Roccat is a very well-known brand throughout the world, targeting gamers with an array of keyboards, mice and other accessories and peripherals for the PC platform that do look and feel very good. They make earphones and even laptops as well (rebranded Cleveo, now sold through Dion Wired) and their Kone+ earned a top spot on NAG’s Dream Machine list for a while. They even sponsor a local gaming clan with peripherals and hardware – you’ve probably heard of Bravado Gaming before and they’re a big name in the local tournaments. Today I’m reviewing the Arvo, a really small keyboard designed for gamers and people who want more space on their desktop.
So it was with unbrindled excitement that I was handed the keyboard and told to review it. But it didn’t come from NAG’s offices or from Roccat; it was won at rAge by my brother, Matthew.
Yeah, funny story about that. There we were on Saturday morning at the rAge main platform looking at the schedule and my brother said, “We have to be at the Roccat/Bravado giveaway! There’s no excuse this time.” So we assembled for the show and beforehand had found a permanent marker at a nearby store. We both wrote “Roccat” on our foreheads and unashamedly bounced up and down in order to be noticed to win stuff. Yeah, when free stuff is offered, people often go mad. Eventually we got noticed by the Bravado guys, I credited my brother with the idea and he won the Arvo.
The retail box the Arvo comes in doesn’t include much – just the keyboard in a clear plastic packet, a driver CD and a short manual with a warranty card. At first glance, it’s really small and measures just 39cm long and 13.5cm wide. Its almost diminutive, with just 97 keys available and it gets away with removing ten keys thanks to a dual-function numberpad. The box and any online store touts this as having backlit keys but that’s only true for six of them. In the dark, you’ll still struggle to place your hand on WASD unless you have a little light to work with. Build quality is good with the chassis being made of somewhat thin plastic with a firm, non-slip set of rubber feet and a matte black paint finish. There is a fair amount of flex in the plastic, though, but if you drop it from a height of about 2m it should survive.
The numberpad comes with two modes to choose from – “Gaming” and “NUM PAD”. “Gaming” mode is indicated by the “Mode” light switched off and the directional keys lit up, with the keys above it performing the functions that the keyboard usually lacks, like Home, End and the Delete function keys. Pressing the “Mode” switch lights it up and turns off the backlight for the arrow keys, turning it back into a regular numberpad. While this is nifty and other manufacturers have also adopted a similar design (Cooler Master CM Quickfire) , in practice its a little annoying – having to switch between the keys and numbers when you’re working in Excel, for example, makes things take much longer than they really should. Most of the time you work and type with the Arvo the same way you would with any laptop keyboard that omits the numberpad.
There are also five macro buttons, each one with the ability to be programmed to perform different functions, but all have only a single slot for a macro recording. The first three buttons are located below the space bar and easily in reach of your thumbs, while the other two are available in “Gaming” mode, giving you an extra macro function on keys 1 and 3 on the numberpad. Macro keys can be set to perform a certain function, replay a set of key presses or begin a timer, serve as function keys for media player controls or do certain things while browsing in Internet Explorer. There’s also the welcome addition inside the driver to turn these buttons off.
Speaking of the driver, Roccat has actually equipped the Arvo with some very nice software. You’re given five profile slots to switch between to give you a total of 25 macro functions, although you cannot change these on the fly – you have to bring up the menu by right-clicking the system tray icon and choose “Configuration.” The Macro recorder is very well thought out-allowing you to create groups for macros assigned to different programs and there’s even an advanced editor that allows you to finely tune the timing between macro key presses. As far as software goes, its pretty well kitted out. The landing page of the driver also has a function to disable keys in gaming mode – here you can elect to disable the Windows keys, application, TAb and CAPS Lock keys in gaming mode – switching to number mode enables them all again. Its really well thought out and Roccat should give itself a pat on the back. For such a cheap product, it’s decently kitted out.
When it comes to performance, the Arvo is no slouch either. Its about as good as you’d expect from a membranous keyboard design and has just enough travel and feedback, although compared to a good mechanical keyboard it’s pretty far behind. Key presses aren’t very loud either until you start banging on the keys very hard which, sadly, some people do. The Arvo doesn’t win any prizes for being quiet, but it’s much better than those OEM affairs we’re commonly stuck with. Its also surprisingly comfortable especially with the leg stands raised and I did retain my usual typing speed of 45 wpm. The lack of a wrist-wrest may not gel with everyone, however.
Roccat does claim that the Arvo has anti-ghosting technology, but I never saw more than six keys being registered at a time. Although that’s not an issue for some people, you might want to consider something else if you press more than six keys at a time for… I don’t know, what kind of program needs that? Street Fighter IV? Writing gibberish in Word using Wingdings? Is someone going to make a Linux joke here?
Are there any cons to the Arvo, though? Well, the dual-function numberpad is great, but its not for everyone. If you spend a good amount of time working with documents and spreadsheets that include numbers, you’d be better served by other designs that don’t omit the numberpad. Its also rather small and easy to miss keys because things are a little more cramped, although you do get used to it. I guess my biggest gripe is the lack of backlighting – if this keyboard had red backlighting on all the other keys, offset by blue for when the “Gaming” mode keys are active, that would be awesome. At the same time, however, it would also increase the final price and that’s something the Arvo still needs to work on, despite being two years old.
Taking into account its asking price on TAKEALOT of R662, its rather steep for a keyboard that doesn’t feature mechanical switches or proper backlighting. Its bigger brother, the Roccat Isku (pictured above), features complete backlighting, more and arguably better macro functions, media control keys and a built-in wrist rest for only R180 more. At the same time, if you’re in the market for something the same size as the Arvo, Cooler Master’s Quickfire is around R70 less for Cherry MX Black switches and better build quality but with less features. The closest-priced competition for the Arvo is actually the Zalman ZM-K500, although it does have some Chinese knock-off Yellow mechanical switches based on Cherry’s tech. There is the possibility that the K500 is fully programmable like the Rapoo V7 its based on, if that’s worth anything to you.
In the end, the Arvo is a good keyboard despite its age and comes with a lot of good features, but it’s priced too high for some and is outclassed by the slew of cheap mechanical keyboards wading into its territory. The software is good and the features do work as advertised, but its a little behind the times to be a viable choice for gamers these days. I wouldn’t have a problem recommending or using it, its just that there are better options out there at the moment in this form factor.
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