Just shy of a year ago, Hexgears made a splash in the wireless keyboard market with their Kickstarter campaign for the X-1 keyboard. After successfully funding and shipping their first offering, they are back again this year with another crowdfunding project. The team at Hexgears did something more companies need to do: they took the feedback the community provided for their initial offering and applied it to a new design, the Venture Wireless Keyboard. Were the changes made enough to warrant a new Kickstarter campaign? Let's explore that question in our Hexgears Venture review.
Key Switches: Kailh Choc Low Profile - choice of white (clicky tactile), brown (tactile), or red (linear)
- Actuation Force: White 52G, Brown 36G, Red 40G
- Travel Distance: 1.5mm
- Switch Life: 70 million key presses
- Keycap material: Sculpted ABS shine-through
- Interface: USB Type C wired mode; Bluetooth
- Simultaneous Key Input: USB N-Key Rollover; BT 6-key rollover
- Batteries: Dual 2000 mAh rechargeable AA included, will work with standard AA or compatible rechargeable units.
- Battery Life: 4 weeks without RGB (2-3 hours per day), 7-16 hours with RGB
- Multi-device Bluetooth Connectivity
- Accessories: Mac bottom row keycaps
- Dimensions and Weight: 17” x 5.5” x 1” - 1.57 lb.
When I first pulled the keyboard out of the box I was impressed with how clean and sleek the Venture looked. Hexgears has been able to keep full-sized keys while reducing the overall dimensions of the board. While many popular gaming boards cover at least 18.5” x 6.5”, the Venture is able to cut that down to a lean 17” x 5.5”. They also deliver on their low profile promise with the board coming in at just 1”, a good half inch lower than most full sized boards. Trimming off all of the fat also means you can expect about half the weight of your standard keyboard, with the Venture tipping the scale at a mere 1.57 lbs. With the focus on mobility and gaming, I could easily have done without the 10-key pad to reduce the overall size and weight even more.
The board we received was configured with Kailh Choc White (clicky, tactile) switches, but they also offer a linear and a quiet tactile option. Hexgears, fortunately, chose to pair the switches with a sculpted low profile key instead of the usual “chicklet” style keys found on other low profile boards. This is a great compromise for gaming, giving you the physical feel of a regular sized key while still reducing the overall height of the board. The Kailh switches also had similar characteristics to the popular Cherry MX switches, and all but the most discerning gamers would struggle to tell the difference between the brands.
Even though the Venture is focused on providing a wireless option, Hexgears has still packed in plenty of RGB options. To facilitate compatibility with a wide range of mobile devices all of the lighting configuration is handled onboard. The Venture board does not deliver full spectrum RGB, instead having 7 base colors to choose from. There is a rainbow preset as well as a few standard light patterns: heartbeat, wave, and color cycle. Users are also able to set and store their own per-key lighting.
One nice addition not seen on other wireless keyboards is the light ring going around the Venture. Due to the placement along the base of the keyboard the light reflects off the surface the keyboard is sitting on, creating a subtle glow around the keyboard. The key backlighting and edge ring have separate controls, allowing you to set the color and intensity of each section individually. If you are going for a more professional look, there is the option to turn off some or all of the lighting effects. Doing so also considerably extends the battery life while in Bluetooth mode.
On the topic of battery life, Hexgears has made some improvements here. Their first Bluetooth board, the X-1, has an expected battery life of 4 hours with RGB on. Even with the addition of the light ring, the Venture lasted right at 6 ½ hours at max brightness. Hexgears is listing a 7-hour lifespan, so they seem to be right on target. Without the RGB they are stating a 1-month life on a single charge (at 2-3 hours per day usage).
The Venture also offers simple macro recording. The Y, U, I, O, and P keys can all be assigned a macro, albeit just a keypress recording without any advanced features such as delays in between presses. This limited functionality could be useful in a work setting where you have a few often used keypress sequences you would like to automate, but not having dedicated macro keys means you must activate and deactivate the macro mode. Doing so requires simultaneously pressing the Function key + Y, making it unwieldy while playing a fast-paced game.
In wired mode, the Venture works well with a PC, and Bluetooth mode will give similar results. The Venture does offer the ability to store 4 unique devices, and switching between them on the fly is as simple as hitting the Fn button and keys 1-4. The switch from one device to another generally takes less than a second and I never saw it take more than 3 seconds to switch over.
This doesn’t sound like a big benefit but in practice it means you can have multiple devices active at the same time, switching between them similar to how you would Alt-Tab between programs on a PC. The Bluetooth switching even works when the keyboard is wired to a PC. This meant I could use a secondary device to monitor and comment in apps such as Twitch or Discord while playing games on my PC without having to switch focus or take my hands off the keyboard.
To keep the size of the keyboard to a minimum while still offering additional control on a mobile device, many of the keys have been assigned secondary functions. With the press of the Fn key, located along the bottom row of the keyboard, the F1-F5 keys control the brightness and volume of your device, while the F6-F8 keys act as the play/pause and forward/back buttons for media content. Along with the ‘Menu’ key, located below the right shift button, this functionality reduces the number of screen presses you will need to make.
These controls worked well, but the overall use of the keyboard on a mobile device was a mixed bag. Navigating through app icons on the home screen is facilitated through the arrow keys. How smoothly this worked was dependent upon the device and OS being used. It generally gives the same result as trying to navigate through icons in Windows using just a keyboard - it works, but it isn’t the intended input device.
Once in an app, functionality was again hit and miss. Productivity apps such as Microsoft Office or Google Docs are where the Venture shines. I often use my mobile device to catch up on emails or writing during lunch breaks, and the Venture made these periods much more productive. Response time between key presses and visual representation on screen was nearly instantaneous across all the devices I used with the Venture. Even when paired with a 6-year-old Samsung Tab 3 there wasn’t any noticeable input lag.
Using the Venture with social networking apps and games require a bit of fumbling around. After a while, you are able to figure out what does and does not work, but this will vary from app to app. For anyone hoping to use the Venture for mobile gaming, I found very few games that would work with a keyboard right out of the box. For anyone adventurous (and tech-savvy) enough, there are apps out there that will add keymapping to most games, but that is well beyond the scope of this reviewer. These issues are not the fault of the keyboard, but more so the lack of uniformity of design and keyboard support in mobile apps.
The Hexgears Venture is all about providing a full-featured wireless keyboard without making too many compromises. It offers the look and feel of a full-sized keyboard in a sleek low profile, smaller footprint. You have the choice between clicky, tactile, and linear switches with per-key backlight and an aesthetically pleasing light ring, all which can be turned off to provide a longer battery life.
Hexgears took the community feedback from the X-1 and applied it to the design of the Venture. The biggest detriment to the Venture isn’t even a fault in its design, but instead is a product of the lack of uniformity in mobile devices and software. Even this can be partially overcome with a little bit of effort to learn which of your favorite mobile apps supports keyboard use. And when used in wired mode you won’t even realize the keyboard was made with mobility in mind.
- Multiple switch options
- Sleek design enhanced by RGB
- 4 device Bluetooth memory
- Improved battery life over their previous model
- Macro implementation feels like an afterthought
- Inconsistent functionality across mobile devices and apps
The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.