After struggling with squishy keys for years, mechanical keyboards were a quiet revelation for me.
They’re easy to repair and customize, and they offer impressive performance over their dome and scissor switch counterparts.
That said, I have always struggled with one thing: key travel.
After years on a laptop keyboard, my fingers picked up some lazy habits. And unfortunately for me, many mechanical keyboards are designed like the second coming of the IBM Model M: big key caps and tons of key travel.
At least until recently. Good, viable, low-profile mechanical switch keyboards are finally hitting the market.
I’ve already written about the low-profile Dareu EK820, which you can read here. In addition to that one, here are three of the best low-profile mechanical switch keyboards we’ve seen so far.
Reviewed: Our Top-3 Chiclet / Low-Profile Mechanical Switch Keyboards
By looking at key stroke travel distance, key cap height, overall board height, switch quality, and features, we’ve identified three contenders to review today:
- A popular, affordable board by Havit
- The thin and colourful Tesoro Gram
- A retro-inspired keyboard by Azio.
There still aren’t many low-profile mechanical keyboards out there yet, but with the arrival of multiple switch options (like the Kailh Choc switches, or the slim Cherry MX), hopefully that will soon change.
1) Havit: A hugely popular, extra slim, low-profile mechanical keyboard
- Pros: 3mm key stroke distance, durable & precise Kailh switches, very affordable price tag
- Cons: Mostly plastic
- Key stroke travel: 3mm | Total height: 22.8mm
Havit’s budget-friendly & compact mechanical keyboard was an obvious choice. It features low-profile Kailh Choc switches in a great little design package.
Available in the full-sized 104 key version or the tenkeyless 87, the Havit offers a highly affordable entry into mechanical keyboards, full stop. Its compact Kailh PG1350 switches fit perfectly.
This is among the cheapest mechanical keyboards on offer, low-profile or otherwise.Don’t let that inexpensive price point turn you off it; it’s a dream to type on.
The ABS keycaps are perfectly texturized and the excellent switches (available in linear red or clicky blue) have just the right amount of pressure. There’s very little deck flex and it stays put while you type.
The board is also blessedly free of flashy details. (Aside from the obligatory, gamer-friendly array of LED colours and effects.)
Kailh switches save you approximately 1.2mm of travel per stroke. I found this to be an easy transition from scissor-switch laptop keys.
2) Tesoro Gram Spectrum: An affordable, colourful keyboard with Agile switches
- Pros: Slick switches, reasonable price, tons of colours and effects
- Cons: Ugly keycap font is difficult to read
- Key stroke travel: 3.5mm | Total height: 24.5mm
The Tesoro Gram mechanical board offers a reasonable midpoint between ubiquitous tall keycaps and flat, chiclet-style laptop keys.
The uber-colourful Tesoro Gram Spectrum sports Agile low-profile switches. They’re speedy, smooth and satisfyingly clicky.
Each switch has its own LED, and the colours and brightness are fully customizable. I wish the included software was a little easier to use, but that’s a minor concern.
The 6mm keycaps are about half the height of standard mechanicals. That combined with the short travel of the Agile switches makes for a blissful typing experience.
My primary gripe is with the illegible font. C’mon, why do these companies do this? Just do a standard font.
3) Azio Retro Classic: A chiclet-style, typewriter-inspired keyboard with great finish
- Pros: Premium finish, silky smooth typing experience, unique design & keycaps
- Cons: Relatively expensive
- Key stroke travel: 3.6mm | Total height: 40mm
I really wanted to review a chiclet mechanical keyboard today, but I haven’t found one I like enough. If that changes, I’ll update the article. But the one that comes closest is the beautiful, retro-inspired Azio Retro Classic.
This board is a step up in price, but still within the typical range for mechs. And for that cost, you get a lot of keyboard.
The Azio has extraordinary fit and finish. A zinc frame surrounds a genuine leather top plate, and the keycaps are rounded like a typewriter.
The switches are proprietary Azios, but they’re designed by Kailh and feature beautiful action.
Each switch is fitted with a subtle LED that illuminates but doesn’t detract from the vintage design. If you’re looking for 8 million colours and tons of effects, this isn’t the keyboard for you.
I should note that board height is a taller 40mm, but the key distance is on par with other low-profile mechanical keyboards listed here, and far less than, say, a Cherry MX.
That said, with the flat-topped keycaps, the typing experience is analogous to a (tall) chiclet board. It does take some adjustment, but that learning curve is worth it.
Azio equipped this board with Bluetooth, and there are plenty of backplate / frame configurations available.
So what’s the best low-profile mechanical keyboard on this list?
While I’ll happily recommend any of the three above, my personal favourite is the Havit. It’s a phenomenal typing experience for the price tag. On an unlimited budget, I’d lean towards the premium quality Azio.
I’m still disappointed by the total lack of good quality chiclet mechanical keyboards. I understand that it’s a niche market, and that chiclets nullify some mechanical switche advantages (avoiding bottoming out, for example.)
Still, there are plenty of people who want durable, precise switches with a laptop typing experience. I hope we’ll see some more choices soon.
Can I make my current keyboard easier to type on?
Yes! It’s easy to replace your current keycaps with lower-profile ones. Slimmer caps alone can make a huge difference. It won’t lessen actual switch travel distance, but your fingers will move less.
Another option at your fingertips (pun extremely intended) is to actually replace your switches. This is more involved, and unless you’re a seasoned GeekHack guru, you’ll probably want switches that are compatible with your current board.
There are a lot of factors, and switch replacement is not a project I’d personally undertake, but if you love your current deck this might be worth considering.