Last fall, I had the chance to check out Corsair's K70 RGB mechanical keyboard. It was a sturdy, good looking mechanical keyboard with customization options that would make most keyboards slink away in shame by comparison. This year, Corsair is back with the STRAFE Mechanical Gaming Keyboard, which cuts away some of the RGB line's fat and focuses in on what the a mechanical keyboard is meant for.
While the RGB line was intended for gamers looking to squeeze a little extra out of their keyboards, the STRAFE keyboard is something more like an entry-level mechanical keyboard. Some of the frills are gone, but the core experience is essentially the same, bringing a lower price along for the ride.
The core remains the same
The best parts of the K70 were the mechanical keys and the customizable lighting effects. The lighting and other customization options truly set the K70 apart from other keyboards. Those remain in almost full effect with the STRAFE.
The most immediately noticeable difference is that the lighting that backs up each key is no longer multi-color. It's strictly red this time around. Red LEDs are, simply put, much less expensive than RGB LEDs. The same amount of lighting customization is there with Corsair's CUE software, allowing for all the same lighting designs and patterns ranging from goofy to amazing – it's just all in red.
The keys themselves, Cherry MX Red keys, feel great across the board with smooth, consistent, low pressure, short travel. If you're already using a standard keyboard, this will be a pretty easy transition. I normally use an ergonomic keyboard, so it was a bit tough to get used to – even a bit painful, though that's likely not typical. The keyboard also sports n-Key rollover, so if your cat decides to sleep on the keyboard, it can press all 104 keys at once with no ghosting.
My only complaint about the keys themselves, really, is the choice of font. Where most keyboards use some regular width Helvetica or Arial-esque font, the STRAFE has thick, squashed letters that aren't always the easiest to read. The letter keys are fine, if a bit ugly, but keys like Print Screen, Page Down and Num Lock are downright tough to read.
Some of the extras have changed
Two particularly useful features set this keyboard apart from many others in the same category.
The USB Passthrough port on the keyboard provides a nice, easily accessible USB port. To make use of it, you'll have to plug in the secondary USB cable that dangles from the end of the cord if not in use. You're not getting an extra USB port, but you are getting nearby port great for plugging in a controller, charging a phone, or keeping a wireless receiver for a device close by.
In case there was any doubt this is a gaming keyboard, the other big standout feature should take care of that. Packaged along with the keyboard are two sets of extra, textured keys and a small tool for easy key removal. One set of keys is for shooters, replacing the W, A, S and D keys, while the other is for MOBA games – Q, W, E, R, D, F. The keys are grey instead of black and have a different slope to them that make them easy to find without looking. They're incredibly easy to swap, so you can use them just for gaming and switch back to the regular keys for typing without much sweat. I imagine, combined with the ease of programming, you could even set the keyboard up for an alternate layout like Dvorak without nearly the amount of pain normally involved. I do wish the keyboard would've come with a small case for the keys, though, as they seem like they'd be exceedingly easy to lose – same goes for the tool.
As I mentioned before, though, this feels like an entry-level keyboard and that starts to become apparent as we get into what it's missing.
The lack of a wrist rest bugged me throughout use. There's not even a spot to add one on like the optional one that accompanied the K70.
There also aren't any dedicated media keys or extra keys on the keyboard. There are media keys, but they're handled through a laptop-like configuration. There's a Function key that you can hold down, and then use F6-F12 to control volume and playback. Controlling these with one hand is possible, but awkward, and controlling them with two is even tougher since the Function key is on the same side of the keyboard as media keys themselves.
I listen to music almost constantly when I'm not gaming or watching something, so dedicated media controls are an absolute must for me, but that may not be the case for you.
The lack of extra macro keys is offset by the fact that you can reprogram any key or create a key macro. For example, the Caps Lock could be set to play a loud air horn sound to punish you for daring to press the Caps Lock key, or you could bind it to your preferred capture app's screenshot shortcut.
If you're looking to get into the mechanical keyboard game but don't have mounds of cash lying around, the Corsair STRAFE is a pretty solid bet. It does the basic jobs a mechanical keyboard should. It's sturdy, consistent, pleasant to type on, and is absurdly reprogrammable. You'll give up a few things to get into the game, so think about spending a few more dollars if you use media consistently, but the STRAFE won't steer you wrong as a starter, and it'll probably last you until half past forever.
The Corsair STRAFE currently retails for $109.99 with Cherry MX Red switches, with the brown switch keyboard set to release shortly.
Disclaimer: Corsair Gaming provided us with the STRAFE for test and review. We used the keyboard exclusively for about a week before writing this review.
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