PC component makers NZXT continue to expand beyond the confines of cases, having launched two batches of desktop peripherals: the Function series of mechanical keyboards and the Lift gaming mouse. Thanks to a shipping error, I’ve only just gotten to grips with the Function family, but so far its three models have proven to be good at gaming and typing – with a big bonus for customization under the form of easily hot-swappable switches.
If you don’t count the NZXT Shine 3, which you shouldn’t because it was just the Ducky Shine 3 with an NZXT badge on it, these three are NZXT’s first crack at making proper mechanical keyboards. After making another first peripheral last year with the Capsule, one of the best gaming microphones, NZXT has gone for a diverse range: there’s the full-size feature (£130/$150), the Tenkeyless feature (£110/$130), and the Function MiniTKL (£100/$120), which is more or less a 75 per cent keyboard with an extra column of keys on the right edge. None are particularly cheap, but they aren’t too expensive either, including by the standards of the best gaming keyboards on the market.
Also, each provides a decent handful of features for the money. All three are fully programmable through the NZXT CAM app, with macro support, and you can also use this software to customize the per-key RGB backlighting. Or, you can simply switch between colors and effects using the function keys, although my favorite setting is the default: a cool, solid, non-obtrusive pale blue.
The full trio also share an unusually set of controls mounted on the left side: a volume wheel, a mute button, a Windows key lock button and a light brightness switch. As a serial fidgeter, I’ve repeatedly disabled the Windows key by accident when going to mix up the MiniTKL function, but the thinking behind this positioning is sound. If you’re right-handed, they can be pressed (or turned, in the case of the wheel) without detaching your mouse.
The real party thing, though, are the hot-swappable mechanical switches. Most keyboards, as well as many DIY keyboard kits, end up with the switches soldered on; hot-swappable switches, like those of the Function series, can be removed and reinserted at will. It’s easy to do with the included tools and makes these keyboards a little more flexible for the future, as you’re not stuck with the switch that comes standard. Here are the linear, non-clicky Gateron Red switches, which I could almost effortlessly remove and replace with Vissles VS II switches from a nearby Vissles V84. If you don’t have a spare keyboard to cannibalize, replacement switches are readily available from Amazon and Overclockers.
That said, the default switches aren’t bad — they’re nimble, responsive, and not too loud, just like Cherry MX Reds — and the keys have that slightly more substantial feel that cheap mechanical boards often lack. All three models are constructed primarily of plastic, but that too feels textured and sturdy. With sharp design work (literally, in the corners), the function keyboards look and feel commendably adult.
I wouldn’t have complained if NZXT had decided to break the clean aesthetic with, say, some pass-through USB ports, and it’s a bit annoying that only the full-size function keyboard gets a caps lock light. Some of us don’t always default to Shift for capitals! We exist! Although the smaller models are not forgotten. I quickly realized how the MiniTKL leaves room for a double-height Enter key, unlike many 75% keyboards, and although its model-specific NZXT key is initially an unused fill key, a quick trip into NZXT CAM turns it into a useful macro activator. Its only other difference is harder to turn into an advantage: it’s the only one that doesn’t come with a wrist rest.
Nevertheless, the MiniTKL function is the version I use the most. As far as hot-swappable keyboards go, I personally prefer the feel of the Vissles V84, although this isn’t available in the more UK-friendly ISO layout like NZXT’s boards. Both will serve you well, as will the larger function and the Tenkeyless function, if you want to dive into keyboard customization without the commitment of an extensive DIY kit.
All three should be available by the time you read this; NZXT tells me the Lift Mouse will go on sale in “2-3 weeks”, priced at £40/$60.