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I've been a long-time user of membrane keyboards, and I've never really made the switch to mechanical keyboards until very recently. And the main reason behind that was because I felt like the cost outweighed the benefits. Mechanical keyboards tend to cost a heck of a lot more than regular membrane keyboards, and a large reason for that was because there was one company who held the patent for mechanical keyboard switches - Cherry. And for a good while, they were the only ones allowed to produce mechanical switches, which keyboard manufacturers then had to purchase to produce their line of mechanical keyboards.
I wasn't unaware of the benefits of mechanical keyboards, like durability, switch choice flexibility, the tactile feel, and overall better handling for simultaneous key presses. But for the amount of money most mechanical keyboards went for, for the longest time, I just didn't feel like they were worth it. That is, until companies started coming out with their own mechanical keyboards that didn't use the proprietary switches from Cherry. Finally, reasonably priced mechanical keyboards had come to the market.
I went ahead and bought the Redragon KALA K557, a budget-friendly mechanical RGB keyboard, for a very, very reasonable Php 2,500 or about $50 from Lazada. And I absolutely love it.
Out of the Box
The box comes with the KALA K557, a disc with the driver, an instruction manual, 8 extra switches, and the key removal tool. For the price, that's actually quite a bit more than what you'd expect. The 8 switches make for a great little extra, so you can try out the other Outemu switches.
At only 17.2 x 6.8 x 1.5 inches, I am loving how small and compact it is even though it does feature a full numpad. The last keyboard I was using an E-Blue Cobra II, which tried so hard to look like a "gaming keyboard" that it ended up being bulky and unwieldy.
It weighs in at 2.8 pounds, which is great so it doesn't get moved around so easily. The rubber feet help out with that a bit, but those rubber nibs at the bottom of the keyboard aren't the greatest.
The aluminium on the body is great - gives the KALA K557 a premium feel. They keys themselves are pretty standard, and the cup the tip of your finger quite nicely. And the stands in the back do the job fairly well.
One thing I didn't like, though, is the built-in wrist rest. I wish it were removable because keeping it on there has little to no point. It isn't even long enough to support my small and fragile Asian hands.
The Typing Experience
The KALA K557 uses Outemu Blue switches. They feel and sound very similar to Cherry MX Blue switches, though some would argue that Outemu Blues come nowhere close to Cherry MX Blue quality. Me, I can barely tell the difference. The Outemu Blues
require 60 grams of force to press, which is fine for heavy fingered typists like myself. They're nice and clicky, too - very satisfying to type on. Perfect for when you love hearing yourself type, but horrible for office use. I actually used this keyboard at the office for one day before I had to bring it home because my workmates told me it sounded obnoxious. I don't disagree - in a very quiet environment, these keys can get hella distracting.
Each key is advertised to have a longevity of 50 million keystrokes. While that may be true for the most part, my space bar actually started becoming unresponsive after only a weekend of light use. I had to use the included switches and extra blue switch to fix it.
The advertised "multimedia keys" are just secondary functions of the F keys, so they're not exactly multimedia keys per se, but I'm glad they're there.
Whether or not RGB is a useful function is another discussion altogether. I'm not sure if I'm in the minority here, but I don't think they're all that functional. Sure, they're pretty, but they're non-essential nor do they provide any kind of advantage. That said, I had fun playing around with the RGB lights on the Redragon KALA K557. There are 4 levels of brightness and a lot of different light configurations. You control the lights by pressing the Fn key and the Insert, Home, Page Up, Delete, End, or Page Down keys. Each of those keys represents a theme for the lights.
For example, the Insert key has the breathing effect, the steady light, and the one that slowly goes from one color to the next - but all settings have just one color on the entire keyboard at one time. The Home key is the one that has reactive lights. Every time you hit a button, lights emanate from that key. It's pretty mesmerizing. Pressing Fn and the arrow keys either change the color (left and right) or adjust the brightness (up and down).
Those are all well and good, but the one thing you can't do is assign a color per key and have game-specific colors to your keyboard. For example, a game like Mass Effect: Andromeda, you would use the WASD keys to move, the J key to open your journal, the M key for your map, keys 1 to 4 for powers, and so on and so forth. There is no way to to just customize it in any way. Not that it matters, no one really glances at their keyboard when they're playing. That's what those nubs on the F and J key are for - so you can just feel around for them without taking your eyes away from the action.
As for the software, there isn't much to talk about. It allows you to play around with the settings of the pre-made light themes with things like breathing speed or light scrolling speed plus light intensity. You can also set macros and re-assign specific keys. There are 3 profiles you can set so if you've got some weird macro and alternate key binding set-up for some game, you can do that.
Gaming Experience and Overall Impressions
Despite being a budget gaming keyboard, the Redragon KALA K557 does the job quite well. It's very basic, but for gaming and typing, it's actually really good. And for the price, it's a steal. You get all the benefits of having a mechanical keyboard, just without the bells and whistles but without the massive price most mechanical keyboards go for. If you're looking for your first-ever mechanical keyboard, then the Redragon KALA K557 might just be up your alley.