RGB backlighting – where keys can be lit up in millions of different colours instead of just one – is the latest craze in mechanical keyboards. Corsair announced their exclusive Cherry MX RGB keyboards last year, and Razer was quick to copy the move with its own Kailh RGB keyboards under the Chroma brand. Now, Tesoro are introducing their own RGB keyboard using Kailh switches: the Excalibur RGB.
The original Excalibur proved to be dependable if unremarkable when we reviewed it, but adopting RGB makes it a lot more desirable. In this review, we’ll see how the Excalibur RGB compares to its predecessor and other RGB keyboards on the market.
Features and Specifications
- 16.8 million colour backlighting (four modes + four levels)
- No missed keys with N-Key Rollover (NKRO) + 1000Hz polling rate
- Gaming grade mechanical switches with 60 million key actuations
- Fully programmable + 512kB on-board memory for macros
- Instant Game mode function key
- Rubberised Anti-slip bottom for intense gaming
- Switches availability: Blue, Brown, Red
- Compatible with Windows XP / Vista / 7 / 8.1
The Tesoro Excalibur RGB is very similar-looking to its single-colour backlit brother; the only substantive changes are the LEDs on each key and the on-board controller. For that reason, this section will be familiar if you’ve read our Excalibur review, and you may want to skip onto the software and testing sections!
Out of the box, the Excalibur is a very normal looking keyboard. It uses the same layout as many other keyboards, with the sole deviation being a Function key in the lower right and some added controls on that layer (e.g. media controls on the F keys). Otherwise, the layout and dimensions seem identical to other mechanical keyboards, including Filco and Ducky.
A few visual flourishes have been added; we have a backlit Tesoro logo at the upper right, above the indicator LEDs, ‘break the rules’ above the directional keys and ‘Tesoro’ on the spacebar.
The bottom of the keyboard has some small legs, which seem to rest at a higher angle when extended than most other keyboards I’ve seen. There’s also the standard sticker-with-logo here.
This Excalibur review unit was equipped with Brown Kailh switches, which offer a tactile bump but not the loud click that Blue switches are known for. Browns are the most popular colour of switch sold and are often recommended for both gaming and writing.
It’s worth noting that these Kailh switches aren’t as well-known as their Cherry counterparts, but have an even higher quoted expected lifespan (60 million actuations for Kailh vs 50 million actuations for Cherry).
Of course, the highlight of this keyboard when it comes design is that RGB backlighting. A GIF below shows three potential colours (literally R, G or B). As you can see, each legend changes but the LED indicators in the upper right remain constant.
In order to properly test the Excalibur RGB, I used it as my go-to keyboard for a period of about a week. I wrote quite a few blogs and reviews on it, and of course I played some games as well. That included a lot of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, plus smaller amounts of Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War II, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, StarCraft II and Dragon Age: Inquisition.
The crux of the Excalibur RGB are those customisable backlights. The advantage of this is that you don’t have to choose from one or two options offered by the manufacturer. Instead, you can choose any colour that strikes your fancy, and change your keyboard as often as you like. This is nice for manufacturers as it means they can produce fewer models, and nice for users who prefer something different to the standard blue or red backlight colours.
Unfortunately, the Excalibur RGB doesn’t live up to its promises. 18.6 million colours is the chief spec, but the above grid shows the number of actually selectable colours – 228 by my count. This would still be acceptable, but many colours aren’t displayed accurately on the keyboard when selected. For example, any lightish colour comes out as white, maroon comes out as pink, hot pink comes out as white, grey comes out as light teal, orange comes out as lime… This makes choosing a colour a frustrating experience, and narrows the amount of visually distinct colours severely.
Another annoyance is that no settings can be changed in PC Mode – no keys can be remapped, and the backlight is either blue or off. In every other settings – profiles one through five – the Windows key is disabled and cannot seemingly be reenabled. Basically, it means you have to choose between a working Windows key and custom LED colours. That’s a massive annoyance for me, as I use the Windows key very frequently while working (for searching, launching programs, opening Explorer windows, opening the Run dialog, snapping windows to half the screen, shutting down the computer, opening a Powershell prompt… the list goes on).
Finally, the backlighting can only be set for the entire keyboard; it’s not possible to choose different colours for different keys. This puts the Excalibur RGB well behind competitors like the Razer BlackWidow Chroma and Corsair K70 RGB, and is quite misleading given the Excalibur RGB’s box art (despite the tiny disclaimer text).
I asked Tesoro about this, and they claimed the issue was due to problems with the LEDs used for the keyboard:
LED limitation. Every brand has it due to RGB LED not getting the correct signal. Two reasons: RGB LED has a range of full rainbow, but some colors are just too close to naked eye to notice (because we are staring at lights) and second: The monitor colors will not correspond 100% to the lights we see outside.
It will be improved over time, but it is technology restrain from LED suppliers. We can do rainbow effect on keyboard and it will confuse our eye its 100% 16.8 million, but they are restriction only LED suppliers must fix. It will get better soon.
I found the Excalibur quite pleasant to type on, in large part to its standard layout. While many keyboards seek to change up their layouts in order to differentiate themselves, sometimes these changes do more harm than good, and require some mental retraining in order to use at full speed. That isn’t an issue here, as the Excalibur is precisely the same as the majority of keyboards on the market, with the exception of a Function key in the lower right hand side of the board and the corresponding Function layers on some keys. This arrangement is one of my favourites when it comes to keyboard design, and it works well here.
As mentioned earlier, Brown switches are often recommended for writing thanks to their tactile feedback and relatively light weight. The Kailh switches in this board served me well for the review period, although they lack the long history of reliability that their Cherry counterparts possess. Still, if their 60 million actuation rating is accurate, they should be just fine.
The Function-layer media keys take a little longer to press than dedicated keys, but are still faster than skipping tracks or muting in software. The backlighting was also helpful for writing in low light, although with the ‘colour loop’ setting you’ll often look down and see a completely dark keyboard as you’ve caught the keyboard between a cycle.
Overall then – a reasonable writing keyboard, but no better than the standard Excalibur.
For gaming, the Excalibur was quite reasonable as well. The switches held up well to my flurry of taps in Counter-Strike and other titles, with the Brown switches providing good tactile feedback and a light weighting.
The macro keys and gaming modes worked as described, although I must admit that I didn’t find the need to use either in the games I was playing.
The only real issue I found was when adjusting the position of the keyboard on my desk; the little legs that support the keyboard often folded back up when I moved the keyboard forward on the desk. This necessitated snapping out both legs, distracting me from the game for a few valuable seconds.
Otherwise, the keyboard was quite reasonable if unremarkable for gaming.
The ability to choose a small number of LED backlighting colours is nice, but to call this keyboard an RGB model feels misleading. While the overall construction of the keyboard is solid and all basic features are here, there’s little reason to pay a premium over the standard Excalibur or choose the Excalibur RGB over better-implemented RGB keyboards on the market from Corsair and Razer. Hopefully software or firmware updates will save this keyboard, but for now it’s near-impossible to recommend.
- Near-standard keyboard layout and shape
- Ticks boxes for macros, game mode and media controls
- Good build quality and overall construction
- LED color settings are extremely limited (and often wrong)
- Insecure legs move out of position when keyboard is moved
- Kailh switches lack the history of reliability that Cherry possess
- 4 / 10