Vortex CORE Keyboard Review (40% Keyboard)

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This is a keyboard review of the VORTEX CORE 40% Keyboard. I have had this keyboard for over a month now. There are a few reasons why I got this keyboard and it has met my expectations. However, there are some compromises you are going to make if you want to use it long term.

The first reason to get the VORTEX CORE keyboard is simply for its design and footprint. Like many of us in the IT field, we go through many different keyboards, monitors, and other accessories to make sure we feel comfortable at our desks. Sometimes we make changes just to change the environment and sometimes it is simply out of boredom.

For me, I wanted the desk space. I actually use different laptops throughout the day (sometimes simultaneously) and a single gaming desktop PC. Sometimes, I have two laptops on my desk and a full-sized keyboard. I found the keyboard was getting in the way.

Here are a couple of pictures of my desk illustrating the difference in size when comparing an Apple full-sized keyboard and the Vortex CORE.

The difference is noticeable. With this added space, there is a price to be paid. All the years of muscle memory developed with touch typing on a standard keyboard is confronted with new key press combinations that play with your mind for a few weeks. For example, when writing an email address, you need to press the “@” symbol. On a standard keyboard, you usually press “Shift + 2”. On the Vortex CORE, the “@” symbol is typed after pressing “Fn1 + Shift + a”. That is a totally different keystroke.

In order to reduce the keyboard to four rows of keys versus the standard five rows, 40% keyboards like the Vortex CORE implement “layers” of keys which are accessed using special function keys. The number row was layered on to the second row from the top (the ASD row). The good thing about the Vortex CORE is that they provide color-coded labels to indicate which function key will activate which layer. For example, the blue function key activates the blue keys, and the red function key activates the red keys.

There are also “hidden” keys if you get earlier versions of this keyboard. For example, the double-quote key is not indicated anywhere on the key caps. However, if you look at the manual, it is actually on a layer on the “B” key. You need to press “Fn1 + Shift + B” to get to the double-quote key. Again, this is something you will need to get used to once you commit to this or any other 40% keyboard that implements layers for multiple keys.

If you are unhappy with the default layout of the keys or want to customize it, you can by programming the layers and assigning keys to them. The manual provides full guidance on that. Newer versions of the keycaps for the Vortex CORE now indicate these special keys with green lettering on the keycaps so you no longer have to memorize them.

One of the best things about this keyboard is the fact that it is a mechanical keyboard. The Vortex CORE comes with variations of the Cherry MX series of switches. Mine came with the Cherry MX Blue series. You can hear that they sound like in the video below. I have been very happy with its feel and sound.

Conclusion

I would recommend the Vortex CORE keyboard for those who value the space savings with a keyboard like this. In addition, the build quality, keys and overall experience with typing on this keyboard is exceptional. I have used this keyboard for MacOS and Windows 10 without any issues. I also used this with my iPad by using Apple’s Lightning to USB Camera Adapter. It works great as a portable keyboard with the added benefit of typing using mechanical key switches.

As far as gaming, I am not a high-performance gamer so this met my needs. However, if you are a gamer that likes to use multiple keystroke combinations using special keys, make sure you take advantage of programming the keys and utilizing macros. Without investing that time and effort, 40% keyboards may not be for you.

Unless you are committed to making this keyboard work for you and customizing it to make you more efficient, I would not necessarily recommend this for users that are programmers. You will get easily frustrated with pressing initially awkward key combination to hit the special keys programmers usually use such as “{}”, “()”, “_”, “#” and the numbers (e.g. for IP addresses, integer value assignments, etc.). For a little while, I considered a separate numeric keypad but stopped short of buying one by reaffirming my commitment to becoming more proficient with the keyboard as is.

Bottom line…I like this keyboard a lot. It is the perfect size, looks great and feels great to type on. If you value the space-savings, size, aesthetic and typing experience, just put in the time and you will be able to master the new keystroke combinations. I compare it to learning and using the VI editor in Unix/Linux. Only after surrendering to its form do you realize its true benefits and the editing efficiencies it provides.

NOTE: The manufacturer does provide firmware updates. The latest has remapped a couple of keys and enabled more programming features. If the company provided replacement key caps for the re-mapped default keys, the I would update. I also have limited use for reprogramming keys for now. Others have have the update very useful. It is your choice. The link to the firmware upgrade is here: http://www.vortexgear.tw/vortex3.asp. Always scan any file you download for viruses, etc. FYI – Here is the VirusTotal.com analysis of version 1.04.05 of the firmware: https://www.virustotal.com/#/file/057f07c14c4ad4df09989291e67f26a96d21d9b32b18ada7096e9d8b7850a472/detection.

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