By – John Williamson

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The PC hardware market has seen an influx of mechanical keyboards incorporating various switch types and elaborate lighting effects. RGB illumination features on a number of high end models including the Logitech Orion Spark G910, Razer Chroma and Corsair K95 RGB. While the end result is spectacular, it can be a little ostentatious for some users who prefer a single shade of backlighting. Additionally, the software required for designing mesmerizing colour shifts is extremely comprehensive but contains a steep learning curve. However, there are alternatives which adopt a more subtle approach such as the Mionix Zibal 60. This particular product employs Cherry MX black switches, green backlighting and a plug-and-plug seamless experience which doesn’t rely on any additional software.

Mionix’s packaging is exemplary and correlates with their focus on a quality, minimalistic design philosophy. The box is surprisingly large and exhibits a simplistic product snapshot on the front. Furthermore, the rear portion outlines the keyboard’s specification in a wide array of languages. Inside the package is an instructions manual, key remover, wristrest and the keyboard itself. Mionix opted to create individual sections for the keyboard and wristrest to offer enhanced protection against cosmetic damage during transit. There is even a soft protective cover over the keyboard to prevent the keycaps from brushing against the box.

From an aesthetic standpoint, the Zibal 60 has an understated look due to the matte black finish and subdued LED illumination. This colour scheme is accentuated by an embossed Mionix logo in the right corner which evokes a professional feel. The backlighting contains 3 luminance levels and can be toggled between WASD, on or off. On the other hand, the LEDs are fairly dim even on the brightest setting and pale in comparison to the competition. That’s not to say they are a major hindrance since the illumination manages to clearly show the key letterings in dark conditions. Nevertheless, I would like to see an increased scale of luminance which allows you to use brighter LEDs which shine in daytime conditions. Unfortunately, the Zibal 60 doesn’t utilize any onboard memory and this means you have to manually enable the lighting effects on boot. This might not seem like a huge problem, but it becomes rather irksome if you spend lots of time in the bios and perform daily reboots.

The Zibal 60’s physical characteristics exemplifies how solid the overall construction is and even manages to eclipse the Steelseries 6Gv2. This is achieved via a remarkable 1.6mm thick steel frame which contributes to a net weight of 1.56Kg. To test the keyboard’s robustness, I tried to bend the plastic housing and apply downwards pressure onto the keys. Despite my best efforts, the plastic didn’t flex at all and managed to withstand the rigorous testing procedure. As a result, I would concur with Mionix that the keyboard is “rageproof” and should last a very long time.

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Other elements of the Zibal 60 reinforces the notion of build quality above superficial design choices. For example, the keyboard includes two USB 2.0 ports, a microphone and audio passthrough which connect to your PC along a supremely thick 1.5mm set of braided cables. One small oversight is the use of black symbols to label the individual 3.5mm jacks. This makes it rather difficult to distinguish between each port and I would recommend clearer green icons instead which allow for a quicker setup process. I was overjoyed with the braided cables which have a perfect finish without any imperfections and can be twice the thickness compared to other products like the Razer Blackwidow 2013. However, the weighted nature of the cables means they are overly stiff and difficult to bend. While this is far from ideal, it’s a trade-off I would easily accept for higher quality cabling.

On the bottom of the keyboard, there are 4 large textured feet which prevent unwanted sliding and combine with the substantial weight to allow for sudden, harsh key presses. The underside also contains 2 hinged flaps that raise the keyboard’s incline for a more upright posture. Even though the flaps are manufactured from strong plastic, they have a tendency to wobble if force is applied. The root cause of this is a lack of rubber coating and the flaps don’t lock into position with a defined click. In reality though, the raised point will only adjust in miniscule amounts if you use intentional force. Throughout my experience with the keyboard as a daily driver, this didn’t come into play at any time.

The bundled wristrest clips onto the keyboard using a very reliable fixing and manages to repel fingerprints remarkably well. In terms of comfort, the wristrest cushions your palms reasonably well without becoming overly obtrusive. It’s still nowhere near the brilliance of the Steelseries 7G wristrest but outclasses most keyboards I’ve tested.

While the Zibal 60 doesn’t include advanced features such as macros; there are a number of media functions including mute, volume up/down, play/pause, stop and forwards/backwards. To initiate any command, you have to hold the Mionix function key and press the appropriate action button. This may be a contentious issue as Mionix replaced the default Windows position with a media key. Personally, I prefer this layout since the Windows key cannot be pressed by accident during games and there isn’t any software to force this key to be disabled. However, there are some users who rely on the Windows key to lock the screen, open the start menu and other essential tasks. Mionix could have moved the media function to the right FN key instead which seems to be a more logical arrangement. I would also like to see a volume scroll wheel to replace individual commands given the improved accuracy and usability from such a minor change.

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Most mechanical keyboards targeting the gaming sector offer a number of key switches and usually focus their efforts on Cherry MX reds. Unusually, the Zibal 60 only comes in 1 switch type and opts for Cherry MX blacks which require a large actuation force of 60 cN vs 45 cN via red switches. As a result, the keys are stiffer and not suitable for soft touch typists. Cherry MX black switches use a linear, non-clicky interface and can cause fatigue during long typing sessions. However, these switches have the benefit of a distinct, weighted point and eliminates any chance of accidental double keypresses.

While this isn’t problematic for typists, it becomes an invaluable tool in professional RTS games where every action needs to accurately monitored. Selecting the correct switch for your individual style requires trial-and-error and is down to personal preference. I am a huge advocate of the loud, clicky Cherry MX blues but other users might detest the audible feedback. As such, manufacturers need to accommodate every consumer out there through customizable options on each keyboard. The Zibal 60’s switches only appeal to a small group of people given the amount of people who experience hand pain. Cherry MX reds are widely used because they utilize a balance between typing ease and gaming responsiveness. To summarize, I would strongly recommend Mionix alters their approach and reach out to a wide consumer base through various switch types.

The switches are mounted on an 18k gold plated backend which should improve the direct contact between switch depresses and the board. This isn’t an area you should be too concerned about though given the enormous lifespan of Cherry MX switches around 50 million keystrokes. Another impressive feat revolves around the cylindrical keycaps which are laser printed and resist cosmetic wear. I tried to rub against the lettering to see if there was evidence of fading caps and didn’t detect any noticeable degradation. This is a vast improvement over the Steelseries 6Gv2 which demonstrated shocking areas of faded printing after a few days.

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Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?

The Mionix Zibal 60 is a simplistic and understated mechanical keyboard built to a phenomenal standard. This supreme level of quality spans across the board, thick plastic housing, braided cables, keycaps and more.  Obviously, the large caveat is you can only buy the keyboard using heavy Cherry MX black switches which limits the product’s appeal.  Overall, I can wholeheartedly recommend the Zibal 60 and consider it to the best Cherry MX black equipped keyboard I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing.

Mionix Zibal 60 Mechanical Gaming Keyboard Summary:

TPG Hardware

  • Time Used – 27 Days
  • Acquisition Method – Review Unit
  • System Specs – Intel I7 4770K, 16GB RAM, Gigabyte GTX 980 4GB
  • Games Tested – Battlefield 4, Tropico 5, The Witcher 3
  • Software/Games Used – Google Docs, Photoshop CS5
  • Warranty – Europe 2 Years, USA 1 Year
  • Availability – Official Site, Amazon, Newegg

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