Vortexgear has been a major played in the mechanical keyboard world for years. Their most well-known model, the Pok3r catapulted them the main stage and each release since has garnered them further acclaim from keyboard fans. Continuing our exploration of high-end enthusiast keyboards, today we’re looking at the company’s latest specialized entry, the ViBE. It has footprint smaller than some TKLs with none of the sacrifices, but is it worth $149?
- MSRP: $149
- Key Switches: Cherry MX (Blue, Red, Brown, Silent Red [tested], Silver, Clear, Black)
- Key Lifespan: 50M actuations
- Layout: 78-key (full functions)
- Programmable: Yes (layout, remapping, macros)
- Keycaps: PBT w/ dye sublimated legends
- Illumination: Indicators
- Case: Aluminum
- Cable: Detachable, micro-USB, 60 inches
- Weight: 1.77 lbs
The ViBE surprised me right off the bat. Unlike every other keyboard we’ve had in, this one arrived in a tube (seen on its side above). Why? I’m really not sure, but it’s quirky, a lot like the keyboard itself. As the picture shows, when seen straight on, the frame is pretty much invisible. You have bezel-less slate of keys in one of the strangest (and in my opinion best) layouts I’ve laid eyes on.
By cutting out the arrow and navigation keys and lopping the function row off the top, Vortex has cut the key count down to 78, making it one of the smallest keyboards I’ve used to still feature a full number pad. But don’t worry, all of the functions of a full-sized keyboard are preserved through secondary functions. By pressing the Fn key, you can enter into one of three programmable layers, which maps F1-F12 onto the number row. This is standard practice with 60% keyboards - which is essentially just what the ViBE is only with a numpad attached.
To get that numpad, it would seem that you’re sacrificing your navigation keys. As a writer, that’s a no-go. Heck, even just browsing the web, I use Home and End, Page Up and Page Down far too much to go without. That’s where the genius of the ViBE’s design comes in. When Num Lock is enabled, those keys match their legends. When it’s off, the keyboard enters Tenkeyless Mode and they become navigation keys. Here’s the layout:
The ViBE allows you to have the best of both worlds. For gaming, it’s almost always worth throwing the keyboard into TKL mode. If I need to switch out for work - or, heck, just to enter a phone number in a web form - swapping out to the numpad is just a keypress away. It really is fantastic.
The only downside is that, bafflingly, the numpad doesn’t include any secondary legends to tell you which key is which. These keys can all be remapped, so maybe that’s it, but when since the number row features second and third legends, it seems like a weird oversight to not include any indicators for such a core feature. Thankfully, they’re mapped almost exactly like the standard navigation area, excepting the top row which has to accommodate the extra “Num” key.
The ViBE is also just a nice keyboard to type on. The keycaps are a thick-walled PBT and fit extremely snugly on their stems (seriously, be careful taking them off), so they’re quite stable and have minimal key noise. You may also notice that the keys are shaped a bit differently from a normal keyboard; they’re taller, which I was surprised to find more comfortable than a normal key profile (they’re SA profile, row 3, if you’re curious). Since the ViBE’s frame is CNC-milled aluminum, you get the benefits of quieter typing in general, but Vortex went so far as to put little touches of grease on the stabilizer bars (lube your stabs, people), to kill any rattle.
We also tested a model with Cherry’s new Silent Red switches. These are identical to normal Cherry MX Reds, but features internal dampening to reduce clicks and clacks. They feel almost cushioned without feeling mushy, but maintain the same 45g actuation force and smooth linear travel. Most importantly, they’re true to their name. The ViBE equipped with Silent Reds is by far the quietest keyboard I’ve ever used. Here’s a sound sample, comparing it to my Corsair K95 Platinum with Cherry MX Speed switches.
The ViBE also supports up to three additional programmable layers of keys without any need for software. The only keys that can’t be remapped are those used to start and end programming and even then you can swap Fn and Caps Lock. For gaming and programming, every key can support up to 32 key strokes and allows you to input delays if you need a pause between inputs. The process is made easy due to under-space bar indicator lights that let you know when you’re recording and when your inputs have been accepted.
The ViBE has quickly become one of my most favorite keyboards, but it’s not perfect. For one, the cable uses a micro-USB header, which are well known to break over time. Companies like Vortex typically reinforce these connections so that doesn’t happen, but it concerns me nonetheless. The screw-on feet, too, like other models that feature them, are also a bit too shallow. Angle is less of an issue, though, because of the higher profile keycaps.
I’ve shown my “keyboard in a tube” to a handful of friends for the novelty of it. When they see the keyboard itself, their reaction is the same every time: puzzlement at this funky new layout. Funky it may be, but the freedom it provides is ingenious. I do wish they’d included sub-legends to save some of the learning curve, but having the functions of a full keyboard with a footprint only slightly larger than a TKL is phenomenal. It’s programmable and responsive, making it perfect for games, and quiet enough that you could use it in a library without bothering the readers. The color scheme may not be for everybody, but the capability certainly is. The price, quality, and freedom from software make it one of the easiest recommendations I’ve made all year.
- Small footprint without the sacrifices of a TKL
- Simple programming across multiple layers
- Easily the quietest mechanical keyboard I’ve used
- Swappable numpad functions are genius
- Micro-USB’s headers are prone to breakage
- No secondary legends on the numpad raise the learning curve
The product discussed in this article was provided by the manufacturer for purposes of review.