We recently ordered the Marvo KG954 mechanical keyboard for R300 and were surprised by how well it performs relative to its price.
The keyboard features Jixian blue switches — an inexpensive clone of the better-known Cherry MX blues.
These switches are of the “clicky” variety. They make a lot of noise while typing and provide noticeable tactile feedback when pressed.
We searched for the cheapest mechanical keyboards we could find in South Africa, and three models sold on special at Evetech for R299 each caught our eye.
Even ordering directly from a Chinese warehouse, we could not find a mechanical keyboard cheaper than this.
Aficionados choose mechanical over membrane keyboards for their better key feel, including satisfying tactile feedback combined with the sound they make.
Various mechanical switches are available, ranging from linear to tactile feel, silent or clicky, all with different weights needed to activate them (actuation force).
But for a handful of exceptions — like Unicomp’s buckling spring switches (of IBM fame) — Cherry’s MX switches were virtually the only game in town until 2014.
It categorised switches using colours, making it easy to distinguish what type of switch a keyboard used by removing its keycaps.
Cherry MX blues are a clicky switch, red and black are linear, while browns have the tactile feel of a clicky switch but are quieter.
When Cherry’s switch patents expired in 2014, an explosion in switch diversity followed.
In addition to a plethora of board manufacturers and switches to choose from, mechanical keyboards usually let you customise their keycaps.
Keycaps may have different shapes, or you can change the layout of your keys. More expensive and advanced boards let you customise the switches themselves.
Many touch typists swear by mechanical keyboards, especially those featuring switches with low actuation force and distinct tactile feedback.
However, the debate over whether mechanical switches actually let you type faster has yet to be settled.
The downside is that mechanical keyboards are generally much more expensive than membrane-based ones.
This is where the Marvo KG954 stood out.
We could feel that it was an inexpensive keyboard, with some noticeable wobble in the keys, definite scratchiness, and a hollow-feeling plastic case.
However, a lot of this was masked by the very noisy blue switches.
This could explain why cheap mechanical keyboards come with blue switches — their noisy nature can easily hide inferior build quality.
The keyboard has dedicated media keys for skipping, playing and pausing music and video. It also has a surprisingly satisfying rotary encoder for adjusting volume.
Its RGB backlighting has a few different options available through the official software or combinations of key presses. Colours are fixed for each key — at R300, you’re not getting fully customisable RGB lighting.
Marvo’s software allows for custom recorded macros on any key, and the keyboard plugs in using an included USB-C cable, which is an excellent addition.
Compared to the Microsoft Wireless Keyboard 3050 on my desk, I enjoyed the cheap mechanical keys for typing. However, this may be because I’m used to typing on blue switches at home.
While the noise from the mechanical keyboard can be very satisfying to the user typing, it may be enough to drive co-workers to murder if your desks are close together.
A keyboard with quieter switches may be a better option for an office environment.
The keyboard also survived some gaming over the weekend, including Counter-Strike and the launch of the new Lego Star Wars game.
While we did not expect a lot from a very cheap mechanical keyboard, we were pleasantly surprised.
For many people who have considered trying out a mechanical keyboard but couldn’t justify the cost, these inexpensive boards could be the gateway down a deep YouTube rabbit hole.