Vortex is no stranger to keyboard innovation. It’s easy to see the way they push the envelope by looking at the last few keyboards they’ve released. From the Core to the Race 3, these are all non conventional and less common keyboards.
The latest addition to Vortex’s keyboard production repository is the ViBE, which doesn’t disappoint when it comes to innovation. Having conquered and popularised the 60% keyboard market, this time Vortex is looking to flip the compact keyboard market upsidedown once again.
What’s different about Vortex’s ViBE keyboard?
A compact keyboard much like the Pok3r, the ViBE adds 18 keys to the side to form a numpad.
Generally, compact keyboards tend to be at a slight disadvantage when it comes to readily available keys. Sure, they offer the same amount of functionality, with key combinations, but some tasks are just better with dedicated keys.
Personally, I like having arrow keys readily available for photo editing. To some people, the same can be said for the numpad.
For my use, I prefer the saved desk space versus the convenience of a numpad. Besides, there’s a number row above the alpha keys.
However, since being reunited with a numpad, I’ve rediscovered how much better it is for number fields as well as using the calculator.
And that’s where the ViBE excels over a 75% or 60% keyboard. The numpad keys enable the ViBE to transition between the navigation cluster and numpad with the press of a button. Thus having dedicated keys pending on what’s required at the time.
Pressing the Num button will toggle the numpad to navigation cluster, turning the bottom half of the numpad to arrow keys and the top half to functional keys like Home or End. Caps Lock also illuminates when the numpad is activated and changes colours to represent whether Caps Lock is enabled or Num Lock is enable or both at the same time.
This design props the ViBE up, into a different type of keyboard category. Bordering very close to the functionality of a full size keyboard, yet the ViBE maintains a relatively small, compact, form factor.
Here’s a comparison shot between the Pok3r, the Race 3, and the Tada68.
Just like Vortex’s latest keyboard iterations, the ViBE follows suit with PBT keycaps. This time, however, they’re in SA profile and it’s refreshing to see a manufacturer offer something seldom seen.
Since the Core, Vortex has also shifted to using dye-sublimation PBT keycaps on their keyboards. With PBT being the superior more durable plastic over ABS.
Dye-sublimation is the process of adding ink to keycaps by heating the ink to the point that it becomes a vapour. This vapour is then absorbed into the pores of the plastic thus becoming part of the keycap. This slows down the rate of wear as the ink has become part of the plastic.
Uniformity is achieved with the R3 profile, however, the printing isn’t completely uniform. Similar to the Race 3 there are still some slight abnormalities with the dye sublimation printing. Have a look at the 6^ and Tab keys.
To be honest, I didn’t think much of the keycaps when I first used the ViBE but I think I can attribute that to the switches I was using more than the keycaps themselves.
Once I desoldered the entire board and added in clicky switches the keycaps become rather delightful to use. They started to feel well refined and the sound produced was soothing to my ear.
To the touch the SA PBT keycaps have a slight texture to them. They are smooth for PBT but not as smooth as ABS. If you’re unfamiliar with how SA profile feels, the first thing you’ll note is the height. SA keysets are taller than OEM, which is taller than Cherry profile keycaps.
Vortex’s tube of familiar goodies
First impressions were swayed by the impressive packaging. Rather than a standard cube shaped box the ViBE came securely packaged in a tube. Inside you find foam holders keeping the keyboard secure as well as a pack of extra keycaps and screw-in feet.
My unit didn’t come with a cable, however, I had plenty lying around as the ViBE is driven with a micro USB cable. Vortex assured me that a goodies box does come with the ViBE that includes a cable. This omission can be attributed to the fact that this was a replacement unit due to my first being posted to the wrong country, never to be seen again.
Cherry MX switches are Vortex’s go to and these are some of the only keyboards that feature Cherry MX clears. Switches in the ViBE are refined, durable, and adhere to Cherry’s German manufacturing conditions, so they should last a long time.
Vortex have also upped their switch selection for the ViBE. It’s entirely possible to get silent black, silent red, and silver switches.
On-board programming makes its return and like usual can be saved onto three different layers. While not fully programmable, most key positions can be switched.
Preset keyboard layouts like Dvorak and Colemak are also available. And, thanks to the R3 profile of the keycaps, alphas can be moved around to suit whatever layout you prefer.
Now, there’s no LEDs in the ViBE as of yet. However, having a glance at the PCB, I found that there’s holes for SMD LEDs which indicates that one can add SMD LEDs to the ViBE. This will require a little soldering.
The silver case is aluminium which feels nice and cold to the touch, the way a metal case should. To be honest, when I took apart the ViBE I noted that the case was actually much thinner than I expected, yet it still maintained quite a bit of weight to it.
Comparing the aluminium case to the Race 3, I felt the ViBE’s case had a slightly more textured feel to it. This time around there was no invisible line around the case. The black plate, however, was the same in quality to the Race 3’s.
On the back of the case is a micro-USB port, which caters to readily available cables. I was a little disappointed USB-C wasn’t used.
Propping up my ViBE with the included feet took the keyboard from 0 degrees to just above a 6 degree incline. A reasonably nice level of elevation that is a bit smaller than my daily driver, the Tada68.
Review unit isn’t the final version
Now, I have to be clear that the ViBE I’ve been using is a preview unit and this is reflected on the back with the engraved words “Engineering Sample”. This means that some features don’t work nor did I get a choice in which switches I received.
Numpad doesn’t have secondary functions printed on keycaps, so I was flying blind when trying to hit Print Screen. A manual does exist, however, I think it’d be nice to have the secondary function of the numpad’s keys printed on the keycaps.
Since the review units have gone out I’ve had a few people mention the sticking of the left Shift key when pressed. I was also affected by this. My solution was to remove a small amount of the lube with a cotton bud.
Just like the Race 3 the keycaps on the ViBE are very tight. This may cause problems when removing them in order to replace or clean the keyboard. Just be gentle when doing when removing keycaps. It’s better to wiggle the keycap off slowly than destroy a switch entirely.
Also a switch puller included in the package would be nice.
I messaged Vortex to enable a toggle to turn the number row into an F-row. This would enable the best of both worlds, having the numpad to efficiently output numbers and a F-row for those that need it. I was told they will look into implementing this idea with a firmware update.
Plenty to love
After changing the switches from tactile to clicky, the ViBE has really stood out. Having SA profile sitting atop clicky switches really brought out the sound and character of the keycaps.
This has made the ViBE and absolute delight to use for the past week. I’ve been excited to type on it, and whenever I’ve needed to crunch numbers I’ve been able to do so at a much faster rate.
It did take me a little while to go back to using a numpad over the top number row. Similarly, a slight adjustment to the positioning of the arrow keys was necessary.
Some people may be divided about the tiny partition between the numpad and the rest of the keyboard. To me it’s the differentiator of numbers and letters, something that I like as it’s just the right size.
A few minor twerks should enable anyone who buys this keyboard to truly enjoy it. Removing a little lube was necessary for my left Shift key to stop sticking.
I hope Vortex take my advice on and make a firmware the toggles to number row to F-row for those that need it. It’s not something I use but I can see the benefit in having a dedicated F-row.
As well as secondary function printing on the numpad’s keys for when it’s toggled to arrow mode would be nice.
Apart from these two point, I think Vortex is definitely onto a winner. Offering the best of both worlds, it’s hard fault a newly designed keyboard like this.
I applaud Vortex for trying something new and making yet another well thought out keyboard.