The popularity of mechanical keyboards has led to the flooding of the market with hundreds of products, many of which had very small (or even zero) differences from each other. After all, there were only a handful of different keyboard switch types (and their clones), and there is only so much one can do with differentiating in terms of aesthetics and design without moving into software. This lack of variety, in conjunction with the very high popularity that mechanical keyboards have amongst gamers, has pushed the manufacturers to design and develop new, unique mechanical keyboard switches - often aimed directly towards gamers.

During the past couple of years, we have seen (and tested) several new switch designs that were trying to differentiate from the typical Cherry MX switches and their clones. Manufacturers experimented with the travel and actuation distance of the keys, or the differences were purely cosmetic, such as clear plastic bodies for better LED lighting effects.

In this review we are having a look at the new Tesoro Excalibur SE Spectrum, a keyboard with switches that are more than just a little different. The Excalibur SE Spectrum externally looks like a typical mechanical keyboard but its switches are optical, relying on infrared sensors rather than metallic contacts for signaling.

Packaging and bundle

Tesoro supplies the Excalibur SE Spectrum in a typical cardboard box with minimal, straightforward artwork. The design of the packaging is focused on the promotion of the optical key switches. It is a sturdy packaging that should be offering more than adequate protection to the keyboard during shipping.

Inside the packaging we only found a very basic manual and a small sticker listing the keyboard’s advanced keystroke functions. There is no keycap puller or other accessories supplied alongside with the Excalibur SE Spectrum.

The Gateron Optical Switch with Force/Travel Testing
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  • DanNeely - Monday, March 20, 2017 - link

    I suspect part of it is that any ergo layout beyond the most basic (just a split in the center and bending the top inward) will require non-standard key caps. The reason why everyone and his dog is selling a basic mechanical keyboard is that essentially all of the hardware is off the shelf. All you need to do is to write an LED/macro programming app if you want to move into the mid/high tier of the market; at the low end not even that.

    And even for the most basic design I suspect the thinking goes something like: "1% of users buy mechanical keyboards. 1% buy ergo keyboards. That means the market for an ergo mechanical layout is probably closer to 0.01% of the total keyboard market than 1%, we probably can't sell enough to recoup our investment if we do this."
  • twtech - Monday, March 20, 2017 - link

    I understand that line of thinking, and obviously as neither of us are actually in the business of manufacturing keyboards we can only speculate beyond a certain point.

    However my counterpoint to that argument would be that most of the people who use split keyboards are people who are at their desks typing for many hours of the day, are often more affluent, and obviously care about the ergonomics of their input devices enough to not be using the stock $2 keyboard that came with the machine - and mechanical keys are also an ergonomic upgrade for frequent typists.

    So in my view, it's probably not a simple 1% of 1% type calculation. A programmer who makes 6+ figures and already has to spend $40-100+ for a non-mechanical ergo keyboard seems much more likely to be willing to pay $150-250 for a mechanical model than the average person who uses their computer 1-2 hours a day for gaming only and could buy a better graphics card with that money instead.

    Further, when you consider the number of mechanical keyboards already on the market as you mentioned - what percentage of that market share can the average manufacturer hope to capture? Does that even end up being much more than 1% of 1% anyway?
  • Mickatroid - Tuesday, March 21, 2017 - link

    A lot of assumptions there twtech, not a lot of evidence. Sure, if people prefer split keyboards there are good reasons to make one for them though. FWIW I have never seen the point of a 'natural' keyboard and I spend huge amounts of time typing. I have always thought they were for people who were either injured or who had learned the poor technique of holding their fingers up off the keys rather than letting their hands float over the keyboard and pressing down to type (at which point the relationship between the alignment of keys and the arms stops mattering). It is possibly true that people who are into keyboard ergonomics are past the need for a natural keyboard.
  • twtech - Tuesday, March 21, 2017 - link

    It's about the positioning of your wrists. A natural/split keyboard allows your wrists to remain straight while typing, which is not otherwise possible (at least unless you have a very narrow chest/waist).

    Even if you don't have an RSI injury yet - why not reduce stress on your joints and the likelihood that it will become a problem in the future?

    Obviously I'm making some assumptions here - and adding in some anecdotal evidence as well based on personal experience - but then, you're not going to be able to do much better in regard to the potential sales of a product that doesn't exist unless you've completed a survey to judge interest.

    We do know that Microsoft has been making variants of their natural keyboard design since 1994, and that at launch in 2005 for example the Natural Keyboard 4000 cost $65, which is about $80 in today's money. A mechanical variant would cost more than that obviously, but it does illustrate that natural keyboard users are willing to pay an above-average price for their input device.
  • mr_tawan - Wednesday, March 22, 2017 - link does this one count ?
  • twtech - Wednesday, March 22, 2017 - link

    Still different than the MS natural obviously, but still interesting. Thanks for the link.

    I wonder how easy or difficult it is to get used to non-staggered keys. Some of the symbols, etc., are also in non-standard locations - eg. quotation marks below the Z key.

    Still, I'll keep that one in consideration if I end up needing to replace one of my Matias Ergo Pros - I have one that I use at home, and one at work. I already had to replace one of them once because of a coffee accident.
  • ddriver - Tuesday, March 21, 2017 - link

    As usual, the obligatory FUGLY font some idiot somewhere decided has a "gamer" ring to it.

    And there follows the obligatory "bbbut... it makes it readable". To which I can only say this - if you need to look at what key captions say, you are a looong way from gamer, or even an adequate PC user for that matter.
  • Zim - Thursday, March 23, 2017 - link

    I've got a fever and the only prescription is more keyboard reviews.
  • MamiyaOtaru - Friday, March 24, 2017 - link

    been waiting for this. Wonder why they regressed from millions of colors to 8 when going to the IR switches
  • olive_oil - Thursday, May 25, 2017 - link

    Tesoro is a bad company. My Tesoro keyboard failed and I tried to get warranty service and I just got ignored.

    Later I found out they run their US business OUT OF A RENTED UPS MAILBOX.

    LOL No wonder I wasn't able to get warranty service!

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