Core, A Keyboard Story

It has been ages since writing about any new gear on these pages. At one point I realized I probably wasn’t adding much to the bloated conversations on tech and new things in general and slowed my pace to more or less zero. One more opinion just didn’t really seem all that relevant somehow, but today I thought it would be fun to jump back into this space and gush about a new toy that I am excited by and found myself totally in love with at first click. A mechanical keyboard.

I know I am pretty late to the game, and for ages I wrote off the trend as little more than another thing geeks could geek out about, a needless accessory, but this past winter when I was visiting Seoul I made the mistake of casually walking up to a hearty section of mechanical keyboards in the tech section of a bookstore thinking to myself “oh hey, lets see what all the fuss is about,” as I approached the table. It took all of 30 seconds to fall for the charm and addictive feeling of the clicky keys tapping away underneath my fingers. The subtle joy of the experience lingered in my mind for quite some time.

My casual brush with those keyboards planted a seed in the back of my head that slowly grew into enough of a curiosity to poke my head into a few user forums and watch a handful of YouTube videos to listen and learn more about this close knit group of keyboard lovers. Through this I discovered the many different switches, keycaps, build styles, and layouts available. Part of my initial distaste for mechanical keyboards was their size. I move around a lot and rarely have time to sit down in one work space for too long so I wanted something portable so I could put it to use while on the go.

Once I started to pay attention to the different layouts and varieties of keyboards available my interest peaked quite a bit. The 60 percent keyboards seemed small and portable enough for the most part and they do have a layout similar to what I’ve grown used to over the years on MacBooks but overall they were still a little big for a casual every day carry scenario where it would need to live in my backpack most of the time. What really hooked my imagination after learning more about them were the little 40 percent boards which were unique in a way that sucked me right in.

Tiny, adorable, but still fully loaded. The fact that most of the functionality lay behind modifier keys and layers seemed a little confusing at first but the more I thought about it the more I felt OK with it. I use a lot of shortcuts when using my MacBook and I have for years so what would be the big deal in learning a few new ones for less used keys like numbers and some punctuation.

Many keyboard lovers seem to consider these tiny wonders an outlier among the wider cinematic universe of mechanical keyboards, as thought they are maybe more of a novelty or strictly for light usage. While I could see that being true for the type of people that are the core demographic of this world, I myself found a perfect match in these tiny boards.

My needs personally are to have something well suited for writing posts, journal entries, emails, and other longer form writing. I am perfectly happy not having a row for numbers or function keys and the few odd punctuation marks used fairly often like apostrophes, question marks, etc. are not really all that difficult to get to and my fingers have adjusted to finding them when I need them.

Let me take a step back, I should mention which little keyboard I picked up, the Vortex Core. The Taiwanese manufacturer has a glowing base of happy users of their Poker line of 60 percent keyboards and when I stumbled across their adorable and affordable little prebuilt Core I knew I had found a perfect way to jump in, especially with its current cost which is quite a bit lower than they seem to have once been.

So how does it feel to use it? I adore it. Typing with a mechanical keyboard is like taking the side of my brain that needs something to fidget with while I think and feeds it with entertainment while I focus on writing. The feeling makes me want to write more because it’s such a joy to use and I find myself getting lost in the feeling. While reading about these before picking one up I kept seeing reviewers teasing the company for its slogan but I adore it, “enjoy your feeling,” its perfectly apt for a mechanical keyboard product and captures everything I love about it.

I will say this about the 40 percent style layout as it stands on many keyboards, I can’t for the life of me figure out why they could not have designed these one key space wider and included the apostrophe and question mark keys. While I have quickly gotten used to the new shortcuts I still wonder, as creative as this community feels to me why are there not a wider variety of PCB boards from different creators pushing possible layouts in more directions. The closest I have come across to what I would want in a perfect world are in the “ortholinear” keyboards which use an aligned grid of mostly single spaced keys, a layout I am curious about because of its flexibility, but I’m not sure how far down this rabbit hole I want to allow myself to go in.

It’s a hobbyists dream for sure and I completely understand the addiction some people have to having fun with the many different choices out there. Worth noting here also is the programability of the Core which is there, hiding on different user definable layers, but I have not thought of a reason just yet to experiment with this so I can’t offer any comments on this part of its functionality.

Which brings us to the little details about the Core, and perhaps mechanical keyboards in general, that I love so much, starting with the switches. Based on everything I have read what I really wanted was a version of this board that had Cherry MX Clear switches but had to compromise and get Brown switches instead. Both are whats considered a tactile switch meaning there is a second component of the switch aside from the spring which gives it a subtle, tactile bump as a key press is activated. The clears offer a slightly heavier feel and a little more resistance than the browns which is why I wanted them because I like the idea of having a little bit more weight to the keypress.  I like the nuance of the amount of pressure it takes to trigger the key so I am able to clack away quickly or type more gently when I need to be a bit quieter.

The sound of the Browns are just enough to be satisfying and give a nice, almost hypnotic ambience to the typing experience that I quite love. The reason I ended up with browns  because I could not find any Cores in stock with clear switches anywhere, most likely because they seems to be among the most popular switches overall for a lot of people and initial stocks must have run dry.

Then there are the keycaps. I like the vintage looking cream/beige colors and love that they took advantage of this being a prebuilt board with default settings so they could sneak in a cheat sheet for the modifier/fn keys on the front edge of each key. I hear there are versions of this set that also have the third layer of hidden keys labeled with additional punctuation etc. but again, I find myself quickly remembering where things are overall and the more I use it the quicker I get using it. They have a nice solid feel to them and just a slight texture that I like quite a lot.

My favorite part of this board in general though is the size, I am able to store it conveniently inside an old wireless mic bag for safe keeping and keep it around with me everywhere I go. Really, if it weren’t for these tiny bezel-less keyboards that are so easy to travel with I don’t think I would have ended up buying into the idea.

That said, I wouldn’t recommend this keyboard to anyone that does not like shortcuts or has trouble with them. It is almost guaranteed to frustrate if that’s the case, but if your like me and don’t mind this, I can happily give a glowing recommendation for this fun little keyboard. You can find them for under $100 now which is a heck of a deal considering the cost of components in general when building your own keyboard and the quality of its build straight out of the box.

Have any questions? I’m no keyboard aficionado but I would be happy to help if I can, feel free to leave a comment below if that’s the case. At this point I am only still writing because I love using this keyboard so much I don’t want to stop, the gentle clack underneath my fingers is such a weirdly visceral joy. It’s hard to fully explain but it sure does make typing feel good. I love that. Enjoy your feeling and I will see you next time.

To whom it may concern,



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