Last week looked at the best gaming mice you can buy, but what's a good gaming mouse without a proper keyboard to go with it? So let's take a look at some of the best keyboards out there, to see which ones deserve your money.
When judging this lot, I'll be taking note of what each one has to offer and how they function while gaming. I'm approaching testing as a casual gamer, so there won't be any in-depth analyses of responsiveness and other factors that most people don't even notice.
Instead I'll be looking at the design of each keyboard and how that differs compared to non-gaming keyboards, whether they offer any level of customisation (key bindings, illumination, and the like), comparing configuration profiles, comfortability, and any unique features that might give them some advantage over the competition.
Each keyboard's typing experience will also be considered, for those of you who want a more versatile device that works beyond the world of gaming.
All but two of these keyboards are mechanical, but not all mechanical keyboards are created equal. Most keyboards on the market will use Cherry MX switches, which come in six different colours. All six are different, and behave in different ways. If you want to learn more about that, Lifehacker has a very useful guide that can explain it properly. Hardcore PC gamers will already have their preferences, so I'll be making a brief note of the switches each keyboard uses, and what that means for playing your games.
Aside from some typing practice during my usual workday, the testing will be done by actually playing some games. To give things a nice even chance, I'll be playing through an MMO (The Elder Scrolls Online), a first person shooter (Left 4 Dead 2), a MOBA (Dota 2), an RTS (Age of Empires 2 ), and Just Cause 2.
As ever, price will play an insignificant role in the final rankings, because different people have different perspectives and everybody interprets the concept of value for money differently.
First Place: Roccat Sova (Membrane Variant), £120
The Sorva is different to most gaming keyboards, because it's marketed as a 'lapboard' rather than a keyboard. The keyboard itself is smaller than most, somewhat like the one you'd find on a small laptop, but the thing as a whole is bigger than any other keyboard I tested. The extra size is due to it being for sofa-based PC gaming, rather than sitting at a desk. That means you have a mouse mat, a little 'tray' to rest your wrists on, and cushioning on the underside for extra comfort when resting it on your lap.
While it is designed for a more relaxed gaming approach, it's not wireless. It still has the same two-plug USB cable as a lot of other gaming keyboards, with the only difference being that it's four metres long and has a quick-detach cable for avoiding catastrophic trip damage. While it has two USB ports built into it, the Sorva does not have dedicated cables for audio and microphones. So, unless you want a giant extension lead, your headset needs to be either USB or wireless. It's a little bit irritating, especially since this is designed to be quite a distance from your PC. It's not an uncommon situation, though.
It's important to mention that, despite the raised keys, the Sova I tested was a membrane keyboard; it was like using a very weird laptop rather than a typical gaming keyboard. Roccat does do a mechanical model, but that's not what was sent to me; the mechanical one costs about £30 more. In terms of gaming, the keys are a little less responsive than the mechanical offerings I tested, but it's not so bad that it affects casual gameplay. For competitive gamers, the membrane option might not be a great choice.
For typing, however, the Sova isn't quite so fantastic. Not at first anyway. I frequently found that the off-centre keyboard placement meant the whole thing ended up off balance, which made it tricky to type two-handed and keep control of my mouse. From the gaming perspective this wasn't such a big deal, since all the keyboard stuff was one-handed anyway.
Customisation had a few nice touches, though. Not only can all of the keys' functions be changed using the Roccat companion software, it was also possible to set a secondary function that could be accessed using the function key (or shift + function). Not every key had this option, but it looks as though all the letter, number, and F keys had customisable dual use. All the others could be customised, but only for the one purpose.
There is also the option of multiple profiles, all of which are stored on the keyboard. A mobile companion app lets you cycle through your profiles on the fly, along with altering some of the other settings on your keyboard without having to stop your game and open up the companion software.
If you're fond of changing the illumination of the keys, you're going to be disappointed here, as the Sova only offers blue as an illumination colour. There are some personalisation options, but that's limited to brightness and the lighting effect.
The Sova certainly isn't a perfect keyboard, but it's hard not to appreciate what it has on offer. Not only is it designed for a more casual and comfortable gaming experience, it functions quite well as a mini desk once you get the thing correctly balanced. While the illumination options are limited compared to other keyboards, which may be a dealbreaker for some, there is a lot more room for functional customisation than any of the others. Even when you consider that the Sova has fewer keys than the others, it still comes out on top when you tally everything up.
It would have been nice to have the mechanical version for better comparison, but I have no major problems with the Sova as it stands. It's just a shame there are no audio jacks in this, given the fact that it's supposed to be quite far from your PC. [Buy it here]
Second Place: Corsair K70 (MX Speed), £160
When I tested gaming mice recently, I wasn't so thrilled about the Corsair mouse. I can't say that for the K70, because this is a lovely keyboard. It's definitely the smartest-looking keyboard I tested, and in terms of performance there's absolutely nothing I can find fault with.
At first glance it might seem strange that there's no casing around the keys, meaning you can see the switches beneath. Personally, I'm a fan; it gives the K70 a more unique look compared to the other keyboards I tested. While the main body and underside of the keyboard are made from the usual hardened plastic, the top-most surface is made from metal, lending the K70 a sleeker, more premium feel than the competition.
The K70 also has a dedicated button for locking up system functions (like the Windows key), which is an essential part of any good gaming keyboard's repertoire. On top of that there's a rolling dial for adjusting volume, which I feel is a feature more keyboards could do with.
The switches are Cherry's grey speed switches, which require a lot less force to use. Even the slightest press will register, which is a blessing and a curse: it's much easier to type faster and more accurately, but the number of times I somehow opened up Chrome's element sidebar is embarrassing (I'm not even sure how I kept hitting F12).
With that in mind it took some getting used to when it came to typing, though it was only a couple of missed keys here and there. Not the end of the world. From a gameplay perspective, the responsiveness was handy to not have to slam down each key every time I wanted to do something.
I'm a little bit disappointed that, like the Razer Blackwidow Chroma, the K70 only has a single USB port, but also requires you to plug in a second USB cable to power it. A lot of keyboards I tested have at least two USB ports, so this feels like a slight oversight on Corsair's part. That said, I do appreciate that the USB cables do have symbols so you know which one is essential before you plug it in.
Customisation is pretty typical with the K70. There are no dedicated macro keys to take advantage of, but all the keys can be reconfigured to do all sorts. Only the one thing at a time, though, so don't get any Roccat-inspired ideas about keys with dual functionality. Illumination is pretty standard as well, offering colour customisation of individual keys, fancy effects, and so on. It also has pre-set illumination for specific game-types, making it easier to tell which keys are actually relevant particular games.
The K70's functionality is let down by its dependence on the Corsair Utility Engine companion software. All gaming keyboards need extra software for customisation and setting manipulation, but CUE is just so irritating: for one, keys are bound to actions, rather than the other way around. That means you could easily set up an action for the space bar, and then accidentally click the shift key and bind the action there instead. If you're used to the way other companion software works, CUE is going to take a lot of re-education.
Another fault here is that key configurations are stored within CUE, rather than on the keyboard itself. While this isn't uncommon, it's no less annoying. It means you need CUE open on your machine to take advantage of your customisations. As ever, illumination is different and you can store those settings on the keyboard's internal storage. That's not automatic, however, and you do need to tell CUE to make that happen.
Aside from the speed switches, which have positive and negative attributes, there isn't much that makes the K70 stand out – at least from a performance perspective. It has a lot of features that other gaming keyboards don't have, but all of those are the kind of things many gamers would expect anyway. That said, the design is where it excels. It's a very smart-looking piece of kit; it feels like a premium product rather than an overpriced piece of tat.
Plus, if those speed switches are putting you off, and you have a different switch preference, this model is also available with other Cherry switch-types, which also have the added bonus of being slightly cheaper. [Buy it here]
Third Place: Razer Blackwidow Chroma, £145
Like the SteelSeries and Logitech G910, the BlackWidow has a proprietary key switch that you won't find in keyboards from other companies. But unlike SteelSeries, Razer's Green switches aren't all that different from Cherry switches. They look very similar, feel the same, have the same audible click, and behave in much the same way. So really if you've used a mechanical keyboard before, there's nothing very surprising here. Razer's switches promise to be faster and more responsive than the competition, but generally that's not something I could notice.
Razer appears to have designed the switches for esports, however, so competitive gamers might want to keep that in mind.
One irksome thing about this keyboard is that it has two USB cables, but only one USB port, while similarly styled keyboards had two of each. Like the others, the keyboard itself worked fine with a single cable plugged in, but the USB port was completely dead: if you want to plug something in there you had to plug in the extra cable. Either way you're losing a USB port to plug this in, and that feels like a mis-step considering most of the other keyboards each have a net loss of zero ports.
The customisation options are pretty standard. There are five dedicated macro keys that don't do anything by default, though you can change the action of each individual key, providing a massive amount of customisation options. On the illumination front, you can change each one individually, or set up a number of lighting effects that make things a bit more interesting (or annoying, if you ask me). Razer Synapse also has templates that illuminate the essential keys for different game types, as well as extra settings that let you further fiddle with the lighting effects.
There's absolutely nothing I can fault with the performance. It's a joy to type with, and hearing the clicking is always a joy. I have no complaints on the gaming side of things, and keystrokes respond well. Razer products are never cheap, but when it comes to all-round performance the Deathadder works like a dream. I can't fault the design either. It's light, comfortable to use – all the things you want in a gaming keyboard.
What's more, there's a gaming mode that disables the Windows key, Alt+F4, and Alt+Tab (you can toggle the three on or off in Synapse). It also has on-the-fly macro recording. It's not particularly simple to get done, but it does mean you don't have to spend as much time in the Synapse companion software. That's always a good thing.
Just like the two Razer mice I tested recently, Synapse is a pain to use. The window can't be resized, which makes navigation harder than it need be, and it doesn't actually appear in the taskbar. Infuriating.
Synapse aside, you can't go wrong with the Blackwidow Chroma. It performs well for gaming and non-gaming purposes, it's comfortable, and it's got all the customisation options you could want. Not as many as the Roccat Sova, mind, but still plenty. The use of proprietary key switches doesn't make things feel strange, unlike the SteelSeries, even if they're not quite the same as Cherry switches everybody already knows and loves.
The Blackwidow Chroma is the perfect middle-grounder. It's not got anything particularly unique about it, but it also has all the essential features (and a bit extra) to keep you going. Plus, while it's not cheap, it's not the priciest keyboard out there. [Buy it here]
Fourth Place: Roccat Skeltr, £150
This is a membrane keyboard, like the Roccat Sorva. That said, unlike the Sorva there doesn't seem to be a mechanical variant of this on sale. So if you're looking for something clickidy clackidy, with all the associated benefits, this is not for you.
From a typing perspective, the Skeltr isn't that great. Just like the SteelSeries, the typing seemed off and I found myself making a lot more mistakes than I usually would. Despite that, however, there are no discernible problems with gaming, and I found the keys to be perfectly responsive. Once I got into things, I barely even noticed that it wasn't mechanical. I had a couple of problems hitting the right keys from time to time, which was an issue, but the more I used it the less this happened. Long term this isn't really an issue, but there was a bit more of a learning curve than some of the others (barring the SteelSeries, which had similar issues).
Just like the Roccat Sova, the Skeltr has loads of customisation options to take advantage of. There are five dedicated macro keys, and all of the keys can be remapped. Plus, like the Sova, the letter and number keys each have a secondary function that can be activated when you hold down the function key. That gives it the most customisation options of any keyboard tested.
It's worth mentioning here that the Caps Lock is not set as Caps Lock by default. I had to go into the Roccat companion software and remap the key myself. Why? Who knows.
Illumination is much the same as other keyboards. The Skeltr has full RGB illumination, and various lighting effects. You can sort out each key individually, and the only thing that's really missing are game-specific presets. That's hardly the end of the world, though.
Roccat certainly hasn't gone for a typical, boring design. It's tough to describe it but, as you can see in the picture up top, there lots of edges, giving it a slight sci-fi look. It's not the most compact keyboard, but it's not enormous either. So it won't take up and entire desk, and it'll look a little bit more interesting than most.
Like many other keyboards it has audio ports built in, along with a single USB port. It's disappointing to see that so many keyboards only have one USB port when you need to plug in two cables to power the whole thing. Is two USB ports too much to ask?
What really sets the Skeltr apart isn't actually a gaming feature at all: it is capable of connecting with your phone via Bluetooth, so you can control your phone without having to actually touch it. To help things along there, the Skeltr has a stand built in to the top of the keyboard to store your phone and/or tablet to keep it in view while you're playing. There are also three buttons: the first is a toggle that lets you type on your phone with the keyboard; the second lets you manage your calls; and the third toggles audio. There's a dedicated audio jack specifically for a phone, and if it's plugged in you can press that third button to switch the audio in your headset from PC to mobile (and back again).
That's fairly niche if you're sitting at a desk next to your phone anyway, but it's a cool little feature that gives the Skeltr an edge over some of the competition.
The customisation options mean the Skeltr is a good choice, even if it doesn't function quite so well as a typing keyboard. Plus those phone-based features are a nice touch. [Buy it here]
Fifth Place: Logitech G910, £151
When you first plug the Logitech G910 into your PC, you're met with a non-stop ever-changing rainbow of colours, which can only be changed if you download Logitech's gaming software. Until you do that, you either have to deal with the obscene number of distracting colours, or none at all. Sadly, without any illumination the keyboard just feels dull.
Illumination can advantageous during gaming, letting you dim any of the unnecessary keys and group certain key groups together by colour. Alternatively you have them all the same hue, colour them individually (if you have all day), or just show whichever keys are active for the game you're playing.
One personal gripe with this is that the lights for toggling the lock keys (Num, Caps, Scroll) are on the top right. Having worked on laptops and tablet keyboards for the past nine years or so, it bothered me that there wasn't a light built directly into the key. Especially since I have a habit of accidentally knocking the Caps Lock key with my little finger. There are a lot of keyboards out there that don't offer this, but that doesn't make me not dislike it.
It does have fairly reasonable selection of extra buttons to play with, though. It's got all the trappings of a full-size keyboard, along with dedicated media controls, a scroll wheel for the volume, and a specialised 'game mode' key that disables the Windows key, stopping the start menu from potentially interrupting you mid-session.
If you're looking for serious personalisation, the G910 might not suit. You can program up to 27 different commands, tied to the nine 'G' keys over three different levels, but that's about it. While a lot of keyboards let you alter the functions of individual keys, the G910 is pretty much stuck the way it is. There are different profiles you can integrate, but they are tied to specific games rather than your own personal customisations.
The key switches are another example of deviating from the norm in favour of a proprietary mechanism. That said, Logitech's Romer-G switches don't feel or perform that differently from the Cherry MX switches that a lot of companies tend to favour. Despite that, Logitech claims that they are faster and more durable than what Cherry has to offer.
The G910 does have one rather annoying flaw. The settings are not stored in the keyboard; instead, they're tied to Logitech's gaming software. So if you swap PCs, or simply unplug without the software running, everything reverts to default until you reload software again. That's not uncommon, but because the illumination can't be saved to the keyboard either, it was rather annoying that I couldn't plug this into my work laptop for typing without it reverting back to the initial unicorn-themed light show. Not everyone works from a single machine these days (especially with multi-device streaming), so that really is quite frustrating to have to deal with.
Finally, the Logitech does have a mobile companion app for the keyboard (available on iOS and Android). Arx Control shows various different stats about your game and PC as you play, as well as offering the chance to switch game profiles on the fly. The G910 is designed to accommodate it too, with a small phone dock that pulls out and makes sure you can see everything without having to move your hands away from the keys.
The gaming performance seems pretty standard. I had no issues playing through the games, and naturally the mechanical nature of the keys gives you a bit more control than membrane keyboards you'd generally find in laptops. A keyboard is a keyboard at the end of the day, and there are no major red flags or deal breakers that should put off prospective buyers. It's certainly not the most customisable keyboard out there, but for a casual gamer it's got more than enough.
I will say this, though. It was pretty satisfying typing with this, more so than the other keyboards. Even after half an hour of use, going back to the keyboard on my laptop felt strange. Plus, whenever I switch keyboards there's always a bit of a learning curve while I adjust to nuances of the new design – something I didn't really notice with the G910. [Buy it here]
Sixth Place: SteelSeries Apex M800, £150
The SteelSeries Apex M800 is a relatively nice-looking keyboard, though it does have a distinct look about it that others don't have. It's quite long, the keys are much lower than other mechanical keyboards (more on that later), and the space bar is enormous. At least twice the size of your average space bar. While it comes with two USB cables, you only need one of them for it to work properly. The second one is only there to ensure the two USB ports built into the M800 get enough power.
You'll notice that the M800 doesn't have quite as many extra keys as some keyboards on the market. For the people big on personalisation who want to map specific commands and macros to their keys, this might seem like a dealbreaker. But don't fret, because SteelSeries' configuration engine lets you customise practically every key. So if you want pressing Q to behave as if it's actually a Y, then you can do that. Obviously there are six dedicated game keys that don't do anything by default, in case you want to keep everything else as is.
There are a few default configuration profiles already stored on the keyboard, but you're able to create and customise new ones however you see fit. They're stored on the keyboard as well, so even if you have to swap to a new machine (unlikely, yes) you won't find yourself having to deal with the defaults.
There's also a 'meta layer' stored within the M800, which activates when you hold down the button with the SteelSeries logo. Doing this lets you access 'sub-functions' on certain keys, which include altering brightness of the keys, changing volume, controlling media playback, and locking the Windows key. Most keyboards would make this all available straight away, so I can only assume SteelSeries was trying to save space somehow.
The downside here is that, from the looks of things, the meta layer is nowhere near as customisable as the rest of the keyboard, and you're stuck with the default settings. Fortunately, if you're not happy with having to hold down an extra key to access those functions, you can always bind them to a different non-meta layer key.
The illumination customisation is pretty standard, letting you change the colour on a key-by-key basis like most of the other keyboards out there. I also appreciate the fact that the lock keys display whether or not they've been switched on or not. The likes of the Logitch G910 don't do this, and that frustrates me no end. The colour of the toggled lock keys are easily customisable as well, meaning you aren't stuck with the default white that would be difficult to see against some other colours.
I wasn't totally fond of the M800 when it comes to typing. The keys feel a bit off compared to other mechanical keyboards I've used, and even after a significant amount of use I still found myself hitting the wrong keys with annoying levels of frequency – Caps lock in particular. Mechanical keyboards are supposed to offer extra speed and precision compared to the membrane keyboards you find on laptops. Unfortunately, aside from the extra sound, I definitely prefer typing on my laptop than with this.
I can't really focus in on the problem, but it could be down to the fact that SteelSeries ditched Cherry MX switches in favour of its own proprietary switch mechanism (called the QS1). It means that the keys are noticeable shorter, and don't need to travel as far to register keypresses. Honestly I just couldn't get used to typing on the thing and to keep staring at my hands to see what I was doing. That's not a situation I enjoy being in.
In terms of gaming, however, there's nothing I can complain about. The switches may make typing a bit more troublesome (for me at least), but in-game they behave just as well as any Cherry switch out there.
I'd say that if you're looking for a gaming keyboard that has more than enough room for customisation, and offers a pain-free experience, then this is the one for you. Just bear in mind that actually typing might take quite a bit of getting used to. [Buy it here]
Seventh Place: MadCatz STRIKE TE, £100
It doesn't have more than a glance to recognise this as a MadCatz product, given its somewhat unusual almost sci-fi-inspired design. While a lot of keyboards go for the basic rectangular panel look, the STRIKE TE has lots of distinctive edges and corners. The keyboard itself is reasonably compact, though certainly not the smallest option out there. If you plan on using the removable wrist guard, make sure you have a lot of space handy because it is enormous.
When it comes to performance, the STRIKE TE excels at both gaming and typing. The keys are all well-placed, so it's easy to find where your fingers needs to be easily, quickly, and (most importantly) without hitting the wrong keys on the way. MadCatz opted for Kailh Brown switches, rather than Cherry MX, though the differences are minor. Brown switches offer a more tactile experience than some, but without as much audible clicking
The customisation options here are limited, though not quite as limited as the Turtle Beach (nothing is that limited). Rather than letting you remap all of the keys that are available to you, the STRIKE TE only lets you mess with a few dedicated macro keys. Seven can be found in the top left corner, and five more live above the arrow keys.
While this lack of choice may seem disappointing to some, the keyboard does have three profiles that can be changed on the fly. This only applies to the macro buttons in the left corner, but this means you have 26 reconfigurable buttons available to you. That isn't quite so bad when you think about it. Then again, it's not a lot when compared to some of the others.
The key mapping uses a drag-and-drop system, which is refreshingly simple. It's so simple that it's basically idiot proof, and it's quite relieving after having used companion software that's needlessly complicated. Like some other MadCatz products, it also features pre-built profiles that are optimised for popular online games. Your MMOs, MOBAs, FPSes, and so on. That's a handy little feature to have, since it means you don't have to spend hours to make sure all your macro keys can keep up with the competition.
Another feature the STRIKE TE has in common with the Turtle Beach is that there are no real options when it comes to illumination. All you have is the option to alter the brightness in three places: the main keys, WASD, and the arrow keys. That's pretty much it.
Also, the STRIKE TE doesn't have any ports built in. So, unlike most of the keyboards I tested, you can't plug any USB or audio devices into the keyboard rather than having a billion wires plugged into your PC. The upside, however, is that you don't have to wrangle loads of different cables coming out of the keyboard. There's also a switch for deactivating the Windows key, and avoiding any in-game interruptions.
The STRIKE TE is somewhat limited compared to the other keyboard, given that there aren't as many customisation and illumination options. The fact that it does have some reconfigurable keys means you're not totally out of options, and the limited nature (and simple companion software) means it's a good option for anyone hoping to have a hassle-free keyboard experience. The fact that it also functions well as a gaming and typing keyboard means it definitely won't be a terrible purchase. [Buy it here]
Eighth Place: Turtle Beach Impact 700, £125
If you are looking for something that has a lot of customisation options, avoid this like the plague. There are zero programmable keys. Some keyboards let you customise the functions of every key. Some only have set number of keys you can bind commands to. The Impact 700 doesn't have any customisation whatsoever. Literally none. Not even the option of changing the backlight colour.
Most keyboards have companion software that can be used for various customisation and configuration purposes. Turtle Beach doesn't have any of that, so what's been programmed in is exactly what you get when you plug it in. So if you need your macros, and you need to play with the key bindings, or you can't stand blood-red backlighting, this is not the keyboard you want to buy.
While you'd expect all that to be a given, the Impact 700 isn't such a bad keyboard. The first thing you'll probably notice is that the cable is really thick, and that's because it's carrying four separate cables: two USB plugs (one main, one for extra port power), and two 3.5mm plugs that for audio and voice. A lot of keyboard offer this, and it's a feature I quite like. That's because it means even if you still use a non-USB headset, you can plug it into the keyboard rather than having your head tied to your PC. There are two USB ports as well, so you don't lose space by plugging this in.
As someone who cares about this sort of thing, the Impact 700 was a pleasure to type with. Aside from the very first few minutes of use (which can be blamed on me typing in a dark room without illuminated keys), I didn't miss that many keystrokes. It took almost no time at all to get back to touchtyping and not staring at the keyboard all the time. I can't say the same for the like of the SteelSeries M800 or the Roccat Skeltr. If it wasn't so pricey, I'd certainly recommend it purely as a typing keyboard.
The lock keys don't illuminate when they've been activated, and instead they each have a dedicated light on the right hand side of the keyboard. If you've been reading the rest of this Battlemodo, you'll see that this is a personal pet peeve. I don't understand why an illuminated keyboard can't change the colour for that sort of thing.
Honestly I don't think there's very much to say about the Impact 700. It's not got a lot of the features people have come to expect from gaming keyboards, and I can't really work out why it's such a basic bit of kit. There's no annoying companion software to deal with, which might be a draw for some people (especially if they've used the Corsair Utility Engine), but it just seems like its a few too many steps behind everyone else.
But at least it performs admirably with what it does have. It's definitely not a bad keyboard. It's nice and compact, the keys are a pleasure to use, and if you're a casual player that wants something simple then this is probably a reasonable purchase. If I didn't know it was made by Turtle Beach, I probably wouldn't have pegged this as a gaming keyboard. Sure it acts as an extension cable for headsets, but that doesn't seem like enough to make it an appealing purchase. Not with what else is out there.
Should you buy it? Only if you want a no frills keyboard, and have no interest in playing around with settings. The severe lack of customisation options means this is missing a lot of what makes gaming keyboard special. What you see is exactly what you get. Sometimes that's good, but in this case it heavily leans towards bad. [Buy it here]