Tenkeyless designs are quickly becoming all the rage with PC gamers for a few reasons: more room for mouse movement, lack of need for a numpad, and a lower cost. The Hexgears Nova throws in per-key RGB backlighting, ditches the ABS plastic body in favor of anodized aluminum and tosses in one of the most affordable ring lighting implementations on a metal mechanical keyboard we’ve seen yet. If you’re looking for a TKL keyboard for your desk, check out this review of the Hexgears Nova.
- MSRP: $89.99 (Amazon)
- Tenkeyless Layout
- RGB backlighting and ring lighting
- Per-key customizable lighting modes (softwareless)
- ABS Keycaps
- Full metal body (Black, Grey or Blue)
- Kailh Switches (Box Brown, Box White, or Hako Clear)
- Cable: 1.8m braided USB cable
- Polling Rate: 1000Hz
- Size: 373 x 147 x 40mm
- Full Key / 6-key anti-ghosting (togglable)
- Code Speed and Key Response Speed adjustment
- Macro recording
Build, Switches, Typing
The first things I noticed when I take a keyboard out of the packaging are two-fold: the looks and weight. Even though it’s not plugged in to check out the RGB it’s immediately clear that the Hexgears Nova is a well-designed keyboard. I’m a fan of the floating keycaps style and the black aluminum chassis makes a beautiful backdrop. The ABS keycaps are a bit disappointing - I definitely would have preferred to see some doubleshot PBTs as we did on the Impulse - but I understand the desire to keep costs down. Still not collecting fingerprints and skin oils as easily would have been an extra plus in this reviewers book.
Considering the metal body of the keyboard, the Nova is probably one of the heavier TKL keyboards I’ve put on my desk. Again, pointing at the ample use of metal, this wasn’t unexpected nor do I find it a negative drawback by any stretch of the imagination. There’s something about a good heft that says quality to me and the Nova is a sturdy example of a well built and affordable TKL solution. A big compromise in chassis continuity comes from the RGB bring, introducing a significant break in the two pieces of aluminum, but it doesn’t seem to have any negative impact on the overall integrity of the keyboard build.
Like the previous Hexgears keyboard we reviewed, the Nova comes with three switch options: Box Brown, Box White, and Hako Clear. Currently, Amazon is only listing Box Browns and Bow Whites, however for this review, I took a look at the Hako Clears because I’ve never used them before. Box Brown switches are just like Cherry Browns, if you’re familiar with mechanical switches, and offer a tactile bump upon actuation. I’ll include the sound sample from the Hexgears Impulse below which used Box Brown switches. Box White switches are like Cherry Blues (or Razer Greens) and offer a very audible ‘click’ upon actuation, to let the entire house and office know exactly how fast you’re typing and to wake the dead if you happen to be close to a graveyard.
I was really curious to take a look at the Hako Clear switches, however, as they claim to be a ‘heavy tactile’ experience and being a big fan of Box Browns I thought this would be right up my alley. Hako Clears are noticeably stiffer, requiring more effort to press the key down than Browns but a peculiar feature I noticed is that they don’t seem to give the tactile bump as much on actuation as they do when being released. To me, it almost feels linear to bottom out, then when letting my finger off the key when I reach the actuation point in the opposite direction I’ll get a little ‘bump’ on my way back up. It’s a rather enjoyable typing experience, to be honest, and the stiffer keys make me less likely to bottom out and overall increase my typing speed.
Macros and RGB
RGB and Macros on the Hexgears Nova are a love-hate relationship for me. On the one hand, I really enjoy the fact that I can manipulate every aspect of the keyboard without software. On the other, I really wish I had the option of using software to make changes because at the end of the day it’s usually easier. That being said, the user interaction for manipulation RGB and macros is well handled.
The Hexgears Nova comes equipped with a bunch of different RGB presets for the keycap backlighting. There are interactive modes, that send out pulses from your key presses or light up the key you just pressed, various wave-like patterns (including the ever popular spectrum wave) and full light modes of solid colors. The user can cycle through the available colors using the FN + PgUp key combination. There’s also a method for customizing the lighting on each individual key, though I find it tedious and involved. You can hit FN + Backspace which will enter the ‘Light Recording Mode’. Once in this mode, you click a key over and over until it’s the color you want, then move on to the next key. In this way, you can create a WASD lighting layout for your favorite FPS or what-have-you. This is one of the instances where the use of software would be heaven sent, in my honest opinion.
Macro recording is similar to recording your own per-key lighting. Kind of. First, you have to enter macro recording mode by hitting FN + F11, which will highlight the Y, U, I, O, and P keys white. These are the available macro keys that you record under. Next, you’ll hit one of these keys, ‘U’ for example, which will then go dark, letting you know you’re ready to record. Now you’ll do all the keystrokes you want, one key at a time, and when you’re done hit FN + F11 once more to end the recording. Now to use your macro you must hit FN + Y to enter the macro mode, then select the ‘U’ key to use the macro you just recorded. I found this entirely impractical for high-intensity gaming but quite useful in coding scenarios or for quick trade channel lines for selling crafting services in ESO or WoW. I would rather have seen a simple FN+U to activate the macro but really without dedicated macro keys, any macro won’t be incredibly useful in the middle of the action.
The Hexgears Nova is a solid (literally) choice for the desk of anyone on the lookout for a sub-$100 RGB keyboard solution. I don’t miss the num-pad, but if you spend a lot of time plugging away numbers in excel you might. The ring lighting is a great addition to a keyboard in this price range and helps drive the value up even more. While there may be other keyboards that are competitive in the price range, you wouldn’t be making a mistake by picking up the Hexgears Nova in this reviewer's opinion.
- Metal chassis instead of ABS plastic like most keyboards
- Ring RGB at a sub-$100 price-point
- Kailh BOX switches
- No option for software
- ABS plastic keycaps
The product discussed in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purposes of review.