By: Aaron Lai
January 25, 2019
Earlier in the month, I was on the phone with my internet provider looking to secure a cheaper plan. With the holiday plans that were still in effect, I decided to call them to hopefully get a better option. If there is one thing I dislike about calling in, it is the super long time before getting in contact with an actual person. In spite of all this, I held on because I knew the end goal would be worth it. Fast forward two hours and some necessary patience, I ended up being offered a two year plan for approximately thirty dollars cheaper per month while also adding internet television. Since my real goal was just to get a less expensive plan, everything else was just a bonus that I was happy to have received. I think it goes to show that good things can come to those who wait. Taking a look at today's review, two and a half years ago, we received the original Gram Spectrum from Tesoro and we received it quite positively. One thing I really wanted at the time was to see a tenkeyless edition. Even though it may have taken a bit longer than I would have liked, I am glad Tesoro finally has produced today's product in the Gram Spectrum TKL. However, we have seen quite a few more slim competition in products like the Corsair K70 RGB MK.2 Low Profile in the meantime as well. How does this compare nowadays and is it still the great sleek option we enjoyed back then? Let us read on to find out!
Today's review unit of the Tesoro Gram Spectrum TKL arrived via US Postal Service and Canada Post, working in their respective countries. Unlike the past review products we have received from Tesoro, this one came to us from Colton, California. Compared to Milpitas, California, the place where we usually see Tesoro products come from, this small city is located about fifty seven miles east of Los Angeles. With a small population of just over fifty thousand people as of their latest census, this suburban area is located in the San Bernardino County. 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. Thankfully, the box arrived with very little signs to worry about, as there are not many dents or any holes to worry about. Inside the box, we have the Tesoro Gram MX ONE, another keyboard I will be looking at in the coming weeks.
When it comes to the retail packaging of the Tesoro Gram Spectrum TKL, the box looks relatively similar to some of the more recent Gram keyboards we have received. Tesoro now utilizes a polar white and grey scheme with their boxes, which makes for a clean box design. Otherwise, the keyboard can be found on the front with the black model shown regardless of which model is inside. Just like the original Gram Spectrum, Tesoro offers the tenkeyless edition in both black and white. In addition, we have options for the tactile blue and linear red switches. We will take a deeper dive into our switches later on in our review. On the front, we have some features shown off including the lower profile switch and keycaps. At the back, we have some more features and secondary functions highlighted, but we will get to see these later on.
Before we continue on, I have grabbed the specifications from the manufacturer's website for your perusal:
Model number: G11TKL
Keyboard Colour: Black/ White
Switch Type: Tesoro Agile Switch – Blue and Red switch options
Actuation Distance: Blue: 1.5mm +/- 0.5mm; Red: 1.5mm +/- 0.5mm
Operation Force: Blue: 45g +/- 15g; Red: 45g +/- 15g
Travel Distance: Blue: 3.5mm +/- 0.5mm; Red: 3.5mm +/- 0.5mm
Processor: 32bit ARM Cortex Processor
Keystroke Lifecycle: 50 million
Material: Metal / Plastic
Ultra-polling rate: 1000 Hz
Key rollover: 6-key / N-key options
Backlit: 16.8 million RGB colours
Lighting Effects: Per key customizable illumination
Special keys: Profile Reset, Keyboard Reset, Profile Switch, Multimedia, Rollover Switch, Instant Macro Recording, Keyboard Lock, Win Key Lock
Multimedia keys: 6
Cable: 1.8 meter detachable braided cable
System Requirements: Windows 7/8/10, PC System with USB Port, Internet connection for the software download
Product dimensions (WxHxD): 365 x 136 x 25.6 mm (w/ keycaps)
Package dimensions (WxHxD): 396 x 186 x 39 mm
Product Weight (w/ cable): 900 g
Product Weight (with packaging): 1155 g
Out of the box, we have the Tesoro Gram Spectrum TKL in a plastic bag to prevent it from any surface damage during transport. It was held in between two foam brackets to further protect the keyboard. We also have a cable in the matching color with the keyboard. It is a micro USB to USB cable measuring 1.8m in length. Finally, there is a small user manual with warranty information. Warranty is limited to a single year with Tesoro for all of their products, which I think should be increased to a minimum of two years with most peripherals. It also would have been nice to see a carrying case since this keyboard is so slim and targeted for portability.
The main reason why I wanted a tenkeyless edition of the Gram Spectrum was mostly because it just made sense for a slim switch keyboard to be packaged in a small keyboard. This makes for a very portable keyboard altogether. Now that it is in front of me, I am quite happy that Tesoro has kept most of the design the same with only the removal of the number pad. Rather than a plastic enclosure, we have the island-style keyboard with the Tesoro Gram Spectrum TKL. As such, we can see the bottom of each switch as it sits above the backplate. This allows for better light leaking and spilling off the backing, but we will see what this looks like later on. Otherwise, I really like the clean design Tesoro has kept here. There is not too much in terms of branding with only one mark of their brand over the arrow keys. Just like the original, I think Tesoro could choose a simpler font for the keycaps.
As for measurements, the keyboard is 365mm in width, 136mm in depth, and 25.6mm in height. Unsurprisingly, this is not as wide as the 104-key Gram Spectrum, while being wider than some other TKL options we have seen like the Cooler Master MasterKeys S. However, the slimmer body and keycaps means this keyboard is one of the shortest we have seen. In terms of mass, this keyboard weighs in at a slim 900g. Most tenkeyless keyboards are around this weight class. In terms of sturdiness, the keyboard is built solidly with its exposed aluminum backplate holding the whole keyboard together. There is no flexing or bending in the keyboard or the body, which is really good to see. There is a bit of creaking made when you bend the backplate though despite a lack of any visible signs. The backplate and enclosure make the entire Gram Spectrum TKL still feel solid. Unfortunately, no wrist rest is provided here, which I am starting to appreciate, even for the smaller tenkeyless boards.
The Tesoro Gram Spectrum TKL arrived in a standard 87-key QWERTY ANSI layout. The overall layout looks exactly like the original Gram Spectrum, minus the number pad. This means we inherit the slightly altered bottom row with the Windows, Fn and Menu key being a regular key size, while the Ctrl and Alt keys are slightly larger than normal. This makes swapping out the keys for other custom ones a bit trickier since it is not a standard bottom row. As Tesoro cut out the number pad, they had to relocate the indicator LEDs. These are now located in between the top rows of keys on the right most side above the Insert/Home/Page Up keys. These two indicator LEDs are used for gaming mode and for Caps lock. It seems Tesoro has left this light out again.
As for secondary functions, the Tesoro Gram Spectrum TKL keeps most of the ones we have seen before. These can all be activated by pressing the Fn key prior to pressing the secondary function key. 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. F7 to F9 are made for media controls, including Previous Track, Play/Pause, and Next Track. Finally, F10 to F12 are volume controls, including Mute, Volume Down, and Volume Up. There are quite a few more function keys, 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. The last set of keys are located on Page Up and Down, which are used to increase and decrease brightness, respectively. Tesoro says the Fn + Windows key should disable the Windows button, but it never worked with my keyboard. I have never seen a secondary function not work before out of the box and hopefully this can be fixed with a firmware update.
As for key rollover, the Tesoro Gram Spectrum TKL 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 Spectrum TKL 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 Spectrum TKL, 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 TKL features Tesoro AGILE Red switches. This switch is intended to be like the Cherry MX Red switch, except with a lower profile and smaller traveling distance. The OEM for these switches are still Kailh. Linear switches are often favored by gamers, as they feature a quiet typing experience and a relatively low actuation force to trigger them. These are rated to last up to fifty million keystrokes, which is the same as most Cherry MX switches. With the shorter travel distance, we still have a 45g actuation force, but a travel distance of 3.5mm and actuation distance of 1.5mm, which shaves 0.5mm in both categories compared to regular Cherry switches. Otherwise, you can see there is a clear enclosure for each switch, allowing the RGB lighting to spill through and bleed out.
From here, you can see the keycaps on the Tesoro Gram Spectrum TKL keep to the same color as the rest of the body, but unlike usual keycaps, they have a slimmer profile. Most keycaps on mechanical keyboards are around 11.5mm high, but this one is much slimmer at 6.2mm of thickness. In addition, the keycaps seem to be quite a bit thicker than regular ABS keycaps, which makes me to believe these are PBT, or polybutylene terephthalate, which are stiffer, harder, and keep their 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 happening to these keys. It should be noted while most of the keys are marked with this process, the secondary functions, like the media or volume controls, are just printed on top of the keycap.
From this angle of the back, you can see how much of the switch is exposed. This should hopefully increase the LED brightness leaking through the back so they shine brighter and make for a nice effect when reflected off the backplate. You can also see the back plug here, which is a micro USB connection. This is pretty standard for mechanical keyboards, but I would have liked to see the newer USB Type-C connection, which is more durable. The cable accompanying the Tesoro Gram Spectrum TKL matches the rest of the enclosure in color and measures in at 1.8m in length. Otherwise, there are no additional USB ports or audio connections in this area, though I have never really found them useful before.
At the bottom of the Tesoro Gram Spectrum TKL, we have nothing too surprising. With a triangle in all corners, these rubber feet keep the Gram Spectrum TKL in place and away from moving. Two back feet kick out to raise the keyboard up. These feet are also capped off with rubber to prevent them from sliding about on harder services. There is also a large central sticker with model information and the serial number. An engraved Tesoro logo can also be found on the back. Otherwise, the whole white exterior is kept with this white metal back, which is great to see.
Once I finished my inspections, I plugged the Tesoro Gram Spectrum TKL into my main rig machine and tested it out for several weeks. One thing I really liked about my typing experience with the original Gram Spectrum was just how low profile these switches were, which made me feel like I could type really fast. I have heavily praised the Tesoro AGILE or low profile Kailh Red switches in the past on the original Gram Spectrum, and thankfully they did not change this experience. Gaming on this keyboard was an enjoyable experience, with a good feedback and a nice clack to the keys when they bottomed out. This is also made possible due to the thicker keycaps, as they contributed to the heavier sound. The linear travel in all the keys are light and its shorter travel distance make each stroke feel a lot faster. Even though typing with linear switches may not necessarily be something people love, the Gram Spectrum TKL were also very enjoyable to use for typing out this review. Overall, all the keys provide a clean and consistent feel, which is exactly what I expect from quality switches.
The best thing I liked about the original Gram Spectrum was how light bounced off the white backplate and dispersed out. As with the Tesoro Gram Spectrum TKL, the light does the exact same effect. In fact, you can actually see the lighting spill in our previous photo despite being in a fully lit room. You can see that all the secondary keys such as the special symbols on the numbers are printed beside the number so they get the same illumination treatment. However, as we mentioned previously, any secondary functions are printed on and thus will not be visible in darker situations. Combining the white exterior with double-shot translucent keys and a clear switch enclosure, the Tesoro Gram Spectrum TKL is a well-lit keyboard with some under glow action.
As for the lighting effects, the Gram Spectrum has several modes, all of which can only be chosen from the software application rather than directly from the keyboard. This includes a standard glow, several reactive modes, breathing modes, the rainbow wave, and some other non-reactive effects. You can also synchronize these effects across other Tesoro products that work with their updated application. There is a total of 16.8M combinations for you to set the different colors across. Finally, there is a custom mode that lets you choose lighting for different areas of the keyboard. However, you cannot layer effects on top of each other. It would be nice to see some functionality in the lighting, which is something only major players like Corsair, SteelSeries, or ROCCAT have done.
Tesoro has always provided their own software utility for their products, with their 360 software utility to be used for all of their recent products. As such, only a single application is needed for this keyboard. You may need to update the firmware of the keyboard as well, but there were no updates for my unit. After installation, Tesoro 360 takes up approximately 102MB in storage space.
As for the 360 utility, Tesoro offers two different modes, one for a "Quick Start" and one for more "Advanced" options. "Quick Start" is just a more limited version of the lighting effects, so we directly went to the second option. From here, you can select either changing key assignment or lighting. As you see above, the key assignment is where you can set different assignments for each key. Since there is no separate macro keys, you will have to reassign one of your keys. As for macro recording, you can do that on the go with the secondary functions, but you can also record within the software. This allows for recording of key strokes, mouse buttons, and mouse movements. You can also repeat these macros with a single press. As you can see from above, you can also only use macros in the non PC mode. As for lighting, all of the aforementioned effects can be found in the software. Overall, I found a few choices Tesoro made to not be very intuitive. For example, in the custom lighting, I was unable to change the different layer colors after setting and saving the zones. No matter what, the custom colors would not be applied to the keyboard. I think this is still improved from before, but small glitches like these make the experience feel unpolished and not ready for the main stage.
Despite the waiting for the Tesoro Gram Spectrum TKL, I am a bit mixed with the outcome. In good news, this keyboard is everything I loved about the original Gram Spectrum, except in a smaller package. With its solid build and unique but desirable design, the Tesoro Gram Spectrum TKL starts off on the right feet. Its thicker double-shot keycaps and switches are very solid and provide a consistent feedback. The shorter Tesoro AGILE switches are great for everyday gaming and typing, while reducing its travel makes it feel really quick to type with. In addition, its lighting is still one of my favorite with the white backing really allowing for some interesting side effects. However, by not changing as much, it does start to fall behind the competition. First of all, there are notable features missing like a wrist rest or a USB Type-C input. These would have made the keyboard a bit more desirable. It was also unfortunate to see my independent Windows key lock not ever work. In addition, the same qualms I have had with Tesoro and their software is still present. While I was more forgiving before since Tesoro had acknowledged their shortcomings in their past utilities, after two years I still have the same feeling of an unpolished application here. On a hardware stance alone, I think the Tesoro Gram Spectrum TKL is a great option at a retail price of $99 USD. In the end, I really wanted to like the Gram Spectrum TKL, but after waiting so long, I think Tesoro could have used this time to make some improvements to make the keyboard more competitive with the current market.
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.
Two years after its bigger brother launched, the Tesoro Gram Spectrum TKL is today a solid keyboard still let down by its software.
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