I am a big fan of how Keychron has made the DIY mechanical keyboard space more accessible to everyone. But for those who want to participate in the clicky-clack universe without going too deep, it can be hard to find a mechanical keyboard that isn’t geared solely toward enthusiasts or gamers.
Surprisingly, NZXT, a brand known in nerd circles for its PC components, has managed to put together a mechanical keyboard that’s very approachable, particularly if you’re a person who wants something that’s no-frills. It’s called the NZXT Function. It comes in three different sizes, including full-size — what keyboard nerds call a 100% layout — which starts at $180; tenkeyless, or TKL, which eschews the number pad and starts at $150; and MiniTKL, which smushes together the navigation buttons for a supremely compact keyboard. The smaller board costs $140, though it comes without the full-size and TKL’s included magnetized wrist rest.
WHAT IS IT?
A customisable mechanical keyboard
Starts at $140-$180
Customisable accent colours, available in three sizes, software isn't totally bloaty
Aesthetic isn't for everyone, neither is the volume roller
A comforting typing feeling
There is nothing extraordinary about the look of the NZXT Function. It’s less gamer-y looking than Razer’s mechanical keyboards, most of which feature full-bleed RGB and look like cockpit controls in the dark rather than a colorfully lit keyboard. NZXT also emblazons its branding on the chassis itself, which immediately downgrades the customisation of the Function keyboard. Compare this to a DIY keyboard like the Keychron, a plain aluminium shell meant to serve as a blank canvas rather than push one particular aesthetic.
There is something remarkably calming and comforting about the soft, mushy typing feel of the library computer keyboard, and I was transported back to that time in my life typing on the Function. NZXT sent over a model that featured Gateron Silent Black Linear switches, which are some of the cushiest springs I’ve ever typed on.
I always perform a little typing test with each mechanical keyboard to see if it can keep up with my daily post. I clocked in about 110 words per minute every time I tested with the Function, my usual speed if my fingers vibe with the keyboard. My maximum speed was 120 wpm, which is how fast I type if I’m on a roll. What really helped is that I was able to use the Function’s edited TenKeyless layout versus a full-size board. My small hands type best when I don’t have to travel across an entire board.
If my describing it as “mushy” made you wretch earlier, the good news is you can customise a Function keyboard through the NZXT BLD program with another type of switch. First, choose your chassis colour: black, white, or gunmetal grey. Then, choose your switches, options include Gateron Red, Blue, or Brown switches, similar to Cherry MX’s types. There is also the Gateron Aliaz Silent switch option, a more premium tactile switch with a heavy actuation point (here’s a video of what it sounds like on another board). Once you’re done, you can choose an accent and cable colour. The choices are yellow, purple, blue, and red.
The bad news is that if you choose any of the premium switches — the Silent Black or Aliaz Silent — it will increase the keyboard cost to a point that you really have to ask yourself if the aesthetic suits you. They cost $US80 ($111) and $US60 ($83), respectively. The actual cost of the board that NZXT sent me retails for $US240 ($333), more than the brand new Keychron Q3 with the same TKL layout and Gateron Pro switches.
NZXT Function boards with no fancy customisation will save you some money. But if you choose this route, know you’re getting cheaper-feeling, shiny ABS keycaps instead of textured PBT ones, and Gateron Red switches are your only option.
If you receive the keyboard and you’re still not keen on what you see, the Function also has a detachable USB-C cable and a standard keycap layout, so you can swap in another set to see if it resonates. The box comes with a keycap puller and switch extraction tool, encouraging you to try your hand at customisation. The switches are also hot-swappable, so if you get an itch to convert to some specialised switches from somewhere else on the internet, you can make a weekend out of it with the tools readily available in the box.
Tiny little caveats
My major caveat with the NZXT Function is that it’s just not my style. It’s a plain board with a design that’s reminiscent of a PC builder’s lab rather than a Tamagotchi-obsessed ageing millennial’s overly decorated room. Part of the reason mechanical keyboards spiked up in popularity in recent years could be attributed to folks like me aching to make things look a certain way. But the only thing about the NZXT Function’s look that matches my identity is its purple accent keys and power cable.
That said, there are some things about the NZXT Function you might prefer to the other options out there. Compared to Razer’s flagship mechanical gaming keyboard, the Function is just a smidge more compact — I’m talking about a comparison of millimetres, but the difference is palatable once you put either of the keyboards on the desk. On the flip side, you’re also missing out on some premium aspects of that Razer board. The RGB lights, for instance, don’t shine through as brightly as they do on boards with more spacing in between the keys.
You might also like that side-scrolling volume roller on the Function. It’s right next to the Esc key, which makes it easily accessible as you’re typing, and it’s less overt than on the mechanical keyboards that opt for a knob. There are three side-facing shortcut buttons facing outward, too, which offer controls for muting the volume, locking the Windows key, and adjusting the brightness of the RGB backlight.
And then, there’s the NZXT Cam software. It seems like it’s more robust than VIA, the open-source version of the software you’d use to program DIY keyboards like Keychron, because of the number of menu items that propagate up on the left-hand side. But you can’t access some of those respective features if you don’t have NZXT-made peripherals. The Cam software’s PC monitoring functionality also has an air of Ralph Wiggum’s “I’m-helping!” energy, which is to say it’s mostly useless.
A cosy, customisable board
The NZXT Function is a solid mechanical keyboard, though it’s not something I would have picked out myself to pair with a set of artisan keycaps. Still, middle-of-the-line mechanical keyboards like this have a place in the zeitgeist. They’re an option when gaming brands like Razer don’t offer the kind of keyboard customisation you’re looking for. And they’re another consideration when DIY brands like Keychron are limited in their layout offerings.