Corsair broke new ground with its K70 and K95 mechanical gaming keyboards that were the first in the world to offer Cherry MX mechanical key switches with RGB backlighting. The Fremont, California-based components manufacturer’s latest gaming keyboard, the STRAFE, shares several similarities with the K70 such as anti-ghosting, per-key backlighting, and USB pass-through. However, the STRAFE has enough differences to stand out from its slightly more expensive counterpart, despite their similar price points.
The STRAFE with Cherry MX Red key switches is currently available for $109.99 on Newegg.
To prepare for this review the STRAFE was used for a full week with games including StarCraft II: Heart of the Storm, Aliens: Colonial Marines, and Battlefield 4, and was the main keyboard for the note-taking and writing of this review.
Corsair packed a plethora of powerful features into the STRAFE. Its highlights include its Cherry MX Red key switches, dynamic lighting, and textured keycaps.
The Cherry MX Red key switches have a linear response with a low 45g actuation force and are silent until they bottom out. The STRAFE is also available with Cherry MX Brown key switches that provide tactile feedback without the audible click of Cherry MX Blue key switches.
Each of the STRAFE’s key’s red backlights can be individually set to its own brightness level, or can be turned off. However, the backlight color cannot be changed. So the keyboard isn't RGB, but that’s difficult to consider a flaw given the keyboard’s price point. The most affordable RGB keyboard with Cherry MX key switches is the K70 RGB, and that costs $30 more than the STRAFE.
Even though its keys lack the abilities of a chameleon, the STRAFE equips a different unique feature that sets it apart from the K70 and other gaming keyboards – MOBA-specific keycaps. The STRAFE includes textured, angled keycaps for the QWER and DF keys, along with similar keycaps for the WASD keys that are designed for FPS games.
The Corsair Utility Engine (CUE) should be familiar to anyone who’s used a Corsair Gaming keyboard or mouse. It’s an impressively deep configuration software, but has a quirky layout that can be confusing to the uninitiated.
Macros, keystrokes and shortcuts, which CUE refers to as actions, can be created, assigned, and edited on the fly. Profiles can be set to link to a specific program, and any user-created profile can be set as the default profile. Profiles can also be imported and exported to be shared or moved to another computer. Cloud syncing of profiles and settings, such as in Razer’s Synapse software, would have been a welcome feature in CUE.
CUE’s lighting page allows for full control of the individual backlights. Groups of keys can be saved for quick, simultaneous editing of multiple backlights, which comes in handy when creating complex lighting arrangements. There are also lighting effects inspired by the Cylon from Battlestar Galactica and the falling code from The Matrix, though they are more gimmick than useful.
CUE also allows for control of the keyboard’s polling rate, which can be set in one of four settings from 125 Hz to 1000 Hz. CUE also manages the STRAFE’s firmware updates, and has links to the product manual, Corsair’s tech support, and user forums.
CUE can do a lot, and it’s somewhat disappointing the STRAFE doesn’t have dedicated macro keys because of that. However, the software’s flexibility allows for actions to be mapped anywhere, including the 10-key, which can be a decent substitute for the missing macro keys, depending on play style.
The STRAFE does have a USB pass-through. Located on the back of the keyboard, the juice-delivering outlet is designed to attach a mouse, headset, or other USB peripheral to the keyboard. It also works well as a mobile device charging port.
What the STRAFE sorely lacks is a wrist rest. Some similarly-priced keyboards that also have Cherry MX key switches, such as the Rosewill Apollo, come with a wrist rest.
Dedicated multimedia keys are also absent from the STRAFE. Instead, Corsair merged those controls with the STRAFE’s function keys. This, of course, requires the use of the FN key, which removes comfortable, one-handed operation from the equation. To be fair, users that have gaming headsets with volume controls shouldn’t be bothered by this cumbersome implementation. But that’s not everyone, and still wouldn’t cover starting, stopping, or pausing playback without a double-digit key press.
Corsair took a departure from the anodized, brushed aluminum finish of its K-series keyboards and housed the STRAFE in an all-plastic body. But that’s not to say the STRAFE doesn’t look or feel high end, because it does.
Its gentle, sloping curves provide a modern, sleek aesthetic that would be equally at home in a gaming rig or at the office. The matte-black finish pervades every inch of its outermost surface except for the two side panels, which are glossy.
Atop the escape and F1 keys sits the new Corsair Gaming logo that recently replaced the much-maligned cross-swords emblem, with an updated version of the company’s classic clipper ship. On the other side of the top edge sit the oversized, illuminated lock and brightness keys.
Below them, just above the 10-key, is an empty space that would have been perfect for truly dedicated multimedia controls.
But for the keys that are there, the design is excellent. The etched, individually backlit keys use an easy-to-read, wide font that’s set high the key’s face. The vertical orientation of the numbers and symbols on the top row of number keys, all the way from the tilde to the equals sign, is flipped with the number sitting above the symbol.
Below each section of keys sits a red backdrop that subtly reflects the backlighting above. The effect creates a pleasing, warm glow that helps the overall backlighting pop.
The STRAFE’s color scheme is clearly red and black with its matched backdrop and backlighting. However, the plastic on the business end of the two USB connectors is yellow. It’s a small detail that probably won’t be noticed once the keyboard is plugged in, but it would have been nice to have matched the color of those bits to the STRAFE’s overall style.
Additionally, the material in which the cables are wrapped is rubber and not the more attractive and durable braided cloth that most high-end peripherals use.
Despite these small issues, the STRAFE is a good looking keyboard with understated, classy aesthetics.
The STRAFE’s comfort level is hampered only by its lack of wrist rest. Those who game and type without one should be fine, but those used to having something under their wrists will probably want an aftermarket add-on.
Otherwise, the STRAFE is an enjoyable keyboard. The keycaps are as tall and elevated as those on the K70. Such towering keys can take some getting used to when coming from a laptop or a full-size keyboard with shorter keys, but their height is quickly adjusted to after moderate use.
The Cherry MX Red key switches feel as smooth and precise as advertised, which is probably why the STRAFE’s keys are so easy to adapt to. They are near silent when actuated and do not have the audible click of Cherry MX Blue key switches. However, STRAFE’s keys do make noise when bottoming out, which is very easy to do given how smooth and light their action is.
Gamers and typists who actuate with force, but don’t want the clacking of bottomed out keys, might want to check out key switch dampeners.
Performance of the STRAFE boils down to its key switches, 100 percent anti-ghosting, and low-latency polling rate
The Cherry MX Red key switches are as smooth as butter and respond quickly and accurately to every press, while the tall keycaps feel solid and substantial. The combination of the two lends a new feeling of control for FPS games, especially with the textured keycaps installed.
Typing with the textured keycaps is a minor annoyance at worst. However, long typing sessions would probably benefit from swapping them for the original keycaps, which is easily done with the included tool.
What really hinders the STRAFE’s performance is the missing wrist rest. Accidental hits of the shift and control keys happen semi-frequently, though that could vary with individual hand size and posture.
The STRAFE is an excellent gaming keyboard with the style and chops for work and play, but is not without its flaws.
Fans of Cherry MX Red keys will be right at home with the STRAFE. MOBA and FPS players will love the textured keycaps, and fans of red backlighting will enjoy the STRAFE’s per-key programmability.
The lack of an included wrist rest hurts the STRAFE’s overall value, as does its multimedia keys' reliance of the FN key. Despite those shortcomings, the STRAFE represents an excellent value for gamers who want a keyboard with Cherry MX Red or Brown key switches, modern style, and red backlighting.