Tesoro Excalibur SE Spectrum Review
By: Hai Wang
February 24, 2017
I remember when I was a college student, my quantum physics professor told us something interesting about nuclear fusion. He said the research of realizing controlled thermonuclear fusion began in the 1950s. The scientist at that time predicted the time spent on commercializing generating nuclear fusion power would be fifty years. Now almost seventy years has passed, there is no sign of putting a nuclear fusion power generator into reality. Some scientists claim we need to wait another fifty years to see it happen. The biggest problem of using this technology lies in the fact that the amount of energy spent on controlling the nuclear fusion will be higher than the generated energy. However, what if we do not control the process of nuclear fusion? Then, the consequence will be large amounts of energy will be generated in a short period of time, which makes it impossible to harvest any useful energy for good use. Long story short, it will be a nuclear explosion, and the city will be left in darkness if the city happens to not be nearby. Obviously, the controlling method is important if you want to gain energy from nuclear fusion. Likewise, a good controlling method is also important if you want to deeply customize your keyboard without using any kind of software. For today’s review unit, the Tesoro Excalibur SE Spectrum, actually allows you to control the complex settings of the LED backlighting without using additional software on your PC. If this feature has already drawn your attention, read on and find out more about this product!
The Tesoro Excalibur SE Spectrum arrived via USPS/Canada Post to us here in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. As you can see from the picture, the parcel is clean and mostly intact. After thousands of miles of transportation, there is only one dent on the corrugated cardboard. The package was shipped from Milpitas, California, where Tesoro Technology USA is located. As always, I was not the person who received this parcel in the first place, since the package was delivered directly to our Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Kwan. Although there is a small dent on the shipping package, there is no need to worry about the safety of product. The shipping package and the foam peanuts inside are designed to absorb impact during the delivery period, so that the actual retail package and the keyboard are fully protected.
A good retail package design should be consistent with the design of the actual product. Considering this requirement, the retail container of the Tesoro Excalibur SE Spectrum does the job fairly well. For a keyboard retail package, you will usually see a picture of the product in front. In my opinion, if the product picture is located in the middle of the front cover, then everything around should not be too different in style. For example, if the keyboard has a classic and low key design, it would be inappropriate to use a fashionable background or some abnormal fonts. In this case, the background color is matte black, which is consistent with the color of the Tesoro Excalibur SE Spectrum. A pair of parallel purple lines divide the package front cover into three sections. In the middle section is the product picture. By looking at the picture, my first impression about this product is that it is designed by someone with access only to a ruler. You can hardly find any round lines from the picture of the keyboard, and for those who like classic looks, this keyboard is for you. In the left section of the package front cover, the company’s logo, name, and the product’s name are printed in grey. The color chosen for the logo and names is not abrupt, since the focus is still in the middle section of the package front cover. In the bottom right section, several key features of the Tesoro Excalibur SE Spectrum are listed. Those features include the use of Tesoro optical switches, extremely low response time, advanced anti-dust and spill resistance, swappable key switches, and extreme durability. Rather than intending to catch your eyes, the way Tesoro presents those features is more likely to keep the whole picture balanced. Overall speaking, there is nothing wrong with the retail package design. Regarding the overall impression, I would say it is definitely not amazing, but rather well balanced.
The features and specifications of the Tesoro Excalibur SE Spectrum from its official website is listed below:
- Optical key switch technology
- Advanced anti-dust and spill resistance
- Hot swappable key switches
- 100 million keystrokes
- Switch Force: 60+/-15g
- Switch Travel: 4.0-0.5mm
- Switch Actuation: 2.2+/-0.6mm
- Multi-color per key backlighting
- 10 Modes of backlighting effects
- 6-key /N-key rollover options
- 4 level adjustable repeat acceleration
- Driverless set-up
- Keyboard Reset hotkey
- Windows key Lock, Keyboard Lock, FN key Lock
- Instant Macro Recording, Static Lighting Recording, Dynamic Lighting Recording
- Switch Type: TESORO Infra-red Switch
- Color: Black
- Report Rate: 1000 Hz
- Built-in Memory: 512Kb
- Programmable Keys: F1 - F4
- Multimedia Keys: 3
- Keystroke Lifecycle: 100 million
- Backlit: RGB
- Backlit Setup: Per Key
- Lighting Effects: Yes, Versatile, 10 preset lighting modes
- Anti-Ghosting: Full N-Key / 6 Key Rollover
- Instant Macro Record: Yes
- Instant Lighting Record: Yes
- Windows Key Disable: Yes
- Keyboard Lock: Yes
- FN Lock: Yes
- Default Reset: Yes
- Double Injection Keys: Available with 104 key layout
- Onboard Audio Jacks: No
- Onboard USB Hub: No
- DC-in Jack: No
- Wrist Rest: No
- Interface: USB
- Cable Length: 1.8 m
- Gold-plated plug: No
- Graphical UI: No
- Dimensions: 450 x 150 x 34 mm
- Weight (w/ cable): 1.24 kg
- MSRP: $99 USD
Peeling the retail packaging off, we can see the all black cardboard container of the keyboard, which includes the keyboard itself, an instruction sticker, and a user's manual. The keyboard is wrapped with a translucent plastic bag, which can provide protection to the plastic surface from scratches. Interestingly, even the "Hot swappable key switches" is a significant feature of this product; there is no tool related with swapping key switches, not even a keycap remover. The instruction sticker serves as a quick reference of the functions. Those are including the profile, macro, repeat, volume, keyboard lock, N-key rollover, Fn lock, windows key disable/enable, WASD/arrow key, disable/enable profile reset, keyboard reset, instant macro recording, static lighting recording, and the dynamic lighting recording settings. Remember that the keyboard does not come with any additional software, therefore a quick start guide is necessary. The user's manual is printed out using high quality paper, and it is pleasant to read. It tells you the functions in a much more detailed way.
In the review of Tesoro Excalibur Spectrum, my colleague Aaron Lai talked about the story of Excalibur. I guess I do not need to repeat the same thing again. This time the "SE" part of the name will be focused on. Frankly speaking, I have gone through the Tesoro’s website for several times but still have no clue what the "SE" stands for. Therefore, I can only assume it stands for "Special Edition" or something along that line. There are quite a few differences between the SE edition and the old edition. Here I would like to name several important ones. First, the Tesoro Infra-red switch is used for the SE edition instead of the Kailh switch. Second, the GUI is cancelled for this keyboard. Alternatively, people can set everything up, including the backlight control on the keyboard itself. Third, the advanced anti-particle and spill-resistant capabilities are introduced to the SE variant. Fourth, each switch is swappable for quick repairing. You may have noticed those changes are mostly related with the switches. As for the appearance, the two keyboards are not that different. At a first glance, they look just like twins. In fact, all products of the Excalibur series share the same chassis and keycaps, therefore it is not easy to tell the difference without getting into details.
As I have mentioned before, the Tesoro Excalibur SE Spectrum is likely to be designed by people with only a ruler. From the above picture, we can clearly see that the keyboard is composed of all straight lines. There are no round lines I can find on it. This is what the Excalibur series is all about; if you want something a little more out there, look for something like the Gram Spectrum. With the matte black color, the keyboard has a very obvious stealth look. For a gaming keyboard, there is nothing wrong with such a low-key and conventional design, since winning a battle is everything, and everything else is unnecessary, right? In front of the arrow keys is the company’s slogan, "Break the Rules". Considering the conventional design, I suppose the only rule that Tesoro breaks is a gaming product has to be fancy in looks, especially with all the RGB LEDs today. By the way, this keyboard does not have a palm rest. If there is a rule that says, "A good keyboard should have a palm rest," then I believe Tesoro definitely wants to break it, haha.
The dimensions for the Tesoro Excalibur SE Spectrum are 450 mm in width, 34 mm in height, and 150 mm in depth. It is a compact keyboard for sure, thus it will not take too much space on your table. This keyboard weighs about 1.24 kg, which I think is a little bit heavy, but since this is a mechanical keyboard this is no surprise. It is generally sturdily built, but it still has some sort of flex if you try to twist it. The keyboard will also creak if you try to hold it on the edges.
Unlike the Excalibur Spectrum’s Kailh switch, the Excalibur SE Spectrum uses the Tesoro Infra-red switch. The mechanical key switches are the most important parts on the keyboard, since they define the quality of tactile response and typing experience. If you are not familiar with mechanical keyboards and switches, there are three major types of keyboards we can buy today. Type one is the membrane keyboard, which features low manufacturing cost, but a rather poor typing experience. Mostly because of the low cost, low noise level, and possibility of using it in low profile applications, the membrane keyboard is the most common one on the market. The second type is the improved version of membrane keyboard. The improvement lies in the use of a scissor-like structure, which can improve the typing experience in the switch. This type of switch is mostly used for laptops. The third type of keyboards feature mechanical switches that provide the best tactile response and typing experience, and they are referred to as mechanical keyboards. The Excalibur SE Spectrum belongs to the mechanical keyboard family. The Tesoro Infra-red switch has a similar typing experience and clicking sound as the Cherry MX Blue and the Kailh Blue. Unlike conventional mechanical switches, the Tesoro Infra-red switch uses an optical sensor to detect actuation. Comparing with the metal contact triggering mechanism, the optical triggering method is not prone to error that is caused by oxidation and wear of the metal surface. Therefore, after a long time of use, the Tesoro infra-red switch can still have low delay times down to 0.1 ms. The lifecycle of the Tesoro Infra-red switch is rated at 100 million keystrokes, which is significantly higher than the Excalibur Spectrum’s 60 million. Furthermore, the Excalibur SE Spectrum's advanced anti-particle and spill-resistant capabilities can further enhance the lifespan of the keyboard under real-life using scenarios.
Once the USB plug of the keyboard is connected to the computer, the backlight LEDs of all the keys will be turned on. By default, the color is blue. If blue is not the color you like, then other colors can be applied through pressing the Fn + Menu keys. It is worth noting the Tesoro Excalibur SE Spectrum is not a keyboard where you can set 16.8 million colors by yourself, therefore it is feasible to go through every possible color within a reasonable amount of time. If you are tired of having one static lighting on your keyboard, then it will be a good idea to try some other lighting modes. There are ten preset modes you can choose from without the hassle of using any GUI. To change among those modes, you can simply press the Fn + Left and Right arrow keys. The secondary function symbols on the Left and Right arrow keys are not self-explanatory. At least for me, I have to refer to the user’s manual to find out how to change the lighting mode. Furthermore, you can also choose a set of keys to enter either static lighting mode or the dynamic lighting mode. In order to do that, the Fn + Up or Down arrow keys should be pressed at first to enter the lighting recording mode. Then, the Fn + Page Up or Page Down keys are applied to start the lighting recording procedure. After the set of keys and their lighting sequence are chosen, the Fn + Page Up or Page Down keys need to be pressed again to finish the recording procedure. Everything will become straightforward to you after some practice. I have to say to use the GUI-free way of controlling the lighting mode is a great idea, since it makes this product a true plug-and-play keyboard.
It can be seen from the photo above, the illumination distribution is even for all keys. This is because the Tesoro Excalibur SE Spectrum avoids double line labels. The downside is, for the keys that have secondary functions (e.g., from the F1 to F12), those function labels are not illuminated, since these labels are just printed on the keycaps. It is a worthy compromise in my opinion, since most of the time, those secondary functions are not that hard to find if you are not in an absolutely dark place. Once you have familiarized yourself with this keyboard, you can remember where to find them.
As it is the same as the Excalibur Spectrum, the SE also features a standard 104-key QWERTY ANSI layout. It is worth noting the Enter key is single row, which is good news for people who like a full size right Shift key. There is only one Windows key on this keyboard, and it is located at the left side of the keyboard between CTRL and ALT. The very important Fn key is at the right side of the space key after the right ALT. All the keycaps are designed ergonomically, therefore they are nice to press. The letters on the keycaps are translucent, such that the backlight LED light can shine through. All of the information on the keys are easy to read.
Since Tesoro is the company that only makes gaming products, the Excalibur SE Spectrum is no exception, and it is optimized for gaming performance. There are three major functions that can boost the gaming experience. First, the backlight of this keyboard can be changed to ten different preset modes. Although, by just changing the backlight mode may not help you win the game, it can at least prepare your mind for the specific battle you will get into. The second gaming performance booster is the macro key function. The Excalibur SE Spectrum allows you to record four sets of macros, and they can be triggered by pressing Fn + F1 to F4. The macros can be recorded without using any software or driver on your computer, although you need to carefully read the instructions or you may not be able to find out how to record macros. The third gaming performance booster is the Windows key disable function. I like this function a lot, since I used to accidentally press the Windows key when trying to use the left CTRL key. These three gaming performance enhancements can definitely win you some advantages in battle.
Speaking of non-gaming usage, the Excalibur SE Spectrum is capable of delivering a high quality typing experience. However, in terms of boosting up the productivity, this product is not perfect. There are no Fn-modifier secondary function keys related with productivity work. Functions such as quick email access, calculator access, and web browser access are missing. As a student in engineering, I would really appreciate a calculator quick access function. Anyway, I guess this keyboard is really optimized for gaming, since the majority of the function keys, such as F1 to F8, are dedicated to gaming related functions like macro recording and repeat speed settings. Fortunately, you can still control your media player using Fn + F9 to F11. Fn + F9 allows you to mute your speaker, and Fn + F10 is to decrease the volume, while Fn + F11 is to increase the volume.
The Excalibur SE Spectrum is a full NKRO keyboard. NKRO stands for n-key rollover, which means there will be a maximum n keys being registered simultaneously by the keyboard. If the number of keystrokes at one time, say m keys, exceeds the number of n, those (m - n) keystrokes will not be recorded by the system, and ghosting may happen, such that some of your actions in the game will be ignored. I remember when I played Need for Speed Underground 2 on my laptop a few years ago, I could not use NOS while turning. This is because the laptop only supports two key rollover. The NOS, turning, and acceleration required three keys to be registered simultaneously. The keyboard also allows you to change to 6-key rollover, which I think it is just a nice-to-have feature.
The Excalibur SE Spectrum is a wired keyboard, therefore, it requires a USB cable to connect to the computer. This time, Tesoro does not provide the same braided USB cable as the Excalibur Spectrum. Instead, a 1.8 m long rubber coated cable is used. As you can see from the above photo, the cable is non-detachable. I personally prefer to not have detachable USB cable on my keyboard, since the more connectors you have, the higher chance you will get bad connections. The USB connector of the Excalibur SE Spectrum is not gold plated. Note that the gold plated connector is only there to make the keyboard look good. There is no actual performance improvement regarding data transmission. At the bottom of the keyboard, there are four pieces of rubber strips: Two at the back and two at the front. All of those rubber feet can provide enough grip to allow the keyboard to be as stable as a mountain. Two risers at the front feature adjustable rising levels. It is worth noting the risers are also rubberized to enhance the stability of the keyboard when risers are applied.
After a few days of using the Tesoro Excalibur SE Spectrum, I find it hard to give the keyboard a fair evaluation just by the ostensible impression it gives me. Starting with the looks, this product features an incredibly simple and conservative design. It is almost impossible to find a unique feature just by looking at it -- and for a lot of people, this is a good thing. In terms of the typing experience, the Excalibur SE Spectrum feels just like any other keyboard with Cherry or Kailh Blue switches. For the backlighting effects, you cannot set it to every color in the 16.8 million spectrum. I would not say that I am amazed by this keyboard by the bling factor; nonetheless, I can hardly find anything wrong with it. However, the Excalibur SE Spectrum is not just another nice-to-have keyboard from Tesoro. The amazing features about this product are mostly hidden inside. For example, Infra-red technology is used to eliminate the double-click and metal bouncing problems caused by worn out metal contact surfaces in conventional mechanical switches. The optical switch has a much longer lifespan than pure mechanical ones, but this feature is buried deep inside the keyboard such that you will not be able to show it off at a LAN party. To further enhance the durability of the keyboard, the advanced anti-particle and spill-resistant capabilities are there to protect the Excalibur SE Spectrum from spilled drinks, dust, and other particle damages. Guess what, all of those lifespan related features are not something you can easily demonstrate to your friends. But at the end of the day, it is still a practical gaming keyboard that will last you for many parties. Its multi-color per key backlighting, versatile lighting effects, NKRO, and driver-less setup make this product qualified gaming gear. The MSRP of this keyboard is $99 USD. I believe the Tesoro Excalibur SE Spectrum is definitely worth this price, since you can surely enjoy it for a long time -- and this may be what matters most in the end.
Tesoro provided this product to APH Networks for the purpose of evaluation.
APH Review Focus Summary:
8/10 means Definitely a very good product with drawbacks that are not likely going to matter to the end user.
7/10 means Great product with many advantages and certain insignificant drawbacks; but should be considered before purchasing.
-- Final APH Numeric Rating is 7.2/10
Please note that the APH Numeric Rating system is based off our proprietary guidelines in the Review Focus, and should not be compared to other sites.
The Tesoro Excalibur SE Spectrum is not a keyboard you can easily show off at a LAN party when it comes to bling, but it is definitely a durable product with substance you can enjoy for a long time.
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