Mechanical keyboard switches are quite possibly humanity’s greatest ever achievement. Which is why I am incredibly pleased to see the line-up of mechanical keyboards expand in recent years. Keeping the concept fresh are companies like Corsair, who launched their first individually backlit keyboard (the K70 RGB) back in mid-2014, and they’ve recently updated their line-up with the Strafe RGB.
The Strafe RGB is not just your standard mechanical keyboard. As well as having mechanical Cherry (Blue, Brown, Red or Silent) keys, the Strafe also comes with custom programmable backlighting. This is particularly useful for situations where you might want to highlight certain keys (e.g. WASD) but don’t want to fork out £2 for each custom cap. Giving you the variety of 16 million colours, and the versatility of split second lighting change.
Corsair’s software is pretty extensive, not only allowing you to light up individual keys, but also apply some garish colour modes that flash across your fingers like a highly localised rave.
The software that Corsair emails you to do this is pretty extensive, not only allowing you to light up individual keys, but also apply some garish colour modes that flash across your fingers like a highly localised rave. In addition to the lighting, the “utility engine” also lets you rebind any key you want, anywhere you want. You can even rebind your keys to macros, media controls or lighting mode switches for the Keyboard.
Such a feature isn’t uncommon in these types of keyboards, but I found it being particularly useful here as the Strafe is unfortunately lacking in “empty” macro keys. This is a little unusual, considering most “RGBboards” sport at least 4 or 5 of them, though it could be because they don’t want the Strafe cutting into the market share of the pricy Corsair K95 RGB, which offers an extensive array of 18 additional macro keys. Rather I found myself using the numpad as faux macro keys, even though that’s not exactly optimal as it means 1) I don’t have a numpad, and 2) I have to reach all the way over there.
Additionally, I only really used two basic lighting modes with the Strafe. One for writing, where each section gets a different colour (Letters cyan, numbers pink, punctuation blue, etc.) and one for gaming where I have unused keys blacked out, and others highlighted in bright noticeable colours.
This is I think how most people use these keyboards, or would use them if they could afford it. I do not think there is a single person who actually uses the rainbow spiral or similar mode that turns your keyboard into some weird-ass animation. Sure, it look pretty cool on a product video, showing off the individually controllable lights, but in reality they are nothing more than a gimmick.
Normally such an addition wouldn’t bother me, it’s just a little flashy lagniappe that you get for your £140 keyboard. And Corsair seems to have put an awful lot of effort into these, offering many more than any other manufacturer, and with extensive controllability options. What gets me is that they have spent so much effort on this, but don’t have a huge amount of options for the “Real (first) world” problems that many users might face. Let’s say you want the media keys on your keyboard to act like they do on a Mac. That is, they are Pause, Play, Mute, etc. controls when you press them without a modifier, then function keys when the modifier pressed. The “Corsair Utility Engine” has no option for this.
Or perhaps, if you are playing a game (not an unrealistic assumption considering this is a gaming keyboard). What with the variety of gaming controls, your lighting setup looks like a Jackson Pollock painting. That might be a little disorienting if you wanted to send a text chat, so if there was some way I could set the Y key to change lighting mode as well as opening the chat box, that would be great. But again, there is no option for this – you can either have the key be Y or it can change lighting modes, but no option for both.
Actually, if Corsair did only the latter I would’ve been able to hack together the first by binding the function keys to media and having the modifier keyswitchmodestoanidenticalonewheretheyareboundtothe- actually, never mind.
These issues may seem a little petty and minor. But let’s be honest with ourselves, a mechanical keyboard with individually lit LEDs is such a first world product that it may as well be a board member of Bain Capital And on a first world product, first world problems are just called problems. Problems, I might add, that it seems forum users have been complaining about since Corsair’s first RGBboard launched in 2014 – problems none of whom have solved (or if they have, are gracious enough to publicise their solution).
This is unfortunately not the only issue with the software. The “Utility engine” isn’t the most enjoyable thing to work with. While it does seem a fair bit more extensive in its options than many of its competitors, it is full of salt and is pretty hard to get your head around. On top of that, it is a little buggy. For me at least, this ranged from simply not taking user input to actually freezing my whole PC when I tried to get it to do something rather esoteric with the ripple lighting. Though I would also say these problems aren’t unique to Corsair, which makes sense considering these guys are primarily hardware manufacturers. And by god, is the hardware good.
The construction quality on this keyboard is tremendous. The Strafe is made from really nice feeling solid plastic, and whilst it’s not quite as fancy as Corsair’s aluminium bodied K series, it’s almost as enjoyable. It also keeps wasted space to a minimum with a very low profile design, unlike many keyboards I have seen with large pointless flares that make them unsuitable for smaller desks. The Strafe manages to avoid this and is surprisingly compact, especially considering it also comes with a full numpad. It also comes with a bunch of textured keys for the WASD and ESDF areas (though I don’t think they feel quite as high quality as the standard keys), as well as a very comfortable removable palm rest, which is solid enough to not risk moving during any aggressive essay writing you may be doing.
The keyboard also comes with a USB pass-through port, which is incredibly useful, because it guarantees a good connection without having a troublesome wire sticking out of your mouse, bumping into all the bottles of Mountain Dew invariably riddling your desk.
As well as this, the keyboard also comes with a USB pass-through port, situated at the back. This is basically a USB 3.0 extension cable that has zero interaction with the keyboard, which means you can be sure whatever you plug into the slot won’t be interfering with your super-fast keyboard response time, and your keyboard won’t be interfering with it. This is incredibly useful if you have a wireless mouse with a short dongle, because it guarantees a good connection without having a troublesome wire sticking out of your mouse, bumping into all the bottles of Mountain Dew invariably riddling your desk.
And of course, the mechanical keys are as enjoyable as always, with Corsair offering a variety of different Cherry switches so you can get the right feel for you.
Overall the Strafe RGB is a pretty good keyboard. Sure the software needs a bit of work, but once I got over that I was really enjoying its look and the feel. It is a little pricy, ranging from £130 to £150 depending of your choice of switch, and perhaps you would get better value with the K70, if you can do without the pass-through (or even save up and go for K95 for them schweet Marco keys). But the Strafe is a fantastic keyboard in its own right, and with a few small changes it could be one of the best.
Image credit: Adam Shaw
Want to be in with a chance to win the Corsair Strafe RGB? Come along to EUGameSoc’s LAN Party , on Sunday 17th January in the Pleasance. Follow @thestudentsci on Twitter to stay up to date.
Thanks to Corsair for providing this keyboard for review, for more of their products go to www.corsair.com