North Crown 87 Key Waterproof Mechanical Keyboard (Gaote Blue Switch) Review.

north-crown-x-1-imgmain

Image copyright belongs to North Crown

 

The North Crown X-1 Mechanical Gaming Keyboard was kindly provided to me by Sino-OND free of charge in exchange for a fair and unbiased review on Amazon.co.uk. No additional compensation was given in exchange for posting this article on my blog.

The North Crown X-1 is available in the UK from Sino-OND Fulfilled by Amazon.co.uk at a cost of £34.99 with free P&P. At the time of writing the North Crown X-1 is not available on Amazon.com.  (Prices correct at time of posting).

 

To enlarge an image and view its description, please click on the image.

 

PRO’s

  • Lots of lighting modes including nine preset gaming profiles suitable for a wide variety of games (plus one profile that’s programmable) & seven additional active lighting modes.
  • Full Anti Ghosting feature not limited to, certain keys.
  • Unlike red switches blues are excellent for MOBA, RTS and MMO games as well as for typing and productivity.
  • A brushed aluminium top frame gives the look of a far more premium keyboard than it is. Although the two screws slightly spoil the look and it is a bit of a fingerprint magnet.
  • Cheap as chips (considering its a mechanical keyboard).

 

AVERAGE.

  • No wrist rest.
  • Not as good as red switches (or even brown switches for that matter) for FPS games.
  • Blue switches are loud, headphones are a must.
  • The Gaote OUTEMU blue switch is a little soft compared to the Cherry blues and lacks a detectable bump when pressed.
  • While the top of the keyboard frame looks quite nice the underside is… well cheap and plastic.

 

CON’s

  • Sadly only available in US layout (at least at the time of writing). Not much of an issue when playing games, but can be for productivity related tasks.
  • Very noisy spacebar, far louder than other keys in operation (the spacebar on the X-1 is the loudest of all the blue switch keyboards that I own).
  • No, non slip pads on the rear of the keyboard (when the feet are not extended the keyboard can move about a bit as a result).
  • The cable reinforcement as it exits the keyboard, the cable and the USB connector are very cheap and basic. This isn’t so much of an issue when being used with a desktop machine at home, but if planning to use on the go with either a laptop or for LAN gaming it is something to be aware of.

 

PACKAGING & CONTENTS.

The North Crown 87 Key Waterproof Mechanical Keyboard comes supplied in flat, largely plain brown cardboard box, simply bearing North Crown branding in black writing on the top and details of the manufacturer on the rear. (The keyboard is sold under the brand North Crown as a model X-1 keyboard, but is actually an OEM made by Eastern Times Technology).

Inside the box the keyboard is wrapped in a single thin layer of cellular foam and also a single layer of bubble wrap. Alongside the keyboard is an illustrated instruction leaflet and separated by a cardboard divider the cable is found coiled up and secured with a twist tie.

The instructions included are in (poor) English on one side and in Traditional Chinese on the other. Inside information is provided on the keyboards warranty (the product is fulfilled by Amazon so you can just deal with Amazon directly in the event of a problem), a diagram of the keyboard highlighting the function keys and shortcuts (sadly with no index making it a little pointless) and a list of the lighting and gaming features on offer.

There is no software or drivers included in the box, however, such is not required. The manual indicates the keyboard is compatible with Windows XP, Vista, Win7 and Win8. The Amazon product listing also claims the X-1 is also compatible with Win10 (which it is including all lighting and gaming functions) and also Mac OS X but the manual does not.

Now I have reviewed a large number of similar keyboards in the past and those that claim compatibility with Mac often do so with restricted functionality (some gaming / lighting functions are not always available). Sadly, I don’t have a Mac to do any personal testing, but Rob S on Amazon.co.uk, a Vine reviewer stated “no driver required worked pretty much straight away on my apple mac.”, sadly this was all he said regarding the matter. Be aware however that at the very least the NKRO feature will not work on a Mac.

I have personally tested the keyboard using Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 systems and the keyboard is plug and play, with the OS, installing any necessary software as soon as it is plugged in and it is usable within seconds of being plugged into either system with all features working without the need for additional software.

 

MEASUREMENTS.

The keyboard measures 35.85cm x 15.7cm x 2.1cm. The depth measurement is taken from the rear edge with the feet retracted and does not include the key caps. Including the key caps the measurement is 3.5cm (at its greatest point) and extending the retractable feet on the underside adds 1.1cm to the overall depth (of the back). The front edge of the frame is curved / bevelled and tapers to a point offering a 1.6cm long wrist rest (there is no real wrist rest).

 

The keys on the keyboard are the same size in surface area as my other Cherry compatible mechanical keyboards, compared to my K70 however the caps are about 20% taller. Some key measurements are as follows…

(Measurements taken of top surface of keys)
Spacebar = 112mm x 14mm
Arrow & Letter Keys = 12.5mm x 14.7mm
Enter Key = 36.9mm x 14.7mm
Left Shift = 36mm x 14.7mm
Right Shift = 46mm x 14.7mm
Backspace Key = 31.4mm x 14.7mm
The spacing between keys is 5.5mm

The keyboard weighs 757g (this reading unavoidably includes a small section of the cable as well).

 

SWITCHES.

The switches on the North Crown X-1 are OUTEMU blue switches made by Gaote Corp. The switches have an actuation force of 60g +/- 15g and key caps are Cherry MX compatible with the keycaps from both my Corsair K70 and MAX Blackbird fitting the X-1.

 

The keycaps are “double-shot injection moulded keycaps” double shot moulding describes the process of moulding plastic around a preformed metal or plastic insert (the X-1 uses plastic). This makes the key cap more durable, but the greatest benefit is that the character markings on the cap are entirely flush with the key surface so it is undetectable to the touch.

 

The usual traits of a blue switch is a clicky, tactile with linear feedback, however, unlike Cherry blues there is no detectable feeling of a bump when you hit the actuation point of the OUTEMU switches. (The actuation point is when the keystroke is registered on the computer). This means that the user does not have to press down fully to get the keystroke to register, leading to faster typing.

The clicking sound that blue mechanical switches make is rather loud compared to the sound of other switches and much more so than rubber domed keyboards. In the case of the North Crown X-1 the sound generated is fairly reasonable, the spacebar however, is quite rattly and the clicking sound compared to other keys is much higher pitched. (The key cap is hollow and acts like a chamber slightly amplifying the sound).

With a background sound level of 20dba a single key press of the North Crown X-1 registered a sound level of 57dB (the spacebar registers a sound level of 60dB) at a distance of 18” and repeated typing registered a sound level of 66dB at a distance of 18”.

 

The last keyboard that I reviewed with OUTEMU blue switches was the Redragon K552 RGB and the sound levels are very similar, although the space bar on the North Crown X-1 is slightly louder.

Blue switches are a bit harder to double tap than brown and red switches, as the release point is above the actuation point. As such red switches are widely regarded as the best choice for FPS games and browns are regarded as the middle ground between the two. (Or rather browns are the switch of choice for those who do not know what switch they actually want).

 

BUILD QUALITY.

The North Crown X-1 is tenkeyless in design (has no separate number pad on the right side) but it still retains the directional arrow keys with Ins, Home, Page up and down etc… cluster of keys above.

On the underside the X-1 is constructed from a single piece of ABS plastic sporting a finely textured finish that forms not just the base, but also the left, right and rear sections of the keyboard as well.

 

In the front left and right corners there are a pair of 17mm x 5mm non slip rubber pads, sadly however there are no pads in the top corners. As such, if you prefer to use your keyboard without the feet raised you will have to add some additional non slip pads on the back edge yourself unless you want to make a YouTube homage to Benny Hill chasing your keyboard all over your desk.

 

Part of the problem is the pads at the front are wide but narrow, they help (at least with the feet extended at the back) prevent movement forwards and backwards but they do little if anything to prevent movement side to side.

In the back corners as you may well have guessed are a pair of retractable feet that are fitted with rubber shoes. Paired with the non slip feet on the front edges, they prevent movement of the keyboard towards you, but thanks to how narrow both the pads and feet are they don’t entirely prevent movement of the keyboard.

 

The top section of the keyboard frame is made from a single piece of non magnetic metal (the product listing does not state exactly what the metal is but it is believed to be aluminium) measuring 1 millimetre thick. This metal is black in colour sporting a brushed effect running left to right, which is sadly a bit of a fingerprint magnet. This is secured to the plastic base with a single screw in each of the top corners (which slightly detracts from otherwise elegant looks) and is believed to be clipped into place along the bottom edge.

 

Located just above the Print Screen and Scroll Lock keys are two LED indicators the left being a Caps Lock indicator and the right being the Scroll Lock indicator (being a tenkeyless keyboard, there is obviously no NUM lock indicator). Both of these LED’s are blue when they are not lit, however due to light bleed, they do look like they are lit red.

 

The final feature on the top of the keyboard is a North Crown branding plate located centrally at the top edge of the keyboard which looks to be a separate small metal plate glued to the keyboard in a faint recess.

With the exception of the two Shift keys, the Return key and the Space Bar, keycap wobble is minimal (about comparable to my K70). The wobble of the Return and Shift keys is acceptable, but the spacebar is borderline comedic. This is not the fault of the switch, but rather the plastic supports located underneath the cap at each end which are best described as flimsy.

 

As noted earlier the facia of the keycaps are smooth with a seamless and undetectable transition between the black plastic and the transparent character indexer that is illuminated from the LED light on the underside. Some keys, however have a secondary function (quite a few do) and sadly the secondary indexer has been painted on which is detectable as being slightly raised.

 

Bearing in mind that mechanical switches have an average lifespan of 50 million actuations I think it is fair to say that these painted secondary indexers will be long worn away before your first switch gives up. For those more interested in a keyboard for typing (the blue switch forte) you will also find the raised texture of the secondary indexer on an otherwise smooth cap quite annoying. (Although only WASD are of real issue).

The final feature is the cable, this protrudes from the back of the keyboard (through the back ABS plastic section) offset to the left slightly with barely 8mm of reinforcement protecting it. This cable has a simple black PVC jacket, measuring 185cm long excluding connector and cable reinforcement sections and 4mm in diameter. The USB connector is gold plated and located 12cm down the cable is a reasonably sized ferrite EMI suppressor.

 

If there were one point of concern (the non slip feet aren’t a concern they are just an annoyance cured by adding your own) it would be the USB connecter which is best described as cheap. Not to the point of being a concern in use on a stationary desktop system, but if you are after a keyboard for using with a laptop or LAN gaming system I would perhaps look for something with a more durable connector.

 

LIGHTING.

Firstly, when the keyboard is powered up a chaser effect plays out on the keyboard. Starting with the Pause key the light runs around the outside edge of the keyboard anticlockwise in a spiral pattern finishing with the O key (not exactly the centre of the keyboard). The O key, then proceeds to flash five times before proceeding with the second stage of the startup sequence.

The second stage starts with the K and L keys on the third row and 9 and 0 on the fifth row lighting up constantly with the fourth row lighting up from the centre and spreading outwards in a wave to illuminate the whole row.

Once the entire fourth row is lit the lights in the top right corner of the keyboard begin to fade in gradually becoming brighter and spreading across the entire top two rows. Once the top three rows of the keyboard are fully lit the lights in the bottom left corner of the keyboard begin to fade in becoming brighter and spreading across the keyboard.

During this start up sequence the lights are not at their highest brightness setting and once the sequence is complete the keyboard flicks over to its highest brightness with the lights remaining (by default) constantly on. The key colours are red for the top row (function keys), orange for the second row (numeric keys), green for the third row (QWERTY keys), blue for the fourth row (Caps Lock row), purple for the fifth row (Shift key row) and pink for the bottom row and sadly this can never be changed.

Each and every time your PC boots up / restarts on the above start up sequence plays out and once finished the keyboard remains lit at the highest brightness setting with the colours as described above. Thankfully the keyboard retains in memory the last lighting function used and so with subsequent boot ups once the start up sequence has finished it will revert to the lighting mode last used.

The first set of lighting functions are the profiles, these functions are accessed by holding the FN (function) key and tapping a numeric key and the options on offer are…

FN+1 = Lighting area separated mode 1, FPS gaming mode.

  • Red lighting = Esc key.
  • Green Lighting = W key.
  • Blue lighting = A, S and D keys.
  • Purple lighting = Up arrow key.
  • Pink lighting = Left, Right and Down arrow keys.

 

FN+2 = Lighting area separated mode 2, CF gaming mode (sorry no idea what is meant by CF gaming).

  • Red lighting = F1, F2, F3 and PrtScn keys.
  • Orange lighting = 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, “Home” and Page Up keys.
  • Green Lighting = Tab, Q, W, E, R, End and Page Up keys.
  • Blue lighting = A, S, D and G keys.
  • Pink lighting = L Ctrl, L Alt and Space keys.

 

FN+3 = Lighting area separated mode 3, COD gaming mode. (I assume they mean Call of Duty gaming mode)

  • Orange lighting = 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 keys.
  • Green Lighting = Q, W, E, R and T keys.
  • Blue lighting = A, S, D, F and G keys.
  • Purple lighting = L Shift, C and V keys.
  • Pink lighting = L Ctrl key.

 

FN+4 = Lighting area separated mode 4, RTS gaming mode.

  • Orange lighting = 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 0 keys.
  • Green Lighting = Q, W, E, R, T, Y, U and P keys.
  • Blue lighting = A, S, D, F, G, H, K and L keys.
  • Purple lighting = L Shift, Z, X, N and M keys.
  • Pink lighting = L Ctrl, Alt and Space keys.

 

FN+5 = Lighting area separated mode 5, LOL gaming mode. (I thought they meant League of legends, but the keys that are illuminated do not match the game’s control scheme).

  • Red lighting = Esc key.
  • Orange lighting = `, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 keys.
  • Green Lighting = Tab, Q, W, E and R keys.
  • Blue lighting = D, F and G keys.
  • Purple lighting = V and “B keys.
  • Pink lighting = L Ctrl, Alt and Space keys.

 

FN+6 = Lighting area separated mode 6, CAR gaming mode. (Do they mean driving game mode ?)

  • Green Lighting = W and R keys.
  • Blue lighting = A, S and D keys.
  • Purple lighting = L Shift and Up arrow keys.
  • Pink lighting = and L Ctrl, Alt, Left, Right and Down arrow keys.

 

FN+7 = Lighting area separated mode 7, NBA gaming mode. (Again not sure about this one, perhaps they mean the EA NBA sports games).

  • Orange lighting = `, 1, 2, 3 and 4 keys.
  • Green Lighting = W, E and R keys.
  • Blue lighting = A, S and F keys.
  • Purple lighting = L Shift, Z, X, C, V and Up arrow keys.
  • Pink lighting = L Ctrl, Alt, Space, Left, Right and Down arrow keys.

 

FN+8 = Lighting area separated mode 8, LOL gaming mode, simple version.

  • Orange lighting = 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 keys.
  • Green Lighting = Q, W, E and R keys.
  • Blue lighting = D and F keys.
  • Purple lighting = B key.

 

FN+9 = Lighting area separated mode 9. Customised backlighting mode.
By default the keyboard is blank with no lighting, it is essentially a blank canvas for you to create your own lighting profile. When in this mode to create a profile hold FN and tap Home to start creating your lighting scheme.

Here you are free to choose which keys light up and which do not, pressing a key once will make it active and a second press will deactivate it. Once all the keys you require are lit hold FN and tap End to save the profile that you have created.

 

Sadly, you can only select which keys light up, you cannot choose what colour they light up and only one user created profile is available. Once you have saved your profile to use it simply hold FN and tap 9.

 

In all of the above modes the lights remain constantly on and by default are at their highest brightness setting. The only setting that can be changed in these modes is the brightness, holding down FN and tapping the Up arrow key increases the brightness or tapping the Down arrow key reduces it. There are three brightness levels on offer high (default), low and off (this turns the lighting off completely).

The remaining lighting modes are accessed by holding FN and tapping the Ins key. Unlike pervious lighting modes the following modes have two settings available that can be changed. Firstly brightness which is controlled as previously described again with just high, low and off settings and the second setting is speed.

The remaining lighting modes are active, holding the FN and tapping the Left or Right arrow keys adjusts the speed of the patterns produced by the light. There are 4 speed settings on offer and each mode always start by default at the highest speed.

 

FN+Ins x1 = Left side and right side scanning mode.
In this mode the 2nd, 4th and 6th rows light up on the left edge and scroll across the keyboard and the 1st, 3rd and 5th rows light up on the right edge and scroll across the keyboard. Once the keyboard is entirely lit up all the lights briefly go out before the pattern is repeated.

FN+Ins x2 = Scanning to 45 degree area mode.
In this mode the bottom left corner and top right corner of the keyboard light up moving across the keyboard at a 45 degree angle meeting in the middle. Once the keyboard is entirely lit up all of the light go out briefly before the pattern resets and repeats.

FN+Ins x3 = Snake mode.
This mode is the same as the start up sequence, but in reverse on constant loop with startup stage 2 first playing out followed by startup stage 1 and then repeated infinitely.

FN+Ins x4 = The wave from right to left scanning mode.
In this mode the keyboard lights up from the right side and scrolls across the keyboard in a wave. Once the entire keyboard is lit a secondary wave moves across the keyboard and once complete, all the lights briefly go out before the pattern is repeated.

FN+Ins x5 = Water drop off mode.
In this mode the keyboard remains unlit and when a key is pressed a three key wide band of light moves across the keyboard from right to left. If you happen to be fast with your hands on a keyboard this can be rather nauseating as each and every key press activates a new band of light.

FN+Ins x6 = Full key lighting mode.
In this mode the keyboard is fully lit in a constant lighting mode. (Note that the speed settings on this mode are unavailable, only brightness can be adjusted).

FN+Ins x7 = Lighting up by click mode.
In this mode the keyboard remains unlit, when a key is pressed it, then lights up for 1.5 seconds. The manual indicates that the speed setting is available in this mode, but it isn’t regardless of what you do when a key is pressed it always remains lit for 1.5 seconds before the light goes out.

FN+Ins x8 = Breathing mode.
The final lighting mode on offer is pretty much the bread and butter of any keyboard with a lighting function. All of the lights on the keyboard fade in becoming brighter, then once at their highest brightness they fade out until the keyboard is unlit repeating infinitely.

From my testing I would say that the keyboard is suitable for use in any situation be it a very well lit room or entirely pitch black. The diffusion, brightness and colours are excellent and very well done with no sections that are poorly lit. The only thing missing is the ability to change the individual colours of the keys (even being able to change the colour of the rows would have been nice, for the price however its hard to argue).

 

COMFORT.

Only one real comment to make here… no included wrist rest.

When writing or using for productivity this is less of an issue, but for gaming one really is required. While one can easily be obtained separately it will never be attached to the keyboard so when moving the keyboard, you then have to move and align the wrist rest separately, which can be a little annoying. It does however mean that you can buy a nice comfortable foam pad like the Grifiti Fat Pad which is far more comfortable than any plastic bundled rest.

 

PRODUCTIVITY.

In short, good, but not great. Yes the X-1 has blue switches and yes, it is easier to type at speed on than a membrane or dome keyboard, that I will not argue with. Compared to a Kumara K552 (OUTEMU blue switches) or a HAVIT HV-KB366L (OTM blue switches) however the X-1 has a couple of points that let it down (ignoring the US layout for now as all the boards noted above are US layout).

The keycaps are a little too smooth which can make them a little slippery when typing at speed. The spacebar is just too limp, noisy and again slippery and the keys with painted on secondary indexers do detract from the feel of the keys. By far and away the most annoying problem however is the non slip features which as described earlier are lacking.

There is also one problem from a typists point of view that is inherent to the X-1, K552 and HV-KB3666L and that is the switches. On all three boards they are a little soft compared to Cherry blues, this is however something that can easily be cured by adding some rubber O-rings between the cap and switch (I did this with my K552 RGB and it made for a much more pleasurable typing experience).

During my time reviewing keyboards on Amazon over the last 2 years I have largely become accustomed to keyboards with a US layout, for the most part it is simply a matter of remembering a few rearranged secondary keys.

There is one key however that I have never managed to adapt to that is found on some, but not all US layout boards and that is a single spaced wide enter key (which is what the X-1 has) which I have simply managed to adapt to. If like me, you strike the enter key with your pinkie at the top edge, you will repeatedly hit the backslash key instead and that becomes very frustrating.

For productivity and entertainment the North Crown X-1 has a number of non dedicated shortcut keys that are activated using the FN (function) key. Those functions are as follows…

FN+F1 = My Computer
FN+F2 = Search.
FN+F3 = Calculator.
FN+F4 = Windows Media Player.
FN+F5 = Back.
FN+F6 = Forwards
FN+F7 = Play / Pause.
FN+F8 = Stop.
FN+F9 = Mute.
FN+F10 = Volume Up.
FN+F11 = Volume Down.
FN+F12 = Lock.

 

GAMING.

The North Crown X-1 has a couple of gaming specific functions. The first is the Windows key lock. Hold the FN key and tap the Windows key and it will deactivate the windows key, repeat to unlock.

The second (and third) are two separate Anti-Ghosting features.

Holding down FN and tapping PrtScn enables 6 Key Roll Over or 6KRO mode. This mode allows 6 simultaneous key presses to be registered at once. It should be noted that certain modifier keys do not contribute to the 6 key total such as Ctrl, Shift, Alt etc.

Holding down FN and tapping ScrLK enables N Key Roll Over or NKRO mode. This mode (at least in theory, but not always in practice) should allow you to press as many keys as you are able with them all being recognised.

With neither Anti Ghosting feature enabled, pressing Q+W+E+R+T+Y all keys are registered. Doing the same again, but adding U results in U not being detected.

With 6KRO enabled again pressing Q+W+E+R+T+Y all keys are registered. Doing the same again, but adding U results in U not being detected.

With NKRO enabled any ten keys that I can simultaneously press at the same time to be registered. (To be fair, I only tried about a dozen combinations of ten keys).

In short, this means that you can simultaneously move forward while holding a key down to crouch, reload and even turn a torch on or off and hold a key if required to use teamspeak with each and every key registering.

An additional gaming feature that is not noted within the manual is the WASD / Arrow key switch. When FN is held down and W is tapped this swaps the arrow keys with the WASD keys (the Up arrow acts as the W key, the Left arrow as the A key etc) and holding the FN key and tapping W once more returns both sets of keys to their normal functions.

As noted earlier, some of the keys have secondary character indexers painted on the keys below the clear indexers that light up. In the case of the WASD keys they have white arrows painted on them and the Arrow keys have white WASD indexers painted on them.

 

Thank you for taking the time to read this review, I hope it has been helpful to you. If you have any questions or comments regarding this review, please post a comment below and I will do my best to answer them.

Copyright © 2014-2016 EunoiaReviews. All rights reserved. Reproduction of any part of this site including images and video files is strictly forbidden without prior written consent.

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