James Donkey RS4 keyboard review: Lovely Simplicity

Despite its outlandish name the James Donkey brand has become popular overseas by offering solid products at good prices combined with features that you can’t get elsewhere.

We’ve finally had a chance to review one of these products in the form of the James Donkey RS4, an 87 key mechanical keyboard that can be used in both wireless (Bluetooth or 2.4Ghz) and wired modes.

Taking the RS4 out of the box and, included in the small packaging, is a nice USB Type-C charging cable, a USB dongle for the 2.4Ghz wireless connection, a keycap puller and a female USB Type-A to female USB Type-C converter.

We don’t usually mention paperwork that comes with products, but the short guide here is actually rather important because of one of the RS4’s best qualities: its simplicity.

The big peripheral manufacturers have locked down most hardware functionality to proprietary software that usually needs to be installed and running on your PC at all times. We’ve come to truly despite this software over the years as it’s usually bloated, slow and, even when it’s working as intended, it never feels good to be forced to use it to simply access all the functionality of hardware you paid for.

The James Donkey RS4, on the other hand, is a lovely change to this with everything on the keyboard controlled with function key combinations and four dipswitches on the back.

We’ll return to this simplicity later but we have to talk about the quality here which is superb. The chassis is apparently made of an aluminium alloy which has just about zero deck flex. This reviewer has a particularly heavy hand when it comes to typing (which is why I like switches such as the super heavy Cherry MX Greens) but even my key abuse failed to make this board move.

This is complimented by PBT keycaps which are exceptionally high quality. After using mechanical keyboards from bigger name brands for so long switching between this and those other boards makes their keycap material feel like they’re made out of tissue paper.

In terms of quality the James Donkey RS4 gets full marks.

The RS4 has optional feet but the board has a natural angle too.

This review unit comes with Gateron yellow switches which are linear keys which come pre-lubed and may be the best linear switches we have ever used.

These keys and the overall keyboard are an absolute joy to use for any application with typing, gaming and more all fantastic.

Even for those picky mechanical keyboard snobs who may prefer clicky and tactic switches – present company included – these may win you over. While still a mechanical keyboard with ample thock, these switches are relatively quiet and you may be able to sneak this into an office without your co-workers becoming irate.

Back to the topic of simplicity here and, again, there’s no software to mess around with and you will need to memorise the shortcuts or keep the manual close by. That being said after the initial setup of choosing the keyboard brightness, LED mode and a few other options, you’re unlikely to need to change them again.

The only one that may come up often is the shortcut to check the battery level (function + hold B) which brings us to the sole let down of the RS4.

Most of our testing was done with the minimum LED brightness in 2.4Ghz wireless mode and we only got between four and six days of use before a recharge of the 4 000mAh battery was needed.

In defence of the battery, we are, like most people, putting in way more hours than the standard nine to five with, sometimes, 12 hour stretches of intermittent use being required.

The RS4 does come with a battery saving system to automatically turn off after 10 minutes of not being used which was especially useful and, for those who don’t need it, can be turned off.

The only other nitpick we have is a lack of a USB port on the keyboard and no audio passthrough. Even if these were locked to wired mode they would still be appreciated and we really felt their absence as these have become increasingly standard additions.

What you do get in terms of extras on the RS4 is a rather nice volume wheel which is made out of metal. It, like the rest of the board, is very solid and it can even be clicked in to mute your PC.

As mentioned right at the start of this review James Donkey products are not readily available in South Africa, so how did we get one?

That was accomplished through the overseas store Mechkeys which reached out to us to experience not only this keyboard but also the shopping experience with them.

Unlike many other online stores MechKeys makes it very simple for those in countries like South Africa to buy products and have them shipped.

The store advertises the fact that the prices of the items you buy include taxes and duties with shipping going right to your door. This means you don’t need to gamble with the post office and the wildly random extra amounts you sometimes need to pay on imported products.

According to the MechKeys shipping page, priority delivery to South Africa (as well as the EU, USA, Canada, Japan and Australia) takes between one and three weeks and it comes with tracking.

In our experience the keyboard took 13 days to arrive, the tracking was accurate and, as promised, it arrives direct without stopping at the post office.

This is really refreshing and we have no complaints at all. We’re happy to see this kind of direct service offered to South Africans to get these lesser-discussed products.

This brings us to the value proposition offered by the James Donkey RS4 as sold by Mechkeys which, at the time of publication, has the keyboard listed at $99 which is around R1 618 right now.

In local South African markets you may be able to find a wireless mechanical keyboard for that price but we doubt it will have the quality and features that the James Donkey RS4 can offer.

Between the merits of the keyboard itself, its price and the service from MechKeys, we have almost nothing negative to say here aside from the lower than we’d like battery capacity and USB / audio passthrough but, again, at this price those are petty complaints.


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