The temptation of OzBargain is a strong one – when my friend alerted me to a 60% RGB LED keyboard featuring Cherry MX Brown switches for AU$25.99 shipped from Amazon, I just had to try it. I’ve always wanted to try a 60% keyboard and see just how practical it is, versus the desk space that it saved, and this was a chance to get one with decent mechanical switches at a very nice price (or so I thought).
The unit arrived in a colour-print cardboard box that was mostly white with the brand logo and a few selected features up-front.
Disappointment set in, however, upon flipping the box over as it claims to use Xu hua switches rather than the promised Cherry MX Browns! That’s a case of product not as described! As expected, the product is Made in China. The warnings of “no humid [sic]” and “no high-temperature” seem rather arbitrary. Surprisingly, the box has the Australian Regulatory Compliance Mark on it, making it approved for sale in Australia, although I don’t know how valid this actually is.
The other sides of the box have the brand logo, Amazon label and a description in other languages.
Inside the box is the white-coloured 61-key keyboard, a matching 1.6m USB-A to USB-C cable complete with Velcro tie, a user’s manual, a keycap puller and a sealed envelope.
What’s inside the envelope, you ask? Nothing too exciting – just a card promising an extended 5-year warranty through a sign-up and “life-time” with social media follows. Somehow this seems like a very hard policy to enforce …
The keyboard itself is pretty spartan, but for that, you get some pudding keycaps to show off the pretty LEDs. That’s usually not something you find on cheaper keyboards, but I couldn’t positively identify the material as being PBT or ABS (likely the latter at this price point).
The keyboard has some rubber strips to stop it from sliding around and two stage flip-out props to angle the keyboard for comfort. Interestingly, the label lists a “frequency” of 48MHz – this is likely related to the microcontroller that runs the keyboard and is not something that usually gets listed on the outside.
The USB-C connector is on the left-side, facing up, making it a slightly inconvenient position as it means the keyboard can not be pushed up against a solid object. There is no USB-hub or wireless functionality on this keyboard to note. It also seems that the baseplate of the keyboard may be a bit warped – the keys seem to be raised more towards the corners.
The side profile looks fairly similar to regular OEM. The casing of the keyboard doesn’t rise above the edges of the keycaps, leaving an unsightly gap.
Removing all the keycaps reveals the switches are labelled BSUN. This is not a brand I’ve heard of – it comes from Dongguan Bsun Electornics Co. Ltd. and seems more famous for their YOK PANDA line, although it seems rather obscure online too.
The baseplate seems to be made of metal, and is secured to the rear case by a few screws scattered about.
Removing the screws allows the assembly to be lifted out from the rear shell.
The blue PCB hasa all components mounted on it. It shows only very average construction quality with traces of flux residue and poor soldering in some places.
The main controller is a BYK816 and there seems to be an ATMEL 24C02N EEPROM perhaps holding firmware. J4 appears to be a JTAG breakout for programming the board. It seems the board has been hand-soldered, as the C3 capacitor has an obvious burn mark on it. Whoops!
A more populated region of the board and it seems some flux residue is visible too on one of the keyboard switch pins. Perhaps this one need some manual rework. Some solder spatter is visible too. Not great.
The USB-C connector, however, was done horribly. The solder did not wet the pins correctly, only touching the bottom in some cases. The pins at the right edge especially show a solder joint that looks more like a “ball” indicating that it may be a bad joint. While it may work, if it were to come mechanically loose for any reason, those connections will probably crack and fail.
As with most keyboards, the unit is a plug-and-play operation. Stoga does not provide any software for the keyboard at present, so we are left with configuration using key-combinations. Thankfully the “manual” booklet does give some hints.
Being an RGB LED keyboard, it boasts its gamer credentials with a rotating rainbow effect by default. The colour is pretty vibrant and well saturated, with the pudding keycaps making the most of the lighting effect.
Brightness, colour and (to some extent) effect can be changed through Fn+ combination keys. Unfortunately, this is not memorised by the keyboard and if unplugged or the computer is restarted, the keyboard will return to the rotating rainbow effect at full brightness regardless of what was previously selected. This is a pretty big downside, especially if you wanted to use this keyboard in a more professional circumstance or in a dimly lit room.
In case you’re wondering, this is what it sounds like when I’m typing away on it at a fair click. Compared to heavier full-sized keyboards, the key sound is a higher note and the space bar gives an especially noticeable sound. My Gigabyte Aivia with Cherry MX Brown switches is slightly quieter with a noticeably duller note.
The feel, compared to Cherry MX Brown, seems to be more “bouncy” and less tactile, as the MX Brown has a more pronounced actuation point than the Bsun Brown switches on this keyboard. That being said, the bounciness does seem to make the Bsun switches feel quicker and stiffer. I personally still prefer the Cherry MX Brown because it is well reputed and they are known to have a long working life, although given the price of the Stoga, the Bsun switches don’t feel too bad.
Perhaps I was too hopeful to get Cherry MX Brown switches given the price – I don’t think you can even get the key-switches for the price of the keyboard, let alone the rest of the keycaps, board assembly, base plate and case. It is, however, still a case of “product is not as described” as the listing promised Cherry MX Brown.
Being a 60% keyboard, it has a fair few less keys than an ordinary 104-key keyboard. This helps to save on desk space and is a somewhat popular compromise for less productivity-minded users especially in Asia where I got my first 60% membrane keyboard back in the mid-2000’s (yes, it was a thing back then too).
Unfortunately, I find the compromises a little too much at times, often missing the use of a proper numerical keypad or the ability to enter in hotkey combinations like ALT+F4. On this keyboard, keying in ALT+Fn+4 doesn’t have the expected effect, as it seems ALT+Fn gets taken as V+ or V- depending on which ALT is pressed, and the 4 is transmitted as-is. Therefore, some keyboard shortcuts are simply out-of-reach. I also find myself taking more time scanning the key labels to figure out which Fn+ combination is needed, especially when keying in complex passwords that use less-often-used symbols. However, to be fair, this is a drawback shared by many 60% keyboards, not the Stoga specifically.
For those who are interested, the lsusb output from Linux is as follows:
ID 258a:0016 BY Tech Usb Gaming Keyboard Device Descriptor: bLength 18 bDescriptorType 1 bcdUSB 2.00 bDeviceClass 0 bDeviceSubClass 0 bDeviceProtocol 0 bMaxPacketSize0 8 idVendor 0x258a idProduct 0x0016 bcdDevice 0.01 iManufacturer 1 BY Tech iProduct 2 Usb Gaming Keyboard iSerial 0 bNumConfigurations 1 Configuration Descriptor: bLength 9 bDescriptorType 2 wTotalLength 0x003b bNumInterfaces 2 bConfigurationValue 1 iConfiguration 0 bmAttributes 0xa0 (Bus Powered) Remote Wakeup MaxPower 500mA Interface Descriptor: bLength 9 bDescriptorType 4 bInterfaceNumber 0 bAlternateSetting 0 bNumEndpoints 1 bInterfaceClass 3 Human Interface Device bInterfaceSubClass 1 Boot Interface Subclass bInterfaceProtocol 1 Keyboard iInterface 0 HID Device Descriptor: bLength 9 bDescriptorType 33 bcdHID 1.11 bCountryCode 0 Not supported bNumDescriptors 1 bDescriptorType 34 Report wDescriptorLength 67 Report Descriptors: ** UNAVAILABLE ** Endpoint Descriptor: bLength 7 bDescriptorType 5 bEndpointAddress 0x81 EP 1 IN bmAttributes 3 Transfer Type Interrupt Synch Type None Usage Type Data wMaxPacketSize 0x0008 1x 8 bytes bInterval 1 Interface Descriptor: bLength 9 bDescriptorType 4 bInterfaceNumber 1 bAlternateSetting 0 bNumEndpoints 1 bInterfaceClass 3 Human Interface Device bInterfaceSubClass 0 bInterfaceProtocol 0 iInterface 0 HID Device Descriptor: bLength 9 bDescriptorType 33 bcdHID 1.11 bCountryCode 0 Not supported bNumDescriptors 1 bDescriptorType 34 Report wDescriptorLength 227 Report Descriptors: ** UNAVAILABLE ** Endpoint Descriptor: bLength 7 bDescriptorType 5 bEndpointAddress 0x82 EP 2 IN bmAttributes 3 Transfer Type Interrupt Synch Type None Usage Type Data wMaxPacketSize 0x0010 1x 16 bytes bInterval 8 Device Status: 0x0000 (Bus Powered)
It shows the keyboard to be a “BY Tech Usb Gaming Keyboard”. This would be consistent with what was demonstrated by the teardown and suggests the firmware running on the keyboard has had minimal customisation.
Testing of the N-Key Rollover (NKRO) capability, I was able to reach at least 49 keys just by mashing the board, hoping not to hit any of the modifiers which would kick me out of the test or cause the keyboard to enter its Fn+key state. This has me satisfied that the keyboard does have true NKRO capability.
While there is no software for this keyboard specifically, according to a Reddit thread I visited, it seems there is one for a Raydem keyboard.
While this seems to be intended for a full-size keyboard, it was able to control the lighting to some extent. Unfortunately, the listed effects did not match the actual effects that this keyboard has, although it is a more convenient way of choosing the desired effect, brightness and speed compared to using the keys on the keyboard (at the cost of running some bloatware). Unfortunately, settings are not memorised, even when committed through the program.
I did try OpenRGB as suggested but that failed to detect any supported device.
I suppose, for the price, to expect Cherry MX Browns would be “too good to be true”. But sometimes those kinds of bargain do happen. Unfortunately, this was not one of them. Instead, we get a pretty plain and generic keyboard built around Bsun brown switches with a very average to poor construction quality. The switches are a little louder and higher-pitched, with a more bouncy and less tactile feel than my MX browns, but is still quite usable as a mechanical keyboard and poses me no issues in achieving relatively good typing speeds. The 60% layout is a source of frustration as I do miss a numerical keypad and the ability to use certain hotkey combinations which just don’t seem to be key-able using this layout, but this is a criticism that is not necessarily specific to this particular keyboard. Likewise, the lack of memory for RGB colour brightness and effect settings is also a source of frustration. But the price is rather extraordinary, all things considered.
generally speaking, mechanical keyboards under 100$ is not going to use cherry MX.
These cheap boards are from CN brands. over there, there are culture stigma on domestic brand, so despite having excellent/superior keyboard switches options, MX remains most prestigious (I have low regard for prestige, especially in this context). Therefore MX switches won’t show up on cheap CN exports.
As far as I’m aware these boards tend to use 3-pin stem rather than 5-pin stem, and are incompatible with likes of MX, Gateron and Kailh switches. A decent 3-pin replacement for whatever horrifying abominable switch employed is Akko switches. But that would mean de/re-soldering >60 keys.
I prefer linear as far as switch goes, as tactility on MX and derivatives feels weak and inconsistent. tactility and clicking on cheaper switches also suffer due to poorer quality control, resulting in bad switches that double register or do not register at all.
I am also used to having the full height of 100% layout, and find the height reduction of trending formats unacceptable – its like buying a crossover SUV (lifted hatchback) for the additional vertical cargo space – completely pointless.
If I were to standardize modular keyboard designs, a three-way partition would be preferred, with modular numpad, modular nav/other cluster and the main keyboard.
good value high-quality hot-swapping kit such as CIY68 can be had for ~$40, add cost for 68 keys and keycaps, a quality keyboard under $100. PCCaseGear actually have quite reasonably priced keycap and switch sets, shame about paying for shipping.
I’m an MX person mainly because of prior experience – this blog has (so far) just a little over 3 million words tapped out, at least 90% of that was on my Daskeyboard Studio (Cherry MX Blue). I also did some of my undergraduate and all of my postgraduate studies on that keyboard and while some keys are now starting to have some “actuation slop” with uneven actuation feedback, it’s still going with no major issues aside from that. No double-key registers, no excessive noise (although Blue is pretty clacky).
It was a few years after that, I bought a Gigabyte Aivia (Cherry MX Brown) that I use with my laptop (which is starting to take over my desktop workstation, which has the Daskeyboard on it). While the keyboard itself is around 10 years old, the switches are very nicely tactile with only the lightest shine on the keycaps as it’s starting to get used more. I bought it as a backup, and so it’s finally seeing the kind of work that it was designed to do. All of the 2023 blog posts and comments are being written on the Aivia as we speak.
Cherry MX switches aren’t cheap, and I do agree with your general sentiment that it’s hard to get real Cherry MX at a price less than $100. But I did somehow score a Kogan (eugh) which claimed to be Cherry MX and visually seems to be for $61 including GST and postage – https://goughlui.com/2022/12/17/review-teardown-kogan-full-rgb-premium-cherry-mx-blue-mechanical-keyboard-kachrkblfla/ . Not being a switch expert, there’s a chance that these are somehow counterfeit, but at least they made the effort to make it look the part. It is a Royal Kludge OEM and generally, RK stuff is passable as far as I can tell especially amongst the Banggood crowd. Of course, these are low-cost stuff, not really intended for the true switch enthusiast – for that, the hot-swap stuff is definitely of appeal, but I don’t think I’ll ever really have the time or inclination to mix-and-match switches on a per-key basis as some fanatics seem to do.
I liked the chance to try a 60% layout in mechanical form. I don’t love it, but it isn’t entirely unusable for simple tasks … perhaps it’ll take me some time to adjust otherwise it’d likely just become a spare keyboard for an infrequently used box (or for testing/diagnostics). But it’s good to try something new sometimes, especially when the price is attractive. Perhaps the fact it doesn’t feel as easily productive makes me a little less annoyed at the fact it wasn’t the switch it was advertised as having.
Thanks as always for taking the time to comment – indeed PCCG have been around for ages, but I’ve rarely found my pockets deep enough to warrant perusing their catalog.