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Best mechanical keyboards of 2016

Corsair, Das Keyboard, Razer, Logitech and more

For some they evoke warm memories, like the sound of a summer's rain tip, tip, tapping on a tin roof. For others they produce torturous noise akin to cockroaches skittering their way through an ear canal. But as with black licorice, few people are moderate in their opinions of mechanical keyboards: They either love them or hate them.


I remain an ardent fan of these loud, bordering on obnoxious, keyboards. Likely, that's because I like the fact that mechanical keyboards can withstand the finger pummeling I deliver to them day in and day out. A non mechanical typically lasts me half a year before keys just stop responding, but mechanical boards last me more than a year, minimum.

Table of Contents

Last year, I walked readers through my own history with keyboards and rediscover of the mechanical. Suffice it to say: I was lost, but now I'm found. And so each year I now try to make a habit of seeking out the new models to see what's been done to improve upon, or maintain, the status quo of mechanical keyboards.

This year saw a number of iterative improvements from usual suspects, but also some truly different, baffling, dazzling entries from completely new companies.

Razer created a new sort of hybrid switch designed to fake out your finger tops. A start-up designed an iPad mechanical keyboard that looks like something Edgar Allan Poe might have typed on. Kingston made the leap from memory to keyboards with a pretty solid first attempt. There's even a special mechanical designed for FPS play on the PS4.

There's much more here as well. Above you'll find our handy table of contents, in case you'd like to skip around. Otherwise, sit back, read down and let us know what we got right, wrong or completely forgot to mention.

Just remember to go mechanical!

Switches 101

A mechanical keyboard is a keyboard that uses a mechanical switch under every key. There are four major types of mechanical switches. Perhaps the most well-known is the Cherry MX switch made by ZF Electronics (formerly known as Cherry), though both Logitech and Razer have their own switches based on the design of the Cherry. The other mechanical switches are the buckling spring switch found in the early IBM Model M keyboards, the ALPS and the hybrid Topre switches.

The Cherry MX switches, which have been around since the mid-'80s, consist of a key stem resting on a spring that is housed inside a small square of plastic, which also contains a pair of metal contacts. When a key is pressed, the stem pushes down on the spring, which in turn allows the two contacts to touch, closing the switch and signaling to the computer that a key has been depressed.

Cherry MX switches currently come in at least seven types, each signified by the color of the stem. Each type varies in the amount of pressure needed to trigger a key press, how clicky the switches are, and whether you can feel when the switch has been closed without having to press the key all the way down (known as "bottoming out").

The most common Cherry switches are the black, blue, red and brown.

Cherry holds a prestigious place in the hearts of many mechanical keyboard aficionados, but that hasn't stopped other companies from trying to replicate the company's success.

Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan talked to Polygon last year about his desire to create Razer's own take on the Cherry switch.

He said he believes that Razer is one of the largest supporters of the mechanical keyboard today. That level of support, he said, led to Razer's decision to re-examine the beloved Cherry switch.

Eventually, the company decided to team up with a Chinese manufacturer to release a new Razer switch with just a few tweaks.

"But those tweaks are immense," he said at the time. "We moved the actuation point by 0.3 millimeters, such that, for the pro gamers, it will be much, much faster.

"These are the kinds of things we do from time to time that we are really proud of. We just like to tinker and iterate on things."

Logitech, too, decided it was time to reinvent the Cherry switch, but the company's reasoning was much more specific.

"Everyone loves mechanicals," Doug Sharp, Logitech's product manager for keyboards, said. "But they haven't changed in 20 years and we wanted to develop something new.

"Our theme at Logitech is winning through science."

So the company reexamined the switch and found a way to deliver what it believes is the same feel with the added benefit of piped-in lighting.

While mechanical keyboards often include an array of lighting options, they typically light the keys from under the keycap. That means the light shines up and around the key, lighting both the letter and the space around the square of the keycap.

Logitech's switch is a pipeline in the middle that allows light to shoot up straight through the switch and into the keycap, lighting only the letter and nothing else.

The switch, like Razer's, also has a shorter actuation distance, meaning you can type faster and react more quickly, if your fingers are up to the challenge.

Logitech also released a software development kit for its new keyboard, the Orion Spark. This means that anyone can program effects and new uses for the board's lighting. That could include things like a board that turns red in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive when you have run out of ammo, or are about to.

Corsair K70 RGB Rapidfire

Corsair K70 RGB Rapidfire | Corsair
Price $170
Keyswitches Cherry MX Speed RGB
Keycaps Standard with extra textured and contoured sets for FPS and MOBA titles
Keyboard size Standard
Lighting Dynamic multicolor per-key backlighting
Cable braided fiber
Extras USB pass-through, six dedicated multimedia keys and volume roller

Last year’s Corsair K70 RGB was popular among the mechanical keyboards I tested, and no wonder. After I checked out the Corsair K70 RGB board it quickly became my new favorite mechanical among the bunch. For those unfamiliar with the K70, it features a black anodized brushed aluminum body; a soft, sleek detachable wrist rest; and clean design lines.

So I was highly anticipating seeing what Corsair pulled off with its new take on the K70.

The Corsair K70 RGB Rapidfire is a board with all of the same bells and whistles, but now featuring Cherry’s MX Speed switches.

As with the K70, the Rapidfire still pulls off a feature-packed mechanical keyboard that fits in nicely on a work desk. That means no oversized wrist rest, no gaudy emblems or crazy board design. The jet-black board features physical buttons for light dimming, a Windows button lock and even a mute button and physical scrolling bar to control volume. There are also stop, play/pause, and skip forward and backward buttons for media. Everything else on the board looks like a standard layout.

Corsair keyboard on tour (left), Corsair's textured keycaps (right) | Corsair

The big change, and bigger selling point for me, is that this new K70 features Cherry MX Speed RGB keyswitches. The keys still have that satisfactory Cherry switch feel, but with a surprisingly short actuation distance. A standard Cherry MX Red switch has an average actuation of about 2 mm. In other words, your finger has to press the key down about 2mm before it registers the input. These new MX Speed switches actuate at 1.2 mm. It takes a bit of training to make use of that lessened drop to actuate, but once you do, you can type and move lightning-fast.

Of course, the switches also still support the multicolor LED per-key backlighting. The result is a board that feels fantastic, responds quickly and offers that delicious Cherry feel and lighting, which can do things like turn your board into the Bat signal or a scene from Pac-Man.

The board leans heavily on the recently updated Corsair Utility Engine to help those who are into lighting effects design some impressive light shows. The software, which is relatively easy to use, allows you to change the color and brightness of any key on the board. You can also cycle through colors, controlling speed and palettes, and customize the direction, duration and velocity of waves and ripples. Finally, the program allows you to create reactive typing. Toss in the ability to layer these effects and tie them to programs, and you can essentially do any sort of lighting with CUE. Of course, Corsair boards aren't the only ones that can do this. Logitech's Orion Spark has a neat effect that turns your keyboard into the flashing red and blue of police lights when you're being chased in Grand Theft Auto, but CUE seems a bit easier to use and there are a lot of people making neat profiles for it.

K70 RGB Rapidfire | Corsair

The K70 keycaps aren't anything special. They do the job, but if you're really into lighting effects they also seem like the first thing you're going to want to replace. (White seems like the right choice here.) The Rapidfire does include textured and contoured keycaps for FPS and MOBA play, as well as a textured spacebar. The texturing and contouring is likely to turn off as many people as it attracts, so you may want to test it out before you pick one up — especially the space bar, which doesn’t include a standard version.

The Cherry switches behave exactly as you would expect, too ‐ that is, they're wonderful. Cherry's relatively new LED switches provide better built-in lighting, but Logitech's Orion still beats everyone with its design that delivers the light directly through the keycap. The standard just places the LED at the top of the switch. That means the per-key lighting still glows out from under a keycap. Not a biggie, unless you're a lighting perfectionist.

I've been using Logitech's wonderful Orion Spectrum without issue for about half a year, but I'm likely to switch over to the Rapidfire because it offers those faster switches and much more post-launch software support.

Corsair K95 RGB Platinum

corsair_k95 Corsair
Price $200
Keyswitches Cherry MX Speed RGB or Cherry MX Brown RGB
Keycaps Standard with extra textured and contoured sets for FPS and MOBA titles
Keyboard size Standard 104-key, aluminum frame
Lighting Dynamic multicolor per-key backlighting
Cable Braided fiber
Extras USB pass-through, two diagonal under-keyboard cable guides, six programmable macro keys, five dedicated multimedia keys including metal volume roller, three user modes with on-board storage, Windows lockout key and four-stop dimmer, extra lighting along the top and a two-sided detachable rubber wrist rest. Available in silver or gunmetal.

The K95 RGB Platinum is touted as the new flagship of the Corsair keyboard line. But you could just as easily call it the upgrade for the aging K70 platform.

It adds a bunch of incremental upgrades without reinventing the wheel, and includes some subtle quality of life improvements that overall warrant the $200 price tag — but not by much.

What sets the K95 apart from the K70 is its onboard memory, used for storing up to three detailed lighting and macro configurations at a time. I was able to create a few quick profiles and save them to the keyboard on my PC, and then use them on my Mac later in the day. The only roadblock was the at times quirky Corsair Utility Engine software, which is needed to create the profiles but not to use them. CUE required two updates itself, four reboots of my PC and a few rounds of firmware updates to the keyboard before I could get it running at all. Not the most trouble-free install by any stretch of the imagination.

Probably my favorite addition to the board are the pair of cable channels carved diagonally into the underside. They criss-cross one another, and easily allow you to lock in up to two braided USB cables. What that means for me is that I can finally attach my mouse cable and my Track IR cable directly to my gaming keyboard and move them around my physical desktop as a single unit.

Charlie Hall/Polygon

The Corsair K95 Platinum’s underside features unique cable channels perfect for your mouse and other peripherals. Note that the USB passthrough jack has been relocated to the left side of the board. On Corsair’s K70 and other models it was traditionally on the right.

The channels aren’t large enough to allow for the Oculus Rift tether, but that’s probably just as well. I’m not sure I’d want to be attached to my keyboard in VR anyway.

The programmable macro keys along the left side took some getting used to. If you use the Escape key a lot, you’ll regularly hit G1 instead until you train yourself our of the habit. I went the next step, simply programming G1 to act as Escape. But having a few extra macros, especially for keyboard intensive games like Arma 3 and modern MOBAs is handy. They also use the same Cherry keyswitches as the rest of the board.

One thing is missing from the K95 when compared to the K70, and that’s the two bottom riser feet. If you’re a fan of tilting your keyboard down and away from you, then this is not the mechanical keyboard for you. — Charlie Hall

Das Keyboard X40

Das Keyboard X40 Pro Gaming Mechanical Keyboard | Das Keyboard
Price $129
Keyswitches Alpha-Zulu Tactile
Keycaps Standard
Keyboard size Standard
Lighting Red LED
Cable braided fiber
Extras USB and audio pass-through ports, five macro keys and an interchangeable top panel

Das Keyboard has long been a favorite among some mechanical keyboard aficionados. Historically, its boards have been no-frills, solidly built keyboards that would fit in nicely on a work desk. That both drew in an audience, and to some degree, pushed some away. The Professional 4, for instance, doesn’t have macro buttons, backlighting or a Windows button lock key.

But that all changes with Das Keyboard's decision to drop directly into the gaming market with its new pro gaming line. The first mechanical in the company’s gaming line is the X40, a board with backlighting, macro buttons, replaceable faceplates and, yes, even a way to lock out that pesky Windows button.

Das Keyboard’s first real foray into gaming mechanical keyboards borrows heavily from the foundation of all of its boards. The top panels, while swappable, are still anodized aluminum, giving them a smooth, fingerprint-resistant finish and a very sturdy design. The X40 also keeps the underbelly designed to minimize resonance as well as the laser-etched keycaps. Gone, though, is the Pro 4’s magnetic footbar that raises the board by 4 degrees. Instead, the X40 uses the more traditional flip-down feet.

The X40 also adds a USB 2.0 pass-through port located on the back right of the board. Right next to the USB port are microphone and headphone jacks. All those ports means that the 6.5-foot braided cable it comes with is quite thick and ends in two USB plugs, plus the microphone and headphone plugs.

Defamer mustard top panel (top), Stryker olive top panel (left), Stryker red top panel (right) | Das Keyboard

The keycap layout is the standard 104 keys augmented with five macro keys located on the right side of the board. There’s also the ability to control your media and volume with function keys, which means the X40 doesn’t have the array of standalone controls found on the Professional 4, nor does it have the kinda cool oversized volume dial. Where the Pro 4 came with either blue or brown Cherry MX switches, the X40 uses Das Keyboard-designed switches. You can get either linear or tactile switches. Both types require the same actuation force (45 grams-force) and travel the same before actuation (1.7 mm). The only difference is that, true to its name, the tactile switches deliver 55 grams-force of force when you’re typing.

We were sent the tactile board to test out, and while I could get used to the feel of this switch, the missing click you find in Cherry and other switches was a little disappointing. The only sound you’ll hear while typing is the sound of your keys bottoming out on the board (if you type like my co-worker Colin does) and the noise of the return. It’s a sort of dull clacking that purists might not like.

While the new in-house switches are the most noticeable change to come with the X40, the colorful, switchable top panels are a close second. The board we received came with the silver Defamer top panel, but we were also sent the limited edition Fox panel. The Defamer top has a gray-and-gray tech camo look to it, with the top and sides jutting out a bit over the base and the bottom wrapping around the board to form a smooth curve for your palms to hover over. The Fox, on the other hand, is a slightly wider, slightly taller panel with no curved edge on the bottom. The orange, red and black shapes of the board create a fox-like icon across the top center and something that looks a bit like a tail on the top right.

What’s neat about this idea is that you can pretty dramatically change the look of your keyboard without having to buy a new one. It’s a good idea for a board that tends to last a lot longer than your current aesthetic tastes might. Replacing a panel takes about two minutes, and involves removing eight screws with the included tool, switching out the boards and then screwing it back in. The replaceable top panel is a great idea that just needs more options to make it take off. Currently, you can only choose between five.

Das Keyboard X40 | Das Keyboard

Another big addition to the X40 is the inclusion of lighting. It’s a bit disappointing that the board doesn’t include RGB lights, but one step at a time, I suppose. The board has five brightness levels as well as an off setting, but no sort of patterns for blinking or pulsing.

I like where Das Keyboard is heading with its interest in in-house microswitch design and the decision to push more directly into gaming, but the X40 still feels like the company is playing things too safe. The panel is the one distinguishing feature of the board that could win someone over, beyond Das Keyboard’s excellent name, of course.

I’d love for Das Keyboard to release more gaming boards with RGB lighting, a broader array of top panels, and the ability to choose between their thuddy microswitches and the classic Cherry switches. If you’re a die-hard fan of Das Keyboard, you might want to check this one out, but I’d definitely recommend going hands-on before you purchase one.

Fnatic Gear Rush

Fnatic Gear Rush | Fnatic
Price €80
Keyswitches Cherry MX Brown
Keycaps Standard
Keyboard size Standard 104-key
Lighting Red LED with four levels of intensity
Cable Standard
Extras Two USB ports

Last year, record-setting esports team Fnatic quietly bought up established PC peripheral maker Func and launched an Indiegogo campaign to roll out its own line of branded keyboards, mice and mats.

The team said in the campaign that it wasn't simply rebranding Func's existing products, though the keyboard is a modified version of what Func sold. The goal, Fnatic said in its campaign, is to create great esports hardware.

What that means for Fnatic is simplicity, comfort and reliability: "It's exactly what you need to perform and nothing else," the team said in the Indiegogo pitch.

Fnatic Gear Rush | Fnatic

Earlier this month, Fnatic sent me a Cherry MX Brown version of its Fnatic Gear Rush board. I've spent some time playing and writing with it to get a sense of what it has to offer and how it compares to the many other mechanicals out on the market.

Despite the fact that (or maybe because) it is tied so tightly to an esports team, the Gear Rush is a fairly nondescript board by all outward appearances. The board has a smooth black plastic finish with no extra buttons, and the only bit of branding is the Fnatic symbol and the word "Gear" in gray above the number pad.

The board doesn't have the same heft or stiff feel as the singularly focused WASD board. And its components feel a bit cheaper. That said, the board held up well to the hammering of my typing. I was surprised to find that the detachable wrist pad showed signs of palm wear after only a day's use.

Fnatic Gear Rush | Fnatic

As with the WASD, the Rush doesn't have any extra keys. Instead, it uses the function key to assign five macros and multimedia buttons to existing keys. You can also adjust the brightness of the red LED lights with buttons, turn them off completely or turn on a shifting effect.

Like the hardware, the software for the board is pretty stripped down, allowing you to create macros and set up five profiles.

This is a no-frills board, missing the substantive design and components of keyboards like the Das Keyboard or the WASD Code, but also not really offering much in the way of interesting add-ons, like RGB lighting or an interesting design.

Don't get me wrong. It's not bad. It seems like a solid entry-level gaming board, but not something that really has much to differentiate it from the sea of competition. I also struggled to find how Fnatic's Gear Rush was any different from Func's KB-460, despite the fact that the Indiegogo campaign says it's a modified version. From what I can tell, the only change between the KB-460 and the Rush is the branding found in the top right corner and on one keycap.

Hori Tactical Assault Commander Pro

Hori's Tac Pro | Hori
Price $150
Keyswitches Hori mechanical
Keycaps shaped
Keyboard size 20 keys
Lighting Red LED
Cable rubber
Extras adjustable wrist pad, thumbstick, extra buttons and included mouse

Hori makes the most incredible fighting sticks, in my book, but some of there other creations aren’t always up to par. Typically, with Hori, it’s not that they quality isn’t high enough, it’s that it’s a … well, strange idea.

Case in point: Hori’s Tactical Assault Commander Pro.

The Tac Pro is a quality bit of technology, the sort of gear that obviously had a lot of thought put into ever little nuance of detail. Except maybe one: Is anyone really looking for a mechanical keypad and mouse for the PlayStation 4?

I suppose enough people are that Hori decided to create this thing, but I’m not convinced there is a thriving market these days for folks who want to play a shooter on a console with a keypad and mouse. Who knows maybe I’m completely wrong.

Tac Pro's WASD and Analog controls | Hori

The good news is that for those of you who have been looking for something like this, Hori knocks it out of the park.

The device comes in two pieces: The mouse and the keypad.

The full-sized 3200 dpi mouse weighs just 120 grams and comes with three meter rubber cord and buttons to instantly and temporarily increase or decrease mouse sensitivity. It’s a pretty plain creation, but the good news is that the gamepad can use any USB mouse.

And besides, what you’re really paying for here is that high-tech looking gamepad.

The gamepad is shaped sort of like a flattened boxing glove. At the fingertip end you have a PlayStation button and what appears to be a touch pad, though it only works as a giant button. Under that and to the right you have an angled viewing window with an LED backlit display panel. On the far left of the gamepad are four oversized rectangular buttons, each slightly curved inward. Directly under the touch pad are 16 more buttons arranged in four columns of four. Each of these buttons are also slightly curved to better fit the natural positioning of your hand and fingers. The buttons all give way to a large hump at the back of the gamepad that forms an adjustable palm rest.

The idea is that you rest the palm of your hand on that hump, with your rest lying on the pad beneath it and your finger tips dancing across those many buttons, as you play. The natural position of your hand also lines up your thumb with an analog stick and small button.

Finally, there’s a button on the side of the whole thing about even with your wrist which can be pressed to shorten or lengthen the wrist pad so the device better suits your hand size.

It is a surprisingly comfortable set-up.

The buttons all feature Hori-designed mechanical switches, which feel a bit like the Cherry’s MX black linear switches. That is, they are very quiet and offer no sort of tactile or audible click.

Hori's mechanical switches | Hori

While the angling of the keycaps themselves makes for a more comfortable resting position, I did find that my fingers tended to stray while I was in the thick of things, likely because the shapes of the caps weren’t regular.

You can set up the keypad in a variety of ways and can even set it up to work on a PS3 or computer.

The software allows you to assign functions to all of the buttons.

Switches on the device itself allow you to hot swap between three pre-loaded profiles do some button assigning on the fly and switch between basic modes like "PS4", "PS3" and PC.

By default, the PS4 setting uses the keypad center buttons as WASD movement controls and the mouse to look around. The thumbstick is used as a replacement for the directional pad.

This is where things start to get a little confusing. The rest of the PS4 controllers buttons are sprinkled all over the board.

The top left corner button is the L2, next to that is the R2. Makes sense. Next to that is the R1. What? Below that is the L1! The R3 is left stranded in the second to bottom on the far right and the L3 is all the way over on the far left in an oversized button. You can reprogram all of these, of course. But it speaks to a bigger issue with this concept. When you take all of the buttons and trigger and controls out of a gamepad and then apply them to a completely different form factor, things can get confusing quickly.

I found myself spending a lot of time trying to remember where the square button and triangle button were, or what to tap for the R2. So much so that I died a lot.

I’m sure with time and lots of play, all of this would become second nature, but I’m just not that committed to playing console games on a console with essentially PC controls.

Hori’s take on this concept is beautifully produced, but it also feels an awful lot like a solution in search of a problem.

HyperX Alloy FPS

HyperX
HyperX Alloy FPS | HyperX
Price $100
Keyswitches Cherry MX Blue
Keycaps Standard
Keyboard size Frameless
Lighting Red LED
Cable Detachable, braided
Extras Red textured keycaps for WASD and 1234, USB pass-through, carrying bag and keycap puller

Kingston has been slowly moving into the gaming peripheral space through its HyperX brand, first with headphones and now with a mechanical keyboard. The HyperX Alloy FPS is a borderless, steel-framed mechanical with a nice batch of extras, red backlighting and Cherry MX Blue switches.

This is a solid first effort for HyperX.

The Alloy FPS is a minimalist keyboard with a frameless design that includes a number pad, arrow keys and such. There aren’t any macro buttons, nor are there any dedicated multimedia controls, but you can use function keys to control your media and volume. There are also function keys for controlling the brightness of the red LED lighting of the keyboard, as well as allowing you to switch between the board’s six lighting modes.

Alloy FPS board with included bag, cord and keycaps (left), Alloy FPS USB port (right) | HyperX

This frameless is one of the thinnest I’ve seen so far, but it still feels pretty sturdy thanks to its steel frame. Kingston also managed to sneak a pass-through USB port onto the back right edge of the board, which is a bit surprising given just how svelte this thing is. The USB cable is wrapped in a stiff black and red braid and includes two USB plugs at the end to support that pass-through on the board. It’s also removable, using a standard mini-USB, which is a nice touch.

Obviously, the board is designed to go with you, and given the included bag and seemingly tough design, I could see myself doing that. I am a bit surprised that Kingston didn’t go with a tenkeyless design, just to make the board smaller, but it’s not a big deal. The board uses blue Cherry MX switches, which offer snappy response and a solid feel when typing.

The Alloy also includes a keycap puller and six keycaps you can swap out for the WASD and 1234 keys. The WASD keycaps are a textured red, standing out nicely against the surrounding black keys. The four numbered keycaps are smooth, but a shiny red.

It’s a bummer that this board doesn’t include RGB lighting, but to really take advantage of that Kingston would have had to create a solid app, and judging by some of the other boards out there, making one that is fully supported and easy to use can be a challenge.

Alloy FPS game button | HyperX

Instead, the Alloy has built-in red LED lighting which can be adjusted from off through four other levels of brightness. The board also includes six lighting modes. The first five are solid, breathing, trigger, explosion and wave. The sixth mode allows you to customize the lighting. You do this by holding in the Control and Function buttons, and then simply tapping the buttons you want to remain lit. Once you’re done, you hold those two buttons again and you’re done.

At $100, this isn’t a bad option for someone looking for a board that works well at home and can be taken on the road with little effort. I personally like the design, but have become so used to physical multimedia buttons that it’s hard to break the habit of looking for a chunky volume control. Also, I just can’t game without my reactive RGB lighting these days.

Logitech G410 Atlas Spectrum

Logitech Atlas Spectrum | Logitech
Price $130
Keyswitches Romer-G
Keycaps Standard, with laser-etched design on WASD keys
Keyboard size tenkeyless U.S. layout with buttons for lighting and Windows button keylock
Lighting RGB, programmable, per-key illumination
Cable Standard
Extras None

Logitech’s G901 Orion Spark was one of my favorite keyboards when this guide first went up early last year. But I had some reservations, chief among them the oversized design and how gaudy the big keyboard looked.

Logitech’s G410 Atlas Spectrum seems like a board specifically designed to deal with those concerns. The tenkeyless board strips away the overabundance of logos and branding (you’ll only find a single, small G410 located on the wrist rest), and shrinks the overall size to deliver a compact version of the spectacular Orion Spark.

And you still get a lot of the Spark’s great features, including the programmable RGB backlighting, the Romer-G mechanical switches and the ARX dock for your smartphone.

I was genuinely excited when Logitech announced the new, compact gaming mechanical; it seemed like an answer to all of the reservations I had with the Orion. But then I tried it.

G410 Atlas Spectrum | Logitech

The Atlas Spectrum removes the G-keys that run down the left side of the Orion, as well as the four smaller memory keys that run above the board. As someone who doesn’t usually use macro keys, I thought their absence only added to the sleek design of the board. The Atlas also removes the physical media controls that pack up the right side of the board, and of course, the number pad. Media can still be controlled with seven function buttons tied to the top right seven keys of the board. It means holding in the function key before tapping the right button, but it also slims down the board quite a bit.

Where the Orion has an ARX dock that slides out of the board to hold your phone or tablet in place, the Atlas has a smarter, smaller version of the dock. Instead of remaining affixed to the board, it comes out completely, allowing you to set up your smartphone or pad anywhere you’d like while using the free app. This is a great design change for folks like me, who use their keyboard on a pullout tray under their desk. Where the Orion's ARX dock is blue and stylized to stand out, the Atlas dock is black and almost invisible when not in use.

All of these changes, while removing some substance, increase the style of the board. But there are also changes that seem to just decrease the value, and likely the cost, of the board.

G410 Atlas Spectrum | Logitech

One of the things I really like about the Orion is its keycaps. Each keycap is shaped with a slight, open-bottomed rectangular indention, designed to help guide your fingers to a key’s sweet spot. For some reason, the Atlas doesn’t include this feature. While the WASD and arrow keys do still include the laser etching to help them stand out a bit more, the loss of that subtle design touch is evident when typing.

The biggest problem, though, is a real deal-breaker for me. The keyboard’s design change somehow introduced a melodic pinging to every letter you type. Examining the board, keys and switches carefully has convinced me the sound happens when the key bounces back after a keystroke. Tapping the underside of the board also produces this annoying, high-pitched ring. For an aficionado of mechanical keyboards, having a board that overlays the bass rumble of a keyboard’s clacking with a jittery ringing is pure hell. It almost makes me understand why some people don’t like mechanical keyboards. It’s also a huge disappointment.

The lighting effects for the board are just as impressive as what you’d find on the Orion. The Atlas uses the same program to let you create your own festive, pulsing, sweeping colors.

I am so put out by the ringing of this board that I simply can’t recommend picking up the Atlas.

Logitech G810 Orion Spectrum

G810 Orion Spectrum | Corsair
Price $160
Keyswitches Romer-G
Keycaps Standard
Keyboard size 104-key U.S. layout with buttons for lighting, Windows button keylock, media keys and a volume roller bar
Lighting RGB, programmable, per-key illumination
Cable Standard
Extras None

They finally nailed it, at least for me.

Where Logitech's G910 Orion Spark was too much board for me (especially in the over-the-top branding and shaped wrist rest department) and the G410 Atlas Spectrum was a bit too under-designed for my taste, Logitech's G810 Orion Spectrum is just right.

The first thing you're going to notice about the Orion Spectrum is just how normal it looks, especially for a gaming keyboard. Like other more traditional mechanical keyboards (WASD, Das Keyboard, Coolmaster), outwardly the Orion Spectrum has a standard 104-key board and rectangular layout. There's only one G logo in the top left corner of the board, and the model number is stenciled on the side.

The board doesn't even have a wrist rest or the ARX smartphone dock found with both of the other boards.

What it does have are the programmable RGB backlighting and the Romer-G mechanical switches. It also retains those well-designed media buttons and the snazzy volume roller bar found on the Spark. While it doesn't have any of the programmable, stand-alone G-keys that run down the left side of the Spark, it does allow you to customize button macros on the F1 through F12 keys.

G810's subtle branding (top left), media buttons (top right), volume roller (bottom left), keycaps (bottom right) | Logitech

As with the smaller Atlas Spectrum, the Orion Spectrum uses standard, smooth keycaps. I asked the Logitech folk about this, because I was a big fan of the Orion Spark's laser-etched "performance facet keycap" design. It turns out I was in the minority. The facet design gave each keycap a slight indentation, essentially creating a sweet spot for the keys. It was a nice touch and was designed to help reduce mistypes while touch typing. But apparently a lot of people didn't like them — so many that you can now buy an entire replacement keycap set for the Spark that gives it the more familiar cylindrical feel. So Logitech decided to go with standard keycaps for the Orion Spectrum.

The good news is that the Orion Spectrum doesn't carry over the issue I found with the Atlas Spectrum: a strong melodic pinging that I noticed with every letter I typed.

A wall of keyboards | Logitech

This board also makes use of the fantastic Logitech Gaming Software to control the RGB lighting built into the board's Romer-G switches. The Orion Spectrum, like the other two RGB Logitech boards, can auto-detect supported games, and lets you create your own color layouts, reactive colors and effects. The software can also sync up your board with other supported peripherals like the G502 Proteus Spectrum mouse and G633 Artemis Spectrum. The result is a full set of gaming gear that glows and pulses in sync to whatever color profile you've created.

I had hoped that the smaller Atlas Spectrum was going to be the perfect mix of style, lighting and features for me, but it turned out to be a disappointment. Fortunately, the Orion Spectrum turned out to be exactly what I was looking for: a board with an outwardly subtle design that is packed with the sort of features and lighting effects that transforms it whenever I launch a game.

Qwerkywriter

Qwerkywriter | Qwerky Toys
Price $299
Keyswitches Kailh Blues
Keycaps Vintage-inspired round keycaps
Keyboard size tenkeyless housed in an aluminum-metal alloy body
Lighting None
Cable None
Extras Bluetooth connection, slot for holding tablets or phones, macro return bar

If you love mechanical keyboards — and why else would you be reading this — then there's a chance that, like me, you may have grown up using a typewriter.

There's a lot to be said about the value of mechanical keyboards: They are more durable, they can improve typing speed and accuracy, and they make touch typing easier. But for some of us, the thing that really sells a mechanical is that they hark back to the days of sitting at a desk pounding away at a typewriter, physically pushing letter-shaped bits of metal soaked in ink into a piece of paper.

If that's you, then boy, have I got a mechanical keyboard for you.

The Qwerkywriter doesn't just bring the finger feel of using a typewriter to a computer keyboard; it also delivers the heady nostalgic look of a typewriter to the experience.

Housed entirely in an aluminum-metal alloy, the Qwerkywriter is — and I don't use this word lightly — absolutely breathtaking to behold.

Qwerkywriter can hold tablets up to 10 inches wide and 1/2 inch thick | Qwerky Toys

The base is a nearly frameless piece of lightly textured black, just like you'd find on most typewriters of a certain age, such as a classic Underwood or Remington. Jutting out from this black base is a sea of beautiful round, silver-framed keycaps that are almost mesmerizing to stare at.

The design includes all of the standards you'd find on a tenkeyless board, plus a few extras like arrow keys, a line of action buttons (delete, home, page up and down, and end), and a Windows/Apple button dressed up with an atom symbol.

The board also includes a functioning carriage return arm. For those of you not familiar with typewriters (I can't believe I just had to type that), the carriage return was a bent piece of metal that jutted out to the left of a typewriter, which was used to physically move the paper up a line and shift the writing back to the far left of the paper. Nowadays we call it the "enter" button. And that's just how it's used on this keyboard, though you can assign it to any function and there is a standard enter button on the board as well.

Behind the keys is the faux typewriter's platen. That's the cylinder that held the paper. In this case it's been cleverly repurposed to serve as the front of a slot used to hold your tablet or smartphone. Behind the platen and the slot for the tablet is the paper table, which essentially serves as the other side of your tablet holder. The slot seems adequate to hold most tablets, at half an inch thick and 10 inches wide. The construction doesn't allow for any adjustment to the angle of the tablet, and some might find it too steep to use, but there's an insert that can lessen that.

Typing on the keyboard does take some getting used to, especially if you've never used a keyboard or typewriter with round keys. I have, and enjoy the experience of returning to that feeling. While the board doesn't use Cherry switches, the Kaila Blues it has deliver a smooth slightly clicky feel.

Qwerkywriter's return bar functions as an enter key (top left), a close-up of the board (top right), the housing (bottom left), close-up with the keycaps (bottom right) | Qwerky Toys

The board may be designed for tablets and phones, but you can also use the Bluetooth connection to connect to a home PC or even a laptop, if you so desire.

The board uses a built-in battery, which can be recharged with a USB cable and delivers maybe a month's worth of use.

I do wish the Qwerkywriter came with a little carrying case so I could bring it with me on trips, despite the fact that I'm sure at least some people would sneer at my nostalgia-driven choice for a keyboard.

The major downside for the keyboard is its price, which is currently $300 — and that's after a $100 price drop.

Is it worth it?

Absolutely, especially if you are a fan of typewriters. Even as a nonworking ornamental tchotchke, this is a beautiful addition to an office. The fact that it works and works well, makes it all the better — if you can afford it.

Rantopad MT Blue Panel

Rantopad MT Gaming Keyboard with Blue Panel | Rantopad
Price $160
Keyswitches Blue Gateron
Keycaps Blue
Keyboard size standard
Lighting white LED
Cable braided fiber
Extras removable blue magnetic top panel

There was a time when the China-based Rantopad was considered a low-cost entry point into the world of mechanical keyboards. Those days seem long gone now, though, with the company’s boards running about the same or just a touch less than the competition. The older version of the MT Aegis used to run under $90, but these days the updated model will set you back $160.

MT Blue | Rantopad

The latest version of the MT makes use of Gateron switches, which feel like slightly smoother Cherry switches. We tested out the Blues, and I’m impressed with how they’ve performed so far. They feel slightly stiffer to me and seem to have a bit less wobble.

As with any mechanical keyboard purchase, I’d recommend testing out a board with switches you’ve never heard or used before picking one up. Even the slightest change can make you hate or love the new feel and sound. While I appreciate the difference, for my money, I’ll be sticking to Cherry or maybe Logitech’s in-house switches for now.

The board itself is a wide-bodied durable plastic model that doesn’t have the same sense of craftsmanship found in boards from the likes of Das Keyboard or Corsair. It would be nice if there were more exposed aluminum or metal on the board, but instead everything you see and touch appears to be plastic. The keycaps are ABS plastic with smooth tops, which is fine, but nothing to type home about. The entire design has a slightly squashed look with the very center edges of the board slightly wider than either end.

MT Rantopad with switch | Rantopad

Personally, I’m not a big fan of the design.

The MT does have replaceable panels, which are held down with seven small magnetic posts. This makes it far easier to pop off and replace a panel than with something like Das Keyboard’s bolted-down panel, but it also lends to the flimsy feel of the board. The panel itself is a thin piece of acrylic that looks like it could easily snap in half if you aren't careful with it when it’s not attached.

The board has a 6.5-foot USB fiber cable, but no sort of ports on the board itself. I was a little surprised to find that the board also didn’t have any macro keys. It does make use of the function keys for multimedia, a gamer button and three buttons that control the intensity and mode of the built-in white LED lights.

At $160, the MT is a mechanical keyboard with surprisingly little to offer gamers.

Rantopad MXX

mxx
MXX with red switches and a gunmetal panel | Rantopad
Price $99.85
Keyswitches red Gateron
Keycaps black
Keyboard size 87 tenkeyless
Lighting white LED
Cable detachable braided fiber
Extras None

I was surprised to find that as much as I disliked the Rantopad MT Aegis, I was still quite taken with another mechanical keyboard from Rantopad.

The MXX mechanical is a diminutive, solidly built board that is both relatively inexpensive and seemingly high-quality. Rantopad sent us an MXX with the gunmetal panel and red Gateron switches, and everything about this board alleviates the concerns the MT Aegis created in me about the company.

The MXX is a relatively tiny tenkeyless board with no macros, no physical multimedia controls and still no RGB lighting. But the lower price and tinier footprint make those missing attributes far less worrisome this time around.

The board itself is still made of a hard plastic, but the cover (which, unlike with the MT, you can't detach) is made of a gunmetal gray brushed aluminum alloy. The board is a small rectangle with the right and left edges angled out to give it a slightly wider footprint and a place to attach smart-looking Rantopad logos. With the exception of a single backlit "MXX" emblem, the deck of the board is almost entirely packed with standard keys and a set of arrow keys.

mxx
mxx
MXX with and without cord inserted | Rantopad

The board's white LED lighting is controlled with the function keys and does include a little bit of customization. The board offers six default and one customizable backlight mode. The default modes, which you cycle through by holding down the function button and tapping the page up or page down keys, are wave, ripple, breath, trace, on and a mode that turns on all the lights and then temporarily drops the brightness of the key you press.

The customization mode starts with just the arrow keys and WASD lit, but you can add which buttons stay lit by entering the edit mode with a button press and tapping on the buttons you want lit up.

The lighting pales in comparison to a lot of the options you can find in other gaming boards, but the six modes plus the easy-to-use driver- and software-free editing method is a nice little touch for a keyboard filled with such attention to detail. For instance, the board also has a bizarre but helpful array of function key secondary options. The F1 button, for instance, can also call up a calculator. The F5 shows the desktop. Others do more expected things, like let you control volume, media and brightness.

mxx
Mxx
MXX red switches (left), MXX arrow keys (right) | Rantopad

The included cable is completely detachable and gold-plated, which should ensure a longer life. It also fits into the board in a way that makes it flush when completely plugged in.

The board’s features are rounded off nicely with the Gateron red switches, which as I said earlier, are a robust take on the Cherry switch. I’m personally not a fan of the linear feel of red switches, but I can appreciate what a good job the Gaterons do of not just replicating, but maybe even improving on, the original.

My home setup tends to lean toward oversized — my desktop, which I like to refer to as a tombstone, is as tall as my desk — so I like big keyboards. But the MXX is exactly the sort of board I look for when considering travel. It’s tiny, has a detachable cord, feels sturdy and is a pleasure to type on.

Razer Ornata Chroma

ornata
Razer Ornata Chroma | Razer
Price $80
Keyswitches Mecha-membrane
Keycaps mid-height
Keyboard size standard
Lighting individually backlit RGB keys
Cable braided
Extras magnetic wrist rest

As a fan of mechanical keyboards, I don’t see a lot of reason to look into hybrid boards. The things I like about a mechanical — the feel, the sound — are often eliminated when someone starts tinkering with the switch in a keyboard. So I was sort of putting off trying out Razer’s new Ornata board. The Razer Ornata Chroma uses something that the company calls a mecha-membrane switch. As soon as I heard membrane, I basically wrote the board off.

Membrane keyboards are cheap and easy to make because they replace the moving parts of a mechanical switch with layers of rubber membrane that can detect when they’re squished together. "Squished" is the key word here, because membranes are often known for how squishy they feel; there’s little to no real feedback when you type on these boards. This, in turn, makes typing without looking and not making mistakes sort of hard.

So Razer decided to take this abomination and marry it with some sort of mechanical switch. I wasn’t looking forward to what the company came up with.

Ornata's hybrid keycaps | Razer

Then I plugged it in and started typing.

The mecha-membranes feel like shorter, quieter mechanical switches. You’ve still got the click of typing; you still have the feel of the switch triggering. But now the button presses feel cushioned: not squishy, but padded. And the sound, while still there, seems like it’s been run through a silencer.

I was so intrigued by the results of the switch that I took a bunch of keycaps off to see what exactly was happening inside.

The mecha-switch is exactly how Razer described it: a hybrid.

In a typical mechanical keyboard, each keycap fits onto a rigid piece of plastic shaped like a plus sign. This stem connects to the top of a switch, which, when depressed, forces down a spring and eventually allows two metal contacts to touch, signaling that the key has been pressed.

ornata

Switch in action | Razer

Instead of a housing for a stem, this keyboard’s keycaps feature a wide square of tooled, open plastic. The plastic fits neatly inside a slightly larger square opening of hard plastic on the keyboard’s base. As the key is depressed, two things happen. The column of plastic presses down on a bubble of rubber that triggers the key. But it also pushes back a small metal clip that quickly pops back into place, delivering the sound and feel of a very light mechanical switch. It’s a clever design that seems to be using the metal purely to deliver sound and feel, but no actuation. Another thing the metal switch seems to do is essentially push the key back up into place, without the help of the spring. This makes the board seem a bit snappier to type on. That’s helped with the shorter height of the keycaps themselves, which allows you to move between letters a bit faster.

I’m very interested to see how those metal clips hold up over a month or year, but in the short term I’m very impressed with the overall look, feel and sound of the switches. The Ornata also makes use of Razer’s Synapse to deliver control over the board’s lighting and tie it into pre-created lighting schemes that are integrated with a number of popular games. A lot of gaming boards use this sort of app to allow players to either create their lighting or download others’, but Razer seems to do one of the best jobs of keeping up with official integrations and supporting apps that add third-party integration.

Having a keyboard that flashes or changes color based on which game you’re playing and how you’re playing it isn’t a big deal to some, but when you’ve got so many lighting options, it seems like a waste not to take advantage of them.

The Ornata doesn’t have any stand-alone media keys or macro keys, but you can program macros using Synapse.

The only other little addition the board comes with is the padded faux-leather wrist pad, which sort of attaches to the front of the board with a set of in-built magnets. I personally didn’t find any use for the pad, but I’m sure some people will enjoy its cushioned feel.

I’m sort of on the fence about the Ornata. I like that it delivers such a unique feel to the field of mechanical keyboards, but I also worry that it will inherit the short lifespan of non-mechanical boards. For now, though, I remain cautiously optimistic.

Razer iPad Case

Case with iPad installed | Razer
Price $169.99
Keyswitches ultra-low-profile
Keycaps slim chiclet
Keyboard size tenkeyless
Lighting white LED with 20 levels
Cable Bluetooth connection
Extras detachable case and metal kickstand

Razer has a number of quality mechanical keyboards out on the market, most of which use the company's in-house-designed Green switch. But the company’s latest board may be its best to date … if you happen to own a 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

The company’s new Mechanical Keyboard Case for iPad Pro [12.9 in] may not have the most creative name, but it brings a solid frame, steel kickstand and backlit, mechanical keyboard to Apple’s largest tablet.

And it’s surprisingly good.

The case is the first to feature Razer’s new ultra-low-profile mechanical switch, which was announced in June. The switch uses chiclet keycaps and features both actuation and rest points, despite its incredibly thin design. Presses on the keyboard register at 70 grams-force, typical for a standard, full-sized mechanical.

I found that typing on the keyboard did take a slight bit of adjustment, but it felt better than using the standard keyboards you get on most laptops, and certainly better than the membrane boards you find with most tablet cases.

The keyboard includes extra keys to bring the iPad to its home screen and to switch between on-screen keyboards, media keys, a Bluetooth key, screen and keyboard brightness keys, and a button that turns on a tiny LED to show you how much battery life you have left. There is no number pad.

While the board doesn’t deliver the same deep clicks and clatter you might be used to from most mechanical switches, it does offer a sort of chittering sound that I found oddly satisfying … and I’m sure deskmates will one day find immensely annoying. There’s very little drop in the board and resistance is negligible, which may be a deal-breaker for fans of big, deep switches. Surprisingly, Razer also included individually lit keys. Granted, there are no color options, but you can select between 20 brightness levels. Given the option between this and just about any other board for the iPad, it’s an easy win for the Razer.

Razer iPad Case | Razer

That said, there are a few minor annoyances I found in the overall design of the case. First, the case doesn’t include any way to charge or receive a charge from the iPad. That means having to remember to charge both the tablet and keyboard independently between uses. The board's battery is meant to last about 10 hours on a single charge with maximum brightness. If you turn off the lighting, you’re able to get 600 hours out of a charge, according to Razer. Over my two or so days with the keyboard — using it with different brightness settings and sometimes with no lighting — I didn’t have to worry about charging at all.

The case easily breaks apart into two distinct pieces. The keyboard uses a flexible, magnetized spine to connect to the iPad case. Once connected, the two seemed to hold together fairly well, though if you were to pick up one half, it would likely leave the other half behind.

The keyboard half is slightly padded and very light, with a sizable built-in, but not raised, wrist rest. There are also small tabs on the right and left of the case to help hold it in place when you have the whole thing put together and closed up. The keyboard half is also where you’ll find the power button and the micro USB charge port.

The iPad half of the case is a sturdy construction with nearly full-width cutouts on the top and bottom edges, and smaller cutouts on the back and side edge for the camera lens and the volume controls. What it doesn’t have is a cutout for the iPad Pro’s Smart Connector. That’s the thing that allows for quick, easy charging without the need to fiddle with cords. Unfortunately, that magnetized connector is buried under the steel edge of the case’s own spine, which is used for holding the keyboard.

The case works fairly well on your lap too | Razer

A large steel, hinged kickstand takes up about half of the back of the case. It takes a little fiddling to get it to close completely after use, but once in position it does a fine job of staying in place. Taken apart, the iPad case also has the second half of the hinge, which juts out a bit from the side and sort of makes it look like you’re walking around with a screen you just snapped off a laptop.

Despite the look of the the thing when detached, I found it just as easy to use while reading comics, watching TV and generally fiddling with the touchscreen.

What the case could have used is a holder for the Apple Pencil. A smaller form factor would have been nice too, but I’m not sure that’s possible with the heft of the thing. Put together and closed, it looks like you’ve got a slender laptop sitting on your desk. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just a reminder of the sheer size of the iPad Pro itself.

My biggest annoyance with the case is the fact that it kills off the ability to get any use out of Apple’s Smart Connector. If there were a factor, beyond the cost of the case, to make me decide against this keyboard, that would be it.

Roccat Suora FX

Suora FX | Roccat
Price $140
Keyswitches Blue TTC
Keycaps standard
Keyboard size standard
Lighting RGB per-key LED
Cable braided fiber
Extras frameless

Roccat has a impressive mix of keyboards on the market, including a dome keyboard with built-in holders and buttons for your smartphone and iPad. The company also has a few mechanical keyboards. Last year, we looked at the Ryos MK Pro, a big gaming board that seemed to not offer quite enough bells and whistles to keep up with the competition. This year I’m checking out the company’s new Suora FX, a rainbow-bright frameless keyboard that might just strike the right balance for some of you.

Suora FX | Roccat

Initially, the most striking difference between the Suora FX and Roccat’s other lines of bulky keyboards is that it's frameless. That means that instead of all of the curves and built-in wrist pads found in the Ryos, Skeltr and Isku series, this board is a rectangle of keys, with a little plastic extending past where you’ll find keycaps. And I mean a little. There’s not enough excess material there to even get a fingerhold, and that’s really how I like my boards.

While the board looks and feels like a hard plastic, the housing is built with an aluminum alloy, we’re told. Two feet under the board can flip up to angle your keyboard, and there are three channels to route the built-in braided cable directly out the center back of the board or slightly to the left or right.

The keyboard includes a full number pad as well as arrow keys and a set of dual-functioning programmable macro keys. There aren’t any dedicated media buttons (there’s not any room for them), but you can control media devices, volume and lighting with the function keys. Roccat also has included functions to open a browser and bring up the desktop, email and a calculator.

This board uses something that Roccat calls simply a mechanical switch, but that the company tells me is actually a blue TTC switch. The TTC switches are made by a company in China called Trantek Co. In the short term, they feel and sound an awful lot like a slightly sub-par blue Cherry switch, and seem a bit wobblier when I really press down on a key. Pulling off the keycaps, I found that the LEDs for the RGB lighting are installed directly above each switch.

The keyboard makes use of Roccat’s Swarm app to control lighting, audio effects and other bits and bobs on the keyboard.

Suora FX's frameless design | Roccat

The basic options are all solid choices, and there’s more there than you would typically find for a mechanical keyboard. Beyond fully lit, there’s breathing, wave, fade FX, ripple FX, rain, snake, snail, scanning, radar and fully lit color-shift. It’s a nice grouping of effects that are simple and quick to apply, thanks to a neat feature that can tie four of them to function keys. But I couldn’t find any way to install pre-created lighting effects tied to games, something that I think adds a lot of value to RGB lighting keyboards.

One thing that Swarm does have, though, is the ability to make the sound of you typing on your mechanical keyboard even more annoying to friends, family and co-workers. There’s a sound feedback option that can trigger a sound every time you hit a key. That sound can be clicking, the sound of an old-timey typewriter, beaming sounds or the sounds of laser blasts. If you type fast like me, it ends up creating quite a cacophony.

While I think the Suora FX is a big step above the Ryos MK Pro, the wobbly TTC switches and the subpar lighting software could still use some work. And for $140, I think there might be better options for you out there.

SteelSeries Apex M8

Apex M800 | SteelSeries
Price $199.99
Keyswitches SteelSeries QS1
Keycaps standard with oversized lettering
Keyboard size standard 104-key U.S. layout with six macro keys and oversized space key
Lighting RGB programmable, per-key illumination
Cable braided
Extras two USB ports on back of board

SteelSeries’ first mechanical keyboard is an impressive creation that, of all the boards I tested, is the only one to significantly change the way I type and play. Which could be a good thing or bad thing, depending on how easily you adjust to typing.

The Apex M800 is a wide board that includes six programmable macros running down the left side of the board and an oddly shaped space bar that is double the height of a standard and a bit thinner. The back of the board includes two USB plugs, one on each side of where the braided cable exits the M800.

Like all of the best lighting systems for mechanical keyboards, the M800 features mechanical switches with a sizable hole in the center for an LED. In this case, the LED itself is dropped down a bit, reducing even further the bleed of each key’s colors. What that means is that the board can deliver a range of crisp colors to each key, while the board itself (the tiny space between keys) gets very little color splash. The color is extended to a relatively small rectangular logo in the top right corner of the screen and — a neat addition — to the sides of the board which each have swipes of adjustable coloring.

While the software management for the keyboard is intuitively designed and allows for slick creations in very little time, the board currently doesn’t support the ability to import gamer-created templates. That’s not a deal breaker, but it’s something I hope SteelSeries adds down the line. Other boards do offer this, and the result is a myriad of crazy, useful, intoxicating color waves and macros.

SteelSeries says the keyboard's angle is perfect for gaming | SteelSeries

The most noticeable thing that SteelSeries brings to the mechanical keyboard world with the M800 is its own take on the microswitch. Instead of relying on fan-favorite Cherry switches, SteelSeries M800 uses its own QS1, and boy, does it make a difference. The body of the QS1 has a squatter design than typical microswitches, which means the keys feel a bit shorter. The switches also have a surprisingly short actuation point. Combined, that means your fingertips have to travel less up and down, making key presses much faster, once you get used to them. When I first started typing with the M800 I quickly noticed the difference. It was a strange feeling, like someone had cut the keys down to stubby little nubs. But the presses still felt good and the sound, while a bit quieter, was still satisfying. Overtime, I became used to the shorter keys and started to really like them. But then came the squeak.

USB 2.0 ports (left), six macro keys (right) | SteelSeries

I got into mechanical keyboards for a number of reasons: They last longer, they remind me of my days on the old 8088 and TRS-80, and I love their thundering sound. That sound can’t be overstated. It’s like white noise when I’m writing and helps soothe me into a place where I can find my voice. Interrupt it with something annoying and I’m bound to spend way, way too much time screwing around with the board to figure it out. (That’s what happened with the Logitech G410 Atlus Spectrum.) In this case — about a month into using the board — some of the keys, a lot of keys, started to develop this weird squeaking noise, like the board had to be oiled, or like it was made of tiny little mice screaming out with each punch of a key. The thing was, it wasn’t constant and seemed to move around a bit, so I still can’t figure out where it’s coming from exactly. I suspect it might be coming from the tight fit of the keycap on the switch. If I remove the key from the switch after I find it squeaking, it tends to go away for a while, only to return later. I can’t say for certain what causes it, but I can certainly say that it’s as annoying as a mysterious drip of water in the middle of the night, or the sound of something scurrying around inside your walls. It drives me nuts.

It’s unfortunate about the squeaking, because I was pleasantly surprised by every other element of this board. It seemed to vastly improve my reaction time and typing speed and it delivers a fashionable board that can be, on command, lit up like a Christmas tree.

WASD Code

WASD Code | WASD
Price $150
Keyswitches Cherry MX Brown
Keycaps standard
Keyboard size standard
Lighting white LED
Cable detachable
Extras none

WASD is known for making high-quality, infinitely customizable mechanical keyboards. When ordering your keyboard, you have the option of changing the color of individual keycaps or even having your keycaps custom-printed. But what people are really looking for when they order a WASD board is solid design.

WASD's Code board is meant to be the ultimate take on a mechanical keyboard stripped of needless bells, whistles, logos and color, boiled down to its very essence to deliver exactly what you need in an instrument for word creation.

The board even has its own interesting history.

WASD Code| WASD

Jeff Atwood, software developer and blogger at Coding Horror, reached out to WASD owner Weyman Kwong about creating what he thought would be a "truly great" mechanical keyboard. The result is the Code, named after the Charles Petzold book of the same name. Atwood describes it as a clean, simple, beautiful mechanical keyboard.

The Code keyboard has four Cherry microswitches to choose from, and all of the keyswitches are mounted to a steel backplate. That backplate adds a bit of weight to the board, but gives it a solid, inflexible feel as well. The board also has a dual-layer PCB designed to reinforce the solder joints and maintain that solid feel when typing.

While the Code doesn't feature RGB lighting, it does have white LED backlights. The steel backplate is painted white to help strengthen the glow of the lighting, and you can switch between seven levels of intensity, including off.

The board itself is disarmingly unobtrusive. Just a deep black, slightly textured rectangle with three small lights to denote Caps Lock, Scroll Lock and Num Lock. There are no logos, no markings, nothing on the board's surface to distract from its monolithic design.

Switches for QWERTY, Mac, Dvorak and Colemak output | WASD

Despite the simple design, WASD did manage to pack in some neat features. The back of the board has a row of DIP switches that allow you to switch between QWERTY, Dvorak, Colemak and Mac modes, and tweak what the Caps and Scroll Lock keys do, among other things. The board also has media controls built into function commands.

Personally, I like the incongruity of a subtle case aesthetic married to robust, flashy RGB lighting support, but if you aren't into multicolored lighting, then this is one of the best mechanicals I've come across in some time.

The WASD Code has obviously been built with care and designed with an eye toward the sort of minutiae that only a longtime mechanical keyboard user would think or care about. This is a tool for typing, an instrument designed for long use that will surely grow on the user.

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Still not seeing the mechanical you want to read about? Don't worry, it might be listed in last year's round-up.