|After 25 years of typing on keyboards, I've field-tested everything from IBM's legendary Mode M to the sort of $4.99 specials that were, as far as I could tell, constructed from styrofoam, packing peanuts, and pocket lint. About a year ago, I made the jump to a pair of mechanical keyboards and haven't looked back since.
Marco wrote an excellent explanation on the various types of keyboard switches and capabilities that I'd recommend reading for more background info. The board on the table today is Gigabyte's Aivia Osmium, and it's an impressive beauty.
The Osmium includes a USB 2 port, USB 3 port, headphone/microphone jacks, five macro keys, five profile settings, a double-set of stands to adjust the keyboard's height, and independent wheels for controlling the backlight and audio. The wheels can be adjusted up and down to change levels or clicked on and off.
The stands on the underside of the keyboard are thick and sturdy, with non-skid foam mats. Once you've got this keyboard set up, it isn't going anywhere. Everything about the physical design is sturdy and well thought out. By putting the macro buttons and scroll wheel at the top of the board, Gigabyte has ensured that the keyboard will fit on a desk that's only wide enough for a regular keyboard.
Now let's talk about the keys themselves. Mechanical switches are categorized by whether they are linear, tactile, and/or clicky. A linear switch is a switch that requires the same amount of force to fully depress a key and one that doesn't transmit a "bump" to the user's finger. A tactile switch is a switch that has a "bump" built into the actuation. This provides a second level of feedback beyond a keystroke appearing on the screen. A clicky switch gives a third level of feedback -- there's a distinct, audible sound.
The animated GIFs above show two different switches in motion. The linear MX Cherry Red is on the left, while the MX Blues are clicky and tactile are on the right.
We're comparing the Aivia Osmium against a Solidtek 6600U and an ABS M1. Both of these keyboards use what are called simplified ALPS switches. The 6600U uses ALPS White switches (clicky, tactile) while the ABS M1 uses ALPS Black switches (non-clicky, tactile). The Osmium, in contrast, uses Cherry MX Red switches, which are linear. The ALPS switches work on a slightly different principle than the Cherry MX Blue pictured above but produce a similar effect.
Next up, there's actuation force. Actuation force is the amount of effort it takes to depress a key. Both rubber dome (traditional) and mechanical keyboards can vary widely here. The actuation force of our three boards is shown in the graph below:
The Osmium takes a much lighter touch than either of the other two. We'll discuss why that could be problematic for some users a little farther on in the review. Although, also keep in mind that some users prefer a lighter touch.
|Programming and Macros|
|One of the Aivia Osmium's most impressive features is its Ghost programming engine.
The Osmium has five hardware macro keys, G1-G5. The keyboard supports five different profile modes. The current profile can be changed via the Ghost System Tray application, or by clicking the Aivia logo on the keyboard itself. The logo lights up in five different colors to denote which profile is currently selected.
Users who don't want to muck with different profiles can disable the others in software.
Ghost makes it extremely easy to program keystroke combinations, insert time delays between commands, and is capable of parsing the mouse's location as well. The Macro below opens "My Computer."
A macro that only works on the desktop would be rather gimmicky -- this one is designed to use Aero Peek to first clear the screen by clicking in the lower-right-hand corner. Then it opens the Computer icon, based on where that icon is on my desktop.
The Ghost software is capable of reading the mouse's position when a game is running in fullscreen mode, which makes it easy to program macros for actions that combine mouse clicks and key strokes in a game like World of Warcraft.
One note of caution: the Ghost allows you to program a macro that loops indefinitely. This is actually a rather bad idea; I had to disconnect the keyboard when I first tested my Computer icon-opening macro. There's apparently no way to break a loop once it's been engaged.
|Typing on the Osmium|
|Author's Note: The typos in the next few paragraphs below have been intentionally left in place to demonstrate a problem with the Aivia Osmium's output.
Inn subjective terms, the Osmium is far more sensitive than either of the other two mechanical keyboards I've mentioned earlier in this piece. It's so sensitive, in fact, that it has taught me things about my typing and hand positions that I never knew before. Thanks to the Osmium, I now know that I have a tendency to rest my left hand on the WASD keys when not typing, and that I'm prone to putting pressure on the "W" key with the ring finger of my left hand.
I also now know that I strike slightly harder with the index finger of my right hand than any other digit, that my hands are much more clumsy before I've had my morning caffeine , and that I don't always strike cleanly when typinng at speed.
How do I know these things? Because the Aivia Osmium is hyper-sensitive and unforgivinng.
I'm prone to De Quervain's tendonitis in my right hand annd have worn braces for it for years, so I'm sensitive to the needs of typists with RSIs or carpal tunnel. The field of ergonomics is enormous, and there are a huge number of keyboards on the market that claim to reduce wrist/finger strain or promote better posture.
This is not a review of those products and the Aivia Osmium isn't marketed as addressing such concerns -- but if you're in the market for a keyboard that barely takes a breath of pressure, than the Osmium may be exactly what you're looking for. The keyboard's sensitivity is unlike anything I've ever typed on. Key travel distance is equal to other products on the market (2mm to actuation, 4mm full stroke), but the amount of force required to actuate a key really does feel different. Sit down to write a few thousand words in a day, and you will notice the difference.
That's the good news. The bad news is that the typo problem on this keyboard really is frustrating -- and the only way to show it to you was to leave the typos in the preceding paragraphs in place. Even after weeks of use and consciously adjusting my typing style to strike as lightly as possible, I can't prevent double-strokes from popping up. It's possible that the keys are bouncing -- that's the sort of problem that can be fixed with a firmware adjustment -- but turning "Key Repeat Delay" all the way down in Windows only slightly improved the situation.
Passmark's Keyboard test and some very deliberate typing sequences were used to confirm that the keyboard is picking up two strikes in instances where the key has only been depressed once.
|This is a honestly a tough call. The Aivia Osmium's build quality is excellent, the Ghost macro programming software is top notch, it effectively supports 25 macro keys, offers USB 3.0 pass-through so you don't lose access to a valuable port, runs off dual USB 2.0 ports without a hitch, and the audio jacks work flawlessly without introducing any line noise. The actuation force is also remarkably low; this keyboard could be a great fit for people with certain kinds of RSI.
But balanced against all those positives is the key bounce issue we discussed, and because of it, I can't rely on this keyboard for accurate output. Search boxes and browser navigation bars still end up filled with strings of "w" or "s" because I inadvertently rested my hand on those keys while browsing the web. The latter I can deal with by putting my hand elsewhere, but I cannot resolve the key bounce issue without an update from Gigabyte. Even if I sit and focus specifically on typing as lightly as possible, double-strokes with some keys still happen.
When we asked Gigabyte about this issue, the company told us it was aware of the problem and was looking into it, but didn't say exactly when a solution would be available. If Gigabyte fixes the issue via a firmware or software update, we'd definitely recommend the Osmium (and we'll notify you if that happens). In terms of build quality and features, the board is great.
As things stand though, $129 is simply too much to pay for a keyboard that has trouble fulfilling its most basic function -- accurately transferring input from fingertip to screen. Technically, it's priced competitively with other Cherry Red-based gaming keyboards, especially considering the Aivia Osmium's extensive feature set, but the key bounce issue is impossible to overlook.