Low-profile mechanical keyboards have always seemed a bit odd to me. I get the appeal — in theory, they offer a slim, visually lighter design similar to a typical membrane chiclet keyboard while maintaining the improved tactility and better typing experience of a traditional mechanical keyboard.
But in my experience, they usually end up as the worst of both worlds. They’re still bigger than a membrane keyboard but don’t feel markedly better to type on. Plus, they are much harder to customize than standard mechanical boards due to a much smaller pool of compatible switches, keycaps, and other parts. My position has been that if you aren’t going all the way to a full-height mechanical keyboard, don’t bother.
This $159 Lofree Flow keyboard I’ve been typing on for the past few days might just change my mind. Its chassis is just 10mm thick, but it maintains a very nice typing experience. It looks cool, with classy keycaps and sharp legends, and works wirelessly with both Windows and Mac computers. It also has an aluminum frame and build quality that rivals fancier mechanical keyboards, and it sounds and feels great right out of the box — no rattly stabilizers or pingy reverberations here.
Lofree sells two versions of the Flow: a white and silver one with linear switches and a black and dark gray model that comes with tactile switches and apes Apple’s space gray motif. (Oddly and annoyingly, you can’t choose the color scheme and type of switch separately.) It’s clear that Lofree is targeting Mac users directly with the style and functionality of the Flow, but it has a Windows mode and dual legends on the modifier keys to support both platforms. I’ve got the dark gray model with black keycaps here, and I really like the way it looks on my desk — it’s sleek and takes up a minimal amount of space.
The Flow has a 75 percent layout, which means it has arrow keys, a function row, and a handful of cursor control keys. Unless you have a specific need for a numpad, this layout gives you all the keys you need in a compact format and is very similar to what’s on a lot of laptops.
Both colors of the Flow let you swap out the keycaps and switches, but if you were hoping to go wild with customization, there are limits. The Flow’s switches have a different pin layout from other low-profile switches, so you are effectively limited to Lofree’s stock Kailh switches in either linear, tactile, or clicky variants. (I was able to get full-size MX-style keycaps to work on the Flow, but the typing travel was comically low, and doing so kind of defeats the purpose of a low-profile keyboard.) The Flow also doesn’t support popular remapping tools like VIA that let you customize the functionality of the keys exactly how you like them.
For me, none of those limitations have been a problem because I really like both the way the Flow looks with its included keycaps and how it feels and sounds with the Phantom tactile switches my unit came with. I am also able to remap keys using Karabiner Elements on my Mac, so I don’t really miss VIA. The keycaps are a textured PBT material that resists shine and feels nice under my fingers. Their profile is a bit flatter than I’m used to, but I think that makes it easier for those coming from a laptop or chiclet keyboard.
The switches are smooth, self-lubricating, and have a travel of 2.8mm. That’s a lot longer than the 1mm or so you get on a MacBook, but it’s considerably shorter than the 4mm or more a full-height mechanical switch might have. As a result, I bottom out a lot more when typing on the Flow than I do on my other mechanical boards. But it’s still more satisfying than typing on a Magic Keyboard, and the Flow has a dampened feel that reduces harshness thanks to the foam and gaskets inside of it.
The Flow has some other perks and features, like RGB underglow lighting and white backlighting. The function row at the top supports media, volume, and other controls on my Mac as expected, and you can pair up to three devices to the keyboard over Bluetooth and switch between them at will, or you can use it wired through a USB-C cable. The Flow lacks the 2.4GHz wireless option that a lot of other keyboards are offering now, making it less ideal for serious gaming when wireless. Lofree claims the 2,000mAh battery will last up to 40 hours between charges, and it takes about three hours to fully charge the board.
Some might not like the fact that the Flow doesn’t have adjustable feet to change its 3.9-degree typing angle, but since I never tilt my keyboard up, I haven’t missed them. The multiple layers of foam and gaskets inside the Flow make it sound nice without the need to crack it open and modify it. I really am impressed with how this keyboard sounds: it’s marble-y and dense, without the cheap, clacky sound I’ve experienced on other pre-built low-profile keyboards. Similarly, the typing feel is solid but cushioned thanks to the gasket mounting system inside (an apparent first for a low-profile keyboard). It gives some of my full-height custom boards a run for their (considerable) money.
Because the Flow is made out of aluminum and not plastic like a lot of other low-profile keyboards, it’s heavier than expected, which might make traveling with it a little cumbersome. But that 1.25lb (568g) weight combined with the grippy rubber feet on the bottom keeps it planted at my desk when I’m hammering away on the keys, and it doesn’t slide around at all.
I don’t know if I’m totally sold on low-profile keyboards, but I can say that I do like this one. Of course, it still comes with compromises in customizability and a hefty price tag: at $160, this might be the most expensive low-profile board I’ve come across. Keychron and Nuphy are popular manufacturers that charge about $120 to $130 for their comparable low-profile boards. But both of those companies primarily use plastic throughout, and neither matches the level of build quality, design, and feel I’ve experienced on the Flow.
I take that back, I’m sold: I just ordered a Flow of my own.