Disclosure: Corsair provided us with a Corsair STRAFE for the purpose of this review.
Late last year we had a chance to review Corsair’s K70 RGB mechanical keyboard and their M65 RGB gaming mouse. Aside from some frustrating software-related bugs, most if not all of which have been squashed, those products raised the bar for how those types of peripherals should be built. Now Corsair has released a new mechanical keyboard, the STRAFE, and in many ways it feels like a younger brother to the K70 RGB. But despite the similarities between their general design and feature sets, the STRAFE has its own meaningful qualities beyond its lower price point.
The STRAFE retains a sleek, professional look. The surface is mostly flat, save for the gentle curve of its front edge and a stylistic notch above the F-keys. The enclosure is built of matte black plastic and not the brushed aluminum of its sibling, but the materials are sturdy and altogether well-constructed. Corsair has replaced the winged logo, for the better, instead embossing their classic sails at the top left corner.
Media functionality commands are relegated to the F5 through F12 keys. An FN key to the right of the space bar gives access to those secondary functions. Separate, dedicated media controls are always appreciated, but their relegation elsewhere does leave the board less cluttered. However, the lack of a wrist rest is slightly disappointing, as the one included with the Corsair Vengeance K70 and the newer K70 RGB variant is one of my all time favorites.
Of course, professional and clean doesn’t have to mean boring. The STRAFE has a striking, futuristic profile. Its red LED-backlighting, which is far brighter than the multitude of colors on the K70 RGB, is visible not just through the lettering but between the caps, as well. Horizontal LED strips also run along both sides of the keyboard. It’s a Knight Rider-evoking presentation, aided by per key visual effects. There’s even a sweeping “visor” lighting mode that I’m convinced was made with reference in mind. And if you ever find it too bright, a button in the upper right corner toggles its lighting between three different levels and off.
The STRAFE further sets itself apart with the inclusion of a single USB-passthrough port in the back. Additionally, Corsair includes a set of custom FPS and MOBA-focused keycaps along with a simple cap remover. These caps (Q through R, A through F) are accentuated in silver, textured for grip, and contoured with rising edges.
Any physical change to common devices is often met some trepidation, but the custom caps actually feel quite good. They’ve been wonderful for placement awareness, not to mention keeping fingers in their place. Less certain is the spacebar. It’s the only other key to have that metal texture pattern, and it comes that way by default. It’s not uncomfortable – in fact, I’ve seen plenty of comments that prefer its touch – but to me it drew attention to itself more than with the extra caps. A possible explanation is the difference in angle thumbs tend to rest on the spacebar.
Beyond the custom caps, the STRAFE ships with either Cherry MX Red or Brown switches. Our sample came with the former. Both are solid, tried-and-true switches that produce the expected, hearty “click,” so your decision will come down to whether you prefer a linear or tactile response.
Driving the STRAFE is the Corsair Utility Engine software. Thankfully, the issues previously experienced with it last November are gone. The software is stable and extensive. No freezes. No failed updates. Several different lighting effects are included this time around, and you can of course create your own (though you are limited to red lighting only). Each key can be reassigned, from simple edits to macro creation and mouse control. You can even tweak an on-screen display.
Corsair has really been hitting it out of the park with their peripherals, and the STRAFE mechanical keyboard is another strong batter in their lineup. At $110 USD, there are few competitors in that price tier that offer the same noteworthy construction, per key backlighting, USB passthrough, and powerful software. If you can spend a little more, then I would also consider the K70 RGB and upcoming Strafe RGB mechanical keyboards. But regardless of your choice, Corsair is a dominant player. There’s no easier recommendation I can give.