The Snakebyte KEY:Board Ultra is yet another RGB mechanical keyboard in the arsenal of weapons available for your desktop, from a manufacturer that you might not have heard of. Now, we’re going to find out if this relative unknown stands up against the more established names in your shopping cart.
The Snakebyte KEY:Board Ultra might not come with either the brand recognition or the prestige of some of the world’s biggest brands but you might be surprised to learn that the team behind this gaming board have plenty of experience putting together peripherals. Snakebyte is a German peripheral manufacture who have managed to take on the world without planting their own flag. Initially an OEM manufacturer, Snakebyte design and build everything from cables to controllers for a range of big-name retailers that litter US and European high streets. They’ve been around since 1997 and have taken a wealth experience and applied it to crafting their own range of peripherals. The Snakebyte KEY:Board Ultra is the top end of this range and the specifications certainly make a statement
Mechanical Outemu Blue switches with 50,000,000 keystroke lifetime
Customizable RGB LED lighting for a total of 18 different kinds of lighting effects and 16.8 million colors
Rubber coated hand rest
Braided cable (1.8 m)
Weight: 1.300 g
Slipping out of a sizeable box and weighing in at a hefty 1.3KG, the top tier keyboard from Snakebyte certainly won’t go unnoticed on any desktop. Pulling open the magnetised hinge that hides the KEY: Board Ultra from the world unveils an angular beast that takes the leading edges of something like the Mad Catz S.T.R.I.K.E. 4 [Ma1] and expands upon the premise. The top aluminium cover strikes home the gaming credentials of the Snakebyte device before it even makes it out of the box. The full-size German layout keyboard comes surrounded by odd angular shapes and dipped wings that make other designs feel almost pedestrian in comparison. The leading edge of the KEY:Board sports a laser-etched manufacturer Logo and a series of embedded lighting strips sit just across from a sizeable rubber wrist rest that players will either view as an asymmetrical abomination or a necessity. The hardcore aluminium topcoat that covers this KEY:Board hides a slightly more practical side. Turn the Ultra over and the plastic bottom is more mundane. This, however, doesn’t make the included non-slip pads, leg stands, as well as a thick neon yellow and black braided USB cable any less welcome.
Plug In And Play
Plug in the branded USB cable and the Snakyebyte KEY:Board Ultra demands even more attention. A full-size set of Outemu blue switches are arranged on the top of the black aluminium top and come individually lit from beneath. 16.8 million potential colors blaze through the keycaps, each of which can be separately coordinated using the available Snakebyte controller software. This stand-alone software doesn’t just provide a color per key to pick from. 18 pre-programmed RGB modes are available, with three different configurable profiles allowing gamers to save and swap moods with a simple click. This level of customization puts the KEY:Board Ultra on par with any top tier gaming peripheral and while It manages to be just as bright as the PC Head:Set Pro, it does so in a much more pleasing fashion.
The KEY: Board Ultra is not just a light show. Like the surprisingly competent GAME:Mouse Ultra, the hardware behind this keyboard speaks to Snakebyte’s experience as a manufacturer. With input from the drawing board to the final mould injection, Snakebyte has managed to craft a board that makes a few compromises but delivers a solid experience. The Outemu Blue Switches might not be entirely linear or Cherry MX Red branded, but are slightly easier to activate than MX Blues I’ve used, making for a more responsive gaming experience. The decision to build a board around these tactile, clicky, keys makes the Ultra a good catch-all for both gaming and typing enthusiasts.
Typing on the Snakeybyte KEY:Board Ultra is a pleasant experience with decent stability, a discernible tactile response, and a relatively measured noise level. The generous size of the keycaps in comparison to several other alternatives means big fingers and large hands might have an easy time getting on top of typing, while the overall feel of the plastic tops doesn’t leave fingers spilling off in the wrong direction after several hours in a raid encounter. The Outemu switches that support this seem to require slightly less impact to actuate than other Blue switches with a nice linear movement up until the actuation point. The final click and activation of these particular keys are much less aggressive than I might have expected, making the KEY:Board Ultra a great device for typing out this review and switching over for a bit of gaming, without driving my cohabiting player 2 to distraction.
Gaming is, similarly, a successful encounter, with precise feedback thanks to the nature of the keys and the solid performance of the rest of the board. The Snakeybyte Key:Board Ultra isn’t going to blow high-performance low profile boards away, and it certainly will not feature high on the lists of gamers looking to spam heals hard, but for anybody who want precision this is a great choice. In the end, The KEY:Board Ultra is a device that is likely to let you fight your enemies first before your peripherals.
Fight the Good Fight?
Let me be clear, the best that Snakebyte can muster is possibly the best blue switch gaming board I’ve had my hands on for some time but it is not perfect. It will not fly with fans of MX Speed switches. The KEY:Board is a compromise and while it suits more than one type of use case, the aesthetic is only good for a particular type of consumer. The industrial aesthetic and blazing RGB makes no doubt that this is designed for gaming first. Get it and get ready to let it shine at home but this is not for the office or any of us that remember subtlety, in the era before 16.8 million colors.
The Snakebyte software that drives this board can also be described as good but not perfect. Standing on its own, the Snakebyte software is easy to use and proves more than capable at plotting out a unique aesthetic. The Ultra even hides some ingenious features that allow RGB customization by just mashing the correct combinations of function keys, no software required. While a fantastic quality of life feature, these hardwired RGB functions just manage to emphasise how much he KEY:Board Ultra could have benefited from a fully integrated ecosystem, allowing owners of the GAME:Mouse Ultra and PC HEAD:Set Pro for a more complete experience.
At around €99.99 the Snakebyte KEY:Board Ultra could also be considered to be missing a few features. There are no USB or audio pass-through options on the Ultra and the braided cable is a one-shot affair, being hard-wired into the board, yet I found myself enamoured with this new addition to my desktop.
The Snakebyte KEY:Board Ultra is the best configuration of Blue switches I’ve had the pleasure of trying to bottom out in some time. An excellent balance of feedback and firepower definitely leans on a slightly nosier visual than some might like but after a week of gaming and general keyboard shenanigans, I’ve survived unscathed. If Snakebyte can keep this up the KEY:Board Ultra is going to be lighting up desktops for a long time to come. Head over to the official Snakebyte website to find out where to pick up the KEY:Board Ultra.