The new entry from Vortex Gear in the Race 75% lineup. An interesting new direction with the sleek design. As well as great attention to the Mac users out there!
THIS IS AN ENGINEERING SAMPLE PROVIDED BY VORTEX. CONTENTS ARE FEATURES ARE SUBJECT TO CHANGE.
Vortex RACE 3 Mechanical Keyboard
Micro USB Cable
Aluminium feet (for elevation)
12 x coloured keycaps (pictured above)
6 x Mac compatibility keycaps
Retail version will come with a manual.
LAYOUT & SIZE
This is of course a 75% keyboard, and features 83 keys. So it’s approximately 75% of a full sized keyboard. Having 83 keys, it’s pretty much a tenkeyless keyboard in terms of primary functionality, with TKL boards having 87 keys. But we’re saving a bit more lateral space, plus we get this unique look. I absolutely recommend 75% and 65% boards for people who think they can’t stray away from tenkeyless boards, because they still do offer most of the functionality.
Now Vortex have half fixed their old 75% layout, which had some irregular key sizes with the arrow keys and such. This time round, they’ve fixed that part, now having more standard arrow keys, and bottom row keys. However, the top function row is still the same. So we lose 1 key, and instead have larger 1.5 unit escape and delete keys. This severely impacts on key compatibility which is pretty disappointing, and has been deservingly made clear by the community even in the early stages, but no changes were made
Here’s the Drevo Excalibur 75% for comparison, which has a standard top row, which allows for easy keycap swapping. And I put the Vortex keycaps on the Excalibur, and this is how it should have been, but it’s not to be.
DESIGN & BUILD
They’ve gone with pretty much the same design as their Vortex Core 40% keyboard. It’s extremely simplistic, and is essentially just a rectangular case, with absolutely minimal bezel. It’s sporting a floating key design, so the switches are exposed from the sides, and it has a very low profile and slim design. This is something that looks very clean, but I know many people prefer high profile cases.
It’s a lighter silver in comparison to the Core. I did like the colour of the Core, but this is nice as well. The anodized finish is smooth and immaculate, and is holding up fine so far. There is a distinct line all around the case. It’s difficult to get it on camera. Not sure exactly what it is.
On the bottom it’s completely clean, with the metal info plate. Again, this is an engineering sample.
We also get 4 small rubber feet. And 2 holes to install our 2 extra feet. These are super simple to attach with just a Phillips head screw and then you put the rubber foot over it.
I really like these feet. They’re quite small in comparison to other add-on feet, and are of course made from aluminium. They also don’t add too much inclination to the keyboard.
The keycaps complement the design completely. These are amazing DSA profile keycaps, and are all uniform, so they’re all the same height and shape. Besides the F and J homing deep dish keys, which are always so good to just rest your fingers on. And the convex space bar.
Being uniform, we have a very flat slate looking design. The keycaps themselves are also quite low profile in comparison to OEM profile caps, again contributing to the slimness of the board.
They’ve gone for a more standard off white and grey colourway, rather than the more beigy looking ones on the Core. We can also add the extra coloured keycaps to get that bit of edge, while still maintaining the clean look, and it can act as a visual aid as well. And this is pretty much a Granite keyset, which is and has been very popular as an aftermarket set.
The legends are very clean and sharp, and compliment the design. The rest of the keys that aren’t alphas are quite thick though. It’s more noticeable on the number row. The spacing between the symbols and the numbers are quite large as well, making the numbers be right on the edge of the top of the keycap, and because of the profile of the keycap, most of it is on the upwards curve. There’s also inconsistencies in the placement, with some of the numbers being on the absolute edge, while others are at least a millimetre away.
We have Cherry MX Blue keyswitches. These of course will be available in the variety of colours. I do have RGB switches here as shown by the clear top casings, but there’s no backlighting on mine. Again this is an earlier sample, so the retail version may come with the standard black tops.
The impressive thing about this is the sound. I had the same experience with the Vortex Core, where it was very quiet for a Cherry MX Black keyboard. With this, while it’s still loud, it’s a bit quieter and lower pitched than other Cherry MX Blue boards I have around. This is mainly down to the build of the board with the steel backplate and aluminium base. I did try other keycaps, and it’s still quite similar.
PROGRAMMABILITY & CUSTOMISABILITY
Now to the programmability. Vortex have had a lot of experience with the Poker line and the Core, which by nature require layers to access other keys. This on the other hand doesn’t particularly require that aspect, but it’s all still here which is great to see.
For a full demonstration watch the video above.
This programmability is all stored on the onboard memory, so you can have the same settings when changing devices. This is useful for various working programs for shortcuts, games, and just general use. And I’m glad they kept this feature on this keyboard.
There’s other secondary functions shown on the front of some keycaps. We have our media control keys from F1 to F6. And we have the rest of the nav cluster from F10 to delete.
We also have the option to swap between Qwerty, Dvorak, and Colemak layouts. And DSA keycaps are perfect for this, since the heights are all the same, so swapping them around will be absolutely fine.
Apple Mac compatible keycaps!
Another cool thing is the Apple compatibility. The rest of the keycaps have been made to be just like an Apple keyboard. First we have our 2 command keys, which is probably the most important ones. Then there’s the 2 option keys. An enter key that also says return on it. And a delete key for the backspace key.
Additionally by pressing function and M, we can change it to a dedicated Mac mode, which has been patched during the time I’ve had it. And with all those changes, it makes it an absolute perfect substitute for the similarly sized Apple Magic Keyboard. It legitimately is one of the best matches for an Apple system, in how it functions and looks.
Overall a great addition to their line up of compact keyboards. They’ve moved to a more premium feel and classy aesthetic, with this and the Core both now coming with aluminium bases and thick PBT dye subbed DSA profile keycaps. It exudes class, and the aesthetic makes fair of the price at about 140 USD.
If this isn’t something that’s affordable, then the Drevo Excalibur is an amazing alternative with a very similar design, which can be had for about 90 US with the Cherry MX switches, and under 70 for the Outemu’s. However if you want programmability, then you go with this. If you want better keycaps, then this is definitely worth the extra 50 bucks, with keysets like these easily being 100 bucks or more.
And then there’s the KBD75 if you want a bit more bulk and substance.
Another thing to highlight is the Mac compatibility. In the latest Mega Survey conducted by ‘The Gout’ on the forums showed that from 3600 responses, 11.5% of users were Mac based. But this is only in the community. I bet there’s a heap of people who are Mac based that aren’t using a mechanical keyboard at all, and I’d say this is a great choice with the keycaps provided, the dedicated Mac mode, the programmability, and to top it off, it does maintain a sleek design.
It’ll be interesting to see what they come out with next, and if they continue this trend of low profile metal cases and DSA keycaps.