8BitDo Retro Mechanical Keyboard

Released late last year, we check out 8BitDo's first attempt at a stylish mechanical keyboard.
 

General Information

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We've covered 8BitDo a fair bit on this site. Offering a decent assortment of retro-themed controllers and gaming accessories, they've earned a name for themselves as a brand worth watching for that sweet nostalgia hit. Where we're going today is new territory though, and a realm I'm always excited to see newcomers stumble into: mechanical keyboards.

Box Contents & Early Impressions​

Out of the box you're getting all the basics you need to get you going. There's the keyboard itself, along with a 2.4GHz dongle hidden within. On top of that you can expect to find a 1.8m USB A to USB C cable, a manual, and undoubtedly the biggest oddity, a giant set of buttons. Visually 8BitDo have stayed true to form and delivered on something captivatingly nostalgic, with the model I have on hand featuring the maroon and off-white colours of the Famicom. There is also a more western NES-themed design available if that’s more to your taste.

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On the keyboard itself we see a fairly familiar tenkeyless layout, sacrificing only the number pad for the sake of a bit of desk space. The body is entirely plastic, with the bottom half being the maroon red of the accented keycaps and the top being the off-white of the main keys. Along the top of the board we also see two knobs, three buttons, and three lights. The knobs will let you move between the wireless modes and altering the volume, while the buttons will allow you to sync the keyboard, quickly remap special keys and buttons, and switch into a custom profile. Outside of the usual lights, we also see a really fun red power indicator to show whether the device is low on power, charging, and fully charged. On the bottom of the board we have a handy place to store the 2.4GHz dongle, complete with magnets to hold it in place, and a notable lack of adjustable feet. The keyboard is naturally slanted so this likely won’t be an issue for most, but if you are one for more subtle adjustments it’s worth taking note. The plastic body does feel a little lighter than some of my other boards, quite naturally, but it does all come together for a relatively premium finish.

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Under the hood we see Kailh’s clicky Box White v2 switches supported by a sturdy aluminium plate for a really rigid typing experience. The clickyness of these switches might be obnoxious to some, but there’s a real sense of satisfaction that comes from hammering these keys. It definitely feels in character with the board, but it should be noted that these are your only option when buying. If you do prefer something a little more subtle, you can at least swap out the switches yourself after buying with thanks to their hot-swappable nature. With this being a bit more of a mass-appeal keyboard, I can somewhat understand the lack of a barebones option, with the target audience likely just wanting something they can pick up and use. Despite that it is a shame to not see even any linear or tactile representation in the lineup.

Giant Buttons!?​

Outside of the design, the most unique feature of this keyboard would undoubtedly be the set of two giant buttons that come packed with it. Connecting via one of four available 3.5mm jacks on the top side of the board, these buttons are entirely remappable and can be customised on the fly to press not only single keys, but up to a combination of six keys at a time. I can’t really fathom a situation where I’d need six keys being pressed in one, but I did appreciate the flexibility in being able to customise them so easily. As you can imagine, it’s pretty satisfying to slap them down for a particularly magnificent return press or similar, and thanks to them also utilising standard hot-swappable keyboard switches to drive them, you can really customise them to meet your needs. They come with a really pleasant clicky green switch in them, and the buttons themselves are stabilised well to get a really deep sound when they’re hit.

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My major criticism of them is that the cable is just somewhat in the way, no matter how you try to hide it. I’m not certain how you could really engineer this to not be an issue, but I feel like most people grab a wireless keyboard to reduce desk clutter. For those folks, I just can’t see the buttons leaving the box. If you are happy to have your wires crossed, you may be happy to hear that the keyboard supports not just one set of buttons, but four. Though these are sold separately via 8BitDo’s official store (at $20 a pop if you’re curious) I really would be interested in seeing how having multiple would hold up for something like a PC rhythm game. It’s something I may yet try for myself.

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As is fairly standard with modern 8BitDo products, we have their Ultimate Software V2 available to support the Retro Keyboard, though it is worth mentioning that most of the base functionality can be accessed entirely without it. This includes remapping the both B and A buttons you can see on the keyboard and the additional giant buttons, which is really great to see. If you do decide to delve into the software you have a fairly standard assortment of tools at your disposal. Each key can be remapped or given a macro, with macros being easy to record. The way these changes make it to the keyboard is via the profile button on the board, with it basically acting as a function layer toggle. When it’s lit up, all the edits you’ve made to the current profile will be enabled, and when you hit it again, you’ll go back to the standard mappings. Though you can only save one profile to the keyboard at a time, you can store as many as you want in the Ultimate Software itself, and swap them onto the keyboard as you please. These profiles will persist even without the profile running, with is something I always look for in this kind of software.

Closing Thoughts​

Is 8BitDo’s Retro Keyboard worth a look? At the £85 I can see it being sold for at the moment, I think it’s a really compelling package for somebody wanting something stylish to tip their toe into the world of mechanical keyboards with. Though you only have one switch available to you at checkout, it remains remarkably satisfying to type on, and can be customised if you decide the feel isn’t what you’re looking for. As a first attempt in the world of mechanical keyboards, I think they’ve done a great job.

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