Cheap gaming keyboards. Are they worth a shot?

In the never-ending quest to help you all at home choose good gadgets on a budget, we picked up four of the cheapest gaming keyboards and mice to test against our everyday higher quality devices.

Today we look at keyboards from Rii, COOKI (Motospeed), Redragon, and Tesoro. With the exception of the Tesoro (which is typically a more expensive product), the Rii, COOKI and Redragon are value and gaming keyboards. The rules for purchasing were simply to search Amazon Canada for keyboards that claim to be gaming keyboards at the cheapest prices.

While you will be getting my personal opinion (Jeff) with all the devices, I will get Dan and Cynthia to comment on them down the road and add their experiences.

rii

Rii 3 Color LED Backlit Multimedia Gaming Keyboard – $26.68 CAD

As keyboards go I am going to start with the Rii (Real internet idea) 3 Color LED Back lit Multimedia Gaming Keyboard. Yup, that’s a bit of a mouthful. To be honest this starts well as the box looks OK. It does not have a picture of the actual keyboard on the cover but it is in full colour. The inside is typical for a keyboard box. Once the lid is open we find the keyboard sitting in a foam-like bag and the cord is wrapped up in a twist-tie. Not a bad start I’d say. Well, it sort of falls apart after this.

The keyboard does not come with any instructions so it’s up to you to figure out how to switch between the three back light colours and the brightness settings. That said, if I looked a little harder I would have found the key combos on the back of the keyboard box. This is actually a smart place to put them, although I doubt that Rii was actually thinking smart but rather how can we save money on the production of this keyboard.

The keys themselves are made of cheap painted plastic that I expect will wear out under high gaming use. The keys require a lot of travel to activate though for rubber dome style switches feel pretty good. The space bar is a bit mushy but performs OK. The narrow enter key is a drag as I tend to miss the enter key and hit the “\”. A bit on the annoying side.

The frame of the keyboard is spill friendly as there’s no bezel around the keys but instead the keys are mounted to a flat frame. Oh, and the frame flexes. Badly. In fact, while reviews on Amazon would say otherwise, this frame really makes for an even more mushy keyboarding experience if you are not a light typist. It does have rubber feet and risers so there is a bit of adjust-ability. The keyboard is light enough that it feels like it may move around on you, though I never actually experienced this myself while typing.

I typed up this section of the review on the Rii. All in all it feels very similar to the cheap keyboards one would received with your old late 90’s computer from Dell or HP. It’s not terrible but for the price I would like to see the frame itself just a wee bit stronger. You do get 3 LED colours and, while they do look nice, they are perhaps a little on the dim side even in a modestly lit room. If the frame was a bit stronger I would recommend this keyboard in a pinch but for serious gaming I would pass.

cooki

COOKI Gaming Keyboard, Motospeed K40 High-Speed Professional Ergonomics Wired Gaming Keyboard – $9.99 CAD

The COOKI (or really Motospeed K40 Professional Wired Gaming Keyboard) is second up; not because it’s better than the Rii, but because it’s the second one I plugged in to test. First I should mention that this keyboard comes in cheaper than Amazon’s own Amazon Basics keyboard (17.99 CAD) at the low low price of ten Canadian loonies with free Amazon shipping. I am amazed that one can get a keyboard for ten dollars and it actually works. It can’t be that bad can it? Oh boy. I think COOKI was trying to just hit as many keywords as possible in their title so it would show up in a search for keyboards on Amazon.

Let’s start with the packaging. It looks promising with a full colour cardboard box. The greatness ends there folks. Opening the box you are greeted by a 3×3 inch size piece of tissue paper with what I can only guess are the instruction on how to use the keyboard in what I am also assuming to be Chinese text. Good news here is this keyboard is just a keyboard. There are no real settings to know besides the ones that have been around since nearly the creation of the standard keyboard.

I can’t actually tell what the keys are made out of on this particular unit as I can’t currently find my key remover and the keys are super hard to pull out by hand. They physically don’t feel to bad but have a but of a slightly rougher texture to them. The keys themselves are incredibly mushy. They are not nice to type on though their travel distance is a bit shallower than the Rii so the Motospeed does have that going for it. The space bar is down right junk. It feels like the memory foam on a mattress and rebounds like one. OK a slight exaggeration but I feel like I can out-type the speed of the space bar. The typing action is not satisfying on this keyboard and I don’t think I could wish this experience on anyone. Oh and again the thin enter button. Not a big fan of those.

For a plus the frame is very strong and looks like it could take a bit of abuse. It does have relatively sturdy rubberized feet that keep the keyboard in place as well so if you are one that finds their keyboard moving a bit during use I don’t see that happening with this one.

This section was written with the K40. I’ll be honest, it’s almost the worst experience typing I have ever had. The mushiness of the keys provide no feedback and it feels like you really have to push down on them to get them to work. I say ‘feels’, but you really don’t.  I find myself pushing down hard to get the feedback from the bottom of the key travel since there is very little feedback.

redragon

Redragon Karura K502 USB Gaming Keyboard – $34.99 CAD

The Redragon Karura K502 USB Gaming Keyboard is next up. Redragon has been sort of on the leader of the value gaming sector for some time. They have value peripherals that seem to have relatively good features for the price. I am not really familiar with them beyond that but we do have the K502 here to check out. This keyboard is similar to the Razer DeathStalker Essential Gaming keyboard ($65.00 CAD on Amazon).

For being the biggest keyboard it actually comes in the most compact box. The box itself is full colour and shows the keyboard prominently on it. Sliding the keyboard out the side of the box is a different experience but here’s where you can tell Redragon sort of cares about its customers and its devices. The keyboard is not only wrapped in bag but its also surrounded by thick foam on all sides to prevent damage. That’s a major plus. It also comes in a multi-language instruction manual. This is another step in the right direction, though I found it relatively intuitive to figure out the functions and controls on this keyboard.

This keyboard breaks a few rules when it comes to gaming. I have never seen a chiclet style keyboard ever advertised as a gaming keyboard but those of you who are used to chiclet keyboards shouldn’t have a problem with this keyboard. I do find myself missing keys every once in a while due to the spacing, but part of that has to do with my small fingers. Travel distance is short on average for this style of keyboard. The buttons don’t inspire a ton of confidence with every once in a while a key doesn’t register. I don’t think that this is a hardware issue in this case but a result of the style of the keys. The backspace button feels tough to press which is a bit annoying considering I do have to correct my typing every once in a while on this keyboard.

The multi-colour backlighting on this keyboard is really good. It shows up well in bright light and can be adjusted duller as well. Even the Redragon logo lights up. My only wish would have been seeing the red LEDs that indicate the status of num, caps and windows button locks would change colour with the rest of the keyboard. And yes, this keyboard does have a Windows key lock.

The keyboard is almost as thin as the Rii earlier but manages to be much stronger. It also has a wrist wrest that though hard it still feels nice while typing. I typically prefer no wrist rest but in this case it works really well. Sadly there were no rubber feet included with my keyboard and it loses marks for that. I know from the reviews it is supposed to come with some to stick on and I can clearly see where they would go on the board. Without those feet this keyboard, while a decent weight, moves around quite a bit. I should also mention that the USB cable is braided on this keyboard in black and red, which is a nice touch.

I wrote this section with the K502 and it was a pretty good experience. In fact it was the best so far. I may take a look at their other products in the future. I would not hesitate to recommend this keyboard to anyone as long as they are fine with chiclet style keys which can be turn off for many.

tesoro

Tesoro Tizona TS-G2N (BK) Black Mechanical Switch with USB Hub 117.28 CAD (bought at 44.86 CAD)

The final keyboard I have is actually a bad choice overall when it comes to cost. I bought it at 44.86 CAD which I think must have been a typo on the sellers part as immediately after purchasing the price jumped up to 117.28 CAD. And looking at Tesoro’s other keyboards this looks to be a pretty regular price setting for them. Which means in this case I got a ton of value for the money. Remember folks, it’s always a good idea to watch prices online because you mey be surprised to see what you can get for your dollar.

OK that said, let’s go over the keyboard. The box is the most premium of all with a flip up panel proudly displaying the keyboard behind some plastic. This keyboard is also a tenkeyless design which is the first of that design I have ever had which also makes the keyboard box the second smallest of them all. It’s not protected as well as the Redragon K502 but it is secure in its box. It did not come with a manual, which is fine as this keyboard does not have any special functionality. Yes, another keyboard with no backlighting. For the price of this keyboard I think that is something that should have been guaranteed. After having keyboards with backlighting, the lack thereof is really hard to get used to even though I am not staring at my keys all the time to type.

This keyboard, unlike the Redragon K502 follows all the gaming rules precisely. First, mechanical switches. Check. They aren’t Cherry switches, but Kailh. This doesn’t bother me much though many people say the Kailh switches aren’t as consistent in quality as the Cherry equivalents. This are black mechanical switches as well which are linear in feel like the Cherry Reds. I don’t much care for the red switches so it seems to have paid off to go with black as the pressure to press them is not quite as high. At least that is the case with this particular example. The switches all the way around on this particular keyboard feel very consistent right down to the backspace and space bar. There are a few complaints on Amazon about inconsistent quality but that does not seem to be the case with this keyboard. If I would complain about anything it would be the three little buttons below the space bar: I don’t understand why they exist considering there are lots of function keys that could be assigned their functions. I find that I inadvertently hit them with my thumb when I’m resting my hand on the keyboard and not typing. It then pops up a window that asks to do something and I constantly have to hit Esc to get out of it. A little annoying, but with proper typing etiquette one shouldn’t really notice.

There is no backlighting as mentioned before but you can buy a version of the Tizona with backlighting with static or RGB flavours. If I was to buy another of these I would have to get one with a backlit. It should be mentioned that this keyboard comes with a built in USB hub with two ports and even a DC port for extra power delivery for the ports; a really nice touch that I would like to see more often on these higher end keyboards.

The keyboard is of pretty average thickness and the frame itself is incredibly rigid. No wrist rest but as I have stated in the past that’s not really a big deal to me.

I wrote this section with the Tizona and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this keyboard to anyone, gamer or just office worker. This is seriously one of the best typing experiences I have ever had, though I do think that the price is a little high for this one.

With all of these keyboards taken in to account I really can’t recommend the Tesoro, as it is not really in the spirit of the story considering the actual regular cost of the keyboard. I would have to go with the Redragon K502. I look forward to trying more of Redragons products in the the future.

In comparison to my Cooler Master Storm QuickFire TK (with Cherry Brown or Blue switches as I have one of both), I would still have to go for it for gaming. It has great backlighting even if not RGB or multi-coloured, It’s not as rigid as the Tesoro either but having access to a compact keyboard that still has the num pad is something I really like (even if I don’t utilize the num pad very often). Right now you can buy the Cherry brown switch example on Amazon for 105.92 which, while still a pretty good price, is about fifteen dollars more than I paid for it.

I plan on revisiting this soon as there are a few keyboards that I wanted to test that weren’t available. Keep an eye out for that.

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