On the chopping block #2: The Roccat Arvo gaming keyboard

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Hey there. Continuing our chopping block series (featuring Roccat gaming peripherals provided by Eglobe Solutions Sri Lanka) is this newcomer: the minute, tournament-sized Roccat Arvo. Retailing at 6,400 bucks, the Arvo is by no means the cheap, serviceable stuff that we use daily. So firstly, let’s start off by looking at the keyboard – or any keyboard above 5000 rupees – from a consumer perspective.

Keyboards in Sri Lanka, as a general rule, are used more like disposable tissues than anything else – bought for cheap, tossed away when broken, and replaced. Very little thought is given as to ergonomics or quality. These, on the other hand, are gaming keyboards. Which directly implies much better durability, better ergonomics – hence, better typing experiences, and also, far more expensive. The look good, ought to feel good, and should be able to take a beating. Not precisely standard office material. If you think 750 rupees is too much for a keyboard, then this isn’t for you.

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Bearing this in mind, let’s proceed… onto the Roccat Arvo.

The packaging

When it comes to gaming products, the packaging is the one thing everybody does right. Great boxing, cables tucked away neatly – Roccat’s no exception to the rule. The package comes with the keyboard, driver CD, a tiny readme of sorts, and a rather cryptic manifesto describing a Mission-Impossible like project and calls it the Roccat Inari. While we’re nonplussed by this, we were pleasantly surprised by the credit-card-like Roccat ID card that you get. Very professional. Now that’s something to show the kids.

The product

Firstly, the Arvo is much smaller than the standard keyboard. It’s heavy. Compact keyboards like this generally eliminate the number pad in order to achieve a smaller size. Roccat’s done this with a twist – the numpad essentially doubles as the block of Insert, Del, Pg Up/ Down buttons and the Arrow Keys. Essentially, there’s a button that lets this block of keys work as arrow keys, delete button and so on – or as a numberpad. That button is the “Mode” switch in the top-right corner – press it once and the arrow keys light up in blue, indicating that the keys can be used. Press it again and the arrow key lighting turns off – now it’s a numberpad. Also, none of the keys have been cut down. The backspace key is the full width, as is the enter and shift buttons, thereby eliminating a ton of frustration. That’s very good design. So it’s not smaller by virtue of smaller buttons: it’s smaller by the intelligent elimination of stuff.

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Look on the bottom side of the keyboard and you’ll find another thoughtful touch: rubber-coated fold-outs. These grip firmly without letting the keyboard slide.

The other unique feature of the Arvo are the three macro buttons directly below the spacebar: Roccat calls these thumbster buttons. These are an intelligent feature, but not as well implemented as they should have been. The logic is that while gaming (where your left hand is mostly on WASD or QWER), you should be able to engage upto three other dedicated keys with your thumb. This works out: I had no issue tapping these buttons with my thumb. What I didn’t like was how plasticky the buttons felt. They required excessive force to trigger, like three little plastic switches. No matter how good it sounded on paper, it just felt cheap and tacky in practice.

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Actual testing

My initial, off-the-shelf impression was good – slightly marred by the cheap thumb buttons. In practice, I found that the Arvo’s key feel more than made up for the buttons. The 1000 Hz polling rate (pretty standard for a gaming keyboard) means that key presses are detected instantly, with no lags between keystroke and register. The keys are slightly higher than normal, with a soft press and a well-pronounced feedback when engaged. End result? It’s great for typing. Finger strain is almost non-existent. A solid week of use ended up with me very much in favour of the keyboard.

The thumb keys eventually were put to use: as a weapon reload in Bioshock Infinite, as replacements for the D and F-bound summoner spells in League of Legends – all thing that are used frequently, but in not quick succession. Non-stop clicking of these buttons is honestly annoying. The only conceivable use for them is some in-game action that you have to use, but don’t do as often as the other stuff, like shooting or running. Another slight disappointment: no backlighting. It’s not essential, but you expect it when you pay this much.

Overall experience? It does the job in style.

The final question: to buy or not to buy?

Here’s where the going gets tough. Is it worth the hefty asking price? Not unless you’re a gamer who actively plays a lot of multiplayer. At this price range, it’s competing with the Logtech G105 and no other. Opinion is vastly divided as to these two keyboards. Firstly, the key height on both are different. The G105 ships with more macros buttons, but the Arvo’s buttons are more conveniently located. If backlighting is something you need, the Arvo falls short: but for a compact keyboard that offers all the functionality of a full-size board, you can’t beat the Arvo. The price is steep, but it might be worth it – if you’re a gamer.

Read On the chopping block #1: The Roccat Lua

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