The Vortex ViBE Mechanical Keyboard
Author: Jake Bauer | Published: 2020-08-02
I’ve been using the Vortex ViBE as my keyboard for at least six months and I have to say it’s one of the best mechanical keyboards I’ve used. It’s very unique in that it’s a 60% form factor with a number pad tacked on the side. This makes it roughly the same width as a tenkeyless keyboard but with a lot more functionality.
The ViBE is very well-made. The chassis is one solid slab of aluminium that feels very weighty and solid. The switches are mounted on a plate flush with the top of the bottom case which results in the keys floating above the board—a style I prefer more than the keys being inset because it’s easier to clean.
It uses a detachable Micro-USB cable to connect to a computer and has no bluetooth capabilities (I prefer wired over wireless). Although USB Type C has become the connector everyone wants on everything, I don’t really mind that this uses Micro-USB since it’s not like I unplug my keyboard very often nor does it actually make much of a difference to me what connector is on the back of my keyboard. Plus, in the end, USB-C is still relatively expensive to integrate into products due to much of the process still being manual.
Its most interesting feature is that it combines the numpad and the nav cluster into the same section of the keyboard. It was important for me to get a keyboard with a number pad because of how often I used the pad on my old keyboard, but I also didn’t want to use a full-sized keyboard because of how large they are and how awkward it feels to have to move my hand so far to reach the numpad, let alone the mouse. I also didn’t really want to have to use separate layers to get keys like SysRq, PrtScn, the arrow keys, or Page Up and Page Down, so an even smaller keyboard was a no-go.
That brings me to the coolest feature of this keyboard: the numpad becomes the nav cluster when NumLock is off. When you hit the button labelled Num, a green light appears under the Caps-Lock key to tell you that the number cluster is active and you can use the numpad as a numpad. When the light is off, that same cluster of keys become the nav cluster in the exact same layout as a regular nav cluster (the numpad keys 1 and 3 become dead keys in this case). This makes all the keys of the keyboard, including Page Up/Down, Home/End, and PrtScn/SysRq, accessible in a much smaller package. You also get used to hitting the Num key whenever you want to type a number, then hitting it again to go back to nav mode as opposed to always leaving NumLock on.
You may also notice a lack of a tilde/backtick key. Those are accessed using the Escape key where a backtick is Fn + Escape and tilde is Fn + Shift + Escape. Once again, this is something you get used to over time and I’ve grown to appreciate the escape key being a lot closer to the home row as it no longer feels like a stretch to use it in Vim.
Some other very interesting features of the keyboard are:
- A built-in toggle to go between Qwerty, Dvorak, and Colemak keyboard layouts
- The keys are all the same height so they can be freely swapped around anywhere on the keyboard to conform to any desired layout
- There are three programmable layers plus the default layer so it’s possible to program custom macros on different layers of the keyboard
- It comes with some extra keycaps: three extra colours of spacebar and two extra colours of Num, Vertical Enter, Enter, and Esc keys (I chose the red keys)
- It’s available with a ton of different Cherry MX keyswitches.
I got my keyboard with Cherry MX Black switches. I used to use Cherry MX Blues and really liked the heavy weight and the clicky feeling but got tired of the sound. I found Cherry MX Browns mushy (sorry, brown fans!), but MX Reds far too light so I went with Blacks. I very much like the stiffness, quietness and overall feeling of them.
It’s also not a very expensive keyboard. At roughly $140 USD (I got mine for $120 USD because it was an open-box return from mechanicalkeyboards.com), it’s competitive with offerings from big brand name companies such as Corsair, Cooler Master, and Razer.
I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a compact keyboard but don’t want to give up the numpad or spend a ton extra to get a separate numpad. As far as I know, this keyboard is unique in that respect and fills the niche well.
This is my eighty-third post for the #100DaysToOffload challenge. You can learn more about this challenge over at https://100daystooffload.com.