Review: Tesoro Gram RGB mechanical gaming keyboard

The Tesoro Gram Spectrum RGB mechanical gaming keyboard isn’t just colorful, it’s also flatter and bouncier than the competition. But while the Tesoro hardware and form factor are good, the Gram Spectrum RGB is hampered by poor driver software and a relatively poor out-of-box experience.

Tesoro Gram Spectrum RGB feature highlights and specifications

Tesoro Gram Spectrum RGB - key height example
Tesoro Gram Spectrum RGB keys are half the height of standard keyboard keys. Credit – Tesoro

The Tesoro Gram Spectrum RGB keyboard is a mechanical keyboard with low-profile keys, making it thinner than the average mechanical keyboard—and able to deliver theoretically ‘faster’ keystrokes by reducing travel distance.

The Gram Spectrum RGB is based on what Tesoro calls ‘Agile’ mechanical switches, which generally feel and sound like Cherry MX Blue switches as far as the review unit is concerned.

Additional highlights include a detachable USB cable. Granted, a detachable USB cable isn’t something I usually wish for, but it’s nice to have if you want to travel with the keyboard (something I’ve done on and off in the past, often transporting a keyboard to a workplace).

Gram Spectrum features and specifications

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Credit – Tesoro
  • TESORO AGILE Mechanical Switch
  • Optimized Low-profile Design
  • 60 Million Reliable Keystrokes
  • 8 Million Customizable Lighting
  • 32bit ARM Cortex Processor
  • 1000 Hz Ultra Polling Rate
  • 512KB Onboard Memory
  • All Keys Fully Programmable
  • Full N-Key / 6-Key Rollover Options
  • Instant Macro Recording
  • Versatile Lighting Effects
  • Detachable Braided USB Cable

The rest of the Tesoro Gram Spectrum RGB’s features (above) are fairly common/standard among gaming keyboards, including profile storage, N-Key / 6-Key Rollover, full key programmability, and instant macro recording. Onboard memory for profile storage is nice to have, especially if you want to travel with your keyboard at all.

An ARM processor is arguably more useful in a gaming keyboard feature bullet list than it is in an actual gaming keyboard.

See my Gaming keyboard buyer’s guide for more info on what these features are and which ones I tend to like the most.

Performance

This is only the second Tesoro mechanical keyboard I’ve reviewed. I quite liked the silky smooth Tesoro Excalibur V2. And if there’s one thing clear from reviewing both products it’s that Tesoro definitely tries to innovate.

gram5
The Gram Spectrum is available in black or white models. Credit – Tesoro

At first I liked the Gram Spectrum RGB’s switches/keys. I like noisy Cherry MX Blue switches in general for their tactile response, and the Gram Spectrum RGB switches feel very similar.

But in time I came to somewhat dislike the ‘bounciness’ of the keys. When you hit a key on the Gram Spectrum, it feels like it springs back more fiercely—much more so than I’m accustomed to from typical mechanical keyboards. Maybe it’s the shorter key or something in the springs. I’m not sure I could (ahem) put my finger on exactly why I don’t like the springy quality—but I don’t. It just feels like typing is more of a chore, or my keyboard is punching back.

On a side note: I removed a key to look at the switch, and the tiny spring shot clean off <boioioioing!>. It was also difficult to replace the spring and switch properly. It’s not something you’re likely to have to do, but be careful if you do.

Poor soft skills

Tesoro keyboard driver software is unintuitive, poorly designed, and it just doesn’t provide as good of an out-of-box experience as other big players such as Razer, SteelSeries, Roccat, and Logitech.

I won’t go into a complete UI/UX discussion here, but it’s something I work in as part of my day job so I’m sensitive to poor UI/UX. Bottom line: Tesoro’s software needs work.  Here are some examples:

  • After installing the software, it doesn’t auto-start or place an applet for easy access. There’s a good and a bad side to this. It can be good because it’s one less Windows startup item. But it’s clumsy when you have to hunt down an .EXE file and run it just to fiddle with keyboard settings. It’s easily rectified for the technically apt but still annoying.
  • I had to actually ask my contact how to enable per-key illumination. Seriously, if you can’t make this obvious in your software, your UI/UX needs work. I even tried to RTFM to find the answer, and couldn’t find the information on Tesoro’s Web site.
  • Per-key lighting is clumsy. Yes, the Tesoro Gram Spectrum supports it. But in the current implementation of the driver software, you have to specify the color for each key individually. You can’t, for example, drag and select the numpad and assign it to blue for example. If you want your numpad blue, you have to click every single numpad key in the driver UI and assign it to blue.

Even Tesoro’s software delivery method is relatively crude. Tesoro distributes their drivers in .RAR files, with no unified driver framework. And just FYI MalwareBytes, if you happen to use it, still flags Tesoro driver files as dangerous.  It’s another small annoyance for the technically apt, and just plain clumsy in an age where competitors offer unified driver framework packages such as Razer’s Synapse software or SteelSeries’ Engine software.

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Interestingly, you can’t mix and match color presets, and given the tedium of making my own color scheme, I opted mainly for the ‘Rainbow Wave’ which is a cool color wash across the keyboard.  Then I assigned each of the keyboard’s profiles to a specific color (red, purple, blue, green).

The Gram Spectrum RGB has some cool ‘ripple’ and ‘firework’ effects, but you can’t combine them with other lighting options, which basically means you have to turn off all lighting to use them. (I prefer to have backlighting always on.)

Or even if you can, you’ll have to figure out how to do it. Or maybe just wait for Tesoro to make better software.

Overall: 6.5/10

I can’t say at least as far as the keys and switches go that the Gram Spectrum RGB is better or worse than my favorite keyboards. It all comes down to feel and personal preference. I like the tactile feel and ‘clickiness’ of the Gram Spectrum RGB,  but I’m not as fond of the extra ‘bouncy’ quality the keys seem to have. You may feel differently.

But for a $140 keyboard—a price that puts well within range of the likes of Razer’s Blackwidow boards, and prominent boards from Roccat and other manufacturers—Tesoro still falls a bit short in terms of their overall out-of-box and software experience. This is a key area they need to improve if they want to run neck and neck with the likes of Logitech, SteelSeries, Razer, and Roccat.

If Tesoro’s software was better, I’d bump the review score up a bit. But they’re still in ‘good’ company. Even Corsair still hasn’t fully addressed their rather woeful software drivers for their gaming peripherals (but they are getting better).

 

 

 

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