By: Aaron Lai
February 15, 2019
I have moved a total of two times in my life. Once was with my parents and once was on my own. Even though I have been really content with all the places I have lived in, my fondest memories were of the place where I first lived, even if it was not the longest time. There were many awesome memories of the place as well as a few tough ones. A lot of the good memories also came from the fact life when I was little was relatively stress free and I remembered most of just the fun I had growing up and bouncing around the house. One of the things my sister and I imagined was that the house had a secret passage hidden behind the linen closet. There were many times I would try removing everything from the shelves to see if there was something behind the wall, but we never found anything. Obviously, my parents were never happy when we did this, but we clearly wanted a Narnia experience in our house. This is not to say I wanted to change anything about the place, but just my youthful want for something more than the appearance. Since then, it has always been my dream that the next house I build would have some sort of hidden passage or room, but I guess I will see when I get there. When Tesoro sent us their Gram MX ONE, they advertised this keyboard as one balancing simplicity and performance. With its pretty normal appearance, is there something in the details that makes this keyboard different? I guess one way to find out is to keep reading!
Today's review unit of the Tesoro Gram MX ONE arrived from Colton, California. Once the package was transferred in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada Post brought this brown corrugated cardboard box to our APH Networks location in Calgary, Alberta. The box it traveled in arrived with no real concerns to talk about from the exterior. Inside the box, we have the Tesoro Gram Spectrum TKL, a keyboard I looked at last month. Otherwise, there is also some packing paper in here to help with protecting the products from any damage.
Just like the aforementioned Gram Spectrum TKL, the Gram MX ONE comes in a similar looking retail container. Its white and grey color scheme contrasts with the black model of the keyboard and blue backlighting displayed in the middle. At the top, we have the brand and model name on the left. The bottom shows Tesoro's line of "Break the Rules, Embrace Innovation". On the right side, we have some features highlighted, including the fact we have genuine Cherry MX switches included with the Tesoro Gram MX ONE. Other features on the front include 512Kb memory, customizable illumination, and a 32bit ARM processor. Around the back, Tesoro highlights some of the secondary functions, but we will look into these later.
Before we continue on, I have obtained the specifications from the manufacturer's website for your perusal:
Model number: G11UNL
Switch Type: Cherry MX Blue, Cherry MX Brown
Keyboard Colour: Black/ White
Actuation Distance: Blue: 2.2mm +/-0.6mm; Brown: 2.0mm +/-0.6mm
Operation Force: Blue: 50cN +/-15cN; Brown: 45cN +/-20cN
Travel Distance: Blue: 4mm -0.5mm; Brown: 4mm -0.4mm
Processor: 32bit ARM Cortex Processor
Ultra-polling rate: 1000 Hz
Key rollover: 6-key / N-key options
Lighting Effects: Per key single-colored illumination
Multimedia keys: 3
Cable: 1.8 meter detachable braided cable
System Requirements: Windows 7/8/10, PC System with USB Port, Internet connection for the software download
Warranty: 1 year
Product dimensions (WxHxD): 445 x 139 x 32 mm
Package dimensions (WxHxD): 475 x 186 x 39 mm
Product Weight (w/ cable): 1200 g
Product Weight (with packaging): 1500 g
Out of the box, we have a pretty typical set of items in here. The Tesoro Gram MX One is found in a clear plastic bag to prevent any surface damage to the keyboard itself. In a separate plastic wrap, we also have the braided 1.8m white cable, which is a mini USB to USB one. Otherwise, we have a small manual that shows off the secondary functions and some features. It also contains warranty information, which is a one year length from Tesoro. It is a bit short in my opinion, as I think two years is the standard now. No other accessories like carrying bags, keycap pullers, or additional keycaps are included, though some of these are not as necessary, as you will see later on.
I may have called the Gram MX ONE "ordinary looking" in the introduction, though this should not take away anything from the design and aesthetics of Tesoro's Gram series. Tesoro's focus of the Gram lineup has always been one to deliver a minimal style and clean looks. In terms of design, the Gram MX ONE takes a few pages from a previous keyboard, the Gram SE Spectrum, though most of the similarities are only skin deep. As such, we have a slimmer look and conservative design. We have the white version today as we have received for almost all of our Gram keyboards, but a black option is also available. As with most of the Gram lineup, the MX ONE uses an island style design with its switches exposed over the backplate, giving the keycaps a floating look. The one look of Tesoro branding is found above the number pad, with its head logo located there.
Pulling out the measuring tape, the Tesoro Gram MX ONE measures 445mm in width, 139mm in depth, and 32mm in height. It is not the smallest of keyboards for a full-sized format one, but it still is pretty slim. The keyboard is also quite a heavy one with it tipping the scales at 1.2kg. In terms of build quality, the Tesoro Gram MX ONE looks good on paper with its exposed aluminum backplate and all metal exterior. In practice, there is quite a bit more flex than I would have expected. There is also quite a bit of creaking made when you press lightly on the backplate or start twisting the keyboard. Even if you do not necessarily put these sort of forces on your keyboard regularly, I would have expected a better built product. You can also see there is no wrist rest included. Tesoro has not included one with any of their other Gram keyboards, but it is something they should.
The Tesoro Gram MX ONE arrived in a standard 104-key QWERTY ANSI layout. The overall layout looks exactly like the aforementioned Gram SE Spectrum. This means we have the standard bottom row with the Windows, Fn, Menu key, Ctrl, and Alt keys all being the same size. As for the indicator LEDs, these can be found in their standard top right side above the number pad. These three indicator LEDs are used for gaming mode, Num lock, and Caps lock, and are indicated as expected. As for the keycaps on top, these are quite a bit thicker because these are made with PBT, or polybutylene terephthalate. Unlike the standard ABS plastic, this material is stiffer, harder, and keeps its color better. This means you should not see things like fingerprint staining, which is especially important with a white exterior. The keycaps are made with a double injection process, as you can see the two different plastics. This process is where plastic is molded around an insert. While it is probably the most costly process in creating a keycap, it also creates a well contrasted font since there will never be any fading on the letters. I do not love the choice of font for these keys, as some letters may be harder to read than others, but this is a preference thing.
As for secondary functions, the Tesoro Gram MX ONE keeps most of the ones we have seen before, with a few odd omissions. These can all be activated by pressing the Fn key prior to pressing the secondary function key. All of these secondary functions are not marked on top of the keycap, but rather front printed. This is a pretty interesting idea, especially since fading should not be bad since they are located in a place where fingers are not generally touching. F1 to F5 are shortcuts to jump between the five gaming profiles. These profiles are where macros and specific lighting profiles. It should be noted that any profile mode automatically also turns on gaming mode, which means the Windows key is disabled. F6 to F8 are made for volume controls, including Mute, Volume Down, and Volume Up. Some other function keys are found elsewhere, including Insert and Delete, which are used for switching between 6 and N for key rollover. Home key lets you record macros on the fly, Pause switches gaming mode on and off, and End is used to lock the entire keyboard. I would have liked to see some sort of indication to show when the keyboard is locked. Finally, Fn + Windows key can be used to disable the Windows Start menu shortcut. I am surprised to see no media controls like Play/Pause, Previous, or Next, especially since I use these quite a bit. The rest of the secondary keys are used for lighting modes, so we will look at these later.
As for key rollover, the Tesoro Gram MX ONE offers both 6 and NKRO over USB. NKRO is abbreviated for n-key rollover, which refers to the number of keys independently scanned by the hardware. In essence, this fixes ghosting issues found in cheaper and/or laptop keyboards. While ghosting is a marketing term, there are cases where keyboards will not be able to recognize more than one keystroke at a time, causing for missed keys. This can be frustrating when you are playing games or even if you are just a very fast typist. On an aside, the original usage of ghosting in keyboards actually referred to a third key being registered when two other keys were pressed, which thankfully is not a problem with most modern keyboards.
Before continuing on, one of the selling points of the Tesoro Gram MX ONE is the mechanical key switches. There are three main types of keyboards in the market today. The cheapest but most common is the membrane keyboard, which is the easiest to make, but also has poor typing feel and response due to squishy keys. Next is a scissor switch keyboard. This can be thought of as an enhanced rubber dome with two extra interlocking plastic pieces connected to the key and the keyboard. This creates a better tactile response and typing experience in comparison to the aforementioned membrane. Mechanical keyboards, such as the Gram MX ONE, cost the most, because each key switch is an independent part. These switches are generally composed of a base, stem, and spring, with varying degrees of tactile and audible feedback.
Our unit of the Tesoro Gram MX ONE features Cherry MX Brown switches. This switch is known as a hybrid switch, combining the quieter design of the Reds with the nonlinear travel and tactile feedback found in the Blues. These are rated to last up to fifty million keystrokes, which is as expected. Cherry MX Browns still require a 45g force for actuation with a travel distance of 4mm and actuation distance of 2mm. Otherwise, you can see the single LED for each switch located at the top of the switch. This is a single color LED, as you will see later on in our review.
From this angle of the back and bottom, you can see two important things. First, the connection here is a mini USB connection. This is an older standard for mechanical keyboards, though I would have liked to see the newer USB Type-C connection. The cable accompanying the Tesoro Gram MX ONE matches the rest of the enclosure in color and measures in at 1.8m in length. There are no additional USB ports or audio connections in this area, though I have never really found them useful before as they often require other connections into your computer. At the bottom, we have nothing too surprising. With a triangle in all corners, these rubber feet keep the Gram MX ONE in place. Two back feet kick out to raise the keyboard up. These feet are capped off with rubber to prevent them from sliding about on harder surfaces. There is a large sticker in the center with model information and the serial number.
Once I finished my inspections, I plugged the Tesoro Gram MX ONE into my main rig machine and tested it out for several weeks. Since this keyboard is targeted to be an essentials keyboard, I am really happy to see genuine Cherry MX switches here. While it has been a while since I used this particular flavor of switches, there is a sense of consistency that we come to expect from this German brand. Gaming or typing on this keyboard has been a good experience with a nice sound feedback. There is a slight metallic ping sound when you type away, but this was not much of a bother. Overall, the tactile feel of the thicker keycaps and the switches is one of higher quality. Out of everything else, the typing experience is about as essential as a keyboard can get, and I am glad Tesoro has focused their efforts in this part of the keyboard.
It has been a while since I have seen a keyboard with only a single color of backlighting, but this is what we have on the Tesoro Gram MX ONE. Tesoro also does not include any software for changing lights or macros, though the process to do so is pretty straightforward. Starting with the secondary keys, you can change the lighting brightness and effects using the Up/Down and Left/Right arrows, respectively. There are a total of three lighting levels as well as allowing users to turn them off completely. The effects switch between effects of solid, breathing, wave, spiral, reactive spread, reactive single, reactive row, raining, reactive reverse spread, reactive punch, and two custom recording modes. Some of these can be altered in terms of effect speed or direction, which can be changed using the secondary functions of F9/F10 and F11/F12. Finally, the two custom lighting are recorded using the Page Up and Page Down secondary functions. Page Up is used for static recording, which means you can change which ones are turned on or off. Page Down is used for recording dynamic modes, which also record the sequence in which the lights turn on in a reactive manner. This secondary dynamic recording is an interesting way to record lighting, offering what I think is a good amount of customization considering there is no software or other colors included.
As for the lighting quality, you can see the blue lights shine though the top. As the light is located on the top of the switch and none of them are clear for light bleeding, the overall situation is not the most vibrant compared to other keyboards. In addition, any of the font that is on the second row of the keycap, such as on the number pad, do not show as much, even under maximum brightness. Considering the market and target for the Tesoro Gram MX ONE, it is not too surprising to see only a single color used here, but I also appreciate RGB on keyboards. We still have the slight blue under glow of the keycaps with this floating design, but once again, it is not as impressive as some other keyboards due to the opaque switch housing.
By releasing the Gram MX ONE, Tesoro also shows what they think a standard mechanical keyboard should be like. From my perspective, the focus of the Gram MX ONE is about delivering on typing experience while having some features to make the keyboard competitive. As such, the typing experience is made excellent with its genuine Cherry MX switches and doubleshot PBT keycaps. Both of these work together in providing users with a consistent and excellent tactile feel. As for the extras, we have a feature set including backlighting with effects, metal enclosure, detachable USB cable, macro recording, onboard memory, N-key rollover, and a whole pile of secondary functions. In addition, this white exterior is quite good compared to other non-Tesoro keyboards. For the most part, I agree with their focus and approach to an essentials mechanical keyboard. However, there are also some things Tesoro should have kept in mind when designing the Gram MX ONE. The main thing the Gram MX ONE should have done well in is build quality. The keyboard's construction is not bad, but its creaking and flexing are concerning to say the least, especially since this is not the norm for other Tesoro keyboards. As for some additional features, I can excuse the lack of software, but I really would have liked to see a wrist rest, and I am really confused by the missing secondary media functions on this keyboard. Overall, the Gram MX ONE hits most of what I expect with some details to be worked out. With a retail price of $80 USD, this keyboard is quite competitive for a mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX switches, but it would be even better if Tesoro addresses the aforementioned drawbacks.
Tesoro provided this product to APH Networks for the purpose of evaluation.
APH Review Focus Summary:
7/10 means Great product with many advantages and certain insignificant drawbacks; but should be considered before purchasing.
-- Final APH Numeric Rating is 7.0/10
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 Gram MX ONE is a solid mechanical keyboard with a great typing experience thanks to its Cherry MX switches and PBT keycaps at a competitive price.
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