There are probably nicer mechanical keyboards out there – ones made with more premium components and materials, with a better stock set of keycaps, ones that simply look prettier. But I’ll bet you they almost universally cost more than $75.
The Qisan Magicforce is a 68-key backlit mechanical keyboard that uses Cherry switches. The 68-key layout is a big part of what drew me to it: I simply don’t need a dedicated function row or number pad these days, and that gives me more room on my desk for mouse surface and a keyboard that just looks a lot, well, simpler.
Small-layout mechanical keyboards are becoming increasingly popular, and I’m far from an expert in the area – I really know very little about mechanical keyboards compared to the growing enthusiast culture around them. But I have owned several mechanical and non-mechanical keyboards over the years, and when my last mechanical suffered an unfortunate liquid encounter, I started the search for a replacement.
My old board was of a larger, but still slightly compacted, layout with a function row and number pad (the arrow keys and a few others were secondary functions on the number pad). I noticed I really didn’t use any of these things on a regular basis, and began to look into compact boards.
The Magicforce is well-reviewed on Amazon, has been recommended by a number of reputable sites, and is an absolute bargain in the world of specialty mechanical keyboards. You can get one with either red, brown, or blue Cherry switches (more on that in a minute).
The design is very spartan, with a thin sheet of anodized aluminum acting as the face plate of the board, marred only by a slightly annoying “Magicforce” logo above the arrow keys. I think if you really wanted, you could slap a sticker over it to hide the logo and give your board a bit of personal flair. Otherwise, I love the stark design and its clear devotion to compactness.
The Magicforce logo is the one slight blemish on an otherwise clean keyboard design. It’s not a big deal.
The keycaps that are included with the board were at first not my favorite – the texture was a bit off-putting coming from a board with much smoother plastic keys. But I’ve actually grown totally accustomed to the key feel and quite like it now. As to the font on the caps, well, it is what it is. You can buy new caps, which I plan to do eventually, and replace the rather try-hardy space age characters, but they’re far from the worst I’ve seen.
The board feels of high quality, but is also incredibly light. Speaking of light, the backlit keys on the Magicforce are extremely bright at the maximum setting if you want your keys to act as little lamps for your fingers, but I find the minimum setting is more than adequate. The lighting isn’t perfectly even, but for $75, what are you really going to do? It’s still a lot better than I expected.
With backlighting disabled, the stock keycaps are still easily legible.
I chose Cherry Red switches for my board – you probably won’t do the same. Browns are one of the most popular variant of the Cherry mechanical switches, and if you’re a first-time mechanical keyboard buyer, they’re probably where you should start. There’s an excellent explainer on switches – with extremely helpful animated GIFs – here if you want to learn more. But, if you want the short version, read on.
The short of it is this: if you remember old, loud, clicky IBM keyboards, that’s what you’re going to get if you buy blue switches. If you want the clicky “feel” of a mechanical keyboard but don’t want all of the noise, you want brown switches – they’re quieter, but still offer engagement feedback for that “clicky” feel. If you want keys that can be actuated (pressed) with as little force as possible, you want red switches.
I favor reds because I like the very light actuation force for gaming, where switch “bumps” can feel a little less natural. Still, plenty of people game with browns or even blues, so most of it really does come down to personal preference, not some rigid set of characteristics that makes certain switches unsuitable for a given task.
After three weeks of typing on the Magicforce, I’m in love. It’s a great board at a great price, and I’m increasingly of the belief I’ll never go back to a full-layout keyboard even again. Mini boards rock.
If you want to buy the Magicforce keyboard, you can get it on Amazon here. And if you plan to replace the keycaps on it, I very much suggest not using the included keycap puler (it can scratch the keys). Instead, you should buy this WASD key puller, which works brilliantly – on Amazon here.