Race II Review
Included in the box you'll find the following: a 1.5m (5 feet) USB cable, a single chipmunk / squirrel keycap, a Chinese user manual, and the keyboard itself. Here is the English version of the manual.
This particular keyboard has Cherry MX Brown switches. Other options include Cherry MX Blacks, Blues, and Reds. Browns have a tactile bump that let you know when the switch is actuating. It's a great switch for someone looking to buy their first mechanical keyboard.
The 82-key Race II has a very unique 75% layout, saving even more space than a tenkeyless board, but still including dedicated F1-F10, Delete, Home, Page Up, Page Down, End, and Arrow keys unlike the 60% Poker II. If you're used to the Poker II already, you won't really notice the larger footprint on your desk. It's only one key width wider and one key width taller. The dimensions are 12.2 x 4.2 x 31.2 cm.
The only downsides that I can find to this layout are the smaller right shift key (every now and again I have to search for it), the location of the Fn key, and the less common 1.5 key sizes. It will be a little tricky finding replacement keycaps if you are into that sort of thing, as I am.
At the moment, there are two color options: black with white LED backlighting, and white with green LED backlighting. I picked white LED backlighting with the black case to match my Keycool numpad. The backlighting has 7 levels of brightness, and it can get very bright. Also, I asked Vortex and they said they will be making a version of the Race II that includes PBTs without the backlighting.
The included keycaps on the backlit model are UV coated ABS. They are extremely smooth, but also very thin and light. Personally, I would pick up the PBT version.
The Fn layer is a little bit different than the Poker II, but you'll find all of the commands printed on the side of the keycaps so you don't have to guess where things are. You'll find your media keys from F1-F6. There's also Insert, Calculator, Print Screen, Scroll Lock, and Pause keys, programming time delay keys, an App key (context menu), and backlighting brightness control keys. There are no dedicated keys for F11 and F12; they are under the F9 and F10 keys. The Fn key is found at the very top right instead of on the bottom row, which I find somewhat inconvenient. However, you can engage DIP 1 to make your Left Win key an Fn key instead. Handy.
On the F1 and F2 keys, there is no printed icon on the side of the keycap to indicate that the Fn layer of these keys is Mute and Volume Down. I thought that was weird.
The biggest difference between this keyboard and the Poker II, other than the unique layout, is the fact that this does not have a plate. All the switches are mounted directly to the PCB. Some may like this fact, because they can swap switches out much easier, but for me this really changes the feel when you're typing in a detrimental way. Therefore, it doesn't feel quite as solid as the Poker II (or others). The benefit of this, though, is that it is quite a bit lighter, so you may like it even more for traveling. The Race II weighs in at 18.88 oz, while the Poker II is 20.77 oz. Give my sound tests a listen, and hear the difference for yourself.
There's a removable cable. BYOCC (Bring your own custom cable).
This keyboard has 6-key rollover. This doesn't affect me much, but some folks really need / want NKRO.
On the underside of the keyboard you'll find four dip switches that allow you to change different nifty things.
DIP 1: Left Win becomes Fn
DIP 2: CapsLock swaps places with Left Win
DIP 3: Fn + P becomes Home, Home becomes PrintScreen
DIP 4: Keeps entire CapsLock key backlit, with smaller second LED to indicate when CapsLock is on.
Also, on the bottom you will see four large rubber pads to inhibit the keyboard from sliding.
Programming on the Race II is very easy. Here is the step by step guide from the manual for your convenience:
- Press PMode (Fn + Right Ctrl) to enter the programming mode (Pn LED flashing)
- Press the key you want to program (Pn LED on)
- Key in the programming content and then press Pn (Pn LED flashing again)
- Repeat step 2 and step 3 to program other keys
- Press PMode (Fn + Right Ctrl) to exit programming mode (Pn LED off)
You can activate any programmed key simply by pressing Pn + the key you programmed. There's also a dedicated toggle key, so it's very easy to activate the entire programmed layer permanently if you set your keyboard to a different layout, such as Dvorak.
The only annoyance I found was how the backlighting reacted when in programming mode. Once you press Fn + Right Ctrl (PMode), the backlighting would automatically shut off. After you're done programming your key, you have to manually turn the backlighting back on. If you have the PBT version obviously this wouldn't be an issue because it doesn't include backlighting.
Now, one huge improvement over the programming on the Poker II is this: sixty-four entire characters per key. The Poker II only allows you to program 14 characters per key. Everything is saved in on-board memory, so you don't need any software to utilize this extra functionality. It sure seems like Vortex listened to my review of the Poker II and made this change just for me!
The Race II is a very unique keyboard and layout, with powerful but easy to use programming features. It doesn't have the most solid typing feel because of the lack of a plate, but it's great for traveling because of the small size and light weight. If you need dedicated arrow keys, navigation keys, and / or F1-F10 keys, there's no other mechanical keyboard on the market that's this small with those keys.Many thanks to Vortex for sending the Race II to review, and thank you for reading!