Earlier this year, Taiwanese keyboard maker KBParadise made a splash with their debut product – the KBP V60 Mini. Intended to be a viable alternative to the popular compact mechanical keyboard, the Poker II, we found it to be an improvement over its target in many ways. However, if you’re not into the 60% layout, it wasn’t really worthy of consideration.
To bolster their lineup a bit, KBParadise have introduced a new mechanical keyboard with a more familiar and user-friendly 80% layout – or “Tenkeyless”. The only thing missing is the NumPad, which means that for the most part, it’s a standard keyboard so long as you don’t have to enter a lot of numerical data. The benefit of a Tenkeyless layout, as we’ve mentioned before (almost all of our keyboard reviews have been on this layout), the keyboard can be placed in front of the center of your monitor, without having to reach for a mouse much further than that, for the majority of the world’s population who are right-handed.
KBP V80 Review
As for the KBP V80 itself, it takes a lot of design cues from the V60 Mini that preceded it. It uses the same kerned Century Gothic in bold font that is unique to their brand, giving them a look that stands out without being gaudy. The same thing was attempted by Razer, trying to give their Black Widow keyboards an aggro “gamer” look, as well as Deck with a weird custom LOTR-inspired font used on their Hassium and Fracium keyboards, both to a subjectively much poorer effect.
The V80 keyboard itself doesn’t have too many flashy features – there are no macros, nor a programmable function layer. A layer of media functions, now considered standard on any modern keyboard, are present however. The main feature of the V80 is its dual LED lighting feature.
KBP V80 Lighting Options
Currently the only option for a mechanical keyboard with true Cherry MX switches and LEDs that light up more than one or two colours is Corsair’s RGB series. Corsair have signed a contract with Cherry to use their new RGB switches exclusively for a limited time, and until this expires, you won’t see these switches used anywhere else. The problem with that is Corsair doesn’t exactly have a sterling reputation when it comes to keyboard and LED durability, and their RGB models can be considered significantly overpriced. RGB models sell for around 30% more than the non-RGB versions, which shows how valuable that exclusive contract is for Corsair.
Other keyboard manufacturers have the option of using competing RGB keyboard switches, which do exist. Several brands have opted for this, including Razer and Thermaltake. Both use Cherry MX RGB replica switches made by Kailh which don’t have the best reputation among mechanical keyboard enthusiasts. Whether this is deserved or not, I’m not sure. I have yet to try a keyboard using these switches and look forward to doing so.
Because KBParadise want to offer the most reputable switches around, going so far as to offer rare Matias switches on some of their keyboards, they went with a unique approach to LED lighting. They used dual conductor LEDs.
The V80 is available in two colour pairings – red/blue, and red/green. Unlike prior dual colour LED keyboards made by KBP, both colours can be enabled at the same time, at varying brightness. This allows for some unique combinations depending on the brightness level of each colour. The red/green version we’re reviewing can be combined to make what I think is a fantastic looking amber or orange colour.
In addition to the two colours, the V80 also has two lighting zones. The “WASD Zone” also includes the Esc, Fn, and Arrow keys which can be set individually from the rest of the keyboard.
Setting up the lighting with two zones can take some getting used to. Each LED colour has six brightness settings, each of which have to be set for each zone individually. So if you like green at brightness 3 and red at brightness 4, you’ll have to cycle through to get what you want, for each zone.
Once you find the combination you like, you can save it to one of three banks, using Fn along with the navigation keys.
The “WASD Mode” and “LED Mode” keys simply enable a mode that cycles through all 6 brightnesses quickly. The result is gaudy and pointless, but I suppose some people might like it. After all, the video/gifs that got most peoples’ attention when the Cherry MX RGB was first introduced were the ones showing all colours being used and cycled through at once.
The “All LED” key (Fn+F1) cycles between three presets for the entire keyboard, ignoring zones. It can be used to quickly turn the lights off, or to set it to all of either colour, brightness level 2.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that combining two LED colours has its drawbacks. First, while you can achieve nice combinations, you are stuck with whatever brightness level gives you that colour. I found a very nice amber colour that I like, but it’s too bright to use at night. And since lowering the brightness of each colour results in a completely different combination, I won’t always get that amber that I really like.
Also, the individual LED conductors emit a glare of each individual colour on the backplate and above the keys. You can see in the zoomed in amber picture shown above; the light coming out of the keycaps looks nice, but there is a distinct red and green glare behind them. Thankfully, this is only at its worst at higher brightness levels at night, and it’s not really noticeable during the day.
By now we’ve seen many solutions to the issue of lighting the number row on backlit keyboards. We’ve seen everything from placing them side by side (which can look cluttered) to flipping the orientation so the LEDs and labels are printed on the bottom (which lets light leak out the bottom), to ignoring the issue completely (meaning symbols are lit up rather than numbers). KBParadise opted to flip the numbers around with the alternate symbols, ensuring that the important markings get lit up when the LEDs are on. This is probably the best tradeoff, in my opinion.
The V80 keeps the same 1mm UV coated laser etched ABS keycaps used on the V60 Mini. The etching is very precise, and the light shines through clearly and brightly. However some may find the caps to be a little thin feeling. This isn’t an uncommon thing with keyboards in the $100-130 price range, especially backlit models, so we can give them a pass on this one. Just be aware that ABS caps tend to develop a ‘shine’ over time, and it doesn’t take long for them to lose their pristine finish.
The V80 features a detachable USB cable – a braided one, which gives it a high-end feel. The cable can be routed in three directions, although I would have liked to see all three channels exit from the top of the keyboard rather than the sides.
The rubber pads on the bottom of the V80 are quite small - we’ve seen some manufacturers handle this worse than others of course. The $200+ Topre RealForce barely has any pads at all, while the KUL ES-87 has so many that you practically have to pick it up to move it around. The KBP V80 sits somewhere in the middle, with four pads that do a decent job of keeping it in place, but allow it to slide around a bit if enough force is applied. As long as the levers aren’t being used.
Unfortunately the lever stands don’t have any rubber on them at all, so when they’re in use, the two front pads are relied upon to keep it in place. As you can imagine, it doesn’t take a whole lot of force to get the V80 to slide around on the desk when the levers are being used.
When we disassemble a keyboard, we’re used to seeing reinforcement ridges throughout the bottom tray to aid in stability. The KBP V80 doesn’t have these, despite them being present in the V60 which is interesting. Not that the V80 feels flimsy – it doesn’t. It also doesn’t feel as solid as a brick, like some other models we’ve reviewed.
One thing that stands out about the V80′s enclosure is the texture of the plastic. It has a smooth matte finish that gives it a sort of luxurious feel. Along with the beveled edges and rounded front, it just has a ‘softer’ appearance rather than seeming like a giant brick sitting on your desk like some keyboards do.
The KBP V80 uses plate mounted switches, which the majority of mechanical keyboards do. PCB mounted switches are an option some people prefer, but I find the typing feel to be quite inferior. PCB mounted switches do offer the advantage of being able to be disassembled without removing them. Plate mounted switches such as these have to be desoldered and removed first. Overall, the improved typing feel is worth it in my opinion.
Stabilizer type can have a significant impact on how a keyboard performs, so it’s important to point that out. The KBP V80 uses Costar stabilizers rather than the Cherry type. The Costar stabilizers have the advantage of the larger stabilized keys feeling closer to standard size keys when they’re pressed. With Cherry stabilizers, the larger keys can feel ‘mushy’, sometimes not being able to bottom out at all. At the very least, keys using Cherry stabilizers simple don’t feel consistent.
The disadvantage of Costar stabilizers is that they can be difficult to remove and reinstall, and often require maintenance after a period of time as they stiffen up. This is remedied by lubricating them with oil, but users may not want to have to deal with that.
The KBP V80 has one feature that some may find useful, and that is full N-key rollover via USB. This is usually limited to 6 key rollover, with some keyboards having the ability to enable full N-key rollover optionally (Razer requires you to install their software to enable this). You can test your own keyboard by using our N-key rollover test page.
Cherry MX Green
Because the KBP V80 isn’t limited to using RGB model switches or their replicas, they aren’t limited to just Cherry MX Brown or Blue switch types – the former of which doesn’t feel very tactile at all, and the latter is unsuitable for gaming. Instead, it’s available with a variety of Cherry MX switches, including MX Clear and MX Green along with the two more common types. And who knows, maybe they’ll make a Matias version like they did with the V60? I have tested just about every Cherry MX switch type being made today, with the exception of the now rarely seen MX Black. I first tested MX Clear in our KUL ES-87 review, so you might want to check that out to get my thoughts on it.
Mechanical switch types are a very subjective topic, and it really mostly comes down to personal preference. The only objective issue that I can think of is trying to game with Cherry MX Blue switches. Because the reset point is quite a bit lower than the activation point, there are times where the switch isn’t fully depressed while attempting to make fine-tune adjustments or double-tapping while playing.
This is called hysteresis, and while the MX Green is very similar to the MX Blue in that it is a clicky tactile switch, the issue isn’t as severe. The reason can be explained by looking at the force diagrams:
As you can see in the charts above, the MX Blue switch activates when the key is depressed by 2.5 mm, but doesn’t reset until the key is lifted to no more than 1mm depressed. I found this to be a major issue while making fine tune adjustments while moving diagonally in games, and many others find double-tapping to be troublesome.
With the MX Green, there is some hysteresis, but it’s not as severe. The switch activates at about 2.1mm and resets at 1.1mm or so. This gives it about 1mm of ‘empty space’ between the key being reset or not, but I didn’t come across this problem at all during game testing. The switches just feel ‘tighter’ than MX Blues – this is probably helped by its higher actuation point as well.
They are also much nicer to type on – the tactile feeling is better, and the heavier springs make it seem even more like the keyboards I grew up typing on. I know the MX Blue switch was intended to replicate older clicky keyboards, but they always felt a bit ‘loose’ and ‘plasticky’ to me. MX Greens, to me at least, feel more like a typists’ keyboard.
KBP V80 Typing Sound Test
Let’s put these MX Green switches to the test in our standard typing sound comparison. Below is a sample of the KBP V80 using Cherry MX Green switches, and below that is a playlist featuring all of the other tests we have performed in the past. This allows you to compare a wide variety of keyboards, switch types, and even keycap material (this can make a huge impact on typing sound and feel).
Subjectively speaking, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed typing on Cherry MX Green switches. I assumed they would be quite a bit louder than MX Blue switches due to the heavier spring, but that just wasn’t the case. Moving over from MX Red switches, I had to get used to them though – I actually found myself missing key presses completely by not pressing with enough force. I eventually got used to it though. I still couldn’t tell anyone what the best switch for them might be, since it all comes down to personal preference. I will say that if you like clicky switches, you should definitely look into Cherry MX Green over Blue.
With the V80, KBParadise is offering a solid no-frills Tenkeyless keyboard for a decent price. Like the KUL ES-87 we reviewed not long ago, it doesn’t have a lot of flashy features. What it does have, is a well thought-out intelligent design and solid construction. The dual conductor LEDs – and specifically the ability to combine them – is what stands out the most to me.
That, and the ability to buy a solid Taiwanese built mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX Green or Clear switches are what make the KBP V80 stand out to me. As these switches are often unavailable to manufacturers (for reasons that seem to be quite intriguing, and it’s something I’d love to explore some day), your options are usually quite limited. Right now your options for a Tenkeyless with Cherry MX Green or Clear are between this, the CODE keyboard, or the WASD, both of which are more expensive. I don’t think stock will last though, so that’s something to keep in mind.
With just a few minor quibbles barely worth mentioning, the KBP V80 is a solid choice for a tenkeyless mechanical keyboard with real Cherry MX switches in its price range. It’s a solid keyboard to begin with, and the dual LED feature is just icing on the cake.