My first keyboard and daily driver for a number of years was a tenkeyless variation of the Enermax Aurora, a superb scissor-switch keyboard. Eventually, I was seduced by the subtle tactile feel of Cherry MX Browns and set aside my Aurora for mechanical keyboards. At the time, my move to mechanical key switches meant a move away from low-profile keyboards. I was actually hesitant to swap my Aurora out for a mechanical board because I was worried about my fingers slipping down into the deep crevices between tall keycaps while gaming and typing. Fortunately, I was able to easily adjust to using high-profile keycaps, but my love for low-profile layouts endured.
Fast forward to the present. There’s recently been an explosion in new mechanical key switch types, and some of these new switches are more compact and allow for low-profile keycaps. When I first laid eyes on Havit’s HV-KB390L low-profile keyboard, I knew I had to try it out for myself. Now that I’ve spent some quality time with this board, I’m here to give my impressions.
The HV-KB390L goes for a minimalistic design with a black metal base plate and silver chamfered edges that barely extend beyond the outer keycaps. The LEDs under the keycaps give off a pleasant greenish-blue glow that isn’t overly bright. The legends use a pretty standard, clean font, though the decision to replace the Enter key with a button dedicated to tree people is a bit of an odd one. The only possibly garish aspect of this board is the Havit “gaming” logo above the arrow keys, but I don’t mind it.
Havit HV-KB390L (left) next to HyperX Alloy FPS (right)
You can see from the side shot above how much slimmer the HV-KB390L’s switches and keycaps are compared to the usual Cherry MX switch-and-cap stack. The Alloy FPS gives a good idea of just how much more compact the HV-KB390L’s keys are because both keyboards have similarly fat-free chassis. On top of its tightly cropped edges, though, the HV-KB390L has a thin base to go with its compact keys. The HV-KB390L is tiny compared to many mechanical keyboards on the market. The side shot also shows off the exposed switches that give the keyboard its slick “floating keys” effect.
The bottom of the keyboard is made of strong, uniform plastic and features two flip-up stands. The stands aren’t the most heavy-duty I’ve used, but they snap securely into place and steadily prop the keyboard up without any wobble. The overall construction of the keyboard is solid, and it looks quite classy.
A single Micro-USB port is positioned on the back of the HV-KB390L, and a Micro-USB -to-USB cable is included in the box. The provided cable is five feet long and rubber-sheathed. The cable doesn’t catch on my monitor stand or desk, but it is quite inflexible. It resists my efforts to bend it into a shape that is optimal for cable management. Fortunately, the cable is detachable and can be replaced with any compatible aftermarket cable of the owner’s choice.
Choc-ing up the HV-KB390L
The real magic of Havit’s HV-KB390L are its Kailh Choc Blue switches. These switches are meant to somewhat imitate the tactile feel of Cherry MX Blue switches, but it took me some digging to find their exact specs. I originally thought the switches in the HV-KB390L were NovelKeys x Kailh Choc Pale Blue switches. However, that fitting-out didn’t make sense. Kailh Choc Pale Blue switches have a higher tactile force than Cherry MX Blues, but the switches in the HV-KB390L didn’t actually feel any heavier than MX Blues at first. Turns out they weren’t Pale.
I have to give props to reviewer VSG over at TechPowerUp for finding an official force-travel diagram for Choc Blue switches from Kailh. It turns out that Cherry MX Blues and Kailh Choc Blues have roughly the same actuation force (~60 g), but they behave quite differently for a number of reasons.
Cherry MX Blue switches (source: Cherry)
I personally find Cherry MX Blues to be a delight to type on yet awful for gaming. Besides wearing out my pinky finger and being a bit too chunky-feeling for my tastes when gaming, Cherry MX Blues have what I consider to be a key design flaw: the reset and operating points are separated by the tactile point. This separation means that when you let up on a key after activating the switch, the switch is not immediately primed for another activation once you pass back over the operating point in reverse. Instead, you have to release the key past the tactile point all the way until you reach the reset point.
This process is rarely a problem while typing because it is not often that a key has to be pressed multiple times in quick succession. Typing is also more a string of deliberate, individual actions compared to gaming, which is usually more fluid. Attempts to rapidly activate a switch multiple times in succession often fail when using Cherry MX Blues because you are unable to activate a switch by moving key up and down between the operating and tactile points. The user can’t rely on the feedback of the tactile bump to inform them whether the key is actuated or primed for another actuation.
Kailh Choc Blues, on the other hand, have shared reset and operating points, so they completely avoid the rapid actuation issue. Other than sharing reset and operating points, Choc Blues have a travel distance an entire millimeter shorter than standard mechanical switches, making them more responsive. Additionally, Choc Blues have click bars that activate when the tactile point is overcome. Unlike the click jackets on Cherry MX Blues, though, the Choc Blues’ click bars activate when letting up on the keys as well. Furthermore, the Choc Blue switches are lubricated from the factory, making them buttery smooth. Most Cherry switches are quite scratchy in comparison. Lastly, the switches of the larger keys on the HV-KB390L are reinforced with stabilizers.
All of these factors combined make the HV-KB390L an absolute joy to use for both typing and gaming. The Kailh Choc Blues are smooth, highly responsive, and give great feedback, both tactile and audible. The light clicks upon actuation and release delight me while typing on this board.
Sadly, the fantastic switches in the HV-KB390L are not paired with anything special in the keycap department. Like most keycaps, the HV-KB390L’s keycaps are made of single-shot ABS plastic. That’s not exactly a point against the keyboard, given that single-shot ABS is the standard. However, it would be nice for it to come with double-shot ABS or PBT keycaps. The lack of higher-grade keycaps is made worse by the non-standard stems. Keycaps with Cherry MX or ML stems are not compatible with Kailh Choc switches, so you can’t just swap out the keycaps with a nicer set that you may already have.
Firmware and software
Havit advertises the HV-KB390L as a gaming keyboard, and you can’t have a gaming keyboard these days without N-key rollover (NKRO). Havit does indeed include NKRO in the list of features, and I’m happy to report that my tests in AquaKeyTest show this claim to be true.
Havit also advertises the HV-KB390L as needing no drivers, and it is true that almost all the features of the keyboard can be accessed without installing any software on your computer. The various lighting modes, brightness settings, windows key lock, and profiles can be tinkered with using the function key in combination with several dual-function keys on the board itself. Unfortunately, it’s not clear just from looking at many of these icons what exactly they are supposed to mean, so some experimentation or manual reading could be required. Thankfully, the LED brightness icons are pretty clearly marked, so those who want to just set the brightness of the LEDs (or turn them off) shouldn’t have much trouble.
If you’d rather deal with software than figuring out all the key combinations or want some more functionality, you can download the software for the HV-KB390L from Havit’s website. The software lets the user edit the response time and report rate and set up custom key functions and macros in addition to the lighting and Windows key lock features that are accessible without the software.
Fortunately, the software is quite clean and straightforward. All the settings are clearly labeled and are intuitive. It only took me a few seconds to click on the Home key in the interface and set it up as a media pause/play button. The only thing I found slightly confusing is setting up macros. You can’t set up macros in the key remapping settings. You have to click on macro management, set up the macro, then go into the remapping for a key and select the macro you want to map to that key. Other than the macro recording function being slightly unintuitive, the software is actually quite good.
I was skeptical whether Havit’s HV-KB390L could deliver on the promise of a quality low-profile mechanical keyboard experience, a skepticism fueled by the board’s $60 price tag. However I’m pleased to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the keyboard. I’m honestly shocked that a low-profile keyboard made by a company I’ve never heard of for such a low price could deliver so much value.
I have very little to complain about this keyboard, especially given its price tag. I’d love to see a version with an all-metal chassis and PBT keycaps, but a good set of PBT keycaps alone goes for more than this entire keyboard. The partially plastic chassis is also plenty sturdy as it stands.
You really can’t go wrong with this board for $60 on Amazon. It has a slim, stylish, and solid chassis, low-profile keys, functioning NKRO, and easy-to-use software. Most importantly, it provides an absolutely phenomenal typing and gaming experience with its clicky, smooth, speedy, and tactile Kailh Choc Blue switches. That kind of quality and value makes this board an easy TR Editor’s Choice.