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OracleKev
244
Apr 9, 2017
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I received my Clear switch Vortex Core today (ordered through Amazon--couldn't wait for the drop). After setting it up and playing with it for several hours, I want to share my impression around programmability and usability since those seem to be area of high interest.
Quick summary: I'm pleasantly surprised with the usability of Vortex Core despite its limited programmability and quarks. I'm going to use this keyboard instead of Leopold 660M (my travel partner) when I travel light.
Little background, I use computer a lot, 3/4 of working hours writing code, browsing internet and reading/writing e-mails. I care a great deal about efficiency and ergonomics of input methods. My primary workhorses are TKL mechanical keyboards and 9-button mouse in both hands. I got into less than 80% business when I started to spend time working at nearby cafe. Notebook keyboards are abominations but it didn't make sense to lug TKL that weighs as much as small notebook, so I made minimal compromise and got 660M (which I love). Using 60% keyboard turned out to be better than I expected with significant gain in portability with small productivity loss. So, I started to wonder if further tradeoffs with 40% keyboard make sense. At the same time, I don't contemplate on changing my primary workhorse setup since I need to maximize productivity there and I want to retain standard layout muscle memory due to occasional work at other terminals. When I saw Vortex Core on Massdrop, it drew my interest since I liked visible key design with thin aluminum case, reasonable price point for secondary setup, and what seemed to be just enough programmability for variant of standard layout. With the release of the firmware 1.04.03 addressing my requirements of using both thumbs for FN keys via undocumented swap of PN <-> FN1 and programming L and R spacebars separately, I pulled the trigger on purchase.
While programming the keyboard, I roughly had three goals: 1) Keep the layout close to standard layout to minimize confusion when I go back and forth 2) Make commonly used symbols accessible, meaning either direct key or one modi access 3) Have close equivalent to TKL navigation cluster keys to minimize training whole new muscle memory
From outcome perspective, it would not be success if pinky does stressful things, trying more than one "learned thing" on each hand, or looking for keys to press on both hands.
After couple of hours of experimenting, I believe I have a mapping that meets the above goals and outcome. I have listed the mapping below for reference. I'm typing this post with the mapping, and I'd say except for the numbers and symbols which I need to type with FN or FN1 + keys I don't remember where offhand, I can type without pause. I can also navigate, make selections and edit with ease. I haven't coded yet which I do anticipate to be harder due to more frequent usage of number row symbols. Since I have made those FN+keys on the left instead of Shift+FN1+keys which was completely awkward, they should be usable despite initial learning curve and slow down.
While programming the board I came across several surprises, some positives and some negatives: Positives: • Layer setting is persistent - if I go to L1, unplug, plug back in, I'm still in L1. This was really good surprise since after seeing so many posts asking whether the default layer is programmable, I assumed you always restart in L0. With persistent layer, whatever layer you are mostly in is de facto default. • Arrow keys mode worked better expected. LWin+LAlt+RSpace seems mouthful but it worked pretty well in practice.
Negatives: • By far my biggest gripe is how modifiers and FN* keys interact. Consider case 1, navigate cursor with arrows then make a selection with SHIFT+arrows. Common practice would be 1) have FN pressed, 2) while using IJKL as arrows, once cursor is at the right place, 3) press SHIFT (FN is still pressed), then 4) keep using IJKL to make selection. Well, this DOES NOT WORK!!! At Step 3, you need to release FN, press SHIFT *first* then do FN+IJKL. Consider case 2, navigate cursor with arrows then then jump to another location with CTRL+navigation keys (such as home/end). Again, FN would be pressed the whole time, but before CTRL getting pressed FN needs to be released, then CTRL needs to be pressed first. This happens even in the default layer without anything programmed for CTRL or SHIFT. Even if CTRL or SHIFT keys are programmed, I think it's better to special case this so modifiers get treated as modifiers instead of FN+modi when FN combo navigation was invoked. It wasn't too hard to train myself to delineate actions into two phases and release FN in-between, but remembering to press modi keys before FN+key sequence is very bothersome. AFAIK, this is not the standard behavior of notebook keyboards which have had FN keys for long time. • There are numerous what I would call "quarks" that don't make any sense. They are not blocking issues, but they do not speak favorably to the refinement level of the firmware. I can imagine some customers running into weird issues may end up returning the board. Here are ones that I recall: o some FN+keys are not programmable. Esc, g, b keys are not programmable as FN combo (I tried most keys; guessing FN+t isn't programmable either) o some programmed keys do not auto repeat. For instance I have LCtrl mapped to ` and FN+Caps to ! and they do not autorepeat. The problem seems to be limited to some of the dark shade keys, but certain behaviors defy logic. For example, Del and BS mapped to [ ] do not auto repeat but FN+Del and FN+BS mapped to Del and BS do auto-repeat. o whenever key combination logic kicks in, occasionally it's unforgiving. I'm guessing it's due to strict adherence to technically correct behavior. For instance, when invoking arrow keys mode, LAlt then LWin then RSpace needs to be pressed in that order and LAlt released last for results without side effect like menu being invoked. I think firmware logic can be augmented to accommodate more natural behavior. Similar things happens while programming keys especially when assigning keys to Shift+FN1+key. You need to press the modi key first and watch the LED behavior to know you did what you tried to do.
Conclusion Even though I complained more than complemented, my Vortex Core is a keeper and I'm going to put it into action whenever I use notebooks. It does not have full programmability but it meets my usability needs which is pretty extensive. I would recommend this keyboard to folks looking for 40% keyboard without full programmability and adventurous folks who are looking for portable mechanical keyboards with one condition. The person needs to be techie enough, say be able to learn how to swap CapsLock and LCtrl via registry. I give kudos to Vortex for gutsy move to introduce 40% keyboard to general enthusiasts. It's a solid effort, but I think it can benefit from more fit and polish to improve user experience and reduce possibilities of returns. Further firmware upgrade would be big help.
Last nitpit: fix QA on keycaps. Some of my keycaps have roughly finished edges and RSpace shows dimples.
MAPPING Swap PN and FN1 [CAN’T] In addition Swap FN and Left space Esc to Tab [CAN’T] FN+Esc to Esc Tab to LCtrl LCtrl to ` (for ~) FN+LCtrl to Esc Del BS to [ ] FN+Del to Del [CAN’T] PN (former FN1) to / LSpace to BS FN+LSpace to Del FN+RSpace to Enter RAlt to ‘ Menu to / FN+N to Menu FN+Menu to \ RCtrl to ‘ FN+RAlt to RCtrl (for Hanja Convert) FN+BS to PgUp FN+H to Pause FN+Enter to PgDn FN+p to Home FN+; to End FN+o to Ins FN+u to Scrlk FN+y to Prtsc (mapped to CapsLock via registry) Special Characters FN+Tab (mapped to LCtrl) to ! FN+a to @ FN+s to # FN+d to $ FN+f to % [CAN’T] FN+g to ^ FN+LShift to ^ FN+z to & FN+x to * FN+c to ( FN+v to ) [CAN’T] FN+b to _ FN+LWin to _ FN+LAlt to +
Apr 9, 2017
Lazylewis
440
Apr 10, 2017
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What do you mean swap fn1 and pn? It wont let me move pn anywhere. And where is ‘ originally mapped... i cant find it lol
Apr 10, 2017
OracleKev
244
Apr 10, 2017
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From User manual V1.1: 2. Change Fn or Pn position*note !! Press and hold Fn or Pn + L_Shift for 3 seconds, then select the new Fn or Pn key. Note: Fn or Pn key only can swap to L_Ctrl, L_Win, L_Alt, Pn and L_Spacebar.
This is different procedure than normal key programming. Good folks on reddit discovered that there is undocumented feature to swap Pn with Fn1.  I recall someone also successfully swapped Fn with R_Spacebar. Make sure you have the latest firmware.  I have 1.04.03.  Make sure you are in layer other than default layer. Lastly you can not swap both Fn and Pn.  Only one seems to stick.
Apr 10, 2017
Lazylewis
440
Apr 10, 2017
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Kev you truly are the Oracle
Apr 10, 2017
Lazylewis
440
Apr 10, 2017
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Hey Kev, do you also physically move your keycaps around with your key swaps where possible, or not bother
Apr 10, 2017
OracleKev
244
Apr 10, 2017
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I just swapped PN and FN1.  Kept the rest as is, since legends don't match completely and just in case I need to change programming.  Eventually, I'm going to put on MiTo Canvas keycaps I have on order.  Can't wait!
Apr 10, 2017
Lazylewis
440
Apr 10, 2017
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I cant map fn + g either and I cant figure out why they would not allow that
Apr 10, 2017
OracleKev
244
Apr 10, 2017
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FN + t g b are used for time delay during programming. There seems to be pattern that leaves programming related keys fixed...
Apr 10, 2017
Lazylewis
440
Apr 10, 2017
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Yes I have every combination of Mito coming too, but not sure Ill replace the core keycaps as i love them.
Apr 10, 2017
OracleKev
244
Apr 10, 2017
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Stock caps are decent, aren't they?  BTW, did you get dimples on right space bar?
Apr 10, 2017
Lazylewis
440
Apr 10, 2017
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Yes my right space bar has dimples that are both visible and can be felt when fingers on the cap. I have the feeling everyone's is that way.
Apr 10, 2017
daviddoctorrose
16
Apr 10, 2017
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FWIW, i've got two cores and both have dimpled space bars. And almost every photo i've seen of others have recognizable dimples. Once i get around to it, going to swap some different space bars and maybe a few mod keys... but on the whole, very impressed with the keycaps as a whole.
Apr 10, 2017
OracleKev
244
Apr 10, 2017
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To be fair, the keycaps are nicely molded with proper thickness.  Dye-subed letters have virtually no alignment issues.  This keyboard is tiny with less material, but I can't think of any other keyboard that offers proper dye-subed PBT keycaps at this price point.  Perhaps dimples stand out to some because it's hard to fault the rest. Well, if they sell a lot of these, maybe someone will make nice replacement space bars...
Apr 10, 2017
Elfod
169
Apr 12, 2017
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I've orderd the Canvas Bauhaus sets, plan to keep the base keys intact, though kind of wish I ordered the Dieter set... I am excite too.
Apr 12, 2017
Elfod
169
Apr 12, 2017
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Yep, replaced mine.
Apr 12, 2017
OracleKev
244
Apr 12, 2017
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Cool!  Can you share what you replaced with? I have some DSA blanks on order from PMK, but the shape of space bar is little different, so it might not feel right.  I'm wondering if I have other options...
Apr 12, 2017
Elfod
169
Apr 13, 2017
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Signature Plastics blanks, they're not perfect either, I bought blanks for both spacebars and the smaller one has some bad issues with sides caving in/curvature, the larger looks better though I can feel dimples but sides better.
Also, they keys are not spacebars, they just key blanks, so the surfaces are concave.
Fingers crossed the Mito Canvas keycaps don't have issues.
Apr 13, 2017
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