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).
Levers and dials
One of the main reasons I found the Rymek to be a fun concept is that it has a functional roller knob and lever. Pressing in the knob will mute your connected device, while rolling the knob will adjust the volume. The scrolling action has distinct detents, something I value in volume knobs. However, each bump doesn’t always correspond to a change in volume. The scrolling action is a bit too loose for my tastes, and if you spin it too fast, some of the ticks of the knob won’t register. This disconnect between the tactile bumps and the actual change in volume is another minor issue that I hope will be addressed before the full production units are shipped.
Something that won’t be changing for production units is the color the trim on the volume knob. The volume knob looks like it matches the rose-gold of the keycaps and lever in most of the product pictures, but when I received the Rymek, I was surprised to see that the trim on the volume knob is a vivid pink rather than rose gold. I asked KnewKey about the mismatched color, and after checking with the design team, the company told me that the difference in color is intentional and will be carried on into production units. I was informed that the color difference is preferred by most of KnewKey’ audience, but I can’t say I’m part of that majority.
The lever, on the other hand, is almost perfectly color-matched to the keycaps. The shiny metallic coating can look a bit more pinkish than the keycaps depending on lighting conditions, but think the color is about as close as it can get given the two different materials in play. The lever switches the keyboard between Bluetooth and wired mode. The lever is solidly weighted and slickly flips back into place when released. It doesn’t feel chintzy in the slightest.
Sadly, I can’t say much about what it’s like to use the Rymek in Bluetooth mode. When I first got the keyboard, I was figuring out how all of its features worked and connected it to my iPad Pro to start with. The Rymek connected and disconnected at lightning speed when I switched back and forth between Bluetooth and wired mode. After that, I plugged it into my PC for a couple days to get my impressions of the keyboard in wired mode.
However, when it came time to switch into Bluetooth mode, I ran into a problem: the keyboard simply would not reconnect to my iPad Pro. I tried making my iPad forget the device and factory resetting the keyboard, but when I went to pair my iPad with the Rymek, the keyboard would not enter pairing mode no matter what I tried.
I contacted KnewKey about this Bluetooth problem, and the company said that its engineering team had found an issue with the Bluetooth module. A new PCB layout has been drawn up that is supposed to fix this problem. The representative offered to send a new review sample with the revised PCB once units are produced, and I took her up on the offer. Unfortunately, it’ll be at least two weeks before I get my hands on a new unit, but this whole ordeal has given me faith that KnewKey is dedicated to making its product succeed.
I’m willing to give KnewKey the benefit of the doubt here and assume for now that Bluetooth does indeed work. It definitely worked and was even snappy for a period of time when I initially used the keyboard. Once the updated board arrives, I’ll run tests and report back with my findings.
I can provide a basic idea of how wireless mode is supposed to work in the meantime. The Rymek has a 2000-mAh battery that is advertised to last for eight hours of typing with the LEDs at full brightness. The LEDs automatically turn off after a key hasn’t been pressed for a couple minutes to conserve battery. The keyboard is supposedly able to remember three different Bluetooth devices, and you can switch among them by pressing the function key in combination with the F1-F3 keys. If all those features work as advertised, the Rymek will be convenient for use with multiple devices.
The metal lever and stent are detachable components that snugly fit into place in the keyboard. Those using the Rymek with a desktop computer or a tablet with its own stand may want to remove the stent so as to not obscure the device’s screen. The manual advises not to use the stent as a holder for devices larger than the iPad Air, but I found that it held my iPad Pro perfectly fine. The stent did bend slightly under the weight, but not permanently so.
Two slots reside on the back of the Rymek into which the stent can slide. There are also Micro-USB ports near both the left and right edges of the back of the keyboard. These ports can be used to connect the keyboard to a device in wired mode and to charge the keyboard for use in Bluetooth mode.
A rubber-coated cable is provided in the box, but I had no trouble using the keyboard with my own Micro-USB cable.
The Rymek can be had with Cherry MX Blue and MX Brown switches, as well as Gateron Blue switches. Cherry MX Browns are pretty lightweight clickers for a keyboard mimicking typewriters, but it’s still nice that they are an option. My review unit sports Cherry MX Blues. I explained in detail why the disconnect between the actuation and reset points in Blues makes them a poor choice for gaming in my review of the Havit HV-KB390L, and I can say that the “saddle-shaped” keys are not great for gaming either. That said, I doubt those interested in the Rymek would use it for gaming anyway.
Cherry MX Blues are a decent option for typing that feel fairly satisfying. Gateron Blue switches are Cherry MX Blue clones that are a bit smoother than Cherry switches. If you’re going to pick one of the available options, I recommend going with the Gateron Blues. I would love to see a version of the Rymek with Kailh Box Navy switches. Box Navies have heavy actuation forces with thick click bars that activate on each key press and release. I think the clicks with each press and release would pretty accurately imitate the sounds of a typewriter’s type bars snapping back and forth.
KnewKey says the Rymek has N-key rollover, and I can confirm the validity of this claim after a quick rollover test in AquaKeyTest.
The major selling point of KnewKey’s Rymek mechanical keyboard is its styling, and I think KnewKey nailed the retro typewriter look with a great blend of modern and old-school design. My only complaint in the styling department is the mismatched color of the volume knob trim. The vivid pink will clash with the rose-gold accents of the rest of the keyboard, no matter what KnewKey says its customers prefer.
When it comes to using this board, I have just a couple complaints. Firstly, the keys missing from the board’s 75% layout, like Print Screen, are not part of the function layer, making them inaccessible without third-party software. Secondly, the bumps in the scrolling action of the volume knob don’t always translate to changes in volume. Thirdly, the “saddle-shaped” keys are not the greatest for reliable input and can result in occasional typos.
Lastly, there is a problem with the Bluetooth module in KnewKey’s current Rymek design. However, the keyboard worked great in Bluetooth mode when it did work for me, and the company claims new units will be manufactured with an updated PCB that hopefully fixes the problem. I’ll have to report back on Bluetooth functionality later. I will say that KnewKey’s quick diagnosis of the problem and willingness to send out units with the fix as soon as they are available has left a good impression on me.
The Rymek is a sturdy piece of hardware that strikes a balance between usability and style. While the saddle-shaped keycaps aren’t the best from a purely functional standpoint, they’re much better for typing than the round keycaps on other typewriter-esque keyboards while maintaining a retro look. The functional roller knob, lever, and stent are neat features that make functional features out of what could be a purely flashy board. I would not recommend the Rymek for everyone, but it’s a fun option for those looking for a retro keyboard. The version equipped with Gateron Blue switches is currently up on indiegogo at a 50% discount, putting it at $100. If you’re into its appearance, the Rymek is reasonably priced for what you get.