Tech

Hands-on: NZXT's Function is the premium keyboard for mech newbies

NZXT Function keyboard switchesImage: Michael Crider/IDG

The market for advanced, customizable mechanical keyboards is heating up. Formerly the domain of small-batch, super-expensive designs or homebuilt one-offs, you can now find mod-friendly keyboards on Best Buy shelves. NZXT is known for cases, fans, and motherboards, not input devices, but the company is throwing its hat in the ring with the new Function series mechanical keyboards. If you’ve been looking for a quality keyboard with a lot of options for upgrades and programming, without breaking the bank, it’s definitely worth your attention.

NZXT offers the Function in full-sized, tenkeyless, and “mini-TKL” sizes, and they sent us the latter for review. And we’re glad they did. It’s broadly following the midsize trend of popular keyboards like the GMMK Pro or the Keychron Q1, but its intelligent layout uses all-standard keycap sizes. That means that if you want to upgrade to a fancy novelty set, you don’t have to hunt for a smaller left Shift key.

Michael Crider/IDG

Despite the compact size and layout, the mini-TKL features a scroll wheel (programmed to volume by default), dedicated keys for mute, “game mode” (Windows key disabled), and lighting levels. It’s also got a smart position for most of the other stuff: function-level playback controls are in the upper-right corner, while the crucial “delete” key is placed exactly where your muscle memory expects it to be on a larger board. It’s an incredibly efficient package. The hot-swap switch bays should be compatible with all standard Cherry-style switches.

Michael Crider/IDG

The Function includes the usual bells and whistles: RGB lighting, layout and macro programming (via NZXT’s CAM program, not an open-source option), and fold-out feet for a high profile feel. While the case is plastic, it feels high-quality and solid, though I’m not a fan of the weirdly off-center placement for the USB-C port and detachable cable. The package comes with everything you need to start tweaking: keycap puller, switch puller, and a few spares. Despite the clear intention that the user replace them, the bundled keycaps are quite good. They’re doubleshot PBTs with alternate colored keys, though they don’t feature shine-through, so the RGB lighting is entirely decorative.

Michael Crider/IDG

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Function is its dedication to user choice right at the point of purchase. In addition to the three different sizes and layouts, NZXT will sell the keyboard in three different base colors (black, white, grey) and both ANSI and ISO layouts. On top of that, you get an impressive collection of switches from Gateron: clicky Blue, tactile Brown, linear Red, plus two “premium” options for Aliaz tactile and Black Ink linear silent switches. (“Silent” by mechanical keyboard standards, which means they’re about as soft as a laptop keyboard.) Those are rather pricey upgrades, starting at $70 for the smallest board. Naturally, said switches can be swapped out at any time.

All this can be chosen via NZXT’s online configurator, which will let you listen to the different switches and choose some fun add-ons, like more accented keycaps or a different braided cable. It’s an impressive way for newbies to jump into the custom mechanical keyboard space.

NZXT

The NZXT Function full-sized, tenkeyless, and mini-TKL keyboards are shipping today, for $150, $130, and $120, respectively, before additional options. We’ll have a full review of the keyboard soon.

Michael is a former graphic designer who’s been building and tweaking desktop computers for longer than he cares to admit. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order.

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