Review: Vortex ViBE Mechanical Keyboard (Hardware)
Feel The Vibe
The Vortex ViBE is Vortexgear’s latest; a 78% mechanical keyboard that they have generously sent over to review. This form factor sits somewhere between a full-sized keyboard and a tenkeyless (TKL) one.
So what’s with all the fancy adjectives? For starters, a full-size keyboard is one that features all keys while a TKL keyboard does away with the number pad (tenkey) and from there, they are categorized by percentages depending on which keys they further let go of. The ViBE on the other hand sacrifices its direction and function keys in favor of its numpad. Think of it as a 60% TKL keyboard with a numpad attached to it (quite literally considering the apparent gap between the number pad and the rest of the board). However, this does not mean that the ViBE compromises on its functionality. On the contrary, this cute piece of hardware packs more than meets the eye!
Before delving into details, let’s take a closer look at the packaging and contents:
Out of the cool tube comes the following:
- Vortex ViBE keyboard
- Extra colored keycaps
- Detachable 1.5m USB cable
- Extra feet and screws to add a slant to the keyboard
As for the specs, they are as follows:
- Physical Layout: US QWERTY
- Logical Layout: ANSI
- Switch: Cherry MX
- Keycap Material: PBT
- Keycap Color: Multi
- Keycap Print Method: Dye Sub
- Keycap Print Position: Top
- USB Key Rollover: Full
- Switch Mount Type: Plate
- Built in Audio Port: No
- Built in Mic Port: No
- Interface(s): USB
- Windows Compatible: Yes
- Dimensions: 14.37" x 3.82" x 1.34"
- Weight: 1.77 lbs
- Cord Length: 60 inches
What struck me at first was the cylindrical container that the keyboard came in. It is a sturdy tube made out of thin metal sheet with cushioning foams on the inside to keep the keyboard safe from bumps. I must say that it proves to be quite a unique container and owners will be happy to carry it around in style as it doubles as a protective case for the precious board inside.
Along with the keyboard we find the detachable USB cable, a frail-looking plastic one to be more specific, add-on feet for the keyboard and extra keycaps. Speaking of keycaps, Vortexgear has opted to provide buyers with the high quality SA keycaps out of the box which is a rare move considering that they usually form part of quite pricey aftermarket sets. The keycaps are made of PBT plastic giving them a nice feel to the touch. Moreover, the legends are dye sublimated, which is a process where the dye is allowed to sink into the plastic rather than rest on top, and as such they aren’t going to wear off. Additionally, the key switches are mechanical Cherry MX ones.
To top it all, the whole thing is mounted on a CNC-machined aluminium metal chassis for a sturdy build and sleek finish.
So yeah, quality stuff right there!
The Minimalist Approach
If you take a look at other Vortex keyboards it will be clear that the Vortex team has one philosophy in mind: that of being minimal, optimizing on the area allocated to its keyboards. The ViBE does not deviate from that approach. Looking at it from the top, without any bezel, the whole thing might easily be mistaken for a bunch of keys stacked closely next to each other. Nevertheless, this compact form factor does not impede on the user experience. I have been using the ViBE for both general use and gaming and my experience has been seamless.
Even with its minimalist take, this keyboard does not forsake on functionality and most of what you think is missing is actually there but in stealth mode. No dedicated function keys? Access F1 to F12 by pressing the Fn key and the corresponding first row key. Miss the arrow and command keys (PG UP, PG DN, HOME, END)? Enable them by hitting numlock! The table below might come in handy to find the hidden keys:
Note that the Colemak and Dvorak layouts are also available to swap on the fly should you want to.
Out of the box, the ViBE is on on its default, non-programmable layer with functions as you see on the keycaps. However, his nifty keyboard hides three additional layers which are programmable. The layers are color coded (referring to the LED under the space bar which changes according) and can be accessed as follows:
- Fn + M : Default layer, no LED light
- Fn + ,< : Layer 1, red LED light
- Fn + .> : Layer 2, green LED light
- Fn + /? : Layer 3, blue LED light
To program the desired layer, apply the following steps:
- Access the desired layer (the left LED under the space bar will light up accordinly)
- Initiate programming by pressing Fn + right Ctrl (the right LED light under the space bar will light up to a blue one while the left LED will still show the color of the layer you are on)
- Press the key you want to program (the right LED will now be flashing in red)
- Press the key(s) you wish to assign to the above key
- Press Fn to finish programming (the right LED will turn back to blue)
- Repeat for any other keys you wish to program
- Exit the programming mode by pressing Fn + right Ctrl again (the right space bar LED will now switch off)
Sure it will take some muscle memory to get the hang of it all but for such a slim keyboard to pack all of those features, it is pretty impressive.
However, one complaint that I have is that Vortexgear did not include any instruction manual of any kind that will help buyers unleash the ViBE’s full potential. I had to do some digging online to figure out the hidden functions. It is quite a shame considering the price you are paying for this piece of hardware. Indeed, the Vortex ViBE does not come cheap at $139-$149 (the price varies depending on the type of switch) but for its design and functionality, the price is quite justifiable.
If I have to compare the ViBE with the other keyboard that I reviewed, HyperX’s Alloy FPS, I would recommend shedding the extra dough to get the ViBE as even if it is not dedicated for gaming, it is suited to do so and more with its customizability.
+ Minimalist concept without lacking in functionality
+ Programmable layers
+ Dye sublimated SA profile keycaps made of durable PBT plastic
+ Cherry MX Switch
+ Extra colored caps
+ Strong build
+ Cool cylinder container
- No instruction manual for programmable layers and funtions
- Cheap USB cable
- No RGB backlight
- No keycap-changing tool
out of 10
The Vortex ViBE is a great example of a symbiosis between simplicity and functionality. If this aligns with your philosophy, it is hard to find a more fitting keyboard out there.