At least one mechanical keyboard seems to exist for every conceivable taste these days. Need a clicky keyboard with key caps that look like old-timey typewriter keys? Pick one from Massdrop. Want something that lights up the room with every color under the rainbow? Dozens of options are available from every manufacturer. Want something cheap? Mechanical keyboards are available with off-brand mechanical switches for around $30 shipped from Amazon. HyperX has taken a more nuanced approach at carving out some room in this crowded market for its simple-yet-sturdy Alloy FPS mechanical gaming keyboard.
From my experience using the Alloy FPS, I gather the idea is to offer only what is necessary for a tightly-focused FPS gaming keyboard while ditching the frills. What the designers left in was the buyer's choice of Cherry MX Blue, Brown, or Red switches, along with gamer-friendly nods like the detachable braided cable, optional red key caps for the gamer-critical WASD and 1234 keys, and a Windows-key-defeat mode.
To get there, HyperX eliminated some things along the way. The scroll lock indicator has been replaced by a light that shows when the Windows keys have been disabled. The Alloy bears no RGB LEDs, either. The integrated lighting is all red, all the time, regardless of switch choice. I suspect the red color was chosen because of its association with aggression, but part of me hopes the color was chosen as a nod to minimizing eye strain in a darkened environment.
The empty spaces around the key blocks have been winnowed away to the brink of non-existence, too, particularly near the edges of the keyboard. When the Alloy FPS first arrived, I was convinced that the spaces between the key blocks were smaller than on my personal Kailh blue-stuffed keyboard. The calipers told a different story. My generic mechanical keyboard had just about seven millimeters of horizontal space between key blocks, 10 millimeters between the function key sub-blocks, and five millimeters of vertical space between the number keys and the function keys. The nine millimeters of side-to-side space between key blocls and eight millimeters of vertical space between the number row and the function keys was actually wider than my old keyboard.
The space around the edges are another story. Both keyboards have standard 104-key layouts. My old keyboard measured 17.6" (45 cm) wide, 7" (18 cm) deep, and just over and inch (3 cm) tall at the highest point when the feet are collapsed. The HyperX measures about half an inch narrower, and a quarter of an inch shorter, but the depth is chopped down by almost two full inches, to 5.1" (13 cm). The spaces between blocks were actually a little bit bigger on the HyperX, so the all of the trimming happened around the edges. For reference, tenkeyless gaming keyboards are about 2.5 inches narrower than a full layout model. Both keyboards weigh the same 2.3 pounds (1 kg), despite the steel top plate on the Alloy FPS and the aluminum top on my old keyboard.
The key switches and their circuit board is packaged inside a steel frame. The top of frame is uncovered on the top of the keyboard, though it has been either painted or powdercoated black. The frame is extremely stiff, and has the least flex of any keyboard I have used. The key caps appear to float above the exposed part of the frame, which has an elegant look and makes the keyboard easy to clean with a puff of compressed air. The bottom of the Alloy's chassis is made or black plastic. The keyboard's base sports four textured rubber strips to keep it in place. Two more grip strips are attached to plastic feet that lift the back of the keyboard away from the desk. The feet have a very precise feel and lock into position with a satisfying click.
The particular Alloy that sent to us has Cherry MX Red switches, with which I had no prior experience. The sound level of the keys is closer to the rubber-dome Dell keyboard I use on the PC in my garage than it is to the clickety-clackety aural assault that emanates from the Kailh blue-switched keyboard on my main desktop rig. The consistent actuation force required for the MX Reds is of course far superior to the old Dell. The actuation force is noticeably lighter on the Cherry Reds than it is on the Kailhs I usually type on. Users switching from one type of mechanical switch to another should definitely expect a bit of a learning curve. TR's managing editor Bruno Ferreira can attest to my penchant for typos, but switching key switch types turned me into a misspelling master.
Those high-end key switches are covered by single-injection-molded keycaps with a soft-touch coating. The tops of the keys feel silky-smooth, but they seem unlikely to last the 50-million cycle lifespan of the Cherry MX switches before that coating wears off. When the keyboard comes out of the box, all of the keys are black. A vacuum-sealed plastic pouch inside the box contains a key puller tool and eight replacement keys with a metallic red finish. The replacement 1, 2, 3, and 4 keys have the same smooth feeling as the rest of the keys, but the optional WASD block keys have a diamond-plate texture that makes them a little easier to locate without looking at them. I must note that these optional keys are metallic in finish only, they have the same single-injection-molded construction as the standard keys. If something about the keys is not to the buyer's liking, standard MX replacement key caps will fit.
Even after a week of solid use, I could not get used to the absence of haptic feedback and the lighter actuation and of the Red switches. I found that long stretches of use would leave my fingertips aching from consistently bottoming out the keys on every press. I sought aftermarket assistance with this issue via rubber o-rings that wrap around the stems of the key caps and provide a cushion when keys are bottomed out. The installation process was straightforward using the key cap removal tool supplied with the Alloy FPS. The larger keys presented challenges because of the stabilizer mechanisms underneath, but after some trial-and-error I was able to install the o-rings on all keys. It took me about half an hour to finish the job, and the result is a more comfortable typing experience. I would recommend Blue or Brown switches to anyone else with the same caveman-smash typing style that I seem to have. For those dissatisfied with an existing Red-switch keyboard, the o-rings can help the situation quite a bit.
RGB LEDs are not part of the Alloy FPS package, but the red LEDs do have a few tricks of their own. Five levels of brightness, including fully disabled, are available by holding Fn and pressing the up and down arrow keys. Six different illumination modes can be selected by holding down the Fn key and pressing the left and right arrow keys. Mode one illuminates every key on the keyboard. The second option is a breathing pattern. A third press of the Fn+Right combination selects a mode where a key illuminates when pressed, then fades back out over the course of a couple of seconds. The fourth option is a radiating mode, where each key press triggers a wave of illumination around the depressed key. The fifth mode cycles the LED illumination from left to right. The last option illuminates the 1234 and WASD keys, the left control key, and the space bar. I keep the keyboard in mode one and at intensity two almost all of the time.
Even with a single color, we still want even backlighting for the best appearance, and the Alloy FPS delivers. Key caps with non-intuitive shift characters, like '2' and '@', for example, have both characters right next to each other on the top part of the key cap. This approach ensures that the LED above each key switch has a good chance to illuminate both characters evenly. I have seen other key caps that place the "shift character" below the primary character, and the result is always uneven illumination. The exception on the Alloy FPS is the media functions accessed by holding Fn while pressing F6-F12. The secondary functions are at the bottom of each key cap and are barely illuminated. That one nitpick aside, the quality of the Alloy FPS's backlighting is excellent.
The Alloy FPS' detachable cable caused some disagreement among members of the TR staff. As a person who keeps computer parts around forever, I am not a fan of the detachable cable. My feeling is that the USB mini-B connector represents one extra way for a comparatively-expensive keyboard to be rendered useless. Fellow TR writer Zak Killian greatly prefers detachable cables because he can keep an extra mini-B cable in his LAN party bag and leave the primary cable attached to his main rig when he goes to an event. HyperX seems to have had this usage scenario in mind, because the company includes an athletic-style mesh carrying bag inside the Alloy FPS's box. A separate velcro pouch in the included bag can hold the cord, along with a a couple other small items, like a mouse. Luddites like me can always resort to fixing the cable in place with epoxy after the warranty period is over.
The supplied cable connects to the keyboard with the aforementioned USB mini-B connector. The other end of the 6' (1.8-m) cable has two USB Type-A terminals. One of the terminals must be plugged in to use the keyboard. The second Type-A connector is optional, and provides additional power for the USB charging port on the back of the Alloy FPS. The charge port provides just a little current when the the second Type-A port is disconnected, but not enough to charge a phone. Plugging the Alloy FPS into two USB ports fully enables the charge port. I have to say I am a bit disappointed in this approach. USB pass-through ports are fairly common on gaming keyboards, and the ability to plug in a mouse or USB dongle into the keyboard would have been a welcome feature.
Pressing Fn+F12 activates the Alloy's "game mode." One might expect this mode to enable macros or n-key rollover, but it simply disables the Windows key and the menu key that flank the spacebar. The mostly-useless scroll lock indicator has been repurposed to display game mode status. When the G-LED is illuminated, the Windows keys are disabled. Though game mode is off by default, one has to press Fn-Del in order to switch the Alloy FPS from its standard 6-key rollover mode to n-key rollover. The game mode LED flashes twice when the keyboard changes rollover modes. My research suggests that n-key rollover is disabled by default on this board in order to maximize compatibility with older systems.
The Alloy FPS does not sport any extra software, macro keys, or any macro capabilities of any kind. Players of MMOs, RTS, and simulation games with more complex control schemes might find the Alloy FPS a little too bare-bones for their liking. Content creators with elaborate macro settings for their favorite production packages might feel the same way. Still, the ability to plug in this keyboard anywhere without fear of critical settings being left behind in an unavailable utility has its merits.
Overall, HyperX's Alloy FPS offers a compelling package for gamers, particularly those that need to travel light and operate in close quarters. The most compelling part of the package is clearly the choice of three different Cherry MX key switch options. These switches are the most consistent on the market, but that consistency comes at a price. The Alloy FPS's $100 price tag is on the high side for a keyboard without fancy programmable lighting effects or handmade detailing. With that said, the Alloy FPS offers little extras, like the optional key caps and the convenient detachable cable and carrying bag that add value. We have seen the Alloy FPS on sale for around $80 in the last few weeks, and at that price it is among the most affordable full-layout keyboards with Cherry MX switches on the market. Even at $100, though, HyperX has delivered a solid, space-saving keyboard that's built tough, and we're happy to call it TR Recommended.
31 comments — Last by Usacomp2k3 at 9:50 AM on 03/19/17
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