Before I start this review, I would just like to say this — what a name! James Donkey is one brand that has a distinct quirkiness few others can match. So what do donkeys and computer peripherals have in common? Nothing really, which is why James Donkey’s branding strategy is brilliant. The first time you hear that name, it’s very likely to stick in your head for a long time.
The James Donkey 619 featured in this review is one of few premium peripherals that the brand produces. It is a mechanical keyboard that features Gateron switches and customizable backlight modes and costs about $60 shipped.
- Mechanical keyboard with Gateron brown switches and 104 keys
- Aluminum and ABS plastic construction
- Braided detachable USB 2.0 cable
- 990g weight
- Manufacturer-claimed 50 million key stroke lifespan
- Customizable keys with programmable LED backlight
- Removable key caps
- Double-shot key cap manufacturing process ensures symbols/letters never fade
- Compatible with Windows XP / Vista / 7 / 8 / 10 and Mac OS
If you’re not already familiar with them, mechanical keyboards make use of mechanical switches instead of membrane switches which are typically found in most computer keyboards sold today. Mechanical keyboards cost significantly more than their membrane counterparts but they are significantly more durable and provide a smoother tactile feel.
In the days when personal computers were still novelty devices back in the 80s and 90s, mechanical keyboards were everywhere. In the late 90s and onwards, manufacturers started switching to membrane keyboards mainly as a means to reduce production costs and also to make keyboards less noisy and lighter.
However, the mechanical keyboard has made a comeback in recent years thanks to the demand for keyboards that feature better performance and durability. This demand comes from users that spend a lot of time with their computers typing or gaming. If you have several years of experience using cheap $20 membrane keyboards, you’d probably know by now that they don’t last. The typical lifespan of a cheap membrane keyboard is anywhere between 6 months and 2 years, depending on how much you use it.
Mechanical keyboards provide the durability and tactile feel that is unmatched by cheaper membrane keyboards and that’s why they’re the preferred choice of serious gamers and heavy computer users such as writers, journalists and bloggers.
Quality and Design
The 619 features a minimalist design and is available in black or white. Both versions have yellow accents, LED backlight and stands. Due to the compact and minimalist styling, there is nothing overly fanciful with the 619 but it still manages to exude an air of sophistication thanks to its “breathing” customizable backlights and fine details.
Unlike other keyboards that have a riot of dedicated media and special function buttons all over the place, the 619 has a rather utilitarian feel to it with only 3 status LED lights on the right for Caps Lock, Scroll Lock and Num Lock status. Its compact design also means it has a smaller than average footprint which is great for those who have limited space on their desks.
The 619 is also available in a super compact version which excludes the number keypad on the right making for a narrower footprint.
The 70 inch USB cable is braided and detachable from the keyboard itself. The braiding ensures that the cable will last a long time and should it get damaged for some reason, it can always be replaced since it is detachable. This is a feature found only on premium keyboards.
The key caps are also replaceable and James Donkey includes a key cap puller with every 619. The key caps are made using double-shot molding which means the key cap legend (symbols and letters) and key cap itself are two separate parts. This prevents the legend from fading away after prolonged use — a problem you’ll commonly get with cheaper keyboards. I’ve been using my 619 for several months now and the legends are as clear and visible as when the keyboard was new. No signs of fading whatsoever.
Overall, the build quality of the 619 is very good and sturdy and there is hardly any creaking or signs of flimsiness.
Silky smooth key presses are the reason why you would want to splash some money on this keyboard apart from excellent durability. Typing on the 619 is a lot smoother when compared to membrane keyboards although it’s a bit loud. I use my 619 for gaming and work and it has never felt disappointing, especially the smoothness of its keys.
Thanks to the orange backlight, the legends on the keys can be seen clearly even in total darkness. The only issue I have with the legends are the special function keys (white legends) that are not illuminated by the backlight. These white legends are visible when there is light in the room but in total darkness or low light, you can hardly see them. James Donkey claims that the keys on the 619 have a lifespan of 50 million strokes which means each key should last for years even under heavy usage.
There is a minor issue I’ve experienced when using the 619 — occasionally, the keyboard would “disconnect” itself for reasons unknown. This isn’t a big problem since detaching and then reattaching the USB cable solves the problem.
The 619 was designed to be a plug-and-play keyboard so no driver is required when you plug into your computer. I have been using the 619 with a Windows 10 PC and have so far encountered no major software issues. However, some users have claimed that the keyboard does not come out of sleep mode on certain computers. This can be solved by updating the keyboard’s firmware.