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Vortex Tab 90 Mechanical Keyboard Review

By Christopher Coke on December 19, 2018 | Hardware Reviews | Comments

Vortex Tab 90 Mechanical Keyboard Review

In the keyboard world, few companies command as much cachet as Vortexgear. Since the release of their flagship Pok3r keyboard, they’ve made a habit of challenging convention. Today, we’re looking at their latest release with the Tab 90 mechanical keyboard. It’s a full-size board in a compact package, complete with onboard macro programming, double-shot dye sub keycaps, and bluetooth. Live dangerously, my friends; it’s time to step outside the world of “gaming” keyboards.

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Specifications

  • MSRP: $139-143 (depending on switch)
  • Compact design for laptop users
  • Cherry MX switches inside
  • Arbitrary programming key-code and LED colors (Backlit only)
  • Build in 3 layers for programming
  • PBT DSA profile keycaps with Dye-Sublimated technology
  • Detachable USB-C cable
  • Bluetooth 3.0
  • Support hardware programming in Bluetooth mode

The Tab 90 may just be my favorite keyboard that Vortex has released. The form factor looks strange at first but its conciseness is exactly its appeal. There is no wasted space on this board and, as a result, we get a full-size keyboard that’s only a touch over an inch longer than a standard TKL.

This layout is great for gaming as it gives you more space for you mouse hand. With the Tab 90, you’re not stuck choosing between the space you enjoy for gaming and losing the numpad. The layout also keeps the function row intact, which is important for those games that bind things to your F-buttons by default. I enjoy tiny 60% keyboards, but hopping into a game of PUBG and have to hold a button combo for my function buttons just doesn’t work. It’s also great for writing and programming because you get the “custom” experience without the other usual key sacrifices, like dropped arrow and navigation keys.

The secret to the Tab is that the navigation and editing cluster has been split in two. Your navigation and editing keys are a vertical row that bridges the gap between your typing keys and number pad. Your Print Screen, Scroll Lock, and Pause buttons are all directly on top of the number pad. Vortex has also shifted these keys so there are no gaps between any of these keysets, giving you a huge, unbroken slate of keycaps.


The Tab 90 supports aftermarket keycaps; pictured above is a third-party “Carbon” keycap set

This layout does demand a couple of sacrifices in terms of key compatibility. The modifiers to the right of the space bar are all 1u, which is non-standard. The right shift key is also shortened, necessary to keep that row from winding up longer than the others. It’s still fairly easy to find a set of custom caps, though. I found the set of dye sublimated caps in Carbon from OneKey (above) on my first search of Amazon. Still, because of the unique layout, the position of the keys may not match up to the cap size on a normal keyboard. For example, here the Home key is sized for the row above, its usual position, so stands a touch taller. Not a big deal and it still looks great.

You may not want to replace them, though, because the stock keycaps are actually very good. The Tab 90 ships with DSA keycaps, which are essentially a medium height SA cap. All of that probably sounds like greek, but the thing to know is this: SA caps are styled after those found on very old keyboards, giving them a tall and retro aesthetic. DSAs keep the shape but drop the height to modern standards. They’re PBT, so they’ll never shine, and double-shot (made of two pieces of plastic) so the legends will never fade. Caps like these can be expensive in their own right, so it’s pretty cool to see Vortex deliver them here.

When it comes to build quality, the Tab 90 is top notch. It ships in a plastic case but has a nice heft to it thanks to the mounting plate. There’s no reverberation at all and feels nice and solid to type on. Around the back, the detachable cable and uses a Type-C connection and has a thicker rubber finish that won’t drag on your desk. The keyboard has a high natural angle, so there’s no included tilt feet which some people might find disappointing but I didn’t miss. Five rubber pads keep it from sliding as you type.


Bottom right: DSA keycap (left) pictured alongside a standard Cherry profile keycap

The keyboard also ships with genuine Cherry switches. Gone are the days when brands like Kailh meant spotty quality but it’s always reassuring to see Cherry on a spec sheet. I opted for browns on my model because I like that slight tactile feedback. At the time of this writing, it’s unclear the full variety of switch types that will be available, but it’s safe to say that your standard red and blue, along with brown found here, will be present and likely several others.

The other defining feature the Tab 90 brings to the table it bluetooth connectivity. The keyboard runs on a pair of AAA batteries and is easy to pair with a quick key combination and locating the keyboard on your PC or smart phone. Vortex opted for Bluetooth 3.0 which is surprising since it’s already outdated and doesn’t have the power saving benefits of Bluetooth 4.0. Why? Still, for typing or slower paced gaming, it works fine with no noticeable lag. The concern about batteries has really limited my wireless use, though.

The Tab 90 isn’t what I would call a “gaming keyboard,” but, like any good keyboard, can still work perfectly well for games. Gaming vendors have done a good job of marketing certain features, like NKRO or anti-ghosting, as specific to gaming boards when that’s just not the case. The Tab 90 suffers no ghosting, and in a key mash AquaKey test I was able to get 11 keys to register at once without any problem. I’ve used the keyboard in RPGs, shooters, and online games and it’s performed great in all of them.


Stabilizers come pre-lubed to prevent key rattle

On top of this, the Tab 90 has brings along the easy and excellent macro programming of the Poker series. Pressing CTRL+Pn puts you into programming mode where you can remap keys or save entire strings of text, no software required. If there’s a rotation you pull in a game, record it once and the Tab 90 will fire it off instantaneously with a single key press. You can even add 0.1, 0.5, or 15ms delays if your game or program won’t work with such rapid input. The uses go out from there, too.

Any repetitive task can be sped up. As a school teacher, I have to do quarterly report cards that are all based on a web form. Each of my 20+ students have nearly 60 sections that need to be scored, all through drop down menus. With the Tab 90, I can fill in everyone at a baseline in less than 3 seconds with one press for each of those sections, saving me a lot of time. That’s just one example. You can record sequences to launch programs, create your own shortcuts and hotkeys, or get your from point A to point B on the internet in as much time as it takes you to do it manually once. Because there’s no software, this is all stored onboard, so you can take those commands anywhere. It’s impressive.

Final Thoughts

I’ve used dozens upon dozens of mechanical keyboards and the Tab 90 ranks among my favorites. The form factor makes it great for gaming and easy to throw in a bag when I’m on the go. Programming macros and remapping keys is as easy as ever and since it’s hardware based, there’s never a need to install any software to make it all work. These are major wins for any gamer or, really, anyone who wants a keyboard they can make their own. If you are a gamer, the ability to fire off a quick string and map it to a key without leaving the game is an excellent feature. Add to that thick PBT caps, a solid build, the ability to connect to four separate bluetooth devices (something _very_ few other keyboards are capable of), and aftermarket keycap support and you have a recipe for a real winner of a keyboard.

Pros

  • Excellent new layout
  • High quality doubleshot PBT caps in DSA profile
  • Bluetooth and Wired support
  • Easy and extensive programming options
  • QWERTY, COLEMAK, and DVORAK support
  • Very well built

Cons

  • Bluetooth 3.0
  • Aftermarket keycap support will be more limited due to the layout

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

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.

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