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Vortex Cypher: Understated But Quality: A Keyboard for Work and Play

By Christopher Coke on August 02, 2018 | Hardware Reviews | Comments

Vortex Cypher: Understated But Quality: A Keyboard for Work and Play

It’s 2018, the year where RGB has taken over the world - especially if you’re looking for a new keyboard. But what if you’re looking for a high-quality slate without the rainbows and disco lighting? Well, Vortexgear has the answer with their new Vortex Cypher: a 65% keyboard ready for the office and your battlestation. Join us as we take a closer look at this neat and affordable keyboard.

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Specifications

  • MSRP: $94.99
  • Key Switches: Cherry MX (tested: MX Black)
  • Actuation Distance: 2.0mm
  • Travel Distance: 4.0mm
  • Actuation Force: 60cN - varies based on key switch
  • Case Material: ABS Plastic
  • Keycap Material: PBT (approx 1.5mm thick)
  • Laser engraved legends
  • Illumination: Layout indicators only
  • Programmable: Yes, multi-layer
  • Standard or split spacebar option
  • Layouts: QWERTY, COLEMAK, DVORAK
  • Cable: Detachable, USB-C, Rubberized

If you’ve stayed in the world of gaming keyboards to this point, the name Vortexgear may be new to you. The company, based out of Taiwan, has developed quite a reputation in the mechanical keyboard and computer programming communities with slates that are minimalistic yet powerful. Their most popular board, the Pok3r (Poker), is still one of the most highly recommended mechanical keyboards for people expanding outside the gaming and membrane worlds due to its easy and deep hardware based remapping and macro programming. The Cypher is its ironically more affordable big brother.

The Cypher is what’s known as a 65% keyboard, which means it features arrow keys and navigation buttons where most sixty percents do not (like the Pok3r), and is actually remarkably good for gaming. Minimalism is the name of the game, stripping out what most people don’t need and leaving only what they do to create a package that’s far smaller than even a TKL keyboard. Like the 60% layout, it doesn’t feature function keys; however, it adds back in both the arrow keys and the navigation cluster, two elements gamers, writers, and programmers often miss. If 60% keyboards are a bridge too far - and they historically are for me - the 65% fords the river.

If you’re worried about losing functions, fear not. Depsite its small size, the Cypher has all of the functions of a normal keyboard. Everything “chopped” is still available through secondary functions using the Fn key.

Let’s be real here. Even though Vortexgear has used “gaming” in some of their marketing materials, this isn’t what most people would consider a gaming keyboard. Its simple looks speak more to an office setting than the RGB light show we’ve come to expect from gaming peripherals. Yet, for all that, it works great for gaming. It feels great to use, fast and agile, saves desk space to let your mouse hand flow unimpeded and, frankly, feels a lot more grown up than “gaming” keyboards. It’s a keyboard you could travel with, carting it like a tool you’d take to the office and back, slaying lines of code and then hopping into World of Warcraft to battle for Azeroth.

If macros are more your thing, you’re in luck because the Cypher brings back the easy programming of Pok3r. It’s all done on-board, so you’ll never need to install any software and your macros will work on any computer you use. Programming is as simple as using a few key commands to begin (signaled with a green LED under the Caps Lock) and end recording and another if you’d like to adjust the timing to add delays, even down to the tenth of a millisecond. Vortexgear has also increased the character limit to 100, up from 32, for more advanced key sequences. 

Programming can take place across three layers, the stock QWERTY, but then - again with a key command - DVORAK and COLEMAK layers too. If you don’t use those layouts, you essentially have two entire keysets free to program with custom commands. Your current layer is indicated with a colored LED under the spacebar bar that’s dimly visible only from an angle.

But, suffice it to say, if you’re looking for the Merc Stealth, look elsewhere and then hop in a time machine back to 2004. As cool as that board may have been, it came out 14 years ago. Let that sink in. I digress.

Assuming you’re coming from a “normal” keyboard - membrane or “gaming” - you’ll find that the Cypher feels far better to use. It comes in a wide variety of genuine Cherry switches, so you know they’re reliable and made with precision. The real difference, though, comes in build quality.

The case is made from thick ABS plastic that deadens out any noise from the body. Rather than opt for adjustable feet, Vortex has made the case itself taller and more angular, which is really also works to make the Cypher feel very solid. That might be a con, depending on your taste, but I found the angle to be quite comfortable. The underside has four rubberized feet to keep it from sliding around.

The keycaps are also high quality. Vortex prides itself on using PBT caps, so it’s no surprise they’re included here, but it’s great to see (and use) none the less. The keycaps are also much thicker than standard gaming fare, coming in at about 1.5mm thick or 50% more dense than traditional ABS caps. It may seem small if you’ve never used thick PBT, but it subtly changes the typing experience for the better and makes typing quieter to boot. They’ve also textured the top to keep your fingers in place and to further resist shine over time.

Around the back, we also find our detachable USB-C cable. It’s not braided but has the benefit of not dragging on your desk and being easy to manage. The headers are also gold-plated for long term durability.

Final Thoughts

The Vortex Cypher is a nice keyboard at an affordable price. I really like the 65% form factor. Having arrows is great for gaming and the return of the navigation cluster is a godsend for any kind of writing where you edit on the fly. As a fan of RGB, I do hope a version of the Cypher makes its way to market featuring it, but to simplistic design makes it a perfect fit for the home or the office without attracting unwanted attention. At the end of the day, though, it’s about how good the keyboard feels to use and, here, the Cypher delivers. It’s solid construction, excellent keycaps, and Cherry switches make for a sublime typing experience that should please gamers and keyboard enthusiasts alike.

Pros

  • Affordable at less than $100
  • Easily programmable, with delay and multi-layer support
  • Excellent 65% form factor
  • Great build quality - uniformity in keys, good keycaps, solid case

Cons

  • No backlight makes it un-ideal for use in the dark (but good for the office)
  • No adjustable feet

The product discussed in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purposes of review.

Christopher Coke / Chris has been a fan of MMOs since the mid-1990s when he cut his teeth on MUDs. These days he scours the internet for the latest and greatest multiplayer gaming experiences.