- Attractive, minimalist design.
- Unique effects and novel white body accentuate lighting.
- Removable cable.
- Instant macro recording.
- Software is clunky and hard to use.
- Utilizing per-key lighting is a pain.
- Slight delay with programmed macros and can’t program in PC mode.
The Tesoro Gram Spectrum is a compact, comfortable, and aesthetically pleasing mechanical gaming keyboard.
But you’ll need a little patience when it comes to the software.
Design and Features
For a full-size keyboard with a 10-key number pad, the Gram Spectrum$139.99 at Amazon keeps a slim profile. It measures 1.0 by 17.5 by 5.3 inches (HWD), which is thinner than most gaming keyboards. The Logitech G910 Orion Spectrum$179.99 at Logitech measures 1.4 by 19.8 by 8.2 inches, and is a good example of how bulky feature-rich gaming keyboards can be. Meanwhile, even more bare-bones gaming keyboards can be thicker: The SteelSeries Apex M500$99.89 at Amazon comes in at 1.6 inches. On that front, the Gram Spectrum features low-profile (6.2mm as opposed to the usual 11.5mm) keycaps labeled using a “double injection” process whereby characters are applied as two separate layers of plastic, so you won’t have to worry about labels peeling off or fading as time goes on.
As for the switches themselves, the Gram Spectrum uses the proprietary Tesoro Agile Switch, which has a travel of 3.5mm and an actuation point of 1.5mm. You have two choices of switches: blue or red, which roughly correspond to the Cherry MX versions with the same color names. Our review unit has red, which are a smidge springier than Cherry’s. For more details on the difference between mechanical switches, check out our mechanical keyboard roundup.
The Gram Spectrum loses some functionality because of its compactness. You won’t find rows of dedicated macro or media keys as you will on the Corsair K95 RGB$204.01 at Amazon. Instead, it opts for the good old Fn-key-plus-function-row solution implemented on other no-frills gaming keyboards like the Corsair Strafe Mechanical Gaming Keyboard$89.99 at Amazon and the Apex M500. The preset hotkeys let you toggle between gaming profiles (Fn+F1 through F5), enable six- or N-key rollover (Fn+Insert or Delete), change lighting effects or intensity (Fn+Arrow keys), and switch between PC and Gaming modes (Fn+Pause). You can also disable all key functions by pressing Fn+F6. This is especially handy for two reasons: You can’t program macros in PC mode, and Tesoro’s software experience is rather frustrating (more details on this below).
Rounding out features, the Gram Spectrum has a detachable braided USB cable, which makes for cleaner and easier transporting. And the 32-bit ARM Cortex processor and 512KB of onboard memory ensure you won’t have to worry about losing your settings.
Specs aside, what really sets the Gram Spectrum apart are its lighting and white plastic body. Not since Gandalf emerged resplendent at the Battle of Helm’s Deep has white looked so good. And while that may sound like hyperbole, not opting for the standard black is a savvy move on Tesoro’s part. Not only does the white reflect lighting in a Northern Lights-on-fresh-snow way you don’t get with regular black or metallic keyboards, but it’s also more visible in dark settings. It’s certainly eye-catching in a category that mostly relies on lighting or bulk to stand out visually. (The keyboard is available in black, though, if that’s your preference.)
Also refreshing are the Gram Spectrum’s lighting effects. There are the staple effects like “breathing” and “rainbow wave,” but they’re joined by more novel effects like “ripple,” “radiation,” and “firework.” Ripple and radiation very much look like they sound: When you press a key, it sends out a wave (ripple) or line (radiation) of light across the keyboard. Firework is fancier, as pressing a key causes adjacent keys to light up turquoise and fuchsia. And while this is a clever use of the Tesoro’s per-key lighting, it’s not without its finicky aspects. (More details on this below.)
Performance and Software
Thankfully, there’s very little to complain about performance-wise. The keys are responsive, relatively quiet, and comfortable for both gaming and everyday typing. Of course, much depends on your personal switch preference, but I found that the low-profile keycaps and bouncy quality of the Tesoro Agile Switches made for speedier keystrokes—which is crucial for when you need to make a split-second decision while gaming.
On that note, the Instant Macro Recording function is a neat tool—once you remember all the steps. All you have to do is press Fn+Home, wait for the Game Mode and Num Lock indicators to blink, select a key, and type in the command you want to record. After that, you just press Fn+Home again to exit Instant Macro Recording. The process isn’t hard, but it’s just complex enough that you wouldn’t realistically be able to use it in-game. I did, however, notice a slight lag when using my programmed macros—both through the instant recording function and the software. To put it lightly, that is less than ideal. Also, you can’t use it in PC mode, but this is only a drawback if you like to maximize macro use for light productivity tasks.
But while it’s easy to wax lyrical on the Gram Spectrum’s strengths, it’s not all sunshine and daisies. Mainly, the configuration software is tedious from start to finish. During testing, the program froze up on me multiple times. This was particularly exasperating when trying to use it to program individual macros or browse lighting effects. As of this writing, the software hasn’t been refreshed since December 2015, so I wouldn’t hold out hope for an update to fix this. Secondly, not only does the interface look like it’s straight out of the 1990s, it is the definition of counterintuitive.
In the screencap above, you can clearly see the window to tweak the backlighting color. But if you do not click the circled Exit button when you’re done, you will be unable to click anywhere else in the program window. All you’ll get is a barrage of ding noises, and you’ll be unable to minimize the window (even from the taskbar). It’s pretty obvious once you figure it out (or it’s been pointed out to you), but there’s no reason why this should even be an issue—and it’s not in most other gaming keyboard software. Compound this across multiple gaming profiles, and what you end up with is an even more time-consuming process than usual. (The good news is that, by and large, you can almost completely bypass the software using Instant Macro Recording and the preset hotkeys, if you have the patience to memorize all of them.)
But besides crashing, freezing, and a confusing interface, customization can also be a chore. For instance, setting up per-key lighting is an extremely roundabout process. Put simply, it’s only doable within the Color Spectrum lighting effect. The default setting for this effect highlights the WASD keys, plus a few other commonly used gaming keys. You can add more keys if you want and tweak the colors individually through the software—but that process is more time consuming than it is with other gaming software. If you want to color-code by zone, you’ll have to select each key individually (and there are more than 100 of them!), apply or turn off the color, apply the effect overall, and finally hit Exit before you can do anything else. And while this may be an organizational nitpick, most software includes per-key lighting customization in the general Illumination tab. Making this functionality hard to find is just another unnecessary source of frustration.
This is all the more egregious when you consider that this keyboard costs $130. You can put up with a lot if you’re getting a steal, especially since keyboards like the Apex M500 and the Corsair Strafe, while not as pretty, do their jobs well and have easy-to-use software. Also, for $40 or $50 more you can get a premium gaming keyboard jam-packed with features and beautiful RGB lighting like the Corsair K95 and the Logitech G910 Orion Spectrum.
The Tesoro Gram Spectrum is a beautiful gaming keyboard that’s a joy to type and game on, but its software is a headache. There are definitely cheaper keyboards with better software and similar performance like the Logitech G610 Orion Brown$89.98 at Amazon. But if you’re not turned off by the price, if you don’t often switch up your macros or utilize the preset hotkeys, and if you have a healthy dose of patience, then the Gram Spectrum might just be the keyboard to add a little pizzazz to your desk.