Vortex CYPHER Review

Vortex CYPHER Review

What's Included

Build Quality

The case on the CYPHER is made out of plastic instead of the cast aluminum that we usually see on Vortex keyboards. This is probably why the CYPHER starts at just $94.99, instead of the $119.00 price tag of the POK3R. I would still love to see a CYPHER with a cast aluminum case, however, even if the price point is a bit higher.

Thankfully, Vortex continues to use a steel plate for the switch mounting. The steel plate makes a more dramatic difference than the cast aluminum case, although it's always nice to have a great case too. A cast aluminum case would feel more solid and sound quieter.

The cable is 1.8 meters long, rubberized, gold-plated, and most importantly, Type-C! I'm excited to see Vortex using Type-C on their latest keyboard. It's so nice to be able to use a reversable connection.

There are no height adjustment feet on this keyboard, although I would argue that it is unnessecary on a keyboard this small. There are four large rubber feet to prevent any slipping on your desk. They work well.

Dimensions & Weight

  • 315 x 107 x 43 mm (12.4" x 4.2" x 1.7")
  • ~525 grams (~18.5 ounces)

Of course, the plastic case plays into the weight of the keyboard, and it's a more than 200 grams lighter than the POK3R (~777 grams or ~27.5 ounces) despite the larger layout.

Layout

Speaking of layout, the CYPHER is a 65% keyboard with two layout options, or rather, two spacebar options. It can come with a split spacebar or a 6.25 unit (118mm wide) spacebar.

The RACE 3, another keyboard made by Vortex, is considered to be a 75% keyboard. The CYPHER is nearly the same width, but the CYPHER does not include the additional top row that the RACE 3 has. You won't find dedicated F1-F12 key or a dedicated delete key.

On both models, there is an additional column of keys on the right. This column holds your Home, Page Up, Page Down, and End keys. It also gives you just enough space to squeeze in some dedicated arrow keys. This reduces the size of your right shift key, right Alt key, Function key, and Program key. I will admit, having the dedicated arrow keys and the navigational keys is incredibly helpful as a writer.

I haven't found much use for the split space bar yet. This isn't the smallest keyboard I have ever used. However, it certainly doesn't bother me (other than the fact that the keycaps could be much more difficult to replace).

You will be able to program the space bar to be anything you would like it to be. I programmed it to be a function key, but as soon as I opened almost any game I needed the left spacebar again for jumping. This is where layers come in. I'll talk about them later on in this review.

In my testing, this keyboard only appears to have 6-key roll over.

Any keys that would typically be on a Tenkeyless keyboard can be found on the function layer. When pressing the Function (Fn) key + a key on the top layer, you can access the extra features found on the function layer. Here is a table showing most of them.

Notably, COLEMAK is available by pressing Fn + Page Up, DVORAK is available by pressing Fn + Page Down, and Fn + Home switches you back to QWERTY. Fn + End will also disable or enable the Windows key.

Top Layer Key Function Layer Output
ESC `
1 F1
2 F2
3 F3
4 F4
5 F5
6 F6
7 F7
8 F8
9 F9
0 F10
-_ F11
=+ F12
P Print Screen
[{ Scroll Lock
]} Pause
;: Insert
'" Delete
Z APP
Q Previous
W Play/Pause
E Next
S Volume -
D Volume +
F Mute
L_SHIFT + ESQ ~
R Restore to factory default
T Delay 15ms (programming mode)
G Delay 0.1s (programming mode)
B Delay 0.5s (programming mode)

function-layer

Function Layer

layer-1

Default Layer

Keycaps

Your fingers will be typing on 1.3mm thick gray PBT keycaps. The lettering is rather disappointing, as Vortex continues to use Bank Gothic (not a huge fan) and a cheaper printing method. They are laser engraved rather than dye-sublimated or doubleshot. Because of this, you will be able to feel the letters ever so slightly on the other-wise smooth keycaps. The off-white infill color will eventually discolor as the oils of your fingers start to wear it down over time.

Due note that they are also an OEM profile rather than a Cherry profile. Cherry profile keycaps are a bit more desirable. They are slightly lower profile. Of course, this is all subjective, so not everyone will agree.

Switches

  • Cherry MX Black
  • Cherry MX Brown
  • Cherry MX Blue
  • Cherry MX Red
  • Cherry MX Clear
  • Cherry MX Silver
  • Cherry MX Silent Black
  • Cherry MX Silent Red

There are a lot of switch choices here! I really appreciate the addition of the silent switches to the lineup.

Stabilizers

Vortex continues to impress me with their stabilizers. A lot of companies overlook them. I will test keyboards with scratchy, un-lubed, loud, rattling stabilizers all the time. I even created a video to fix this issue on one of my keyboards.

However, Vortex has improved the stock Cherry stabilizer design, and they even thought to pre-lube them right out of the factory. They feel solid, smooth, light, and unnobtrusive.

Backlighting

At the moment, backlighting is not available on this model.

Programming

The last time I wrote the entire process for programming was in my POK3R Review, which was more than two years ago. Not much changed about programming between both keyboards, but I will rewrite the content to make it easier to continue reading.

There will be two main methods to programming on the Vortex CYPHER. The first method, is the hardware based programming feature built into the keyboard. Anything you program will be saved onboard (pun intended), and no software is required. The second method, is their work-in-progress web-based layout editor. This will give you a .cys file that you can use with their firmware. I won't be going over their web-based layout editor at this time because it is still in early development.

The CYPHER has even more flexibility with hardware level programming than the POK3R. You can now program up to 100 characters per key instead of 32!

There are three programmable layers to choose from, and each layer has it's own LED under the left spacebar to indicate what layer is enabled.

Switching Layers
Fn + M Default Layer
Fn + <, Layer 1 (Red LED)
Fn + >. Layer 2 (Green LED)
Fn + ?/ Layer 3 (Blue LED)

If you have any issues while programming and you would like to reset the entire keyboard and all layers back to default, you can hold the Left Alt and Right Alt keys down until the white LED stops blinking.

Just follow these steps to program:

  1. Press Fn + <, Fn + >, or Fn + ? for Layer 2, 3, or 4.
  2. Press Fn + Ctrl to enter programming mode (a green LED will light up underneath the Caps Lock key).
  3. Press the desired key to program, or Fn + the desired key to program something on the function layer.
  4. Type the desired command or letter for that key.
  5. Press Pn.
  6. Continue to program the rest of the keys, or press Fn + Ctrl to exit programming mode.

Changing the location of the Fn key or Pn key is easy. You must be on a programmable layer for this to work. You can hold down Fn + Left Shift or Pn + Left Shift for 5 seconds, and select a new key location by tapping any key.

Here are some ideas of what you can do with the programming:

  • Save a frequently accessed password onto your keyboard, instead of in your browser or on your computer somewhere. No one would know, right?
  • Start apps and games. Here's all you'd need to start Rocket League. Win + R, type "steam://rungameid/252950", and then press Enter.
  • Start Photoshop using a shortcut. Win + R, type "C:\Program Files\Adobe\Adobe Photoshop CC 2018\Photoshop.exe" (or wherever the shortcut is located), and then press Enter
  • Open an explorer window with a particular folder already in view. Win + E, Ctrl + L, "D:\Videos\Rhinofeed", Enter

Pricing / Availability

As mentioned earlier, the price point of this keyboard is a bit lower than some of their other models. It starts at $94.99, and changes depending on the switch you choose. It can go up to $99.99 with Cherry MX Silent switches.

Other Notes

On my keyboard, the Caps Lock LED did not work, but I am sure this won't be an issue on the final production run. Even if it did work, the keycap will cover the LED. It won't be very visible, and will not be able to be easily seen from a regular sitting position at your desk. This was the case on the POK3R.

All of the LEDs are all very dim. Personally, this is a feature. Other-wise, they could be distracting. The indicator LEDs for each programmable layer can not be turned off while using each layer.

Summary

The CYPHER offers a few additions to the 60% layout we all know and love from the POKER keyboard. It has dedicated arrow keys, navigational keys, and a split space bar. Hardware-based programming has been improved as well, with up to 100 characters per key.

If you are looking for dedicated arrow keys and navigational keys, I would still have to recommend the Vortex Race 3 (if your budget allows for it). It has a top row with function keys, an aluminum case, steel plate, and higher quality keycaps (not to mention a more desirable printing method, font, and keycap profile).

That being said, maybe you don't want the top row of keys. Maybe the keycap lettering doesn't bother you, and maybe an aluminum case isn't something you really want. If you'd rather save $40 to remove some these features, maybe the CYPHER is a good option for you.

Disclaimer

Vortex sent this product to me for review. If you would like to support Rhinofeed you can purchase it on Amazon. (when it becomes available).

Nathaniel Hirschler Avatar
By Nathaniel Hirschler

I started Rhinofeed in 2011 as a way to share my various hobbies with the internet. I hope you enjoy reading my articles and watching my videos as much as I have enjoyed sharing them!
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