In the world of PC’s Alienware is a pretty big name that is viewed in two very different lights; on the one-hand those with the willingness to build their own computers see little of value in the company due to the high costs, while folk looking to simply purchase something that has a little more va-va-voom than the average off-the-shelf machine can find a lot to look provided they are willing to pay the price. But now Alienware have moved into producing their own line of peripherals, including a curved monitor and mouse. Before long you’ll be able to own an entire Alienware-branded setup, including a lovely sticker on your backside. But for now let’s just review their keyboard, the boringly named AW568. Seriously, guys, when your company is named Alienware surely you could come up with a better name for a keyboard?
At 19.7 x 6.8 the AW568 is a fairly large piece of kit to fit on your desk, the extra space being used for a row of dedicated macro keys on the left-hand side plus a few media controls for good measure, just in case you can’t be bothered changing the volume the normal way. Despite the fact that Alienware has crafted some pretty gnarly looking machines in the past they opted for a surprisingly understated look for the AW568 with only the triangular end pieces really betraying it as a “gaming” peripheral.
Well, that and the subtle RGB LED. Rather than illuminating the keys themselves, Alienware have chosen to put their lighting on the bottom edge of the keyboard so that it creates a gentle glow on whatever surface you have the AW568 sitting on. It’s a neat idea, and on the one hand it’s nice to see RGB lighting implemented in a less in-your-face way, but on the other hand, it’s almost too subtle. Hell, I barely noticed it when I first plugged the keyboard in, and while it looked reasonably good on my black glass desk in the dark at all other times it struggled to show up, battling valiantly but ultimately pointlessly against natural light. On a wooden desk or table it becomes rather difficult to see it and the color you choose can get changed considerably by the surface. I think the lighting strips needed to be a little wider so that the glow could spread out along your desktop or table.
Oh, one thing that did annoy me was how the Alienware logo on the keyboard could not be turned off independently of the under-lighting. It’s a small detail that most people probably won’t even care about, though.
This lighting is powered using the Alienware FX software which offers up the standard suite of options when it comes to the lights, such as breathing or cycling effects if you don’t fancy having a single solid color. Sadly, though, there are only two lighting zones which feels somewhat limiting. Macros can be recorded quite easily for the extra keys, and if you fancy recording macros for other keys then technically the entire keyboard is remappable for your pleasure. Go nuts. It’s a solid piece of software that’s easy to navigate. There’s not much else you can say about it.
For comfort there’s even a wrist rest…provided you pay extra for it because’s it’s an add-on rather than just coming with the keyboard by default. Sadly my review unit didn’t come with the rest. So how does it feel without that bit of extra comfort? Merely okay. There is a notable angled piece near the bottom of the keyboard that forces you to raise your arms or otherwise rest your wrists awkwardly on your desk because the angled plastic is too slidey and sticks out. Many keyboards have a significant height that can make things a bit awkward, but this one felt worse. You’ll already know if you’re the kind of person who needs a wrist rest or not, though, so this might not be an issue at all for certain people.
It does, however, have three settings for angling the entire keyboard which I really appreciated. A lot more keyboard manufacturers could do with following this example to provide us with a bit more flexibility so that we can find something comfortable.
But how does it perform in-game? Well, underneath the plastic keys are Kailh brown switches, which are basically Cherry MX Brown copy-cats that do a good job of imitating the originals. Regardless of whether you believe Cherry switches to be overpriced there is no denying that they are the dominant force in the market and tend to be the switches that all others are compared to, so I guess the best compliment that can be paid to the Kailh switches is that they felt almost as good as their Cherry counterparts without costing as much. I say almost because there was a notable stiffness to them.
Where the problem potentially lies is within long-term use, because Kailh’s may essentially be identical copies of Cherry’s products but where they do differ is build quality. Kailh uses cheaper plastic, springs and contact points to offer up their products with a smaller price-tag in order to entice companies like Alienware, and while that may mean they feel just as good to start with over time I do have doubts about their build quality.
With that said, switches are a very personal thing and the Brown’s just don’t do it for me. 45g of force is required for actuation before they give way with a soft feel down to their 2mm activation point and 4mm of total travel with a very quiet click as they hit the bottom. Despite the fact that the browns need just 45g of force they felt a little stiff and solid for my tastes, and typing never felt as smooth as I wanted compared to the HyperX Alloy FPS I had been using or even the Razer BlackWidow Tournament Edition V2 that I’m currently testing.
This isn’t to say they are bad, though. I’ve always preferred the clickier switches anyway, and as I said if you put the AW568 side-by-side with another keyboard using Cherry Brown switches I think many people would be hard-pressed to notice. Sure, I do feel like these weren’t quite as smooth and there was perhaps a touch of variability in how some keys felt, but overall they still do the job rather nicely. On top of that you have the expected 1000Hz polling rate and anti-ghosting features, so it responds in games wonderfully.
Typing felt good, too. Again, I didn’t feel as smooth as I do with other boards despite the relatively light switches, but there was no change in my typing speed as reported by a few typing test websites.
So thus far you may be thinking that I like the AW568 but don’t love it, and you’d be right. Where Alienware’s keyboard has an advantage is that you can pick one up off of Amazon for about £80 at the time of writing, a fairly reasonable price for a full-sized mechanical keyboard with a brand name, although that does put in direct competition with the likes of Corsair’s Strafe boards which have a heap of great reviews.
Ultimately it’s a completely solid product from Alienware, but one that misses the mark in a few places. The subtle lighting is a welcome change in a market dominated by full backlit keyboards, yet its inclusion is almost pointless as it’s barely visible in most situations. Just angling the lighting outwards a touch more would have kept it still feeling understated while also creating a beautiful underglow. The build quality is completely solid as is performance and general feel, but nothing to write home about. In the end what you get is a perfectly good keyboard at a reasonable price. Simple.