Xtrfy K5 RGB Compact
Over the past couple of years, the world of mechanical keyboards has been evolving drastically. The custom keyboard scene is bigger than ever, and with that we've seen certain aspects of the custom mechanical keyboard world become the new standard for mass-produced keyboards. This has been a great evolution for consumers and has drastically raised the quality standards for gaming keyboards, but sadly it's still quite difficult to get a hold of components if you're planning to build your own board. Parts are quite often not in stock or purchased through group buy systems that often have a waiting time of over a year, so it can be incredibly frustrating to build a keyboard that's completely to your liking if you're new to the scene and you perhaps don't know where to look.
With the new K5 RGB Compact, Xtrfy is trying to make a change. This is a keyboard that aims to be completely customizable, even for people who don't know a lot about the custom mechanical market. The K5 RGB Compact comes with pre-lubed stabilizers, a hotswappabe PCB, a variety of case colors, an easy frame-swap system, and a large variety of keycap sets so that you can easily build a board that matches your setup without having to wait for months until your parts arrive. Even if you're not interested in modding your board, the K5 RGB Compact sounds like a great option, so we've sent one over to our reviewer to find out if it's worth your money and time. Read our full Xtrfy K5 RGB Compact review to find out all you need to know!
"The K5 comes in two different editions as standard. And to give you all possibilities of customizing your keyboard, everything from the switches, stabilizers and keycaps to the cable, frame and even the little plate for the logo is swappable."Xtrfy
Xtrfy K5 RGB Compact - First Impressions
Something that caught my eye with the K5 RGB Compact (I will sometimes refer to it as 'K5' throughout this review) is that it's the first mass-produced keyboard that I've seen with a shine through case. I'm not much of an RGB fan when it comes to my daily driver keyboards but I love a good light show on gaming keyboards, and if that's something that you're also a fan of you will absolutely love the K5 RGB Compact in the transparent white color. The board also has a button combination that you can use to boost the RGB (you will need a USB 3 port for that though) and that really brings out the goods. Sure, it's completely useless as far as your gaming performance goes but oh boy does it look good.
Aside from the hugely impressive RGB show the K5 is (on the surface) a pretty regular 65% gaming keyboard. There's a lot more to it than that of course, but I'll go deeper on the extra features further on in the review. A quick note: I received both the black version and the transparent white version for review, though most of the photos that you see in this review are of the transparent white version as that's the more interesting one out of the two if you ask me.
The K5 is completely made out of plastic. That's fine with me, as a metal construction obviously wouldn't allow the RGB light to shine through and would drive up the price considerably. I personally don't even have anything against plastic boards (my favorite custom keyboard has a plastic case, and I like the sound profile and lower weight) so for me it's all fine as long as the case doesn't creak or flex too much and that's not a problem with the K5 at all.
As I mentioned in the first impressions part this is also one of the most impressive boards I've ever seen when it comes to RGB so if you're a fan of that then that's a nice addition.
Inside the box you'll find a switch- and keycap puller, two replacement switches, the USB-C cable, a replacement plate to place next to the arrow keys, the usual documentation, and a sticker. That is pretty much all that you would want to see included when you're buying a gaming keyboard, so I have absolutely no complaints here.
Do note that this keyboard can also be bought customized on Xtrfy's website, where you can choose between a variety of keycaps, frames, switches, and even cables, so depending on what you order your unboxing experience may differ. I am reviewing the standard prebuilt edition.
Size & Dimensions
Features and build
The K5 RGB Compact comes with a lot of bells and whistles but if those aren't enough for you there is also the possibility to customize a lot of what the K5 offers and Xtrfy are proud of that. When you remove the space bar you'll see that the PCB has 'customize me <3' printed on it, which is a nice touch if you ask me.
Customization truly is the name of the game here, and the most important feature (if you ask me) comes in the form of the swappable top frame. The entire top portion of the board comes off with an easy click, meaning that you can use it as a high profile or low profile case (don't confuse this with low profile switches; those are different things) and that also means that you can easily change colors. I know that people like to match their keyboards to their setup, and being able to swap the color of your board in a matter of seconds (and at a fraction of the price versus having to buy a whole new case) is a nice touch. It's also extremely easy to do.
On the right side of the board you'll also find a small nameplate with Xtrfy's logo. This attaches to the board via a magnet and can as such be replaced too, but I find this to be a bit more finnicky than the top frame swap system. The plate isn't on there very securely, meaning that it'll almost always be crooked a little, and I find that to be annoying once I've noticed it. I would rather see a more solid system here with cutouts for the plate to sit in so that it can't move around as much. Right now it tends to pivot given that the only thing keeping it in place is a single magnet.
Xtrfy haven't only thought of the looks, though. Inside the board you'll also find a ton of enthusiast-level additions that are meant to enhance the auditory and tactile experience. There's a layer of foam between the PCB and the top plate, for example, as well as some sound dampening foam on the bottom of the case. While I appreciate the gesture and the desire to bring these features to mass-produced boards, I have to say that there's some work to be done here.
The PCB foam is rather thin and in two of the three boards I tested I found that it had folded inward when the switches had been installed, meaning that was 'crushed' and compacted by said switches. All of the switches worked, but it's evidence of just how thin and almost inconsequential this foam is. If you ask me, this foam should be denser: that would prevent it from folding or bending and would do better at noise dampening.
The same can be said for the foam on the bottom of the case. It's extremely thin and while it's of course better than having nothing there at all I do feel like this could be improved. It's not as bad as with the PCB foam (that just really feels subpar) but still.
The keycaps sadly don't give me much cause for celebration either: they're ABS, which doesn't have to be a huge problem, but they're also rather thin and feel dusty/chalky as opposed to either completely smooth or nicely texturized, so these are definitely not up to par. I would kind of let this slide if you got the opportunity to buy a nice set of PBT caps should you so desire, but it seems like you can only get ABS caps if you want to order caps from Xtrfy, and that's kind of disappointing. They thought of offering coiled cables and custom nameplates, but didn't think to offer a decent set of keycaps. Sure, you can get an aftermarket set, but that won't have the shortcuts printed on the front, and even so it's a bit disappointing to see that they haven't thought of offering a higher quality set of caps for people who want that.
On the bottom of the case are four rubber feet along with two flip up feet should you want to place the keyboard at an angle. These do a fine job at keeping the board in place. The cutout for the USB-C cable is also wide enough to take a variety of custom cables.
Performance and every day use
The K5 RGB Compact has a hotswap PCB, meaning that you can use pretty much any set of switches that you desire. This means that I won't spend too much time on the switches that were in my board (seeing as you can just get the ones you like) but just to be quick: the board I tested has Kailh Red switches, and I'm not a big fan. They feel a bit scratchy and there's some ping, and as far as linears go there are better options on the market at this price point if you ask me.
I mentioned that work has to be done when it comes to the enthusiast-level features on this board, and that also goes for the stabilizers. Xtrfy have pre-lubed the stabs on this board, but they've used such a thick lube (and/or so much of it) that some stabilizers feel extremely mushy. On one of my testing boards, the space bar even didn't come all the way up after using it, which is of course not what you want. I applaud Xtrfy for even thinking of pre-lubing their stabs, but this just ain't it. It's not something that can't be fixed, but if you have to take out the stabs in order to remove the pre-applied lube you might as well not lube them in the factory since your customers end up taking out the stabilizers anyway.
All of this (the thin foam, the spongy stabilizers, the subpar keycaps) makes for a typing and gaming experience that sadly doesn't deliver what I had expected of it when I was reading the specs. The board sounds a bit pingy, and while I have no doubt that some higher quality switches could partially fix this it's still not at the level it should be at, even though I also wouldn't go as far as to call the typing experience 'bad'. The GMMK 2 and the Ducky One 3 Mini are two recent boards that come to mind that offer a superior typing experience, for example.
As with all of Xtrfy's products, the K5 RGB Compact is driverless, meaning that you control its features via the board itself as opposed to through a software kit. That's fine with me, as I am not a macro user and aside from changing the RGB I rarely customize my keyboards, but if you're into tweaking and tinkering with rebinds and the likes you may want to think twice. Still, the vast majority of gamers won't ever need any software, and the board is pretty easy to use so all of this is no problem if you ask me.
The K5 also comes with super-scan technology. This scans all keys every half a millisecond so that any key presses are detected and registered pretty much instantly (and faster than on a regular mechanical keyboard) and while I always applaud innovation like this I can't say that I noticed any perceivable difference when using the board for gaming and work. I've never had any issues with a (quality) mechanical keyboard feeling laggy or unresponsive so don't get this board thinking you'll be half a second faster on the draw than your enemy because that simply will not be the case. Again: the technology is cool, and I applaud innovation (as long as it doesn't get in the way of the actual performance of the product, which isn't the case here) but I don't consider this to be a selling point.
Conclusion & Recommendation
The Xtrfy K5 RGB Compact is, sadly, a tale in two parts. At first, I was extremely excited about the K5 RGB Compact. The bright and vivid RGB, the PCB and case foam, the pre-lube stabilizers, the easy customization options, ... All parts are here to make this one of the best mass-produced keyboards you can buy right now, but sadly Xtrfy has forgotten to deliver on what they promised.
It's all there, of course. There is case foam, there is PCB foam, and the stabs are lubed. It's just that there's either not enough of one thing (foam) or too much of another (lube), culminating in a product that has a lot of great ideas behind it but stumbles when it comes to the execution. Is it a bad board? No, not really, but at this price point there are better alternatives to consider.
While I applaud Xtrfy for trying to bring mechanical keyboard customization to the masses (and I truly love some ideas such as the swappable top frame) this K5 RGB Compact just doesn't quite feel good enough. I am eagerly awaiting a revision or new version of this board and I'd love to see Xtrfy fix some of these issues because they've definitely got the right idea here. Once these issues are ironed out this could very well be one of the best (if not the best) mass produced keyboard on the market, but as of right now it's not there yet and I can't really recommend this product.