The KiiBOOM Phantom 81 has taught me one important lesson: not all mechanical keyboards are the same.
You see, I’ve got some knowledge of the industry, but haven’t truly delved deep into the variety of switches available outside of the clicky Logitech MX Mechanical and the heavier, quieter Vissles V84.
Then I tried the Phantom 81, which costs $159/£128 (opens in new tab), and the difference is night and day with gorgeously smooth-yet-crisp linear-style switches (that are pre-lubed for extra fluidity) and a rock solid build quality.
It’s one of the best wireless keyboards around, but we’ve got to talk about that transparent design…
KiiBOOM Phantom 81 design
The transparent design is both fascinating and divisive, with bright, colorful RGB to boot. This hits two emotional responses for me: a love for the see-through build with clear switches, which gives you a full glimpse of the circuitry inside, and a sense of cringe at all the RGB.
It reminds me of the Nothing phone (1) and Nothing ear (1) in that it lays bare the internal workings of the device and sets itself apart from the competition. But yes, that super bright RGB pulsing away does make me wince a little.
I do need to qualify this by saying that I’ve never been a fan of the “gamer” aesthetic (something you might have come across in many of my reviews)), and fortunately, through some simple key combinations, you can turn down the brightness, limit the colors, and change the patterns.
However, if you have an RGB-focussed setup and love a flash flood of color, you’ll adore the Phantom 81! For others like me, you’ll need to customize it.
Despite this being a 75% keyboard, at 13 x 5.9 x 1.4 inches and weighing 2.6 pounds, this isn’t exactly what I’d call sleek or portable. But that size and heft plays to its advantage with a nice, solid build quality that feels sturdy and able to withstand years of typing of all kinds — be it the gentle strokes of an article or the firm slaps of a passive aggressive email.
One thing to note, however, is that there is no adjustable keyboard tilt. You’re stuck with the angle KiiBOOM has defined in its design. For me, this angle was fine, but if you prefer your keys to be at a slightly steeper angle or a little flatter, that’s not possible.
KiiBOOM Phantom 81 software and battery life
The KiiBOOM Phantom 81 works right out of the box. But if you want the full experience, you can install the KiiBOOM Driver. It’s not a complex software suite, and it could do with some work. You only get access to lighting customization, key sensitivity tweaks, and macro control.
But at its core, it does the job of giving you software access to tweak certain functionality. I hope an update clears up the UI and allows it to be a little more accessible, though. One situation where the Phantom 81 does excel is in its battery life.
This keyboard is weighty, and a part of that is the 4,000mAh battery, which enables it to run well over 100 hours with RGB turned off. Turn on the lighting, and that goes down to around 60 hours, which is still mighty impressive, worry-free battery life.
KiiBOOM Phantom 81 performance
Let’s cut to the core of what makes the Phantom 81 so spectacular. Simply put, it is a joy to type on. This mechanical keyboard with custom pre-lubed crystal linear-style switches gives you a smooth, tactile feel to every key without that overly clicky-clacky sound that can be distracting. It’s closest comparison would be if you’ve used a keyboard with Brown switches, only with a little less sound and a better cushioned impact on each key.
At 91 words-per-minute with 99% accuracy on the typing.com test (my average with other keyboards is around the 84-85 wpm mark), the numbers speak for themselves in terms of pure typing bliss. This is a productivity beast that was a joy to use through the ferocious writing period of Black Friday for me.
So, this leaves me in a weird position to talk about the KiiBOOM Phantom 81. I’m not a fan of RGB-blazing monstrosities (which explains why I’ve turned its light show down dramatically). On the other hand, this is one of the best keyboards I’ve ever used.
The typing experience is downright flawless with a satisfying sound, with lubed switches and a comfortable impact on each press. The build quality is phenomenal with a nice weightiness, and wireless connectivity is fast and responsive with strong battery life.
If you can learn to live with the see-through style (I have), you will absolutely love this keyboard, and it will be your typing companion for years to come.