Author Topic: PBT keycaps from Aliexpress any good?  (Read 2220 times)

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Offline leech

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PBT keycaps from Aliexpress any good?
« on: Fri, 21 April 2017, 16:20:08 »
I got a shipping notification within 24hours including an ePacket tracking number (FREE!), now the wait begins. There seems to be only 1 original manufacturer of PBT keycaps on Aliexpress (AX), the other few vendors seem to sell products from the same manufacturer, i could be wrong though. There is lots of customer feedback on their PBT keycaps but one cannot discuss with other buyers in the AX customer feedback section so i am coming here  :p

What are your experiences with PBT keycaps bought from AX?

I ordered a set for 30US$  :rolleyes:

Offline jcc04

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Re: PBT keycaps from Aliexpress any good?
« Reply #1 on: Sun, 23 April 2017, 16:09:49 »
I ordered a blank set for like 12 dollars or something lower and they turned out to be super thick, but I didn't end up doing anything with them since they were off white. I also got them delivered in like 6 days which was crazy for being in the US.

Offline leech

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Re: PBT keycaps from Aliexpress any good?
« Reply #2 on: Sun, 23 April 2017, 18:15:49 »
my current white 104 PBT double-shot translucent set that came with my mkb has 1.15mm thickness at the bottom rim. it is sturdier stuff than the Razer ABS black-painted keycaps which easily flexes when compressed between thumb and index finger. while it is sturdier than the Razer keycaps, to me they are still too thin for my liking. they flex too in my hand. maybe i am too powerful  :))

the new 104 AX set in transit, also PBT double-shot translucent, has supposedly 1.4mm thickness and are called "Thick" in the product sales title. I'll definitely measure the thickness and also measure the total weight of the two 104 sets.

i am also hoping that the new keycaps are grippier.

the original set seems to have a retail value of 11.99US$ on Banggood.

Offline SpectreiiI

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Re: PBT keycaps from Aliexpress any good?
« Reply #3 on: Mon, 01 May 2017, 18:54:32 »
There are many PBT manufacturers on Aliexpress. 75% of the sets aren't usable for various reasons; the most common being warped mods and spacebars. It took spending $150 on 5 different sets to learn my lesson. I just ordered a set of Cyrillic dye-subs gaterons from originative and I saw a bunch of people on here even had issues with warped keys on those as well  Hopefully I'm one of the lucky one's that gets a good set.

The bottom line. I won't buy a set that isn't made by MD, GMK, or SP from now on. Period.

Offline Encabulator

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  • Location: Chicago
Re: PBT keycaps from Aliexpress any good?
« Reply #4 on: Fri, 05 May 2017, 02:22:01 »
Don't say that! there are plenty of other good keycap options.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
relax bro.. no one will bite ur head off on geekhack.. this is not that kind of community...   hahahahahahaha


Though tp4 will personally chew you out if you start selling $60 orings.

Offline leech

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Re: PBT keycaps from Aliexpress any good?
« Reply #5 on: Sun, 21 May 2017, 19:15:43 »
Prolly dis post isn't worth a separate OP in the reviews section, since getting stuff, especially keycaps, is the most ordinary, a daily thing on this forum. To me, it is something special, because i am new to the scene and don't plan any further mods. It is my very first keycap order and it shall be the last :rolleyes:
Anyway I got the AX set 10 days ago, so lemme follow up the thread with a share of pix and thoughts:

Summary:

pro's
  • translucent
  • double-shot
  • thick
  • PBT
  • grainier, smaller-sized, higher-curved, sharper-edged surface improves typing accuracy
  • very tight fit on MX Compatible's stems
  • color scheme looks nice, colors are nice
  • retro font looks classy
  • affordable compared to "brand-name PBT" caps
  • 2 free keycap pullers
  • 4 extra keys for a total of 108 keys
  • good packaging, fast shipping, free tracking number, secure delivery (3.0 weeks from AX to gemani doorstep)
  • good communication with vendor thru AX order messaging system

con's
  • keycap sides have different thicknesses = not premium manufacturing standards (doesn't matter in RL)
  • thickness does not meet the 1.40mm specification at all (are you feeling bad now?)
  • chars look sharp but can't compete with the perfection of non-translucent PBT products (wanna whine?)
  • sliding friction coefficient is only marginally higher, finish cannot be called grippy (stop complaining!)
  • original caps set is more translucent because of bold-faced chars (ok that could matter to some!)

The package came with free China Post tracking number and took exactly 3.0 weeks -incl weekends and holidays- from order date to delivery date. The packaging was simple, the typical grey plastic bag, with no padding whatsoever. While the cart value was ~30$, i ended up paying less than 22€ iirc because etc, and the declaration sticker read 15$, so i wasn't asked import duties like customs or taxes. Is DPD considered a courier or express courier? In any case, the delivery guy was not the regular Dtsch Post postman nor the DHL guy, but the DPD company. The tracking info retrieved from 17trackDOTnet revealed the courier (DPD) and the DPD tracking number. With that info bit i could track the shipment in my country and also the location of the DPD delivery guy's van lol. Before he turned into my street, i was already waving my arms haha. He couldn't be any happier, in such a hurry he was:


So i am opening the package and indeed there is no padding, no paperwork, no Razer stickers ;), no coupon for my next purchase. Very poor and disappointing:


The product box looks neat and generic, stating that it holds a maximum of 108 keycaps. A mini clear window at the top left provides a peek into the box, what kind of keycaps may be inside. Let's note that i had ordered the standard US ANSI layout and with the so-called 'OEM Blank Space' layout (unlike Corsair, for example):


I had some expectations or hopes what to get. Why spend 30$, what was i hoping for? Well, for one, I liked the blue-white color scheme the very first time i saw it in a youtube clip. Blue, white, are brilliant colors together as combination, they will imo always look fresh, modern, new, attractive, or at least interesting. No disappointments here, the white caps are white, not beige or beiged white, and the blue caps look on my PC screen similar to what my eyes see in RL, which is less bright blue than in the ad called 'Raindrop'. I dig the blue-white color scheme a lot ymmv:



What a relief, they packaged the correct space bar size, as specified in my order! But surprise, where were the other caps? There had to be a 2nd layer of caps underneath, and I was right. Surprise again, the box included 2 keycap pullers instead of just one:


Looks like now i own a total of 3 different keycap pullers omg. So far i like the middle one best because it has long wires, comes with an integrated switch tester lol, and is branded after the company of my first (and only so far ;-) mechanical keyboard. Am not sure if you can decipher the brand name. If i ever needed to buy yet another keycap puller, i shall buy the red aluminum multi-purpose one for 3 bucks from AX. I am thinking that plastic keycap pullers could break easily after a long rough day yet the stainless steel keychain keycap puller on the right is too short for my liking and does not treat the caps very gently. It came free along with the red plastic one, so i won't cry:


Before we move on, let's note that the box did include a total of 108 keys (= 104+4), which was not expected by me. However the 4 extra keys are kinda useless since the smileys are all the same what gives:


At this point i was able to perform the very first 'quality check', namely weighing the total weight of the 104 keys to be installed. On a +1g digital kitchen scale, the weight was 177g. Not bad! Let's recall that the weight of the 104 FILCO keycaps was 112g only. The FILCO keycaps are made out of ABS, whereas the AX keycaps are thicker and made out of chinese PBT:



So is the AX PBT set heavier than the original PBT set? Well, it should be. Because they were advertised with "1.4mm" thickness, and the original PBT keycaps had an average thickness of 1.15mm at the bottom brim. Interestingly, the weight difference is almost negligible, the original set weighs 163g:




Speaking of weight, can you see the black stabilizer thingies on the right? Do stabilizers have a weight too? If they were made out of stainless steel, sure. These are black, same sized, and plastic (FILCO uses different ones):


Never mind their own weight, let's weigh them together with the board (and integrated USB cable), without keycaps! Interestingly, the FILCO with its Cherry MX Blacks weighs almost the same as my FILCO knockoff with its Gateron Blues, what a coincidence or maybe not. The knockoff weighs 1104g whereas the FILCO weighs 1098g. So the total weight of the unmodded knockoff is 1266g (= 1103.5+162.5g), aha very nice:




What we are learning so far, the weight difference between a Japanese FILCO keyboard and my Chinese FILCO knockoff is only due to the difference in weight of the installed keycap set! I find that an interesting result. Btw by comparing the 2 boards one can tell that the knockoff is not a 100.0% replica of the FILCO chassis, just look at the location of the screws and of the space bar stabilizer:



Now enuff wiv de weight, goddangit basta ya! :eek: Okok, u got it. Let's move one and have one close look at the modern font and the manufacturing result of the double-shot translucent PBT. Apart from the font itself, we can notice that the thickness of some chars is not always the same or uniform, the '4' on the numpad looks normal whereas the '4' above the QWERTY looks kinda bold. Also the '3' looks kinda thinnish compared to the '5':



Installing the AX keycaps was a breeze. I must say that they have a very tight fit on the Gateron stems! Because of some tolerance (AX? Gateron?) not all fittings were equally very tight but maybe about 75% were so. The other 25% were regular tight fits. I had thought that the original caps were tight fits, for sure tighter than on the FILCO!, but these AX caps are really tight fits. Now i can vacuum my keyboard with a full blown vacuum cleaner and it wouldn't suck a keycap anymore:


Oh wait, you wanted to talk fonts?! Okay then let's talk fonts! I never minded the original modern font ymmv, even if i must admit that i do prefer the AX font which looks more neutral or retro. But honestly, the original font isn't bad looking at all imho, it looks computeresque, coding at terminal level, and i've seen similar yet worse on cheaper chinese mechanical keyboards. Oops, looks like i confused the location of the 'Fn' key with the context menu key, my bad:



Now let's compare the original keycap set to the AX set. Both are double-shot, both are translucent i.e. suitable for LED lighting, and both are made out of PBT, as confirmed by me. The original set had an average 1.15mm thickness, the AX set has a thickness varying between 1.21-1.38mm depending on the key and the key side. Each key has 4 sides, there are 104 keys, so most of the 416 readings (= 104*4) would be in the 1.25-1.30mm range! Hardly any key had equally thick 4 sides. Manufacturing PBT keycaps must be a technical challenge i guess:


When we look at the bigger keys, the original keys seem to have been processed faster, manufactured in a hurry. I think it is called mass production lol. No seriously. If you don't suffer from eye cancer, you could tell even from this poor cellphone photo that the AX caps are not only (slightly) thicker but also better made. No need for a loupe. Mind you the original caps are still thicker than FILCO caps which are made of ABS and come with a 0.90mm nominal thickness:


The following pair of photos shows that the AX keys have slightly more texture, some graininess on the top surface which makes it minimally grippier, yes! I would never dare to call either PBT set grippy per se, because tbh neither the AX set is and there have to be PBT caps on the market which really deserve to be called so. However i would call the original set imo too slippery, i didn't like it when race typing, my fingers slipped away and produced a typo. The improvement regarding sliding friction is real and appreciated, even though it is minimal:



The following three photos should show the differences of curvature, of area size, and of edginess, can you tell? Look for all 3 aspects in each photo since no photo exposes 1 aspect better than the other photo.

Can you tell that the AX caps have a higher curvature (=smaller radius) to their surface? I can definitely feel how my fingertips are seated more securely on a key, which helps against slipping off a key.


Can you tell that the AX caps have a smaller top surface area? The caps feel pointier due to the smaller radius and while it is hard to confirm through measurements, the area size does feel smaller and i welcome that. Smaller cap area plus wider space between neighboring keys helps the typing accuracy, it becomes more difficult to hit 2 keys simultaneously.


Can you tell that the AX caps have sharper edges? The original caps have rounded edges, this aspect can be easily seen in the photos. The sharper edges also help improving the typing accuracy and speed and make the keys again feel less slippery. Imagine keys with more and more rounded edges, at some point the surface would be become convex, fully round, like the surface of a ball/sphere. Imagine a keyboard where each key were a m&m, yikes! Now you understand why our concave keys should not be rounded at their edges. The sharper the cap edges are, the better. This is not an opinion but scientific da fact.


There is another constructional difference. It appears that the original caps have more filling material for the double shot injection. It is a safe guess that either translucent material is not actual PBT but wtf cares. I am saying so because translucent plastic is to be a softer material in my small mind. At least i am thinking that way. More filling material is particularly true for the higher caps like the function keys:


The lower caps might have more filling material too but how does that matter? I leave it up to you to guess which white belongs to the original caps and which white is the AX set:


The typing sound with the AX set is a bit deeper, i mean lower-pitched and less noisy. Either way, my mkb was and still is a loud click click clack clack mkb, exactly the way i wanted it to be, the louder the better:


This is no fake or lie but the full truth, i was immediately able to increase my typing accuracy and racing speed with the AX set. The new caps eliminated the problem which i experienced with the original set, namely hitting 2 neighboring keys accidentally at the same time. And this makes me a happier owner of this "budget" mechanical keyboard. Was it necessary to exchange the caps? No, the mkb was already highly enjoyable, especially for its value, a 70US$ investment. Now, with the 22EUR extra investment, my mkb total cost went up but i also gained a higher degree of satisfaction:


The AX seller seems specialized in offering PBT keycaps. And after some communication thru the AX order messaging system i've got the impression that the company is also the manufacturer of most of the offered products. It doesn't matter though.. because i am done with investing in this very mkb unit of mine, it has reached final maturity and satisfaction status  :p

Having said that, I am looking forward to getting my hands on some leopold in 2 months or so. I am too curious how well my chinese knockoff stacks up against a Korean premium mkb with original Cherry MX switches and if i am able to improve my typing accuracy and racing speed by another few percentages.

~ Hope you found this pseudo-review interesting, insightful, informative, or even inspiring reading. Plz lemme know if you have questions. ~
« Last Edit: Thu, 25 May 2017, 13:21:13 by leech »