I really have a soft spot for throwback-inspired design. When something new is made to look old, it instantly captures my heart. That’s why I fell head over heels for 8BitDo’s new Retro Mechanical Keyboards. Not only do they perfectly cater to my nostalgia, but they also come with a pair of ridiculously oversized, customizable buttons. And let me tell you, the Retro Keyboard surpassed all of my expectations.
8BitDo Retro Mechanical Keyboard – Design and Features
The Retro Keyboard comes in two versions: the “N Edition” modeled after the US Nintendo Entertainment System, and the Fami Edition inspired by the Japanese Famicom. While I received the N Edition for review, I personally prefer the look of the Fami Edition. The N Edition features the same dull grays, black, and red color scheme as the NES, with a red LED power light and a faux-grill on the top strip. On the other hand, the aesthetically superior Fami Edition not only boasts a maroon, gold, and off-white color scheme but also includes Japanese characters printed on the keys alongside the English layout, paying homage to the official Nintendo Famicom Basic keyboard that never made its way to the West.
8BitDo Retro Mechanical Keyboard – Photos
At the top left of the keyboard, you’ll find a three-position mode switch for selecting Bluetooth, “Off,” or 2.4G modes. Next to that is a volume knob that works on Windows, followed by a pairing button, fast-key mapping button, and profile changing button. Beneath the top layer are all the expected keys, but next to the right-most ALT key are two red buttons: B and A. These buttons can be programmed in any way you like using the 8BitDo software. However, it’s worth noting that this is a tenkeyless keyboard, meaning it lacks a numpad.
On the back of the keyboard, you’ll find four 3.5mm jacks labeled A, B, X, and Y, which are used to connect the 8BitDo Super Buttons. One of the standout features of 8BitDo’s Retro Keyboard is that you can hook up to four Super Buttons, which are both silly and incredibly useful. Personally, I mapped the B and A buttons to Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V, respectively, as those are key combinations I frequently use. Programming the Super Buttons is straightforward – simply press the fast key-mapping button until it blinks, then hold down the keys you want to program and press one of the candy-red buttons. The keyboard also comes with stickers you can apply to the Super Buttons in case you ever forget their function or you simply enjoy decorating with stickers.
The back of the keyboard also houses the USB-C port for charging, firmware updates, or using the Retro Keyboard in wired mode. According to 8BitDo, the keyboard’s 2,000mAh internal battery lasts over 200 hours on a single charge. Despite extensive testing, I can’t discredit their claim – not even a few hours of playing the Modern Warfare III beta made a significant dent in the battery level.
Flipping the keyboard over reveals a clever magnetic catch that securely holds the 2.4G USB receiver dongle in place, reminiscent of Apple’s MagSafe. The underside of the keyboard, like the rest of it, is made of hard plastic. While I would have preferred some metal here, the plastic chassis feels sturdy and capable of enduring rough handling. The keyboard plate itself, however, is made of aluminum and provides a reassuringly solid structure. With no flexing or bending, this keyboard feels durable. Surprisingly, it’s also heavier than anticipated, weighing just over a kilogram (around 2.2 pounds). The letters, symbols, and numbers on the keys are dye-sublimated using lasers, making them resistant to fading or wearing. The Super Buttons have a rubber base that prevents them from sliding around, and their satisfying feel adds to the overall ruggedness of the keyboard. The keys are equipped with Kailh Box White Switches V2, which deliver an enjoyable click without being overly aggressive. Key height is perfect, and every component feels resilient and ready for extensive use. What’s more, the Retro Keyboard boasts a hot-swappable PCB, allowing for limitless customization of your keys.
8BitDo Retro Mechanical Keyboard – Software
The configuration software provided with the Retro Keyboard is refreshingly straightforward. It’s designed to enhance the user experience rather than overwhelm with unnecessary options. Since the keyboard lacks RGB lighting, there’s no need for a customization interface. Similarly, the software doesn’t bombard you with complex macro options you’ll never use. Mapping macros to any keys and setting up profiles that can be cycled through using the profile key at the top of the keyboard is a breeze. While I don’t typically use macros for gaming, I find them incredibly useful for work, especially when it involves repetitive tasks like data entry.
The software also offers toggle options to disable the Windows key, Alt+Tab, and Alt+4, conveniently accessible from the profile screen. As someone who accidentally hits the Windows key frequently during intense gaming sessions, I greatly appreciate the ability to easily disable it. It’s not as convenient as having a physical switch on the keyboard itself, but it’s a straightforward process in the settings menu. The only downside is that the software requires a USB-C connection for changing settings, which isn’t a major inconvenience since you’ll need to recharge eventually anyway. However, it would have been nice to have the option to customize via Bluetooth as well.
8BitDo Retro Mechanical Keyboard – Gaming
I’m pleased to report that the 8BitDo Retro Keyboard performance exceeded my expectations during my time playing the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III beta. It actually felt better than my aging Logitech G413 Carbon, and as someone who has always used a wired keyboard, I thoroughly enjoyed the freedom provided by a wireless keyboard that feels equally responsive in games. Without cables getting in the way, I can easily adjust the keyboard’s angle without worrying about catching it on a monitor stand or hindering my movement. I attribute any defeats I experienced solely to my own lack of skills, not equipment failure.
The 8BitDo Retro Mechanical Keyboard is available on Amazon for $99.99.