By: Ben Joubert
June 3, 2016
I have always been fascinated by the history of something, or the lore in a fantasy story. I thought a bit about the history of the keyboard, and how they became popularized to be used as much as they are today. Typing instruments have been around since the early 19th century, which were known as the early typewriters. However, they were not used by many people, and instead only used to produce legible and uniform business documents. At this time, typewriters were slower compared to handwriting. Christopher Sholes and Carlos Glidden were the two people who created the first commercially successful typewriter, also known as the Remington No. 1, in 1874. They slowly changed from here until 1910, which, by that time, they have all been standardized. The next step in keyboards was to use small type-balls instead of type-bars. These type-balls allowed someone to change fonts easily. The first teletype and ENIAC computers were very big, and used paper cards the computer would punch holes into. These cards would then be read by a card reader, and analyzed as data. The first keyboard to instantly display text on a screen was developed by Bell Labs and M.I.T in 1964, and it was a lot more efficient to use than previous designs. The first keyboards used were mechanical units in the 1970s, and only much later in the 1990s did membrane switches start to be implemented. Since then, the design and build have changed frequently to target a wide range of markets. Today, we have the GAMDIAS Hermes RGB, and much like other RGB LED keyboards, is aimed at gamers. Will it prove to be a worthy successor to years and years of history, while staying true to the goodness of the mechanical switch? Read on to find out!
The GAMDIAS Hermes RGB arrived with the GAMDIAS Hermes 7 Color I reviewed a few weeks ago in a rather big brown corrugated box. It arrived via UPS standard from Brea, California, where the GAMDIAS USA branch is located, to the APH offices here in Calgary, Alberta. The shipping box was in good condition, except for a few dents and scratches on the outside. However, these minor marks were so small, they did not cause any damage to the products inside. Inside the shipping box were a bunch of plastic air pockets to cushion the keyboards.
The packaging is similar to the Hermes 7 Color, with just some different features on the outside. The right side of the front has a white and orange color scheme, advertising the RGB illumination, macro functionality, 32-bit ARM Cortex-M3 microprocessor, and HERA software compatibility. The rest of the front contains the keyboard with different colors to further emphasize the RGB capabilities, while on the top right is the product name. The sides of the box only has the GAMDIAS logo, while the top side lists the features again. The bottom has some other features not mentioned on the front, including the fact the Hermes RGB can be used in combination with the HERA software. The bottom of the packaging houses all the specifications, and GAMDIAS' corporate information.
Before we move on, here are the technical specifications of the GAMDIAS Hermes RGB, as obtained from the manufacturer's website:
Key Switch: GAMDIAS certified mechanical switches
Key Switch Type: Blue
Dimensions: 440 x 170 x 37 mm
Built-in Memory: 72KB
Polling Rate: 1000Hz
Programmable Macro keys: 2
Multimedia Keys: 6
Switch Lifecycle: 50 Million
Backlit: 16.8 million colors and 4 levels brightness
N-Key Rollover: N-Key rollover
OTF Macro Record: Yes (with HERA)
Windows Key Disable: Yes
All-Keys Lock: Yes
Cable Length: 1.8m (Braided Cable with Gold-plated USB Connector)
Graphical UI: Yes (GAMDIAS HERA)
Number of Profile: 6
WASD & Arrow keys Change: Yes
Consecutive Attack Mode: Yes
Customizable Lighting Effects: Yes
After opening up the box, I was greeted with the Hermes RGB covered in a white foam bag to protect it from any scratches or other small dangers during transport. The GAMDIAS Hermes RGB rests on a cardboard box, and has a small area to hide the folded up cable. Lifting up the keyboard and the cardboard box reveals the rest of the components inside the box, which includes a quick start manual and a small orange keycap puller. With the more enclosed design of the GAMDIAS Hermes RGB, the keycap puller is definitely required to pull the keycaps out. Lastly, there are also two GAMDIAS branded stickers.
The GAMDIAS Hermes RGB is a full-sized keyboard. The overall design is very rectangular. All three sides, excluding the front wrist rest, slopes straight down. Along with the big size, the keyboard is a heavyweight as well, thanks to the mechanical switches it features. It weighs in at 1.16 kg, but luckily, you will most likely not be moving it around much because of its size. The weight helps to keep the keyboard stuck to your desk instead of accidentally moving around. The Hermes RGB is mostly made out of a hard plastic, and it has a solid feel to it. There is a slight flex in the chassis, which is a tad unfortunate. Even so, the GAMDIAS Hermes RGB feels solidly built. The plastic covers the switch's base, which is why the keycap puller is required. I personally prefer an exposed plate design, because it makes removing the keycaps or cleaning the keyboard quite a bit easier. The design of the GAMDIAS Hermes RGB creates quite a few small spaces where dust can easily build up in.
The exact dimensions of the GAMDIAS Hermes RGB size is 440mm in width, 170mm in depth, and 37mm in height, which is fairly standard. The wrist rest is very small, and only adds about another 2cm. I am quite disappointed by this, especially at this keyboard's higher price point, and I would have expected it to have either a bit bigger, or a detachable wrist rest for the flexibility for the end user. The wrist rest is made out of the same material as the rest of the keycaps as far as I could tell. GAMDIAS' website does not go into detail about what the keycaps are made out of, but you can tell it is just plastic. The keycaps, as well as the wrist rest, attract fingerprints, but this is slightly hidden by the backlight. If you are picky to have a very clean appearance for your keyboard, I would suggest keeping a cloth close by to keep the fingerprints away.
The GAMDIAS Hermes RGB has a standard US QWERTY layout. However, there are quite a few extra icons on the keycaps to the right and to the left of the keyboard to display all the different functions of the keys, ensuring it is easy to remember the different commands. The Hermes RGB uses mechanical switches, contributing to how heavy it is as aforementioned. Other types of popular keyboard switches in the market today are membrane and scissor-based. Membrane keyboards are the cheapest in price, and have a squishy feel to it when typing. Scissor-switch keyboards are more responsive, and work well for everyday office use. The mechanical keyboard is the most expensive of the three, because each key switch is an independent part. Most gaming keyboards today feature mechanical switches because of their responsiveness, and the GAMDIAS Hermes RGB is no different. Another feature found on the GAMDIAS Hermes RGB is NKRO, or N-key rollover. This means each key actuation is scanned independently to ensure they are all recorded, and no pressed key is missed. This is helpful for gaming when you have to press multiple keys at once.
Starting at the top left of the Hermes RGB, we have the first set of special keys from F2 to F4. I am unsure why there is no function on the F1 key to launch the default media player, which is found on the GAMDIAS Hermes 7 Color. Moving on to the rest of the functions, F2 and F3 in combination with the Function key will skip backwards or forwards, respectively. Fn + F4 will switch your WASD and arrow keys, which is helpful for both left-handed users, and in certain games where you cannot reconfigure the keys for certain tasks, such as camera panning. While I was testing, I actually found this function very useful in Sid Meier's Civilization V, as using the arrow keys for camera panning, and then switching back to the rest of the keyboard for other hotkeys was clunky. I will cover the keys from one to six in the backlight section.
On this end of the Hermes RGB is the ability to lock the Windows key for gaming sessions, which is a common and required feature on products of this type. The Windows key can be locked by pressing it in conjunction with the Fn key. To indicate the Windows key is indeed locked, along the top right a small light will light up under the Gaming title. Another thing to note is the Windows key is placed on the right end of the keyboard instead of the left, which already makes it quite a bit harder to hit the Windows key accidentally. Instead of the Windows key on the left, the Fn key is found. There are also two user-programmable macro keys, found on the B and spacebar keys. They also have to be used in conjunction with the Fn key. I think the placement of the macro buttons are great. I am curious as to why GAMDIAS decided not to include Consecutive Attack mode on this keyboard, since it is found on their Hermes 7 Color.
From F5 to F8 are more media key functions. I am not sure why they divided up the media keys by placing the arrow and WASD switch function in between. Fn + F5 will Play or Pause, while F6 through to F8 plus the Fn key will either mute, decrease, or increase the volume, respectively. Fn + F9 allows you to record macros on-the-fly. After pressing it once, you can record the macro, and pressing it again will let you bind it to one of the two programmable macro keys. Fn + F11 allows you to lock all the keys on the keyboard. This is a fairly specific use case, but a welcomed one to prevent pets that walk all over your keyboard from actuating any keypresses. Internally, there is 64 kB of onboard memory to storing the macros, profiles, and other things.
Mechanical keyboards come in different brands and types of key switches. Most feature OEM Cherry MX switches, but from the manufacturer's website, the GAMDIAS Hermes RGB features GAMDIAS certified mechanical Blue switches. For the Hermes RGB, these switches are actually made by Kailh, and you can see this if you look closely at the key switch bases. These, just like Cherry MX and TTC switches, boast a fifty million actuation life cycle. Since Cherry's patent on these switches expired years ago, manufacturers such as Kailh and TTC are free to emulate their original Cherry counterparts. Based on other keyboards from GAMDIAS we have reviewed, and the manufacturer's website despite not being very clear, I believe this is the only keyboard with Kailh switches from GAMDIAS.
Common types of switches found in mechanical keyboards include Blue, Black, Red, and Brown. Blue switches are aimed at typists, while Black and Red switches are aimed at people who enjoy to spend more of their time gaming instead of typing. The differences between these switches come mostly from the actuation force required. Black switches have the highest actuation force at 60cN, meaning they are the stiffest. RTS gamers have found these switches the best, because they will not cause any accidental key presses. Black switches also have a stronger spring, meaning the key is ready to be pressed again much quicker, allowing for it to be repeatedly pressed more than other key switches. Due to the high actuation force, however, fatigue becomes an issue during long gaming sessions. Meanwhile, Red switches have the lowest actuation force at 45cN. The light actuation force also means the key can be pressed repeatedly in a short amount of time. Both of these switches are linear switches, meaning they are the simplest, and they will not have the loud tactile bump Blue switches have. Brown switches are a middle ground between Black and Red switches.
I compared the GAMDIAS Hermes RGB Blue switches to the Func KB-460 with OEM Cherry MX Blue switches, and I found the Kailh switches to be quite different. The Blue Kailh switches were responsive, and, of course, had a very loud and satisfying click from key actuation. However, there was a slightly squishy feel to it, giving it a bit of a membrane-like feel. I should note Senior Technical Editor Aaron Lai had quite a different experience with Kailh Blue switches on the AZIO MGK 1 RGB, which was very surprising. We tested all three keyboards with a side by side comparison, and found discrepancies in the key switches from the GAMDIAS Hermes RGB and the Azio MGK 1 RGB, despite having the same switch manufacturer, and even the same switch model. I also compared the keyboard to the GAMDIAS Hermes 7 Color with TTC Blue switches, and found them similar to each other, but the 7 Color was not as squishy. On their website, GAMDIAS has also not been very clear about which switches their keyboards use, since both the Hermes RGB and Hermes 7 Color have a generic label of "Certified GAMDIAS mechanical switches", while being different in reality. I guess GAMDIAS certifies more than one mechanical switch under the same name.
On the back of the Hermes RGB, there are four different rubber pads, all four of them are found along the bottom, to ensure it does not move around during use. There are also two extendable feet used to change the angle of the Hermes RGB, which also has rubber pads. Its 1.16 kg weight is also of great help to keep it from moving around. In the middle of the back, there is the model number and some other product specific details. The 1.8m braided cable leads out from the middle, but it is not detachable. There are also three different routing paths for the cable, including out the left, right, or the back of the keyboard. The USB connection features some gold plating for a more expensive look, but it will ultimately not affect performance in any way. However, when the USB is not plugged in, it does look pretty.
There are twelve different lighting effects for the GAMDIAS Hermes RGB, all of which can be changed in software. Four of these effects can be changed using the keyboard using Ins, Home, Del, or End in conjunction with the Fn key. There also controls on the Hermes RGB to adjust the speed and brightness of the lighting effects, using either PgUp and PgDn or 8 and 2 on the number pad, respectively. On each profile, you can also change each keys color individually. Lastly, there is also the option of just having a single static color.
Using the keyboard was overall an acceptable experience. The key switches were consistent throughout the keyboard, but they have an unfortunate squishy feel to it as aforementioned. The small wrist rest was more of a hindrance than anything else for my personal use. In my normal typing, or gaming use, my wrists would actually rest on the table, while the wrist rest itself made the experience more uncomfortable. I would expect at this price point either a bigger wrist rest, or for it to be removable.
The software was easy enough to find following the instructions in the manual. GAMDIAS uses the Hera software to drive quite a few of their other products like the GKC1001 and Hephaestus Almighty as well, making controlling multiple products easier. However, using the software was not the best experience, even if everything was set out clearly. The first tab, Key Assignment, allows you to change the keys to perform different functions. You can make any key be something like media functions, shut down your computer, or even launch an application. On this tab, you can also change the current profile. The Macro Management tab is for recording and editing macros. Keyboard Luminance allows you to change everything about the backlight, from increasing the speed of an effect to making each key a different color. Next is assigning timers and sounds to individual keys. After editing or creating sounds or timers in the other two tabs, you can assign those timers and sounds to the rest of the keyboard. The sounds can either happen as the key is pressed, or when the timer finishes. This is a very useful function for anyone who enjoy playing games like World of Warcraft, where there are many different abilities to keep track of. The last tab is where all the software version information is found.
What made the software frustrating to use was how it would freeze for a few seconds when switching between the different tabs. It was not as user-friendly as I thought it should be, since some functions were hard to figure out. In some rare occasions, the software would just freeze altogether, and I would have to force close it. There are some spelling mistakes on a few screens too. Overall, the software was functional, but still requires work to smooth out the edges.
The GAMDIAS Hermes RGB has mostly what a mechanical keyboard should have in the market today, at least on paper. The overall build quality is solid, even though most of the outer body is made out of plastic. There are quite a few cool functions on the keyboard as well, aimed specifically at gamers, which can be very useful. The software adds to this, with timers and sounds added to specific keys to help with remembering cooldowns, or other specific things to your preference. There are many color patterns to choose from, and you can change each key individually, which can be useful to set up different keys you would use for different games with many different color options. The two programmable keys are placed in a good position for every game I can think of. The cable routing channels on the back make cable management quite a bit easier, and helps to clean up the desk area. The Kailh switches, on the other hand, have an unfortunate squishy to the feel, which is uncharacteristic of other Kailh Blue switches we have tested here at APH Networks, even when we tested them side by side. The GAMDIAS Hermes RGB comes in at an MSRP of $130 USD at press time. This is really expensive, especially if you compare what the GAMDIAS is missing to other keyboards of this price range. The key switches do not meet the expectations for such an expensive keyboard. The wrist rest is small, and cannot be detached. Furthermore, while the software is functional, it still requires some work to prevent random crashes, and it is overall slow to use. Personally, I think the software really breaks the experience, especially with how unpolished and janky it is. Overall, the GAMDIAS Hermes RGB has some cool functions and flashy lights, but its hardware, like its software, requires more effort, too.
GAMDIAS provided this product to APH Networks for the purpose of evaluation.
APH Review Focus Summary:
6/10 means A product with its advantages, but drawbacks should not be ignored before purchasing.
5/10 means An average product with no real advantages; drawbacks and advantages just seem to cancel each other out.
-- Final APH Numeric Rating is 5.3/10
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 GAMDIAS Hermes RGB is like a performance car with an underperforming drivetrain but a great audio system: It is hard to recommend, because it is missing the point.
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