Tenkeyless AKA TKL keyboards are quite popular in the mechanical keyboard market because they take up less space and feel more symmetric than a 100% keyboard. The TKL space was dominated by giants like Logitech, HyperX, etc. Still, the quality gap has shrunk a lot in recent years as many manufacturers whose names you’ve probably never heard of have stepped into the game and are producing excellent mechanical keyboards for us “Mechhe ads” out there.
One such manufacturer is James Donkey, which isn’t a very old player in mechanical keyboards, but its recent product, the 87-key JAMESDONKEY RS4, imbues serious gaming DNA while costing just under $100. But the question is, can the RS4 bring the other sub-100 dollar players on their knees? A huge thanks to Mechkeys.com for the review unit. Read more to find out.
JAMESDONKEY RS4 Review
What’s in the Box
- JAMESDONKEY RS4 mechanical keyboard
- A 2.4GHz USB dongle
- Braided USB-A to USB-C cable
- A USB Type-C to USB Type-A adapter
- Keycap puller
Design and Build
Although the keyboard’s body is made of plastic, it’s built like a tank and feels very sturdy. There’s almost no creaking or bending in the chassis. The keycaps feel solid too. The entire body, including the keycaps, is matte textured and gives an excellent feel while typing. The escape, enter, and arrow keys are all matte red, which will appeal to gamers. The Type-C port is at the top and neatly tucked inside the plastic body. The board weighs 780 grams and is pretty thick and not very portable.
I’m not a fan of the legends on the keycaps. This is a subjective opinion, ofcourse, but I feel like the legends on the function keys could’ve been more minimalistic, especially the ones in the Function keys row. I wouldn’t say I liked the idea of including the icons inside rectangles.
It would’ve looked much better without rectangles like in the number row and if the icons were smaller. There’s a dedicated volume knob on the left side of the keyboard, along with two LED indicators. The bottom indicator indicates the charge status, and the top LED is for the connection mode.
The volume knob is clickable and is very, and I repeat, VERY satisfying to rotate and is built very well. It is also super helpful while gaming to quickly change the volume. There’s also a customizable RGB strip running across the perimeter of the keyboard. It adds more character to the keyboard and extra FPS while gaming ;).
The subtle James Donkey branding on the bottom-right side corner of the keyboard, just above the RGB strip, looks excellent. I do wish the RGB strip ran across the edges of the keyboard.
The backplate also has a lot going for it. There are four tiny switches: Power on the keyboard, switch Bluetooth modes (more on this later), Turn on/off the RGB strip, and Turn on/off the keyboard RGB. The back plate is also made of plastic and comes with two plastic clips to raise the typing angle of the keyboard.
Overall, the build quality is one of the keyboard’s strongest areas. There’s fierce competition in the sub-100 dollar market regarding the build quality, and I think James Donkey has done an excellent job.
The JAMESDONKEY RS4 comes equipped with Gateron G Pro 2.0 Yellow switches. For starters, these come under the “Linear” category of switches. If you’re unfamiliar with keyboard switches, they’re of three types — clicky, linear, and tactile. Clicky switches have a greater actuation bump (around 60-65 grams) and have a clicky mechanism(Example: Blue switches). Tactile switches (brown switches, for example) need lesser actuation force and are less clicky than clicky switches. Linear switches (Yellows or Reds) have the least actuation bump (Around 40 grams) and are very smooth.
Coming back to the topic, the pre-lubed G Pro 2.0 Yellows are one of the most preferred linear switches after Gateron browns and reds, and they perform as intended — smooth and silent. The stabilizers could’ve been better as the keys wobble a bit, resulting in a sharp sound when they bottom out. Overall, the G Pro 2.0 Yellows are great if you’re searching for linear switches that are a little heavier (Actuation force: 50 grams) than Red switches (Actuation force: 45 grams).
If what we said above sounded like excess tech jargon, we had RK Browns and RK Reds to compare the sound. Sure, it isn’t a good comparison as they’re different boards, let alone switches from different manufacturers, but by the end, you should get an idea about how they’re different.
I did quite a bit of gaming using the JAMESDONKEY RS4 (Valorant, Genshin Impact, and Apex Legends) and had no issues except on the Bluetooth side of things, which we’ll get into in a bit. Thanks to the lower actuation force, I concluded that Yellow’s are a tad bit better if you’re gaming. However, for typing, I would choose Browns any day. Although, don’t get me wrong, Yellow switches are just fine for typing, but it’s more of a personal preference.
However, one major complaint with the keyboard is that it doesn’t have hot-swappable switches. Many keyboards have hot-swappable switches, even at the sub-$60 or even sub-$50 price point. Hence, if you’re someone who wants to customize/mod their keyboard down the line, this is not the right keyboard for you.
RGB and customizability
The RS4 is a full RGB keyboard with nine different lighting profiles (four RGB and five Red color-only) and nine lighting profiles in the RGB strip, which the keyboard remembers every time you turn it off and on again. There are four stages to adjusting the backlight brightness of the keys. However, one thing that the keyboard lacks that most keyboards in this segment offer are software to customize the RGB and the keys and to set macros.
There was no mention of software in the user manual, so I scoured the internet to find the official James Donkey website. I found out that they have an application. I downloaded it and found their other products, but the RS4 wasn’t listed. The strip lights and keyboard RGB can be turned off quickly using the dedicated buttons at the back, but it’s a hassle turning back the keyboard whenever you want to switch off/on something.
Battery Life and Connectivity
According to the user manual, the keyboard houses a 4000mAh battery rated to last for *80 hours and will turn all lights off. We went hard on the keyboard for the first few days with both keyboard and strip RGB on at full brightness, and the keyboard for no more than six hours. With RGB brightness set to medium and the strip lights turned off, we could extend the battery life by around six more hours, which is pretty good for a full RGB keyboard.
The RS4 doesn’t have a dedicated battery indicator, but the Fn+B key combination can help you determine the battery. After using the combination, if the keyboard backlight turns green, the battery is between 70-100%. Blue indicates 30-70%, and red indicates 0-30%. When the battery is very low, the keyboard automatically shuts down RGB, and the battery indicator LED below the volume knob flashes red.
We found this feature to be mostly a hit or miss because sometimes it’d show us the green backlight, and after 10-20 minutes, the lights would turn red or vice versa.
The keyboard has three connectivity options — via 2.4GHz dongle, Bluetooth, and USB Type-C; a big thumbs up for this. The 2.4GHz mode and Bluetooth connections worked well, and we had no issues using the keyboard. The keyboard can store the pairing info of three different devices, and switching between devices was a breeze.
The JAMESDONKEY RS4 is a great mechanical keyboard for people who need a stylish full RGB keyboard. That said, it is a huge bummer that there’s no software to customize the keyboard and no hot-swappable switches that most keyboards in the sub-$100 price segment offer, which makes it hard to recommend in the $100 price point. I also wish they offered Brown, Black, Red, and White variants of the G Pro 2.0.
If you’re new to mechanical keyboards and looking to buy your first gaming keyboard for under $100, the RS4 won’t disappoint you. To all the keyboard geeks out there looking for a good 80% mechanical keyboard, the Ducky One 2 Tuxedo, or if you’re looking for a 75% keyboard, the Keychron K2 hot-swappable, and the Keychron K8 are all good options.
James Donkey RS4 Bluetooth Mechanical Keyboard