Vortex Core Review

Hello everyone; welcome to Rhinofeed! Today I’m going to be reviewing the brand new Vortex Core mechanical keyboard.

Included in the box (a very nice box) you’ll receive the keyboard itself and a 5 ft micro usb cable. A printed manual will most likely be included as well. Mine didn’t come with one because they sent me the PDF version.

Switches

The switch options are Cherry MX Black, Blue, Brown, Red and Clear.

This one has Cherry MX Blue with the clear housing.

The only switch that includes a stabilizer is the 2.75U space bar, which is a plate mounted Cherry style stabilizer. Like the POK3R RGB keyboard, the stabilizers appear to be made by someone other than Cherry. It seems more responsive than a Cherry stabilizer normally is, and the stem is clear instead of black (or orange, like the POK3R RGB).

Layout

This keyboard has a tiny 40% layout with only 47 keys. It includes a split spacebar and 4 layers, 3 of which can be programmed. I highly recommend taking a look at the manual to get a better idea of exactly what the layout looks like.

There are 2 function layers, which are separate from the 3 programmable layers. One of them has numbers and F1-F12, while the other includes the arrow keys, media control, volume, calculator, program layer selection, and Home, End, Page Up, Page Down.

There’s also technically a third function layer, but it only includes your symbols and special characters. You get to it by pressing shift + Fn1 (red text). The manual is incorrect on the location of your symbols, as they are actually on the 2nd row instead of the top row.

The bottom row has a 1.25u Ctrl, 1u Win, 1u Alt, 1u Pn, 1.75u space, 2.75u space, 1u Fn, 1u Alt, 1u Menu, and 1.25u Ctrl. It will be very difficult to find replacement keycaps, but the keycaps included are excellent. More on them in a minute.

The split spacebar is comfortable to use with both my right and left thumbs.
There is a very small 1u backspace key, but you gain a dedicated delete key by making this sacrifice. Because the backspace is in the top right corner, I still hit it accurately once I got used to the layout.

While the symbol locations take two keys to access (Shift + Fn), it’s the sacrifice that has to be made in any keyboard this small. Plus, it’s good for me to put some effort toward learning the locations of the symbols with no lettering.

Keycaps

The keycaps are Dye-Sublimated PBT with a DSA Profile.

Dye-sublimated is the lettering printing method used. This method dyes the letters into the keycap creating a permanent letter that cannot wear or fade away over time.

PBT is the plastic used. It is more durable, has a slightly rougher texture, and is less likely to shine over ABS plastic.

DSA Profile is the shape of the keycaps. They are spherical, shallow, and spaced out evenly with a bit more space in-between each keycap. It takes a little time to get used to them, with a smaller target area on top to hit with your fingers. Other than a missing home row bump, I like them. It’s hard to beat the more sculpted shape of Cherry profile for typing, but DSA looks great.

I especially love the classic beige colors used, and I don’t ever see myself changing the keycaps on this particular keyboard.

Backlighting

There will be RGB backlighting available on some models. Those models will includes switches with clear housings.

Programming

In general, I haven’t been impressed by programming on most keyboards. The software is always the problem: it’s available only on one platform, it’s buggy, or it’s too geeky. Vortex solves this problem by avoiding software all-together. Yes, this keyboard can be programmed without flashing the firmware or requiring software.

The only issue I found so far was that the space bar cannot be programmed differently than the right spacebar. With so many layers, this would make the most sense. Vortex has said that a new firmware will be released if need be, and I really hope they do. As it stands with the current firmware, there is not much reason for the split spacebar.

Build

The case is very simple. It has clean, square edges. It’s anodized aluminum. It’s grey. It doesn’t attract fingerprints. It’s barely even there. It’s exactly my style.

There are round rubber feet with no angle adjustment, so this keyboard will be sitting flat unless you modify it. This is perfect for me, but I know some people like to type with a slight angle.

There is a micro usb connection on the back left of the keyboard. It would be great to see USB-C in the future.

The keyboard weighs 14.6 oz (414 g). It’s very light and great for traveling. It could be lighter if they used an aluminum plate instead of steel, but the steel plate is a selling point for me. Aluminum plates just don’t feel quite as solid to type on (because they literally aren’t, aluminum is a softer metal).

There are 5 mounting points for screwing the PCB and plate into the case, which are hidden underneath the keycaps and between the switches.

The dimensions with the keycaps are: 9.75 x 3 x 1 in (24.76 x 7.62 x 2.54 cm).

Conclusion

While I have played with small keyboards before, this is a great implementation of the 40% layout. Yes, sacrifices have to be made, but Vortex keeps the keyboard incredibly functional with hardware based programming and multiple layers. This is about as small as you can get without making typing a chore, and I absolutely love it.

Thanks to Vortex for sending this out for review! If you're interested in purchasing the Core, you can find it on Amazon.

Nathaniel Hirschler Avatar
By Nathaniel Hirschler

I'm not a fan of writing bios.
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