Mechanical keyboards! They’re the best, at least if you’re an avid gamer or writer. Unlike shallower scissor-style key switches (see, the MacBook) or silicone dome switches, good old mechanical switches feature more key travel, are far more durable, and tend to be far more accurate and reliable for typists and gamers. Roommates probably won’t like them — they’re the keyboards that go click-clack in the night — but they should probably get some earplugs, anyway. Kidding (mostly)!
Tesoro is a recent entrant into the crowded computer peripheral market, but they’ve caught up remarkably fast in terms of design. Their Sagitta Spectrum gaming mouse is a competent basic gaming mouse with an excellent, understated design, a principle that has been carried over to their Gram Spectrum keyboard. Like the Sagitta Spectrum, the Gram Spectrum has lighting effects, with LED lights included in each of the key switches. That’s pretty standard for gaming keyboards, but the new low-profile switches make a big difference in a couple ways.
It’s a little hard to tell from the picture, but this keyboard is pretty heavy. Tesoro didn’t mess around with the construction — the casing and the top plate are made of cast metal. Over time, plastic housings on normal keyboards can deform after repeated pressure from key presses, but you can be assured that won’t happen here. On the underside, each corner has a rubber pad to prevent slipping, and there are two sturdy rubber feet that kick out from the back. Because of the slim profile and the keys used (which we’ll get into in the performance section), the keyboard isn’t very comfortable to use when lying flat, so the presence of sturdy kickstand feet is huge. Aside from the kickstand, there are no particularly ergonomic design tweaks.
There’s a single USB port on the back for the 1.8-meter braided cable — not only is the cable durable, it’s also detachable, so even if it does break down, the cable can be replaced independently. Unfortunately, there are no extra pass-through ports to make it easier to plug in mice or other peripherals.
The Gram has been designed in a sneakily awesome way — the use of a flat slate and the low-profile keys means there’s no sunken reservoir that the keys are pressed down into. As we all know, those keyboard reservoirs can become an unholy repository of crumbs, hair, dust, bacteria, and who knows what else. Because of the flat slate design, you can easily blow debris out of the keyboard using a compressed air canister. Although Tesoro isn’t the only company to do this, it’s not currently an industry-standard feature.
Tesoro used new low-profile Agile key switches sourced from a company called Kailh (they and Cherry are the big names in key switches). The difference is easy to spot — the keys are much thinner than those usually found on mechanical keyboards. Don’t let the thinner keys fool you, though — the keys are every bit as satisfying to press as any other keyboard. The decrease in weight means they’re a little easier to press, too, although not so much that you’ll experience any accidental key presses.
My review model had red switches, which in keyboard parlance means switches that don’t take as much force to activate. It’s better for gamers who need to press keys rapidly and get an equally rapid response, although it’s still suitable for typing (blue switches are the norm for typists, however). Speaking of rapid response, there’s also a processor and memory in the keyboard itself to help expedite sending key commands to your computer.
The Gram Spectrum keyboard features 3.5 mm of key travel total (the maximum amount a key can be pushed down), with just 1.5 mm of travel needed for actuation (for a key press to be registered). Because of the ease of actuation and sensitivity, it’s great for playing games that require a lot of actions per minute — think first person shooters, MOBAs, and especially real-time strategy games. As a mechanical keyboard, there’s some spring action involved in the button presses, and it’s noticeable. Besides the clacking of the keys being pressed, you can occasionally hear a metallic ping as the springs snap back into shape after a key press. It usually gets lost in the clacking, so the extra noise isn’t much of a negative. Typing is very smooth, and you can really feel the benefit of the sensitive actuation when typing quickly. The keys are rated for 60 million key presses, so they should keep clacking for a long time.
The keys are comfortable, although there aren’t any special bells or whistles. There are no premium features like textured WASD keys, for example. Fortunately, the lighting effects help mitigate that. The companion software, which can be downloaded from Tesoro’s website, looks as dated as the software for their Sagitta mouse, but it still does the job. There are fun lighting effects like ripple, radiation, trigger, and fireworks, all of which are lighting effects that spread out from a key when pressed. You can also choose to have steady, wave, or rainbow lighting (16.8 million colors in this Spectrum) for a reliable backlight, although for this purpose, the lighting isn’t as bright as we’d like it to be. There are some practical effects for gaming, too — you can choose to only light up the left side of the keyboard, which is used more often in games. Those effects can be assigned to profiles, which can then be chosen quickly using Fn+F1 through F5. It’s nothing that most other gaming keyboards don’t also have, but the effects work and work well.
Macros can also be programmed using the software, although there are no dedicated macro keys. On top of that, each key on the keyboard can be reprogrammed and saved to gaming mode. There’s a key command (Fn+Pause) that toggles the keyboard between gaming and PC modes — using the former, you can reprogram keys to ensure you never accidentally hit the Windows key and minimize a game in the middle of hectic action (a standard gaming keyboard feature).
Read on for the verdict…