Mechanical keyboards have ruled PC gaming since the original BlackWidow came out back in 2010. Since then, companies have started creating brand exclusive, slightly improved clones of the Cherry MX industry standard switch. But how do you improve over technology that has stood the test of time since the Cherry MX’s debut back in 1983? First we look at the downside of mechanical contact points. It’s metal against metal and that does introduce the possibility for issues. If dirt or dust builds up between the contact points, issues like inadvertent double tapping, known as ‘chatter’ can occur. It’s generally a long time before this happens and almost a non-issue for those who keep a tight cleaning schedule on their keyboards.
With the Celeritas II, Zowie’s entering the gaming keyboard race again with something new and exciting for the mainstream market. Flaretech optical switches do away with the ‘chatter’ issue by using light to determine switch actuation. An optical beam is in each switch and the plunger stem drops an obstacle that is usually blocking the beam.. Once the beam is uninterrupted, input is registered. When the key is released, the plunger lifts the obstacle back into the beam, and the input deactivates. Dust doesn’t affect the beam, so chatter is effectively eliminated.
Onto the gaming benefits then. The time it takes for a key to revert to its rest state on a Cherry MX switch is 5ms. So on a USB polling rate of 1000Hz or 1ms, it can take 5 full polls after you’ve stopped pressing a key for it to be registered as released. The Flaretech Linear switches used in the Celeritas II only takes 0.03ms! About 166 times faster than the standard MX switch, and 33 times faster than the 1ms rate of a 1000Hz USB poll. Of course there are other technicalities to consider but in its simplest interpretation, compared on paper, it’s a lot damn quicker.
Quicker than the USB polling rate too, but what use is that? Luckily, Zowie’s ethos of driverless, plug and play devices mean that they’ve added an adapter and kept PS/2 support! This is important, as theoretically, the interrupt based nature of PS/2 means it sends a signal the instant an input is activated and isn’t limited by polling rate. USB is also hindered by sharing its bandwidth with other connected USB devices, whereas the PS/2 protocol acts independently of them. Again in practice you might not feel it but for peace of mind, I like keeping my keyboard separate in the signal pipeline from my USB mouse input. Probably most importantly, USB users will be happy to know that NKRO (smashing all keys at once and having them all recognised) works without the adapter and isn’t limited to those with PS/2 ports on their PCs.
Getting away from the technicalities, the switches are linear and feel stiffer than Cherry MX reds but lighter than MX blacks. The board itself is full sized, has a matte finish, and keys have red backlighting. If you only have one coloured backlight, red gets my vote as it requires less adjustment for eyes in the dark, helping reduce eye strain. The matte finish does get dirty quite easily though and really seems to absorb skin oil which will eventually result in shiny spots. There are no adjustable stands at the back side but I’ve found its height to be just right for me but may not be to everyone’s tastes. It’s also hard wired in the centre of the board but Zowie’s signature flexible cables will make it a non-issue for most.
There are multimedia function keys and backlight brightness control using an Fn key modifier. Interestingly, it has no separate LED indicators for the Scroll, Num and Caps lock keys, instead opting to change backlighting from red to white when they’re activated. I don’t mind this, but if you’ve turned your backlight all the way down, there’s no way to tell when you’ve got them on. Keycaps look to be translucent ABS plastic then painted black with legends masked out. One personal gripe, is they use an irregular “Big Ass” enter key making it hard to find quality aftermarket keycaps for that particular key.
From a technical standpoint, Zowie’s done something brilliant with the Celeritas II that really appeals to low latency gaming enthusiasts. Like their original 240Hz XL2540 monitor, this is made with the pickiest twitch shooter gamers in mind. Any micro-second advantage you can get helps in the long chain of battle between input lag and reaction speeds. Just make a tenkeyless version next (remove the numpad) and I’ll be whole heartedly recommending it as THE keyboard for esports. As it stands, it’s the competition grade keyboard to get… As long as the price is right.
Release: June 2017
Disclaimer: A review sample was provided by BenQ Zowie | Respawn Ninja is owned by Mwave Australia, however we retain editorial control over reviews. Since pricing was not provided, we’ll update the review when it’s released.