By: Aaron Lai
September 2, 2016
With the Olympics over, I have to say Team Canada was quite impressive. I have always been more interested in the winter games overall, but the summer ones have their cool events to watch too. However, Canadian swimmer, Penny Oleksiak, was a major wow on her own. In her competitions, she won four medals in the games, including one gold, one silver, and two bronzes, while capturing the hearts of Canadian viewers. Even more surprising to me is how young she is at sixteen years of age. However, what had me cheering for her was the way she won her gold. If you watch her victory, you would have seen she did not go out all the way right from the gate, but rather she paced herself. In the second half, it was like Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Kwan's favorite line "VTAK JUST KICKED IN YO!" came to life, as she redlined it for the finish. I think this exemplifies the fact it does not matter how you start things, but rather how you finish. Do not get me wrong, it definitely helps when you have a great start and finish, but people can recover from an average beginning. In addition, if you lose momentum halfway through and lack the endurance to keep going, it really makes for a sad end. I think a similar story can also be drawn out with technology. With all the glitz and glamour products get, the initial wow-factor is present from the start for many products. However, the real endurance is seen in the product's performance and quality. Today we have a different keyboard from a very familiar company in the form of the Tesoro Gram Spectrum. It certainly caught my attention in the beginning, but how does it actually fare in day-to-day situations or in performance? Read on to find out!
The Tesoro Gram Spectrum arrived via USPS and Canada Post, operating in their respective countries. As usual, the large brown corrugated cardboard box arrived from Tesoro's American office in Milpitas, California. The box arrived in excellent quality, with zero dents or holes to mention of. Inside we have the keyboard as expected, with lots of brown packing paper to cushion any blows the box may have received during shipment. I have never been convinced with how paper itself can really cushion anything, but since so many people use it, there must be some merit, so onto the keyboard box we go.
Out of the parcel, we have the Tesoro Gram Spectrum's retail container, and I must say it is quite a shift from their previous keyboard looks. From the time Tesoro sent us their Tizona to their most recent shipment of the Excalibur Spectrum, there has been a noticeable transition from a gamer-medieval look to a more modern and clean design. With the Gram Spectrum, it is almost as if Tesoro has stripped away their weapon-inspired naming scheme, and gone for a simpler style. Personally, I think the medieval look was a bit dated, both literally and figuratively, although I appreciated Tesoro doing their own thing too. As for the box, the Gram Spectrum's container shows the keyboard on the front scaled down. Several lines of features and specifications are listed around the box. At the bottom there are the different types of switches available. The Gram Spectrum specifically comes in blue and red flavors, but today's unit is the linear red switch. The right side also shows the color options of the keyboard to come in black or white.
Before moving on, I obtained some features and specifications from the manufacturer's website for your perusal:
- Optimized Low-profile Design
- 60 Million Reliable Keystrokes
- 32bit ARM Cortex Processor
- 1000 Hz Ultra Polling Rate
- 512KB Onboard Memory
- All Keys Fully Programmable
- Instant Macro Recording
- Versatile Lighting Effects
- Detachable Braided USB Cable
- Compatible with Win XP, Vista, 7, 8, 10
- Color: Black/ White
- Processor: 32bit ARM Cortex Premium
- Memory: 512KB (4Mb) Onboard Memory
- Switch: Gaming Grade
- Key lifespan: 60 million keystrokes
- Material: Plastic/ Iron
- Ultra-polling Rate: 1000Hz
- Connection: USB
- Key Rollover: Full N-Key / 6 Key Rollover
- Backlit: 16.8M RGB color
- Lighting Effects: Yes
- Special keys: Keyboard lock, Reset Hotkey, Instant Macro Recording, Instant Profile Switch
- Multimedia Keys: 6
- Cable: 1.8 meters, braided, detachable
- Weight: Keyboard: 1.05kg
- Dimensions: Keyboard: 445x136x24.5mm
Out of the box, there are not too many extras with the Tesoro Gram Spectrum. In fact, the only surprise I found while opening it was the fact the keyboard was white in color. Only after opening it did I realize the color choice was already indicated on the box. For reference, the Gram Spectrum comes in black and white, but it is refreshing to see a different color than gray or black on a keyboard. The keyboard itself is wrapped in a clear plastic bag to protect the keyboard from any scratches or dings. There is also a white braided mini USB to USB cable, measured at 1.8m long. Finally, there is a small user manual with warranty information. Warranty with Tesoro is limited to a single year, which is a bit short in my opinion.
As with every keyboard made by Tesoro, the Gram Spectrum shares the name as a sword from Norse mythology, used by various people, depending on the legend. The sword can be described as being "decked out with gold and gleaming bright", according to our favorite and reliable source, Wikipedia. According to the Volsunga Saga, the sword was given to the bearer, Sigmund, by Odin. It was coveted by many, including King Siggeir who tried to buy it off of him. Sigmund refused and the king got angry, capturing Sigmund's brothers and killing his father. Sigmund then avenged the family, before it was later broken in Sigmund's last battle by Odin himself. Sigmund's wife recollected the two parts of the blade and saved them for her son, Sigurd. As for Sigurd, he had his own tale of reforging the two parts to take down the dragon Fafnir.
While it would have been nice to see a keyboard decked out with gold, at least Tesoro got the gleaming bright part correct. The Tesoro Gram Spectrum in white is definitely a stunner of a keyboard. I have previously chastised Tesoro's questionable design, as it felt clunky and dated. However, the Gram Spectrum is a desired shift towards a cleaner and minimalist style. Not only does it remove a lot of unnecessary markings or extraneous design parts, but it also slims down practically all the margins around the keyboard. Both the black and white versions of the Gram Spectrum are quite nice, and they feature a more island-like design for the keycaps. This gives off the impression of the keys floating on top of the backplate. Our review unit of the Tesoro Gram Spectrum is mostly white, with the exception of the gray company logo near the indicator LEDs. Writing on the keycaps are also a different color, with a translucent gray like look too. Otherwise, we have once again a conservative but polished finish and I commend Tesoro for making such a refreshing change in design.
As for measurements, the keyboard is 445mm in width, 136mm in depth, and 24.5mm in height. I should note the height measurement is when the keyboard is not raised up by the back legs. Even so, it is a bit shorter than a lot of keyboards, but there are several contributing factors, some of which will be covered later. For one, the back does not get too much more elevated than the height, although it should be adequate. In terms of mass, this keyboard weighs in at an expected weight of 1.05kg. Most mechanical keyboards are at this mass, and the Gram Spectrum is no different. In terms of build quality, despite its very thin profile, the Tesoro Gram Spectrum is solidly built. There is zero flex or bend in the keyboard or the body. This is also helped by the fact both the backplate and the enclosure itself is metal.
The Tesoro Gram Spectrum came to us with a standard 104-key QWERTY ANSI layout. This is pretty normal and is practically the same as every other keyboard APH Networks has reviewed recently. However, if you do look closer, you will notice the bottom row is a bit differently sized, with the Fn and Menu key being a regular key size, while the Alt key on both sides are larger. Three small blue LED indicators exist on the top right hand side beside the Tesoro logo. The first one is marked by a G, indicating when the keyboard is in gaming mode. In this mode, the Windows key is disabled and your macros are available here. The next two LEDs are for Num and Caps lock, respectively. It seems more and more manufacturers are dropping the Scroll lock indicator, as less people are using it.
As for secondary functions, the Tesoro Gram Spectrum has its share. These can all be activated by pressing the Fn key prior to pressing the secondary function key. F1 to F5 are the shortcuts to jump between the five gaming profiles. These profiles are where macros can be saved and activated in. F6 is used to lock the Windows key. F7 to F9 are made for volume controls, including Mute, Volume Down, and Volume Up. Finally F10 to F12 are media controls, including Play/Pause, Previous Track, and Next Track. There are a few more function keys, including Insert and Delete, which are used for switching between 6 and N for key rollover. Home key resets the keyboard to initial settings, and Pause switches gaming mode on and off. The last set of keys are located on the arrow pad, and these are used for changing the lighting conditions. Up and Down are used to increase and decrease brightness, while Left and Right are used to switch between the multiple lighting modes. These modes will be covered in detail later on in the review.
As aforementioned, the Tesoro Gram Spectrum is capable of NKRO mode over USB. NKRO is abbreviated for n-key rollover, and it 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. Practically no modern keyboards suffer from this type of ghosting nowadays.
Before continuing on, one of the main selling points of the Tesoro Gram Spectrum is its 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 Spectrum, 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 Spectrum features Tesoro's AGILE Red switches. However upon closer look, these are still manufactured by Kailh. These keys are rated to last up to sixty million keystrokes; more than the standard Kailh Red switches. Red switches are what I would call a gamer's switch, as they feature linear travel. Unfortunately it is not necessarily the best for typing in general, since they are so easy to press and they do not offer any feedback other than bottoming out. At 50g of operating force, they do not have to overcome any travel bump, making them feel quite light. The reason these switches are labeled as AGILE switches are because the actuation distance of the key is reduced to 1.5mm, and travel distance is now at 3.5mm. These are both 0.5mm shorter than regular switches. Combine this with a slim keycap profile, and the keys should actuate faster with less resistance.
As you can see here, the keycaps on the Tesoro Gram Spectrum themselves are all white in color, but unlike usual keycaps, they have a much thinner profile. They are actually remind me quite a bit of older laptop keyboards. Most keycaps on mechanical keyboards are around 11.5mm high, while these keycaps are slimmer at 6.2mm of thickness. The keycaps are also said to be made with a double injection process. This process is where plastic is molded around an insert. While it is costly, the advantages include a very well contrasted font, with no fading ever to happen on these keys.
From this shot you can also see how much of the clear switch enclosure is exposed. This should hopefully allow for the LEDs in the Gram Spectrum to shine brighter and make for a nice effect when reflected off the backplate. Finally, from this angle, you can see the back plug, which is a mini USB connection. This is pretty standard for mechanical keyboards, as smaller connections such as micro USB are not as durable and can break easier. The cable accompanying the Tesoro Gram Spectrum is a white one, measuring 1.8m in length. Otherwise, there is no additional USB ports or audio connections, though I have never really found them useful before.
From underneath the Tesoro Gram Spectrum, you can see there are very few surprises overall. In the four corners we find isosceles right angle triangles of textured rubber grips holding the keyboard in place. Beside the top two corners are wide kick stands to help prop up the Gram Spectrum. Thankfully these feet are also rubber tipped. These traction pads, in addition to the weight of the keyboard, easily keep the Gram Spectrum from moving around.
Plugging the Tesoro Gram Spectrum into my computer, and the first thing I realized was how out of place it looked. For one, it is the first keyboard I have ever had to not blend into the XTracGear Carbonic XXL's black and gray surface. Secondly, it is the simplest, sleekest, and definitely one of the better keyboards I have seen on my table in a long while. Finally, it is actually one keyboard my parents have actually commented on saying it looked good. All aesthetics aside though, using the Gram Spectrum was a breeze. The Tesoro AGILE Red switches underneath were really fun to game with. As my first mechanical keyboard I reviewed here, the Cooler Master Storm QuickFire Pro was the first and last red flavor of switches I have used, it felt a bit nostalgic to get back into red switches. Thankfully, the Tesoro Gram Spectrum delivered, as the switches offered an excellent feel and allowed me to recall what I loved about red switches, in addition to a few complaints. As these are one of the lighter switches to actuate, accidental presses are a definite issue. This is more annoying when typing, as there is no tactile or audible bump. Even so, I was able to write majority of this review with the Gram Spectrum, and every day coming home to use this keyboard was a delight. However, when it came to gaming, the speed of the red was even better. Playing games like Overwatch or League of Legends was a treat with the AGILE switches. Even the higher bottoming out position was very noticeable compared to regular switches, despite only being different by half a millimeter. All in all, the Tesoro Gram Spectrum offered a great experience when gaming on it, and it might possibly be my next go-to keyboard.
As for lighting, Tesoro uses the "Spectrum" word to denote the RGB-ness of their products. Customizing color is becoming a standard thing nowadays, and the Gram Spectrum is no different with its RGB lighting capabilities. Similarly to the AZIO MGK L80 RGB, majority of the letters are printed, or in this case injected, onto the top of the keys, where the LED is situated. For all the keys with secondary functions, they are not translucent, and have just been injected with a dark gray like color. When the lights are off and the illumination turns on, these lower parts of the key do not light up. This does mean you cannot see these secondary functions in the dark, but I think it is an acceptable compromise, rather than having uneven lighting. As for the lighting quality, I think the Gram Spectrum looks even prettier than the rest. This is because of the white backplate, which reflects the lighting and makes for a very under glow effect. As the bottom of the switches are translucent and exposed, the light shines through, making this keyboard one beauty.
Lighting effects are a plenty when it comes to the Gram Spectrum. This includes a standard glow, a bunch of reactive modes, a breathing mode, the rainbow wave, and finally a completely custom setting, where you can set these lights to any of 16.8M colors. The numerous reactive modes include a single key trigger, a wave trigger, a firework-like trigger, and a row trigger. I still would like to see a bit more functionality with the lighting, as SteelSeries is implementing with their system, but it requires cooperation between the manufacturer and the game publishers or developers. Even so, I really enjoyed the lighting on the Gram Spectrum, as it was just more vibrant than other keyboards. On an aside, I think their rainbow spectrum mode is poorly named, as the spectrum waving across the keyboard does not resemble a rainbow at all. However, with such mesmerizing lighting, I can forgive such a misnomer.
I immediately installed the Gram Spectrum's utility from Tesoro's site, as there was no CD included. This is actually a good thing, as CDs are often out of date by the time it is in the retail box, and this ensures users are getting the latest software. In addition, I ran a firmware update on the Gram Spectrum to get the keyboard up to date. Inside there is 512KB of memory, which should be more than enough to store the five macro and lighting profiles. In addition, a 32-bit ARM Cortex processor exists within to handle all of the actions.
Something I have been harsh with Tesoro about for the past few keyboards I reviewed has mostly stemmed from the software bundled with their products. While their keyboards in the past have been of average to good quality, their software has been one of the weaker points in both looks and usability. At first glance, I think Tesoro is headed in the right direction for looks, as immediately you can see the utility is much cleaner. Just like they removed any mention of medieval weaponry from the box and the keyboard, the software is also cleaned up of any swords. Unfortunately, the layout of the software is still very much the same. There is still the same questionable divisions between illumination colors and lighting effects, as it would make sense to lump them all together. Even still, it is nice to see features like macro recording and key overriding, as well as executable launching. All in all, it is still not fully polished, and there could be some work done in the placement of the software elements.
Before I received the Tesoro Gram Spectrum, I was already excited. This was one keyboard I really wanted to try, because it looked like a cohesive and clean keyboard. Once it arrived, my excitement turned into delight. The Gram Spectrum is a spectacle of a keyboard to behold, with a simple but elegant design. It is also a solidly built keyboard with a full metal enclosure and all the necessary features implemented. Armed with double injection keycaps and rubber feet underneath to keep it from sliding about, Tesoro definitely pulled out all the necessary stops for this keyboard. Some may not like the overall slim nature of the keyboard or the keycaps, but this will come down to preference. However, it was only until I plugged in the keyboard that I felt convinced. I do not usually marvel at backlighting, but the Gram Spectrum really is one pretty keyboard with backlights on, and the under glow in effect. Lighting is vibrant, bright, and even, making this keyboard really stand out. Even with Tesoro's AGILE Red switches underneath being manufactured by Kailh rather than the original Cherry MX, I really have no complaints about this substitution. It still provides a great linear feel, and the shorter travel distance definitely is nice for gaming. It may not be a typist's favorite flavor, but the Tesoro Gram Spectrum does also offer a clicky blue switch version if you desire. Overall, I think Tesoro has done a superb job in the hardware side of things. If there really is anything to retool, it again falls on the software's shoulder. While the improvements on a design aspect have not gone unnoticed, a few questionable layout choices, and a few annoyances just make it feel like there are just one or two steps to make its utility great again. You can live without using this utility, as all your recorded macros and things are saved onto the keyboard itself, but it still has some reworking required. Otherwise, it would also be nice to see a slightly longer warranty period. With all this in mind, I think this time around Tesoro's Gram Spectrum is definitely a better product in multiple ways, and the solid hardware alone really makes me forget about these minor tweakable things. At $140 USD, this is smack in the middle for pricing, but Tesoro has proven it too can make an excellent keyboard.
Tesoro Technology 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 7.6/10
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.
Tesoro may have let down the Gram Spectrum by its software again, but this time around, it is a convincing start and finish in the hardware department.
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