Per-Key Quality Testing

In order to test the quality and consistency of a keyboard, we are using a texture analyser that is programmed to measure and display the actuation force of the standard keyboard keys. By measuring the actuation force of every key, the quality and consistency of the keyboard can be quantified. It can also reveal design issues, such as the larger keys being far softer to press than the main keys of the keyboard. The actuation force is measured in Centinewton (cN). Some companies use another figure, gram-force (gf). The conversion formula is 1 cN = 1.02 gf (i.e. they are about the same). A high quality keyboard should be as consistent as possible, with an average actuation force as near to the manufacturer's specs as possible and a disparity of less than ±10%. Greater differences are likely to be perceptible by users. It is worth noting that there is typically variance among keyboards, although most keyboard companies will try and maintain consistency - as with other reviews, we're testing our sample only.

The machine we use for our testing is accurate enough to provide readings with a resolution of 0.1 cN. For wider keys (e.g. Enter, Space Bar, etc.), the measurement is taking place at the center of the key, right above the switch. Note that large keys generally have a lower actuation force even if the actuation point is at the dead center of the key. This is natural, as the size and weight of the keycap reduces the required actuation force. For this reason, we do display the force required to actuate every key but we only use the results of the typical sized keys for our consistency calculations. Still, very low figures on medium sized keys, such as the Shift and Enter keys reveal design issues and can easily be perceptible by the user.

Even though the switches of the Excalibur SE Spectrum rely on infrared sensors for signaling, the switch’s mechanical design and movements are almost entirely the same as those of a typical mechanical switch. As a result, there are small variations between the switches that are being caused by the inequity of the mechanical parts, like every mechanical keyboard has. The Gateron Blue Optical switch once again almost perfectly copies the Cherry MX Blue variant, with an average actuation force of 51.1 cN across the main keys of the keyboard. The disparity is a little higher than 8%, a relatively high reading in comparison to the <5% figures we normally see on keyboards using original Cherry MX Blue switches, but not high enough to be a cause of concerns. It is next to impossible for someone to discern such small differences by touch.

Hands-on Testing

I always try to use every keyboard that we review as my personal keyboard for at least a week. My typical weekly usage includes a lot of typing (about 100-150 pages), a few hours of gaming and some casual usage, such as internet browsing and messaging. I personally prefer Cherry MX Brown or similar (tactile) switches for such tasks. Cherry MX Blue switches and their variants are not cup of tea because their audible feedback tires me after a while, and that was the case with the Excalibur SE Spectrum as well. That aside, the switches put no strain on my fingers and the tactile feedback was both consistent and practical. However, the lack of a wrist rest proved to be a serious issue for me that sometimes I spend many hours using a keyboard, so I essentially had to “cheat” by using an aftermarket product in order to keep testing the Excalibur SE Spectrum.

For gaming, the Tesoro Excalibur SE Spectrum has left me with mixed feelings. The audible feedback of the Blue switch variant may not bother some users, and a few users may actually even want it as a feature, but I personally found it distracting and tiring while trying to focus on the game. I also could not use any of my macros because they all make use of complex commands that frequently include mouse movements, which the simplistic recorder of the Excalibur SE Spectrum cannot emulate. With the lack of software allowing at least the ability to reprogram keys into launching external applications, allowing users to launch macros compiled with third-party software, the Excalibur SE Spectrum is limited to very simple, basic key sequence macros that are of very limited use to gamers. 

The Tesoro Excalibur SE Spectrum Optical Keyboard Final Words & Conclusion
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  • MobiusPizza - Monday, March 20, 2017 - link

    Currently, the only advantage over mechanical contacts apart from shorter travel. What they should aim for is programmable characteristics such as what travel distance activates the switch, as the sensor is capable of measuring the analogue movement.
  • WorldWithoutMadness - Monday, March 20, 2017 - link

    This one won't chatter like the traditional one.
  • Kutark - Thursday, April 6, 2017 - link

    So is it significantly quieter than a mechanical? I have a friend who continues to buy these horrifically bad Chiclet type keyboards because they have a very low actuation distance and are relatively quiet. He bitches constantly about how loud my keyboard is, so I can't even get him to try one out because of that.

    This sounds like it might be a good alternative option?
  • Old_Fogie_Late_Bloomer - Monday, March 20, 2017 - link

    The advantage is that you don't need to wait for the switches to settle before decoding a keystroke, which in theory should lower latency. I dunno if that will really benefit anyone but competitive Korean StarCraft players, but that's the point of them.

    I use a Code Green primarily for my personal computing, where as long as I don't get strokes registering twice I'm happy and don't care about the slightly longer latency. But I'd definitely be interested in a red-equivalent optical switch for gaming (I have a Gateron Brown board for this but haven't had a lot of time to play lately).

    Personally, I don't know why anyone markets blue switches to gamers, but obviously people are buying them. I find the mechanics of MX Greens to be an impediment for twitchy play, myself.
  • KAlmquist - Monday, March 20, 2017 - link

    Why is it necessary to “wait for the switches to settle before decoding a keystroke?” When a mechanical switch closes, the contacts can bounce, causing the switch to open and close several times. So, the first time a switch closes, the keyboard reports the closing of the switch as a keystroke. The keyboard logic then has to identify the subsequent openings and closings as caused by contact bounce, which it does based on time. So the debouncing logic in the keyboard shouldn't introduce latency unless you manage to type quickly enough to confuse the debouncing logic. In particular, if you press a key and then release it really fast, the switch open caused by releasing the key could be confused with a contact bounce, causing the keyboard circuitry to delay reporting the key release until a timeout causes it to realize that it's not observing a contact bounce after all. But that's a delay in reporting a key release, not a key press, and I doubt that it happens in practice.
  • sor - Tuesday, March 21, 2017 - link

    A required delay in a key release is also a delay in the next key press. Probably not really any issue in practice, however, unless you like to type the same character at a rate of 100/second or more.
  • sor - Tuesday, March 21, 2017 - link

    For both keyboards it's required that the key travel backward 2mm to register a release, that's probably the limiting factor and introduces more than enough time to register debounce.
  • SodaAnt - Monday, March 20, 2017 - link

    How is the PWM on the RGB LEDs? I've seen a few keyboards where you get the rainbow effect if you move your vision on the keyboard too quickly, and the colors all end up splitting because the refresh rate is so low.
  • pjcamp - Monday, March 20, 2017 - link

    "The concept of making it plug & play, allowing the user to program lighting modes and macros without relying on software, is interesting..."

    I need to correct your typo here. It is not an interesting feature, it is REQUIRED in order to fully function with operating systems other than Windows. The folks down at Anandtech should recognize the existence of people who use Linux and Macs. When I bought my last keyboard, I spent a long time pouring over technical docs specifically to find one that was independent of Windows.
  • twtech - Monday, March 20, 2017 - link

    And yet still, there is no MS Natural type split keyboard equivalent with mechanical keys. Considering the MS Natural shape & style remains the keyboard style of choice for many programmers and others that type all day, it seems like this should have been an obvious market to target.

    There are a few ergonomic mechanical keyboards, but most of them have nonstandard key layouts. There's the Matias Ergo Pro, which has a mostly-standard layout - and is what I'm using now - but it has some quirks with stuck keys, etc., comes in two separate halves connected by a wire, and is very thick (when tented it sits up over 2" off the desk in the center).

    With all these generic mechanical keyboards coming out that are mostly all the same, you'd think someone would want to capitalize on the not-so-niche market of people who type all day and are willing to shell out the $150+ that many of these mechanical keyboards cost, but who also must have a split-style keyboard.

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