KnewKey Rocksete is a retro mechanical keyboard with built-in speaker [Review]

By

KnewKey keyboard
This keyboard is quite the attention-getter.
Photo: KnewKey

A retro-style mechanical keyboard with built-in speaker is the definition of a niche product. But, as far as niches go, I dug it. Even if I’m not entirely ready to ditch my iMac’s Magic Keyboard just yet.

Here’s what I made of my time typing on KnewKey’s Rocksete.

KnewKey Rocksete: The refrigerator-toaster hybrid of keyboards

In an unusually cutting moment, Tim Cook once dismissively referred to Microsoft’s strategy of building Windows for everything from the smallest mobile device to the biggest desktop as being like trying to build a refrigerator-toaster hybrid. Sure you can do it. You’ll probably be the first to do so. The question is whether anyone will actually want it.

This refrigerator-toaster analogy came to mind when I first received the KnewKey Rocksete. Describing itself as the world’s first mechanical keyboard with built-in Bluetooth speaker, it seemed like the kind of convergence gadget someone might come up with as a mad-lib. After all, I’ve gone 34 years without needing a keyboard that offers “360° surround [sound for a] fully immersive cinematic audio experience.” Was this going to be enough to make me feel like I’m missing out?

That was the best part of two months ago. Since then, I’ve been typing regularly on the Rocksete keyboard. I’ve used the Bluetooth keyboard with my iMac (predominantly), but also my MacBook Air, my iPhone, and my iPad. And while I’m not sure that every keyboard needs to be capable of blasting out music while you type, I kind of like it. I like it a lot, in fact.

Type like a hipster

At the risk of sounding like an unrepentant hipster, or someone old before my time, I’ve always enjoyed typing on a typewriter. That feeling is what you get typing on the Rocksete. The round keys have mechanical switches and the kind of click-clack travel that you simply don’t get any more. And haven’t got for the best part of half a century.

Getting used to typing on it took a few days, but I found myself enjoying the experience of using it. The keyboard felt robust, and was comfortable to type on for multiple hours each day. Needless to say, you need to be someone who enjoys the feeling of typing on a typewriter. Like sauerkraut or rollmop herring, it’s an acquired taste. I’ve always liked the “taste.” You might not.

The vintage stylings carry over to the overall shape of the keyboard. It looks like an American muscle car with a spoiler that hangs over the keyboard like a fat lip. This was my least favorite element of the design. I don’t look at the keyboard when I type, but I also like to have an unobscured view of it should I wish. Typing on the Rocksete sometimes made my fingers feel claustrophobic at times.

KnewKey with MacBook
A keyboard on top of a keyboard. This would probably win a modern art prize.
Photo: KnewKey

KnewKey Rocksete: The speaker sounds good

As for that speaker then? Well, it sounds good. The JLB speakers are impressive, with 2x 5W speakers and four bass radiators. There are little knobs (alas, plastic) for switching tracks, pausing, playing, and controlling the volume. You get 6 hours’ use with the speakers fully charged. The idea, I think, is that you can use the keyboard with your Mac, iPad or iPhone to give an added audio oomph to whatever you’re doing. I’m still not sure if I need a keyboard and speaker combo. But it does exactly what it claims to.

KnewKey’s Rocksete is not a perfect product by any means. Priced at $239, it’s not cheap. The slot on top is not big enough to hold my iPod Pro in landscape mode. I wish the individual letters on the keys were backlit. The LED light effects made me feel like I was typing on a slot machine until I switched them off. And the speaker, as good as it sounds, is not something I used regularly. You’d also struggle to use this in public without fielding questions every few minutes.

Still, I enjoyed using the KnewKey Rocksete. If you like the look of it, this delivers the quality you’d hope for. Certainly, after several years of Apple keyboard woes, it’s nice to type away on something that brings a smile to your face. If Macs had been around in the Mad Men era, this is the keyboard Don Draper and co. would have used.

Buy from: KnewKey

KnewKey provided Cult of Mac with a review unit for this article. See our reviews policy, and check out more in-depth reviews of Apple-related items.