Mechanical keyboards have it hard. Not only do they have to stand up to the rigors of typing, they also have to fit into expectations of their performance. The keys need to be tactile and responsive enough while still offering a comfortable typing experience. To a gamer or keyboard enthusiast, the quality of the keyboard can make or break their whole computing experience, which is why it's essential for a mechanical keyboard to perform not only as expected, but also try to surpass expectations. From all aspects, the Logitech Orion Spark launched late last year seems to pack what it needs to be a winner, but is it really as capable as it looks? We share our experience.
The Logitech Orion Spark G910 Mechanical Keyboard is a full fledged gaming keyboard with a S$249 price tag. It has all the keys expected of a keyboard of its class, as well as a couple of extra shortcuts and customizable keys. Constructed from plastic, the keyboard is light enough to lug around yet sturdy and secure enough (thanks to the sizeable rubber stops on the bottom) to not move around during 'chaotic' gaming sessions. It interface with your PC or notebook via USB, with the wire fixed to the top of the keyboard. Unlike some other mechanical keyboards, the G910 unfortunately doesn't have other USB ports so it can't function as a USB hub.
The keyboard uses a new type of switch Logitech calls Romer G, though to call it simply a switch type is a bit misleading. Instead, think of Romer G as a whole system. Its main function is of course that of a mechanical switch (which Logitech claims is 25% more responsive than any other switch in the market) but it also encompasses other aspects of the keyboard's design. The asymmetrical keycap design on the keyboard is entirely new, developed for the Romer G, as is the lighting system.
The lighting system built for the Romer G switches is mounted in the very center of the key, using LEDs. This gives the keyboard a stronger backlight than most keyboards as the light can shine through the individual key markings unimpeded. Normal mechanical keyboards (be they Cherry MX or Topre or even Hybrid Capacitive like the CoolerMaster's Novatouch) all have stems in the middle to mount the key caps on. The Romer G switches on other hand has the key cap mounts at the sides, leaving the center clear. Romer G switches are also said to last for at least 70 million keystrokes, though we doubt that most people will even reach a quarter of that number.
The Logitech G910 isn't just a blue backlighted keyboard, that's just its default state. Like any customizable keyboard, you can assign any color you want and the keyboard displays that right at start up (or whenever you plug the keyboard in). The whole color palette will cycle through the keys, which makes for an impressive showpiece. We've (barely) managed to capture that in the picture above.
Apart from the Romer G custom switches, the Orion Spark G910 also has a bevy of extra features and buttons. On the top right, above the Numpad, the keyboard has some dedicated media switches, as well as volume control via a roller bar (a wide thumb-wheel of sorts).
You have the requisite play, forward, back and stop buttons, as well as a roller bar to control volume. There are also other buttons for volume muting, keyboard illumination and finally, a button to toggle whether the Windows key is functional or deactivated (so you don't quit to desktop if you accidentally hit it while gaming). There are also dedicated indicators that inform you what type of key lock is enabled on the keyboard at a glance.
The other custom buttons are set on the opposite end of the keyboard, clustered near the ESC key.
The G1 - G9 buttons are fully customizable and you can pretty much map any function you can think of to them. The smaller buttons on the top left control which key profile is currently loaded (M1, M2, M3) and the MR button is for recording macros. The customizable buttons all use the Romer G switches just like the rest of the keyboard though we're not really sure what type of switches the four buttons in the upper left use; they don't light up like the rest and feel mushier.
Finally, the Orion Spark G910 also has something it calls an Arx Dock. Despite the name, it's function is rather simple. It's meant to hold your smartphone or tablet while you game. it's called the Arx Dock because there's a companion app you can download from Logitech that's called Arx Control, which is compatible with the keyboard.
The dock can hold pretty much any device with no issues. We've tested it holding an Xperia Z3 as well as a Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 with no issues, though the Samsung tablet was a bit of a snug fit. That rounds out the features easily visible on the keyboard.
To unleash the keyboard's true potential though, you'll have to download the Logitech Gaming Software and a smart device app called Arx Control (available for free for both iOS and Android).
Of the two, the Logitech Gaming Software is the lesser of the two evils (it's also a necessary evil). It doesn't have much of a learning curve other than installing it on the system that the keyboard will be used with. It's rather intuitive to use so there shouldn't be any concerns with it. The program lets you tweak a bunch of settings, from profile setups to macro configuration. If you want to customize your keyboard extensively, then you'll definitely need to download this piece of software. That's not to say that the keyboard isn't plug and play (it is), it's just that you'll need the software to be able to configure the keyboard and use the extra functions built into the keyboard.
It's the other piece of software, the Arx Control app, that will aggravate you to no end. Arx Control is a mobile app that connects to your PC and offers secondary features like being able to see key bindings, PC performance and in some supported games, second screen functionality. If it works. Scores of users on forums all over the web have reported issues getting it to function right. We encountered numerous issues with the app like random crashing as well as connection errors. While we don't want to write off the app due to that (it could be our network that's the issue), we felt it needed mentioning that we ran into issues with the app.
Another issue we have is that the app requires you to be connected to the same network as your PC which means if you don't have local network access, the Arx Control app is unusable. Luckily, only the Logitech Gaming Software is important as the Arx Control app is merely an extension of the Logitech Gaming Software and while it's nice to have (when it works), all keybinding and profile creation functions are executed on the Logitech Gaming Software for the PC, with zero need for the app.
Like the the Cooler Master NovaTouch TKL keyboard, we'll also be putting the Logitech Orion Spark G910 through the Typing of the Dead test. Since it's a typing game, we'd be able to gauge how much better our performance is versus a generic keyboard as well as tell how comfortable the new Romer G keys actually are.
Weirdly, despite all the ballyhooed new stuff that Logitech has done (the special keys and all that), the Romer G key switches feel pretty similar to Cherry MX Brown switches, with a similar tactile response (though a quieter sounding one). There's a bit more resistance to the Romer G switch though and it's easily confirmed when we pitted the Logitech Orion Spark G910 against the SteelSeries mechanical keyboard found in MSI's GT80 2QE Titan SLI. The Cherry MX Brown keys on the MSI notebook were a bit looser in feel when pressed compared to the stiffer Romer G keys. We can't tell if the Romer G is actually faster like Logitech claims but we do like the specialized key caps. Typing seems to be a bit easier on the fingers as the concave key caps led our fingers to the keys without much issue and further helped to ensure the keys are depressed at its core for the best tactile feedback (as opposed to depressing the keys at the edges, which can easily occur when one is frantically typing/gaming away). In the end, we think whether one prefers the Romer G keys or not is down to preference. From our use, there doesn't seem to be a significant difference between the new Romer G key switch than the normal Cherry MX Browns, but we do kind of like the Romer G key cap design for practical purposes.
There are of course other aspects of the keyboard we're more certain on. We don't like how there's no way to detach the USB wire from the keyboard. Logitech made special mention that the keys can handle up to 70 million button presses, but what if the wire malfunctions? The whole thing becomes nothing more than a big paperweight until the entire unit is sent for servicing. We see no reason to have the cable hardwired, as at the very least, it gives users an option to lengthen or shorten the wire if they desire.
As for the customizable buttons, we don't have much of an issue with them. Either you use them or you don't. The placement of some of the customizable keys (specifically G3 - G5) is a bit troublesome though. Located at the lower left of the keyboard, you'll be either lifting your whole left hand to hit them or stretching your left hand awkwardly to press them. It takes a while to get used to them and even when you do, they don't become as second nature as the other keys. The problem is lessened somewhat if you have larger hands since your fingers don't have to travel so much. Besides, you can completely ignore them if you choose to do so (which probably brings the question if Logitech will have a non-gamer centric keyboard using the Romer G key and switch system to benefit the masses).
The biggest issue we have with the keyboard is that its flip out legs are much too short for our tastes. It barely tilts the keyboard up and our left wrist felt really uncomfortable after extended usage with it. We think the issue here is that the keyboard is much too low, making us stretch and tilt our wrists unnaturally to hit keys that are further away. If its legs were longer/higher, this issue might not have arisen at all.
From the photos of the keyboard with and without the use of its legs, you can see that it doesn't really elevate the keyboard much with a 1.1cm boost. That's certainly not adequate to provide the necessary keyboard elevation required for some users.
Apart from that misgiving, the keyboard is up to Logitech's standard of quality. The build is good (although we would've preferred the wrist rest to have a matte finish like the rest of the keyboard) and the materials used in the construction, sturdy. The wrist rest (which is integrated into the keyboard) is made of plastic but doesn't have the matte rubbery finish that the rest of the keyboard has. It's comfortable but the fact that it's actually a part of the keyboard itself means users who have their own favorite wrist rest might have an issue with it, since there's no place for a custom wrist rest. The Arx Dock is a rather weird addition though it's really starting to grow on us. We kind of wish that a dock is a standard piece of equipment on keyboards, just so we could have a place to put our smartphones. The Arx Control app however could have been a nice bonus feature, if it worked.
The Logitech Orion Spark G910 mechanical keyboard isn't a bad keyboard, especially at $249. In fact, it does a lot of things right. The Romer G keys, unique as they are, don't feel all that much different from the generic Cherry MX Brown keys. That may or may not be a good thing depending on your preference but what we do know is that Logitech might be on to something with its unique construction. The hollow center for the Romer G keys gives a cleaner and brighter backlight to shine through the key markings. We also love the shape of the key caps that guide the fingers in. We were a bit skeptical at first but after using the keyboard for a while, the keys do make a significant difference. The shortcut and customizable keys also won us over, despite some issues with the placement of the G3 - G5 keys. The Arx Dock idea, despite looking gimmicky, is actually useful (even though the software it's meant for isn't).
Speaking of software, we definitely could do without the Arx Control app. It adds needless complexity to an otherwise great keyboard and using it isn't worth the hassle. The Logitech Gaming Software on the other hand isn't that bad, though having to download it manually is a bit of a hassle as we expect important software to be provided within the hardware package.
The biggest concern we have isn't the Romer G keys or the placement of the buttons on the keyboard; rather it's something quite innocuous. It's actually the keyboard legs. No matter how great a keyboard is if it's not comfortable to use, it basically fails at its job. While the Logitech Orion Spark isn't uncomfortable to use for quick bursts, in extended sessions, we felt discomfort in our wrists and we reckon some other users might too. Had the keyboard legs been taller to prop it up further, this issue could easily be avoided. Of course, your mileage may vary depending on your typing stance, so we won't call this a deal breaker yet.
In the end, it all boils down to what you want in a keyboard. If you want to try something new and don't mind the short keyboard legs, then the Logitech Orion Spark G910 is something you should seriously consider getting. It's priced decently for what it offers, has a good feel, and lots of customization options, which is great for any gamer who wants to setup the keyboard to his or her exact needs and even for specific games.