For a while there I was covering a new RGB keyboard every two weeks but I haven’t covered any in over a month now. This is partially due to all of the video card launches, but also I’ve been turning away a lot of companies as well. Frankly, everyone in their mom is making their new RGB mechanical keyboards and there just isn’t much separating them. I would prefer to keep things fresh and check out a variety. So to change things up today I’m taking a look at the new Vortex Pok3r RGB. Those of you who see me and my wife out at LANs has most likely seen both of us gaming using Vortex Poker keyboards (she has a Poker 2 and I have a Pok3r), so I’m excited to finally be able to talk a little about one of my favorite keyboards. On top of this one having RGB backlighting, it also sports Cherry’s new Nature White keyswitches, so this is my first experience with them as well.
Product Name: Vortex Pok3r RGB
Review Sample Provided by: Vortex
Written by: Wes
Pictures by: Wes
Amazon Link: HERE
|Physical Layout||US QWERTY|
Cherry Nature White
|Switch Mount Type||Plate|
|LED Backlighting||Full RGB|
|Keycaps||Double Shot ABS|
|Keyboard color options||Black or White|
|USB Key Rollover||Full|
|Primary Interface||Detachable Mini-USB|
|Cord Length||60 Inches|
Photos and Features
The Pok3r RGB sample that Vortex sent me came in its box, but had been beat up very badly. That combined with the fact it didn’t come with any of the accessories or even a cable, there wasn’t any good reason to do a packaging section so today we are jumping right into the Photos and Features section.
So if you are unfamiler with the Vortex Poker it is most likely the most popular keyboard available in the 60% form factor that I have covered a few times in the past. 60% boards have the same layout as a traditional keyboard, only there are less keys. Most of you have most likely seen a TenKeyLess keyboard where there is no number pad. The 60% takes this further and drops the entire F key row up top and the direction pad and keys to the right. What you are left with is a full set of alpha keys and the modifiers you use day to day. The functionality of the lost keys is still there, you just have to get at them using a function layer. I’ve been a big fan of this form factor for a few years now and both my wife and I use them at LAN events. I also sometimes use them around the office as well when space is limited.
Keyboards like the 60% Infinity that I build and wrote about last year have this same form factor and have been able to take advantage of the aftermarket accessories for the Poker keyboards with cases. A great example of this is the oak case I reviewed. With the older Poker models like the original and the Poker 2, they both came with basic plastic cases. When Vortex introduced the Pok3r (the Poker 3) they clued in on everyone upgrading their keyboards and went ahead and switched the plastic case to an aluminum case. So our Pok3r RGB has that same heavy duty case. The case is a little shorter than the old plastic cases, so you can see the keys float a little. For our sample they send a black model with black keycaps and a black case, I couldn’t find any information if there will be a white model as well. I hope there is because the pok3r looks great in white.
Like I just mentioned the aluminum case on the Pok3r RGB is only as tall as the mounting plate that the switches are mounted to. So from the side, we can see the switches. This should make keeping the Pok3r RGB clean a little easier, though. From the side the case has a nice angle, this makes the front edge fairly thin and the back edge a lot thicker. The back edge is also where the detachable cable hooks up. It uses a Mini-USB connection, something you don’t see as often but a lot of the people in the keyboard community still prefers it over the Micro-USB connections.
So like I mentioned earlier, 60% keyboards have to take advantage of a function layer to be able to keep a lot of the keys that get used from time to time on a traditional keyboard that aren’t on a 60%. To help with this the Pok3r RGB has legends printed on the bottom edge of some of the keys. These all work with the FN button. There are also a few controls that you get with the programming button, but I will get into those later. So one of the easiest things to remember is the F key row. Basically, they use the number row but with the function key to get the same number. So FN+7 is F7, most people don’t use the F-keys often but you get used to this one really quick and it’s a lot like using shift to get to $ or %. The direction pad is gone as well and they have this on the IJKL buttons. The older Poker 2 used FN+WASD and I really wish they still did that. Then of course if you look you will see things like insert and print screen. The one key that I use a lot is the delete key. Holding FN+Backspace is delete, I don’t think you could ask for an easier one there. All In all more of the functions that get used are easy, with the exception of the direction pad and the others are there and labeled if you ever need them.
The bottom of the Pok3r RGB has a few things going on. For starters, there are four extremely wide rubber feet that give the small keyboard good grip. The extra weight of the metal case also helps a lot here. Like other Poker keyboards, in the middle of the base is a plate with the keyboards name, Vortex’s quote “Enjoy your Feeling” (they used to print it on the spacebar as well), and the keyboards serial number. Ours just says engineering sample, though. It did save me the trouble of having to blur or Photoshop out the serial number like I normally do. The last interesting thing on the bottom of the Pok3r RGB is a small hole in the case that gives you access to four dip switches. The first two switches can be used in combination to switch the keyboard between Qwerty, Dvorak, and Colemak layouts. The third switch turns the CapsLock key into a FN key. The fourth switch is more complicated but you can use it to reprogram the position of both the FN and PN keys.
You should already know by now that the Pok3r RGB is a mechanical keyboard, but to go beyond that they are using Cherry branded switches. The Poker RGB is available with Brown, Blue, Red, Black, and Nature White. The first four are normal switches that most of you have heard of and I wrote about in our picking a switch article from a few years ago. That said things have gotten a lot more complicated in that time and I really do need to revisit the topic. The new Nature White Cherry MX is exclusive to the RGB switches. This means it is only available with the fully transparent casing. For lighting, they use a small RGB LED mounted to a second PCB. The traditional PCB that the switches are then attached to have holes for the light from each LED to come through. This is why they use transparent casings, because unlike the older design, the LED isn’t installed into the switch. The new switch is a linear switch just like the Red and Black switches but it uses a difference actuation force. The Red requires 45-cN of force and the Cherry MX Black requires 60-cN of force. The Nature White falls in between slightly with 55-cN of force, the same that the popular Cherry Brown requires. I'm excited to test it out because Brown switches are one of my two preferred switches and typically I’ve not been a fan of reds and black because they felt to light and too heavy.
For the larger modifier keys, the Pok3r RGB uses Cherry stabilizers. These mount below the backplate and make installation and removal of keycaps much easier. Typically cherry stabilizers do have more of a rattle though so I will have to keep an eye out for that in my testing.
For the keycaps on the Pok3r RGB, Vortex changed things up in a few ways compared to previous backlit poker models. This is a good thing, though, in the past, most people preferred to get backlit pokers with the non-backlit keycaps simply because they were much better. The issue was that the old backlit caps were basically the same thing we see on every backlit keyboard. Cheap and thin ABS keycaps painted black with the legend laser cut into it. The normal Poker keycaps, on the other hand, are thick PBT keycaps. So this time around they changed from a normal backlit keycap to a double shot design. This means they won’t wear out. They did stay with ABS though and I’m not sure why. Vortex actually sells a PBT backlit keycap set, with a few changes it would have been perfect here. They also changed the font slightly but most people won’t notice that. All in all, I like the move to a double shot keycap though when looking under the caps they still didn’t get any thicker.
For testing the Vortex Pok3r RGB I spent a few weeks using it as my main keyboard and then for a few weeks I actually have been using it on our testbench due to the limited space on my desk. This gave me a great chance to use the Pok3r RGB while writing and gaming but then after that I was able to use it to fit a keyboard into a space that a traditional or even TKL wouldn’t fit.
As someone who uses an original Pok3r and a Poker 2 often, switching to the Pok3r RGB was easy. I do think that people who aren’t used to the smaller form factor will need a little more time to adjust. I know I’m not a big fan of using a function layer, but using the function layer to get access to a few of the keys that I need from time to time wasn’t too bad. Most of the time it was just getting to an F row key or the delete key and both of those are really easy to remember. Everything else I took advantage of the secondary legends on the keys. When gaming this rarely became an issue, I had WASD and QWER access and my mouse. The only issue I ran into was when writing and especially when inputting graphs. Not having a number pad can be rough but I’m used to using the number row when needed. It was trying to use the direction pad on a function layer with the function key and the direction keys on the same side that caused me trouble. I really wish they still used WASD for the direction pad like on the Poker 2.
I was surprised at how quickly I adjusted to the new Nature White keyswitches as well. I’ve been really vocal in the past that my preferred switches are Clears and Browns. I can’t stand typing on clicky switches like greens and blues and reds and blacks weren’t far off as well. Getting the pressure matched with the Browns made a big difference, though. I still would prefer browns, but I do think this is the best linear switch that Cherry offers. I don’t know if they changed the material used as well but I think the Nature White is a little smoother as well, a lot like Gaterons. Remember when I wrote about the Cherry stabilizers I would have to keep a close eye on them for rattling. The stabilizers on the Pok3r weren’t perfect but the rattle wasn’t as bad as normal and after a little use, they seemed to wear in and improve as well.
So how did Vortex implement their RGB lighting controls? Well for starters they don’t use any software, so going in you need to be ready to get used to programming your layers with a few key combinations. It's actually really easy and similar to the Cooler Master Masterkeys Pro In a few ways. You can pick from a few different lighting effects like a breathing effect. My favorite would be the pinwheel color wheel, though. This rotates through the full range like a lot of the RGB keyboards do, but rather than doing the normal wave it rotates around the keyboard. My big complaint with the lighting controls is that had to look through the manual and even watch a video to find the controls. Vortex didn’t include any of the lighting controls in their secondary labels, so you have to remember what each key does. Each time I needed to change the lighting I fumbled around until I had completely messed it all up, then I would look it up. They should at least label the effects key, the RGB keys, and the brightness controls.
On top of effects you can set the whole keyboards color or if you want you can even assign colors to each key individually. They give you three keys, one red, one green, and one blue and they have 6 brightness levels. You press each until you get the color that you prefer and then you select the keys you want to put it on. The other option is to use the escape button and the entire keyboard lights up in a full RGB range and you can click the key with the color you prefer.
The RGB lighting is bright with the white backplate helping brighten things up. So bright in fact that when the brightness turned up the doubleshot keycaps start to bleed light badly, especially the modifiers. I was really excited when I saw that for the RGB Pok3r they were going with doubleshot keycaps because I’m tired of every backlit keyboard just having the painted caps. But I think Vortex should have just taken from their PBT backlit keycaps (and fixed the number row issues). They are very high quality, thick, and aren’t going to get glossy and wear out like the ABS double shots that they went with. It’s possible though that it would cost too much for them, but I will tell you right now I will be getting a set for the Pok3r RGB very soon!
Overall and Final Verdict
When it comes to keyboard reviews, while I cover a lot of them, what I use and like myself isn’t always what we get in to review. The Pok3r RGB from Vortex though is the opposite. I use an original Pok3r and my wife uses the older Poker 2 on our LAN rigs. So when the chance came up to take a look at the new RGB version I was excited, hell I would have most likely been picking one up anyhow. That didn’t keep me from diving into the keyboard in both our feature breakdown and in my performance testing to see what the keyboard was all about. If anything I’m more critical because I want to use it in the future. That said the form factor and build quality that I love with my previous Pokers is still there. The newer Pok3rs have actually stepped up the build quality even more with their new aluminum case. It is a big improvement over the old plastic design in construction and the heavier weight helps keep the tiny keyboard from sliding around.
The choice to go with double shot keycaps is an improvement over the painted keycaps that you normally see on backlit keyboards including previous backlit Poker models. I did have an issue with the caps being ABS when Vortex already produces a great backlit PBT and the caps are a little thin causing backlighting to bleed through. In other words, while an improvement over a standard painted cap, there is still room for improvement. I also love the new RGB backlighting. Some people might not like backlighting at all, but if you do, it is nice to be able to pick your favorite color or go with colors that match your PC or other peripherals.
I really like that you don’t need to use any software to program the Pok3r RGB and to change the backlighting colors. I even think the lighting controls are all well placed and easy to use. That said I really wish they would actually label the lighting controls. Every time I would go to change things I would have to relearn their locations over again. Going with side labels like the rest of the function layer controls would have been great. Speaking of the function layer controls, I would love to see the direction pad move back over to WASD for us gamers.
So is the Vortex Pok3r RGB the keyboard to get? I think that people who like a minimalist setup or people like me who are trying to save as much room in their LAN bag and on their tablet at events are going to love the new Pok3r RGB. There are going to be people who aren’t going to be willing to lose the buttons, but honestly, anyone who is okay with a TKL should be able to use the Pok3r with just a short period of adjustment. At just under $140 it fits about right price wise compared to other RGB keyboards, especially when you take into consideration what the non-backlit Pok3rs are selling for.
Live Pricing: HERE