That drops the battery life to about four hours.

You can pre-order the Hexgears X-1 via Kickstarter in white or black for $99. The estimated turnaround for shipping keyboards is just a few months. Normally, I'd be skeptical of that, but I do have a finished board in-hand. It's also doubled the goal with a few weeks left to go.