Havit’s HV-KB390L low-profile keyboard reviewed

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 Blue switches

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.

Conclusions

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.

Havit HV-KB390L

June 2018

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.

Comments closed
    • Mentawl
    • 1 year ago

    I’m not the only one who loves the Enermax Aurora keyboards! I’ve got one of the original Auroras as one of my daily ‘boards and several of the Acrylux (replaces the metal base with plastic, otherwise the same) still doing great work for me. 11 years and still going strong, though some of the keys have gone fairly shiny through overuse!

    You’ve now got me pondering this keyboard, as it’s available in UK layout on Amazon too …. darnit.

    • willyolioleo
    • 1 year ago

    I know I’m in an extreme niche, but if this keyboard was available wireless (with AA batteries, not proprietary) then it would be the perfect keyboard for me.

      • BillyBuerger
      • 1 year ago

      There’s the [url=https://www.drevo.net/product/keyboard/joyeuse<]Drevo Joyeuse[/url<] which is similar and bluetooth, although not AA batteries.

        • willyolioleo
        • 1 year ago

        yeah I came across that one. unfortunately having to plug into a USB cable to charge basically defeats the purpose of a wireless keyboard for me. AA batteries can be charged elsewhere while i use the keyboard and swapped in 20 seconds, and i don’t need a USB cable running across my living room.

    • Chrispy_
    • 1 year ago

    That looks really promising but why do they have to ruin a tasteful and classy-looking design with that garish claw/talon gaming logo?

    Can it be peeled off or is it an eyesore that needs to be tolerated/painted over/scratched away?

    I’m also not keen on fragile micro-USB connectors for a keyboard, given that the cables will typically hang down the back of a desk and encroach into the area where I put my feet; I’m not worried about damaging the cable, I’m worried about damaging the fragile socket that’s likely held onto the PCB by a few globs of easy-to-crack, lead-free solder. I know USB-A is supposed to be for host devices, but this is one exception where a larger physical connector would be welcome.

    • webs0r
    • 1 year ago

    I’ve been using this keyboard for about 6 months now, and I concur with Nathan’s conclusions.

    This is the most comfortable and satisfying mech keyboard I own (I have about 10 with various switch types). When I heard about it I rushed to get it.

    A lot comes down to the low-profile, but the switch mechanism itself is great. It allows it to be used for mixed-case typing and gaming, so you get the best of both worlds!

    It helps that it was cheaper than I think all of my other kbs to boot.

    • demani
    • 1 year ago

    How hard is it to pull the keycaps and rearrange them? I like just about everything but my main driver at home is a mac-I’d want to swap the Windows and Alt keys (they look the same size) and a key remapping tool and it would fine. At $60 it seems like a bargain.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 1 year ago

      Key-remapping to swap Command and Option is built into the Keyboard system preferences panel in the OS. You don’t even need software, just gotta swap keys. Removing the keys can’t be that hard, he took a picture of keys without caps.

        • Gyromancer
        • 1 year ago

        I can confirm that the keycaps aren’t hard to pull off, especially if you have a keycap puller.

    • rnalsation
    • 1 year ago

    There is also the HV-KB395L version with a 10 key for $79.99 on Amazon too.

      • Shobai
      • 1 year ago

      AU$199 with free shipping… ouch!

        • rnalsation
        • 1 year ago

        That is almost $150 USD, ouch indeed.

      • jihadjoe
      • 1 year ago

      Numpad master race!

        • Chrispy_
        • 1 year ago

        Just curious, why do you love the numpad?

        For me, they’re needless duplicates that force me to move my hand away from the home position. Just about the only benefit I can see is if I’m doing random-cell, purely numerical data entry into a spreadsheet and need one hand on the mouse .

        That’s a pretty contrived, unusual, rare scenario for most people, but getting an extra 4″ of mouse area is something that everyone (especially gamers looking at gamer-brand keyboards) can appreciate.

        Edit:
        Oh, and TKL is $20 cheaper too.

          • rnalsation
          • 1 year ago

          I use the number pad for numerical entry (as you said) and for some games (DOS games and I’m looking at you GTA V) that have controls there.

          What I don’t get is why so many companies drop the 10 key instead of dropping the arrow key cluster, moving the 10 key over (which contains arrow keys and home, end, PgUp, etc.) and shoehorning some of the other keys above it.

            • Chrispy_
            • 1 year ago

            Interesting thought about dropping the tenkey over the arrow cluster.

            My guess is that the arrow cluster embedded in the tenkey is awkward to use, and that the 6-block above it is actually unique and not something you can fully replicate on the tenkey at the same time as the arrow cluster without resorting to shift-modes or Fn-modes.

            It certainly wouldn’t take much effiort to embed an inverted-T arrow cluster into the tenkey though, and it’s not as if keyboard manufacurers don’t already use shift and Fn toggles already…

          • Usacomp2k3
          • 1 year ago

          Anytime you are typing numbers, the 10-key is without compare. Anything more than 2 or 3 numbers and I never use the numbers row.
          A large part of this is for work, where all of our part numbers are numeric, so it is a must. It’s also why I insist on a 15″ laptop to have the numberpad.

          • jihadjoe
          • 1 year ago

          > Just curious, why do you love the numpad?

          Numbers, obviously. Even if it’s just typing a phone or credit card card number I find it worthwhile to move my right hand off the home position because it’s just so much easier to enter using the numpad.

          We all move our right hands away from the home position everytime we use the mouse anyway.

    • BillyBuerger
    • 1 year ago

    NovelKeys has a set of [url=https://novelkeys.xyz/collections/keycaps/products/kailh-low-profile-keycaps-with-legends<]double-shot PBT keycaps[/url<] for $30. They're a flatter style keycap, more like a laptop style then the cylindrical ones Havit uses. I bought them with the plan to build my own custom low-profile keyboard with some Choc switches (Burnt Orange) but haven't gotten to it yet. Need to finish other keyboards first.

      • tay
      • 1 year ago

      I think the ABS keycaps are probably the biggest drawback for this board (provided you’re happy with the switches of course). Ugh not compatible with the Havit.

      • shiznit
      • 1 year ago

      “These are not compatibly Havit keyboards. Havit keyboards use a special stem that is different from normal Kailh Low Profile Choc switches.”

      Bummer.

        • BillyBuerger
        • 1 year ago

        Oh, I didn’t realize Havit did some weird stuff here. I found [url=https://www.techpowerup.com/reviews/Havit/HV-KB390L/<]Tech Power Up's review[/url<] where they show the back of the PCB. You can see two sections on the sides of the switch that go through the PCB in addition to the normal center stem. The PG1350 series generally only have two little PCB mount nubs similar to MX switches. These look more similar to the PG1232 but not exactly. That shouldn't affect keycaps though. But the stabilizers they use are different. These keycaps from novelkeys use an MX style + for the stabilizer mounts while Havit uses something more similar to Alps stabilizers. So yeah, not compatible. That's too bad.

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