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KnewKey's Rymek retro mechanical keyboard reviewed

Old-school looks, modern performance

Many keyboard enthusiasts view them not just as input devices but also as fashionable accessories. Anyone searching for gaming keyboards or browsing the mechanical keyboard subreddit will be greeted by keyboards tricked out with RGB LEDs, fancy chassis, and custom keycaps. It's no surprise, then, that there's a market for mechanical keyboards with retro styling. KnewKey is a young company that'll soon be releasing its first keyboard: the Rymek. The Rymek is a mechanical keyboard styled after old-school typewriters, which sounded to me like a fun concept to take for a spin.

The Rymek isn't a full-blown typewriter clone. KnewKey put in some work to adapt the typewriter formula to better fit with modern needs and materials, and I think the company did a great job preserving the typewriter aesthetic while modernizing it. The Rymek is considerably less bulky and weighty than typewriters of old, which I certainly appreciate. 

The Rymek comes in two different color schemes: black and rose gold—how my unit came—and white, orange, and silver. The chassis of the black and rose-gold variety is made of shiny piano-black plastic that looks nice, but it's not for the clean freak. The reflective surface shows fingerprints and dust like nobody's business, so anyone wanting to keep it looking clean will need to keep a cloth and perhaps some compressed air handy. 

Above the retro-styled keys, some faux type bars reside in a cut-out area. These mock typebars are illuminated by white LEDs along with the key caps themselves. I think the mock typebars are a neat addition that help sell the retro typewriter look.

The "floating keys" design is often associated with Corsair, and I think it would be fair to say that Corsair keyboards popularized the look in recent years. However, the "floating keys" look predates Corsair's inception by over a century. I find it somewhat humorous that the Rymek, in trying to replicate the look of old-school typewriters, fits right in with many modern keyboards. 

There are a number of typewriter-styled keyboards on the market, and many of these come equipped with keycaps that mimic the classic circular typewriter keys. However, there is a reason most keycaps nowadays are more square than round. Square keycaps maximize surface area so users are more likely to hit the keycaps rather than accidentally press down into the space between them. Many later typewriters had keys that deviated from the traditional circular style in order to improve the typing experience. 

KnewKey opted for what it calls "saddle-shaped" keycaps that strike a decent balance between usability and retro styling. The extra space provided by the flat tops of the keycaps is greatly appreciated, especially since my fingers tend to strike and rest on keycaps closer to the top of the keycaps than the bottom.

That said, the rounded bottoms still don't make for the most optimal strike area. When I first started typing on the Rymek, my sentences were plagued by garbled words here and there. It didn't take that long for me to adjust to typing on the irregularly-shaped keycaps, but it was undoubtedly rough when I started. I still have the occasional mishap caused by the rounded bottoms when I really get going with the syllable-slinging. I think more standard keycaps are better if you're looking for the best typing experience, but the "saddle-shaped" keycaps are a pretty good option for retro-styled keycaps. 

The Rymek's keycaps are made of single-shot PC-ABS plastic. The added polycarbonate makes the plastic stronger than the plain ABS plastic used in most keycaps. Additionally, single-shot keycaps are usually incredibly thin, but that isn't the case with the Rymek's keycaps. The sidewalls of the keycaps are even thicker than standard double shot keycaps. PBT keycaps with dye-sublimated legends to protect against wear would be even better, but I'm happy with the keycaps for what they are. Some of the keycaps have slightly rough edges on the underside, but I'm hoping that is simply a quality-control issue that will be fixed before the Rymek officially launches in August. 

Typewriters simply don't have many of the keys on modern keyboards, so in order to more closely resemble typewriters, the Rymek uses a compact layout commonly referred to as a 75% layout. Which keys are kept and how exactly they fit together can vary between 75% layouts, but they all have around 80 keys and retain an inverted T of arrow keys. The Rymek's 75% layout has a total of 83 keys, while a standard full-sized keyboard has 104 keys. 

65% layouts, which don't have function rows, are as compact as I'm willing to go for a space-saving layout. 60% layouts jettison the arrow keys, making them a no-go for me. I personally don't use most of the keys above the arrow keys on a standard full-size or tenkeyless layout, but there are times when they are needed. Keyboards with 75% and 65% layouts try to incorporate the most popular keys, but not all users are the same. Many 75% and 65% layouts get around the differences between users by embedding the omitted keys in hardware layers accessible by holding down a key that activates a function layer.

The Rymek does have a function layer for a number of features, including adjustable LED brightness and different lighting modes. However, many of the standard keys this board omits are not incorporated into this layer. I needed to use the Print Screen key a number of times while using the Rymek, and I ended up having to plug in another keyboard just to hit that key. There are third-party programs that can be used to add a software layer with the omitted keys, but properly done 75% layouts don't require users to fiddle with such software in order to use what's missing. Whether the Rymek's absent keys bother you will be a matter of personal needs.

You may have noticed from the pictures that the Rymek has Apple legends, but the keyboard supports macOS, iOS, Android, and Windows, too. The command keys function as Windows keys when connected to a Windows device. However, it would be nice if versions of the Rymek were sold with Windows and Android legends (or at least if the board included caps in the box to match the owner's OS of choice).