Manufactured by Logitech. Release Holidays 2014. Review sample provided by the manufacturer.
A PC gamer has to worry about a lot of different components: CPU, GPU, RAM, etc. All of those have a huge impact on how a game will run, sure, but sometimes the peripheral used to actually interface with your gaming PC doesn’t get treated with the same concern. Keyboards are all the same, right? They have buttons. You press them. Ho hum.
Not so! The set of keys you press to attack demons in Dragon Age: Inquisition or build cities in Civilization can affect your gaming. Not only can well-constructed keyboards react better to your inputs, but they often come with a slew of features to improve your experience. Sometimes those bells and whistles are annoying, getting in the way of just playing the game. The Logitech Orion Spark G910 mechanical keyboard doesn’t veer too far into feature-creep territory and instead offers an absolutely wonderful way to play games with only a few minor problems. Even using it to type up emails is oddly pleasurable.
(Aside: It seems like Logitech is taking product codenames and using them for real marketing purposes. What the heck does Orion Spark even mean? Can a constellation conduct electricity? What?)
The physical design of the keys requires some adjustment from the player initially. Each one has a sharp edge and angled upwards bevel to it. By just looking at them, you’d think the bevel is going to get in the way of your work or play, but in practice it leads to much fewer fumbled keystrokes. It’s almost as if each key is cradling your precious little sausage fingers, preventing you from pushing the wrong buttons. The keys also have a specially named mechanical switch – Romer-G. In contrast to its conspicuous name, the keys aren’t as loud or clackety-clacky as a lot of other mechanical keyboards. It’s certainly louder than the typical membrane switch most other keyboards use, but you won’t wake up the neighbors with your StarCraft-ing.
I’m not a professional gamer and I typically play games that do not require quick reflexes or frantic yet accurate key presses. When I did dabble in testing real-time strategy or action games, I found the Orion Spark’s reactiveness to be exemplary. The keys just work, but that’s true of a lot of keyboards. What separates the Orion Spark from the crowd is just how warm and fuzzy you feel using it.
The update to Logitech’s gaming software allows a great level of precision in its control of the keyboard. As with previous versions, you can map specific game commands or macros to any key and the quick macro system allows you to access the power of the keyboard without having to dig into menus. Those who enjoy delving into menus, however, won’t be disappointed either. You can create profiles for each game genre, or individual titles even, to adapt the Orion Spark to any circumstance.
Macros and commands can be mapped to additional macro keys – these are useful for commonly used game actions that don’t have a decent place to live near your hands. Logitech reduced the number of additional macro keys from previous keyboard designs and their position is a bit questionable. You only have G1 through G5 immediately to the left of the Tab key, with four more (G6 through G9) above the function keys. MMO players may scoff at such a reduction in available macro keys, and there are players, myself included, who want as many options as possible. So while I was disappointed at the reduction of choices, in practice I found I didn’t really need them. I never used the ones above the function keys – they were too far away to be useful – but the five accessible by the left pinky finger were enough for most gaming situations.
The lighting of your keys has become a desired feature for some PC-builders, and the Orion Spark delivers with a truly amazing level of color control. Again using the latest Logitech software, you can change the color and brightness for each individual key. That’s a big change from only being able to change how the whole keyboard appeared. The color palette available is just jaw-dropping. Logitech says there’s 16.8 million permutations – of course the eye can’t really distinguish that many – but it’s still impressive. The software can automatically color keys mapped with commands from specific game profiles, or you can color each key manually. If that seems tedious, the software lets you drag a box to select groups of keys to change colors, too. There are even neat little effects you can have running – the pulsing rainbow is mesmerizing, but my personal favorite is the breathing effect which dims and brightens the keys in a slow pattern.
High-end Logitech gaming keyboards in the last decade have included a second screen. At first it was a small LCD that displayed game stats, while the G19 had a color 320×240 pixel Game Panel that could be compared to early smartphone displays. I was told by Logitech engineers that the cost to put a screen on gaming keyboards was increasing – it would drive the price of the keyboard way too high to be competitive. Logitech’s answer was to remove the screen from the Orion Spark and to enlist your smartphone to do it for them. That’s what the Arx Control app – available on iOS and Android, not Windows Phone for some reason – aims to accomplish. The app creates a connection with your keyboard via Wi-Fi, and uses that connection to display PC statistics, control the playing of music or videos, or launch games. It connects to your PC very quickly and efficiently – no complex networking or port information required. There’s a clunky physical dock to rest your smartphone on the Orion Spark – attempting to complete the illusion that the keyboard actually has a screen on it.
The Arx Control display has a few small problems and one pretty big glaring error in conception. The app doesn’t support landscape viewing, so you are forced to have a tall rectangle above your keyboard which could mess with your desktop setup. Arx Control can control mouse settings and display PC use stats such as CPU core temperature, but that’s about all it can do right now. Older Logitech models had hundreds of applets available – the mini-programs game developers use to display information from their games – but there is no support yet for the Arx Control. I just don’t know whether PC game developers will spend the resources needed to support yet another application from Logitech. I’ve asked the company’s reps to see a list of devs who’ve at least stated interest, but I haven’t heard any details. The silence doesn’t instill me with a lot of confidence.
Using the Arx Control to display information also requires you to stop using your phone. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes use my phone to check Twitter, send messages or you know, make and receive phone calls while I’m playing games. A “feature” that takes such freedom away isn’t really going to work for me. You can certainly use an Android tablet or an iPad to double as the Arx Control device instead of your phone, but once you are taking up that much space on your desk you should just have a second monitor. Like most players do.
A handy, and perhaps unintended, benefit of the Arx Control app’s Wi-Fi connection to your computer is the fact that you can walk away from your desk and it will still function. The part of the Arx Control app that adjusts the sound volume on your computer or can stop, pause or play your music just got a remote control. There’s nothing fancy, no playlist creation or anything, but I found it useful to change the music playing on my PC from another room, for what it’s worth. Incidentally, I’m not sure you need to have a Logitech product to use Arx Control – all you need is the Logitech gaming software installed on your PC.
With all of the positives and negatives associated with the Arx Control implementation, and knowing that the decision to remove the color Game Panel display was motivated by a desire to keep costs down, I’m surprised the MSRP for the Orion Spark G910 is still pretty high – $179.99 according to the Logitech website. Logitech’s competitors offer mechanical gaming keyboards at a lower price, but you could argue the additional research and development needed to improve the switches, or the specific lighting under each key, warrants an extra bit of cash. It’s not available at retailers just yet – I’m told it will be ready “for the holidays” – but you may want to wait for a sale or ask you Uncle Scrooge to buy it for you.
Bottom Line: The lack of a native display may put some folks off, but it really doesn’t impact how great a gaming interface the Orion Spark keyboard really is. All of the features of the keys’ design, the mechanical switches, the lighting and the software support add up to a peripheral that really improves your gaming experience.
Recommendation: If you can afford it, have been thinking about upgrading your keyboard, and don’t need a screen, the Orion Spark is worth considering.
Even if it does have a silly name.[rating=4]