Vortex POK3R Review
Vortex gives you the option of Cherry MX Black, Blue, Red, Brown, or Clear switches, and you can choose between a white or black case and keycap combo. Backlighting is not currently available, but they may introduce it later with dual-color LEDs. Pricing will range from $119 - $129, depending on what model you choose.
The biggest improvement to the Pok3r is the low profile cast aluminum case that comes standard! I'm extremely impressed that they've kept the price point nearly the same, but have included this high-quality case. Individual cases can cost nearly $100 alone, so this is an incredible value!
The case makes the Pok3r feel very solid compared to it's predecessor. You'll also notice a big difference in sound if you listen to my [sound test video here,](http://youtu.be/x_4ngJzKY_s) or the [original audio recording on Soundcloud.](http://soundcloud.com/rhinofeed/pok3r-cherry-mx-clears-sound-test)
In this case (pun intended), it's finished with a nice clean matte black color. Simple lines on the sides and back, and the edges perfectly align with the plate. The top edge is slightly thicker than the sides, at 5mm. The rest of the edges are 2mm thick.
On the bottom you'll find four rubber feet to help the keyboard "stick" to your desk, a cut-out for the DIP switches, and a metal badge including the Pok3r logo and the "Enjoy your feeling" phrase. "Engineering sample" is engraved on my review model, but in shipping units this will be replaced with the serial number and model number.
The original plastic case on the Poker II weighs in at 4.66 oz, while the new aluminum case (with interior plastic shield) weighs 13.58 oz.
Let's begin with the switches. On this particular keyboard, Vortex sent me Cherry MX Clears! Cherry MX Clears are a tactile, non-clicky switch with an actuation force of 55cN. They are similar to Cherry MX Browns, but they require 10cN more force to actuate. I've been a fan of these switches for nearly six months now, because they provide a peak force of 95cN vs. the peak force of 60cN on Browns. This gives a little more cushion before my fingers inevitably bottom out on the plate.
To remove the keyboard out of the case, you'll need a 1/16" allen wrench and a strong magnet (which will make your life easier). There are 6 screws total: one on each side, one to the right of the spacebar, one underneath your backslash key, one underneath your Tab key, and one in-between your G and H keys. Interestingly, Vortex no longer uses philips head screws and washers.You'll still find the switches mounted to a steel plate, and then soldered onto a dual layer PCB. The dual-layer PCB is now red instead of black, with their logo printed on it. Nice touch! The solder points for the LEDs no longer have solder pre-filled, so I believe it would be less of a hassle if you install LEDs yourself. Make sure you use dual-color LEDs, just because you can. You'll find that the resistors are all pre-installed.
The LayoutThe Pok3r uses a 61-key ANSI layout, and completely standard key sizes. This is great for when you want to use your own keycaps to customize your keyboard.
Significant function layer changes have been made on the Pok3r. The first major change is that arrow keys were moved from WASD to IJKL, allowing you to use your right hand on the arrow keys (which I am a fan of). This forced some rearrangement in that area of the keyboard. The calculator, print screen, scroll lock, and pause keys have all stayed where they were, but Home, End, Page Up, Page Down, and insert keys have been moved to surround the arrow keys. It's a little tricky getting used to this layout, mostly because I'm already used to the placement of these keys on the Poker II. Both the top and bottom row function layers have the same configuration as the Poker II.
They've removed volume control, which I use all the time, so I am disappointed in this change. Volume control is not something I can use the programming feature to create, and there is nothing built into the operating system that allows me to control it via a keystroke. Therefore, I am forced to use a AutoHotKey script.
A strange addition is a second delete key beneath the quotation mark key. Delete is already on the function layer of the backspace key.
The "App" key, which accesses your context menu, has moved from "X" to "Z." For programming, your time delay keys have moved from FGH to TGB. These are both very minor changes.
ProgrammingThe biggest change related to programming is the 3 additional programming layers. You no longer have a toggle button (used to be fn + right shift) to switch between the default layer and the programmed layer. You can simply switch layers by pressing Fn + Default, Fn + Layer 2, Fn + Layer 3, or Fn + Layer 4. You cannot program the default layer, only layers 2-4. When you're using any of those layers, a dual-colored LED (Red and Blue) will turn on to the left side of your spacebar. Default is off, Layer 2 is Blue, Layer 3 is Red, and Layer 4 is Purple.
Another major change to programming, we are no longer restricted to 14 keystrokes per key. Vortex has now enabled up to 32 keystrokes per key - more than double that of the Poker II! Again, all of your settings are saved in the on-board memory, so you do not need additional drivers installed on your computer.
If you want to wipe all programming completely, hold down both Alt keys for 5 seconds until the LED stops blinking.
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 TF2.
Win + R, type "steam://rungameid/440", and then press Enter.
- Start Photoshop using a shortcut.
Win + R, type "D:\Photoshop.ink" (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
All of these would be too lengthy for the Poker II! Think of the possibilities!
A few people have asked me already if you can switch the arrow keys back to WASD, and you can, because the Pok3r supports Fn layer programming. Here's an example:
- Press Fn + Layer 2, 3, or 4.
- Press Fn + Right Ctrl to enter programming mode.
- Press Fn + W, or W if you do not want the arrow keys on the function layer.
- Press Fn + I (Where the arrow key is currently located on the keyboard)
- Press Pn
- Continue to program the rest of the keys, or press Fn + Right Ctrl to exit programming mode.
DIP SwitchesThere are 4 DIP switches built into the Pok3r, accessible from the bottom of the keyboard. The first two allow you to switch between Qwerty, Dvorak, or Colemak. Keeping them both switched off will default to Qwerty. Flipping switch 1 on and switch 2 off will enable Dvorak, and flipping both switches on will enable Colemak. I've been giving Colemak a try, myself. Made it to 26 words a minute on my third day (Eeks!). Switch 3 will make your CapsLock key a FN key, and switch 4 will allow you to change the FN or PN keys to any position (other than right control). To do that, you first turn DIP 4 on while the keyboard is unplugged. After plugging it in again, the first key you hit should be the FN key or PN key, depending on which one you'd like to move. Lastly, press the key which you'd like to move either of those keys to, and then switch DIP 4 OFF.
The KeycapsVortex uses a high quality thick PBT plastic for the keycaps, in grey, and the lettering is laser-engraved with an off-white infill. It looks like backlighting will become an available option on this keyboard, and the keycaps for that model will most likely be UV coated ABS or Vortex's new PBT and doubleshot POM keycaps (I'm just guessing here). Vortex still uses their signature font of choice, Bank Gothic, but they've made some changes to the alignment of the text. It is no longer centered, but aligned to the top left of each keycap. Larger modifier keys are aligned to the left or right sides horizontally, and to the bottom vertically. One strange alignment which was pointed out to me was the Esc key. Unlike all of the other keys, it is vertically centered on the keycap. Honestly, I'm not sure if this bothers me or not. Let Vortex know whether they should keep it this way, or change it! Here's a photoshop mock-up of what it would look like with the *proper* alignment.
Oh, and the spacebar no longer has "Enjoy Your Feeling" printed on it. Thank you Vortex for listening to everyone's feedback!
Other Notable ThingsFor the keys that require them, Cherry stabilizers are used. You either like them or hate them. The nice thing is, they make removing the keycaps a lot easier than the Filco-style wire stabilizers.
Make sure to be especially careful when removing keycaps if you have a Cherry MX Clear model - the keycaps are put on tight.
The CapsLock light can't be seen from your sitting position at the desk, as the LED is a very dark blue color. The CapsLock keycap does not allow light to shine through it. They've also moved the CapsLock LED to the switch led socket, instead of to the right of the switch.
The programming LEDs underneath the spacebar are also very dim, but I like them this way because they are not too blinding or distracting. You cannot disable this LED unless you switch back to using the default unprogrammed layer.
As noted in the manual, backlit models will have 2 recordable layers of customized backlighting!
- FN + Q = Choose LED color
- FN + W = Record 1
- FN + E = Record 2
- FN + D = CM1
- FN + F = CM2
I had an idea for the arrangement of the default function layer, which I have created here. I think they should have removed three function layer keys: the second delete key (under the " key), the Pause key, and the Scroll Lock key. This would allow them to bring back the VolUp, VolDn, and Mute keys. I would also rearrange the Home, End, PgUp, and PgDown keys to my liking. My proposed default layout change would keep the same number of function keys - if there is a limitation in the hardware to add more. The VolUp, VolDn, and Mute keys would have an icon on each keycap, not text.
ConclusionVortex has done it again with some great improvements to this new keyboard. The aluminum case really surprised me, especially at nearly the same price of the Poker II! Also, the additional characters and layers provided for programming allow me to do a lot more with it than I could previously. I would say this keyboard holds the best value on the market, especially for those who do not wish to purchase separate aftermarket items such as a metal case or PBT keycaps.
Thanks for reading my review, and thanks to Vortex for sending me a keyboard to review!