Prior to this review, I had only heard of MAX Keyboard from press blasts or various images around the internet. One late night as I was scrolling through Facebook, I caught the release of their newest keyboard, and with one look I was hooked. Immediately posting on their wall to ask about seeing one of them for a review, we were given contact information, and the email was out to request this keyboard. After a bit of back and forth, just a couple of weeks ago, this new mechanical keyboard arrived.
So what was it about this new keyboard that makes it so desirable? For someone like me who does not do any coding, and not much other than out charts as far as data entry, so I find the number pad on most keyboards goes pretty much unused. The fact that this new submission is Tenkeyless (TKL) it takes that section of the keyboard and removes it from the design entirely. There is also the fact that since I do most typing with the keyboard in my lap, the smaller boards tend to fit better for my specific way of using them. This keyboard is also backlit, which I find to be a must in any keyboard that I use long term, and on top of that, MAX Keyboard offers timers, multimedia controls, adjustable NKRO support over USB, all without the need for drivers.
Today we are taking our first look at anything from MAX Keyboards, but more specifically the Blackbird Tenkeyless (TKL) Cherry MX Backlit Mechanical Keyboard as it is named on their web page. While the name is a bit long in the tooth, the idea behind this design is pretty simple. Give users needed things like a pizza timer, adjustable light intensity, multimedia buttons, while taking other buttons to offer the NKRO, Windows lock-out keys, and even an LED sleep mode to turn the lights off after the keys have not been pressed for so long.
Essentially they covered all of the basic needs, added a few gamer specific features, and as I addressed, there are no drivers. So in the end you have a very compact board that will travel well and offer the same functionality on any PC, as your settings are saved on the motherboard, giving the Blackbird an edge against much of the competition.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
The specification start out with the most obvious bit of the Blackbird and that it is only 75% of the usual keyboard because of its Tenkeyless design. It then goes on to state that these keyboards are using Cherry MX switches, and in this instance we were given blue switches, but browns are also an option. Each switch is individually backlit with four levels of lighting (including off), and even the side panels are lit for extra pizzazz. There is an adjustable sleep mode for the LEDs, and the timer on the keyboard, when the time is up the Blackbird rapidly flashes the lights to notify that the time has expired. Then there are the double shot key caps, NKRO, dual port USB 2.0 hub, braided cable with gold plated connector, and on top of what I mentioned in the introduction, MAX Keyboard also includes a foam wrist pad to raise your hands into a more ergonomic orientation to the keys for added comfort in long sessions of use.
There is also some more technical information listed on the right side. This is where they show the 100mA limitation of each of the ports on the back of the keyboard. This means you may power a corded mouse, but charging phones or wireless mice will likely be a bit much for these ports. I mentioned the individual LEDs, but we did not cover the 50 million click lifespan of each of the Cherry MX blue switches on our board. For the blue option we received, we have a tactile feel, audible click, and the need for 50 grams of force for activation. The other option of brown switches is lighter to activate at 45 grams, is again tactile, but there is no audible click. Since the Blackbird is only 14.75" long and weighs a mere 2.4 pounds, the Blackbird will easily fit in a carry-on bag or even a backpack so it can easily come with you when you are traveling. They list the cabling as about six foot, but it is longer, totaling two meters in length; it is also covered in a braided sleeve, and has a Velcro cable tie on the line so it is easily bundled while in transit.
As I search for anyone who might have stock of the Blackhawk, I am coming up empty everywhere I look. Newegg, Amazon, even Mechanicalkeyboards.com all show stock of the older Nighthawk, but none are yet showing the Blackhawk. However, when looking at MAX Keyboard, you can buy them directly from the manufacturer. There is a bonus ordering there too, with a purchase over $89.99 you are given a pop-up notification with the fact they are giving nine translucent key caps to modify your layout, a key puller, and a cable strap (even though the Blackbird already has one), along with the keyboard purchase.
That obviously means that the Blackbird is more than $90, in fact the sales price listed is $149.99 at MAX Keyboard. When I actually added it to the cart and was checking out, I found they also include the R4 1X1 Cherry MX "Clock" key cap set containing twelve caps. Finalizing the checkout process, to get this board to me will also incur another $9 for flat rate UPS or near $15 for UPS ground. That takes the Blackbird near $160 at the low-end, and at that price, this had better be on point because there are many other solutions in mechanical keyboards that will set you back much less than this.
The front panel of the Blackbird packaging offers a rendering of the keyboard to take up most of the room. Around it there are the measurements along with features like the multimedia keys, braided cable, and the USB hub. To the right side, it covers the key caps, the side panel lighting, individual LEDs with each switch, an image of Cherry MX blue switches, and an image of the blue LEDs to finish things out.
The longer, yet thin sides of the packaging look like this. There is the logo, the full name of this keyboard, and the web address presented.
As for any other valid information to be found on the thin sides of the box, there is just this slightly askew sticker. This tells us that we have the E1B-US layout that offers the US iconography on the key caps, it has blue switches, and it also has blue LEDs.
The back of the box is where customers are going to get most of their information on the Blackbird. To the left is an image of the keyboard with seven features shown around it. To the right are the specifications listings that they also offer on their site, and what we just covered on the previous page.
When the box is opened to retrieve the keyboard, things inside is well separated and compartmentalized. At the bottom is the Blackbird keyboard is wrapped in foam. On top of that is a layer of cardboard with two sections. The one at the back is to keep the USB cable under control, and the one to the front allows the wrist pad a place to ride without taking damage or being pressed into the keys on the keyboard.
MAX Keyboard Blackbird TKL Backlit Mechanical Keyboard
Fresh out of the box, you can see that the Blackbird being Tenkeyless definitely lessens the width of this keyboard, but MAX Keyboard also takes the depth to a minimum as well, coming in at one half to a full inch less than any other mechanical in the lab currently. Outside of that there is the basic U.S. ANSI Layout on the 87 keys on the U.S. version.
The top of each of the keys is concave for a much better feel on the fingertips as they nestle your fingers on the center of the switches. The legends are currently white, but once powered these will be illuminated by blue LEDs.
On the front facing edge of the top row of keys you will see icons painted on the key caps, MAX keyboards uses this for double layered controls. For instance, with the use of the Fn-key and the stopwatch icon, I can set a timer on the keyboard from 10 to 120 minutes, and the keyboard will flash rapidly when the time has elapsed.
Sliding over just a bit, there is the full set of multimedia keys. There is mute, volume up and down, play/pause, rewind, and fast forward to move the tracks along. Again just press the Fn-key and whatever you want here to make the changes.
Off to the far right of the Blackbird, there are ten keys with multi-functionality. The G-key is to lock the Windows key so as not to be thrown to the desktop in-game. The REC button is for programming your LED settings, the moon wedge turns the lights off, and the gear turns the side lights on. The next row offers the light icon to turn on the LEDs, six key roll-over support, and the button to turn the LED intensity up. The last row offers CM for custom WASD and arrow lighting, full NKRO support, and the key to turn the LEDs down.
The sides of the Blackbird are angled for a good feel to the hands with the same black, textured, plastic used on the rest of the outer housing, now also used on the side panels to surround the LED panel. This inner panel, while looking like a bike reflector at the moment, will illuminate from one LED all the way across this plastic insert.
Off to the left on the back edge of the keyboard, there is a bright red sticker that is really hard to miss. This sticker is a warning to users not to expect more than 100mA of power through the USB hub under it. It will power mice and headsets without issue, just that charging devices are not a good idea.
With the sticker removed, the pair of gold plated USB 2.0 ports is now visible. They are easy to feel when attempting to hook something to it, and the ports are tight, and won't let things accidentally pop out of the port like some other boards will.
Blackbird TKL Continued
The cable to attach the Blackbird TKL to the PC starts under the keyboard, but there are three options in wire management to run this cable out the back. This is just over six feet of black braided cable that comes with a MAX Keyboard cable strap, and the cable terminates in the gold plated USB 2.0 connection.
The right side of the Blackbird also has the optional side panel illumination. This time we also have the keyboard propped up on the rear feet to show the increase in height at the back so that the key caps don't feel like they are falling away from your finger tips.
On the flip side of the Blackbird there are four rectangular rubber feet that keep the keyboard in position, and at the back are two optional pop-out feet. There is a large sticker in the middle with the naming, part number, and the serial number for easy reference. Just above that is where the cable emanates, and you can also see the trails to lay the wire into.
The pop-out feet will increase the height of the rear of the keyboard a little more than a half inch, but while making things more ergonomic, with no rubberized end, it does allow the Blackbird to walk a bit on glass or anything very smooth.
As for wire managing that cable, well, figure out which way works best for the desktop, lay the wire over the groove, and press it in. The groove is snug against the cable, and with the tabs on the edges, you have to manually remove this, it isn't going to just fall out.
Since I was pulling key caps anyways, I thought I should show one of them. The double-shot process of molding these takes an opaque white inner layer with the textured black outside covering it. The legends are part of the inner shot, and will never wear away.
Removing a few of the key caps to check all the section of keys, in fact this keyboard is completely equipped with Cherry MX blue switches, and each switch comes with its own LED to illuminate it. The trio of LEDs is also visible that will denote the use of the G-key, Caps lock, and Scroll lock.
Inside the MAX Keyboard Blackbird TKL
Once the Blackbird is torn apart, the bright red PCB was something unexpected. Not only pleasing to look at, all of the LED and switch solder points are done cleanly, and all flux and residue is cleaned from the PCB.
The USB 2.0, two port hub, is controlled by the Genesys Logic GL850G. The high speed controller offers high speed traffic, and runs on a RISK-like 8-bit microprocessor on die with a performance rating of 6 MIPS at 12MHz.
This is the ELAN EM78F644N microprocessor and flash memory. This is the IC that drives the abilities and features that the keyboard offers and is also where the custom lighting profile is saved when set.
This Cypress Cy7C63413C-PVXC is yet another USB 2.0 controller, but this time, for the keyboard switches, where that Genesys IC was specifically for the hub. This IC is also 8-bit and also runs at 12 MHz.
The Texas Instruments TLC59282 IC is the 16-channel constant current LED driver. This is capable of running 45 mA per channel, and offers a max voltage of 17V for this drive IC to push.
Reassembly of the Blackbird is fairly simple and once together we powered it on and set the LEDs to their brightest setting. Across most of the keys the lighting my look white, but a glance to the right or left side shows the blue more clearly.
We then went ahead and turned on the side panel lighting. As you can see the entire panel glows with the blue lighting that is derived from a single LED at the back edge of these side panels.
Accessories and Documentation
There is also this very comfortable and easy to use wrist pad. With a soft interior and the silk-like exterior coating of cloth, it not only feels good to the palms of your hands, but it also gets your hands above the front edge of the keyboard.
To keep it in place and offer the wrist pad some rigidity, this thick, textured, and rubberized bottom piece keeps the pad for sliding around when in use.
With the pad now in front of the Blackbird, it is easy to see how well they go together. Both are black, they are the same width, and while I used this keyboard on the desk for gaming, this pad came in very handy, and added much needed comfort to longer gaming sessions.
Under the keyboard, in the very bottom of the box, you will find the Blackbird user guide. Even though the outside looks simple, MAX Keyboard is sure to cover everything one needs to know about this keyboard.
On the inside MAX Keyboards starts off by thanking you for the purchase as they explain why it was a good choice. They then cover the information, tech specs, requirements, etc. that we saw on the packaging. To the right, they show you to plug in the keyboard first. That is then followed by the Combination Key Table that explains what all the various iconography on the front of the keys is all about.
The back of the guide continues with more of the symbology and what each key offers the user when it is pressed. Things finish with a short trouble shooting guide, and site information if you have a more serious issue, or just a random question.
In the end I find that the Blackbird TKL backlit mechanical keyboard is impressive to say the least. Offering a multitude of options and features on a keyboard that does not require anything as far as drivers or software is concerned. You may be losing Macro programmability, but the features they were able to pack in like the WASD and arrow key lighting mode, the four steps of LED lighting across the entire keyboard, and they even use the keyboard LED lighting to aide users to know which mode they are in, if they activated the breathing mode, what stage of brightness they are in, and even how long the timer is as every light that illuminates is for ten minutes, make up for that loss. On top of that there is the option to use 6KRO for those that type slower and don't need to mash a ton of keys to send a command in an MMORPG. For those that can type like the wind, there is the full NKRO support as well that will register every key you hit without question.
On the basic level, with the 50 gram Cherry MX blue switches, it is a very familiar feeling to me with the excess activation pressure along with the very audible click with every stroke. The lighting is bright if needed, but the ability to settle down the lights a bit when the room is pitch black does save on eyestrain as well because I find at its brightest when the room is completely dark, the lighting almost flashes as your eyes catch it in their periphery. The side panel lighting is cool, and sort of gives it a Tron-like feel to the design, but it is very attractive to see all lit up on the desktop.
All in all it was a real pleasure using the Blackbird TKL the past couple of weeks during the switch break-in, and the additional wrist pad offers both comfort and a more ergonomic approach to the key caps. Speaking of the keycaps, the fact that they are double-shot, and the legends are part of the caps, they will not wear away in the 50 million keystroke lifespan of the switches under each of them.
Being a very portable solution to pack away in almost any bag you are going to carry is a huge plus for the Blackbird TKL. Offering things like a timer, full NKRO over USB, various lighting modes, along with being able to customize it all and save it into the G-Key lighting profile, for a driver-less solution, it truly is feature rich. While the $149.99 base price is a bit of a sticker shock at first, take into account that there is superb build quality, and there are more controllers packed inside of this design than many others on the market.
With technology come costs, and the fact that this keyboard offers everything shy of Macro programming, without software to do it is really saying something since most others need it just to run the basic features. I think MAX Keyboard really takes things a step forward, and while not the most cost effective offering on mechanical keyboards, for those who can afford this and can see past the pricing, you will surely be impressed and in no way can be disappointed in the Blackbird TKL backlit mechanical keyboard from MAX Keyboard.
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