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REVIEW : Vortex Core 40% Mechanical Keyboard

March 28, 2017

When the 60% keyboards stormed the community, they were already considered tiny keyboards. So how would a 40% keyboard fair?


  • Vortex Core 40% mechanical keyboard

  • Micro USB cable

  • User manual



This is a 40% keyboard that has 47 keys - meaning that it is approximately 40% of a full size 104 key keyboard. So this thing is absolutely tiny.




Width - 24.9cm (9.8")
Depth - 7.5cm (3")
Height - 2.8cm (1.1")

It comprises of mostly alpha keys, and most of the modifiers have been shortened to be able to fit other keys in. If we were to make these keys even smaller, we wouldn't be able to have a staggered design, and would end up with an ortholinear design like the Planck 40% ortholinear keyboard.


See video for in depth layout analysis.




This also follows that Core philosophy in it's industrial design. It's as simplistic as you can get; with a straight up rectangular case. The case is a solid CNC aluminium base that is anodised in a dark grey colour, which looks very nice. Plus it's a neutral colour that will easily blend in with any setup.


The aluminium base is the absolute minimum it could be in terms of size. It doesn't extend past the keycaps; sideways and upwards. So it features a floating key design, where we can see that the switch are exposed. But there's also no natural incline and not even any feet, however I would argue that it's not really required with such a small 4 row keyboard.


The keycaps used are DSA profile keycaps, which are uniform spherical caps that look very clean. They've adopted a kind of classic aesthetic by using beigy off white colours for the keycaps. And I personally love it, and gives it that bit of classy edge.

For a full rundown on the layout, keycap sizing, keyboard size comparisons, please see the video above.




But is it usable? If you’re coming from a full sized keyboard, then it may take some time to get used to. I have used 60 percent boards in the past, so I’m familiar with utilising different layers, but this is taking it a touch further.


It's pretty much the same flow of actions as the POK3R or the Mistel Barocco. It's important to note that the manual and firmware I am using is the latest version at this given time. 


Firmware :  V 1.04.01
Manual : V 1.1

These diagrams basically show you it's capability, and most of these can be moved or re-purposed.

  1. Default layer

  2. Fn function layer

  3. Fn1 function layer

  4. Fn1 + shift function layer

Basically we're not missing out on any functionality of a full sized keyboard, however we have to use function layers, instead of having dedicated keys.


We can also do macro recording, which may be useful for games, work, or general use.Unfortunately it's difficult to cover this in text, so for an in-depth look at how to program the Vortex Core, please see the video above.




Vortex stick with the tried and tested Cherry MX keyswitches. It's available in most of the colour variants, so you can choose what you like.


I happened to receive a Cherry MX black model. So they're somewhat heavy, and are linear. And the typing experience was great, and actually a bit more quiet. Because of the dense nature of the keyboard and it's solid aluminium base, it made for a very solid typing experience. This then deepened the tone of the sound, making it less higher pitched like Cherry MX switches are.


What comes with a new layout is learning how to use it. And this was definitely tough at first. Normal typing for casual use was easy for me. The main issue I had was with typing numbers. Because that's really the main difference between a 60% and a 40% keyboard - we just have the top row chopped off. So now there's no dedicated number keys. And as someone who constantly punches in numbers, it's just the worst.


Time and practice is definitely a requirement with this. So many people enjoy 40% layouts and even 30%, because they took their time and adapted to it. But it's just not for me. Needing to have to access numbers on a function row and making me take my hand off the mouse, is just something I couldn't get used to for video editing and CAD work. But again, people are different and are fine with this - but this is just my experience.




Personally, it’s too small for me. I dislike having to do function combos for even simple stuff like an apostrophe. That’s something I can’t handle. But it’s absolutely possible, because there’s a heap of people using 40% keyboards and it works for them.


Other than that, it’s a super sleek looking keyboard with the two tone DSA keycaps and the super minimal aluminium base. The quality is great, and what’s expected from Vortex.


So it’s definitely not for everyone, but it gives you every opportunity to make it want to you want it to be. And it’s up to the user to get everything they can out of the keyboard. If you’re still looking for a compact keyboard but can’t handle this, then Vortex still have their ever popular Poker 3.

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