How important is it to you that your keyboard is shiny? I mean really, really bright, like, used as an emergency desk lamp, or a warning light for rocky shores, or a navigational aid for holiday-themed flying sleds? If you want a keyboard so insanely bright it could outshine your monitor, the Vulcan II Mini is for you.
Not only does this keyboard have two LED lights under each transparent key switch, for a soft and super bright lighting effect. Not only does it have keys that cut off most of the bottom, so you can see those twinkling lights better. No, this keyboard is literally powered by light, or at least its operating mechanism is: each of its 67 keys uses a super-fast optical switch.
Frankly, all the lighting tricks in the world wouldn’t make a keyboard worth $150, even with fancy switch technology. It’s terrible value…but it’s not so far off the competition that it’s beyond pale. So the Vulcan II Mini is hit enough and makes few enough mistakes that it’s worth considering if you care more about bling than money.
In one look
Incredibly bright and smooth LED lighting
Software does not take advantage of lighting
Smooth ABS keys
If you must have the most dazzling keyboard around, the Vulcan II Mini is it. But those looking for additional customization or software features should look elsewhere.
Price when reviewing
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Colors, Duke! Colors!
The Vulcan II Mini is a 65% wired gaming keyboard, with linear “red” optical switches, mostly plastic construction, and a smart, compact layout. But we’ll get to all of that in a minute. If you’re reading this review after casually spotting the keyboard marketing texts, you want to know more about these lights. Well here they are.
The keyboard uses several tricks to make it the brightest and brightest board around. Perhaps the most obvious is its custom keycaps. The “floating” backlit caps literally cut through most of the plastic sidewalls you see on similar mechanical keyboard designs. To Roccat’s credit, this doesn’t seem to affect their stability or tactile feel at all, an impressive feat. On the other hand, they are made of rather cheap ABS plastic with a slippery finish, which is really not acceptable on such an expensive keyboard.
Second, the switches themselves are completely transparent: the only opaque element is their red stems. It’s something we’ve seen on a few similar models. Last but not least, each switch sits on two (count them, TWO!) LEDs, top and bottom. Not only does this mean twice the brightness of most mechanical keyboards (even before transparent switches and fancy keys), but it means the lighting animation you can configure in software is twice as smooth. Transitions from one color to another, or responsive flickers under your fingers, are doubly smooth.
Does it help you in a practical way? Absolutely not! But it sure is pretty. All of these design decisions have virtually no downside, so while I’m not a fan of RGB, I’m inclined to forgive them. The only issue I encountered was a tendency for the spacebar lip to get stuck on my thumb, forcing me to push it back occasionally. The Vulcan II Mini uses a semi-standard layout (only the right Shift key is a non-standard size, and even that’s pretty easy to find these days), so you can add your own keys if you have to.
Clever software that doesn’t do enough
Of course, for the true RGB connoisseur, the lights themselves are only half of the equation. You need a driver package that can customize them to your liking. The Swarm system includes the usual per-key programming and a handful of preset animations, with access to per-game profiles to boot.
But it also includes compatibility with the older Alienware AlienFX system, if you have a mouse or monitor from Dell’s gaming sub-brand to pair it with. But wait, as the seller says, that’s not all. Swarm can also sync the lights on the keyboard with the colors that appear on your screen, creating a dazzling, responsive light show that actually changes based on your gameplay. It calls this tool TalkFX.
There is only one problem. Neither AlienFX nor TalkFX are actually compatible with the Vulcan II Mini, although they feature heavily in the latest version of Roccat Swarm software. In fact, looking at the list of compatible keyboards, it appears nothing boards currently sold by Roccat are compatible with one or the other. This leaves the Vulcan II Mini with a nice but rather outdated collection of lighting animations and tricks, and lacking the newer custom gaming lighting profiles and smart home syncing seen in some competitions.
It also means that I lost two paragraphs from my review describing features that this keyboard lacks. Oops. Normally only the basic lighting options aren’t enough to sway me when judging a keyboard, but one so finely focused on the light show should have given users more choices.
tap and play
I’m pretty picky when it comes to my keyboards, and the super-light, super-fast switches favored by gamers don’t usually sit well with me. That’s why I was surprised to find that the linear switches of the Vulcan II Mini are really, really good! They’re stiffer and more springy than usual, which makes up for the fact that you can’t replace them with alternative Cherry MX-based designs.
But the reason you can’t swap out the switches is that it’s Roccat’s semi-proprietary Titan II Optical design. (I bet they’re borrowed from Gateron, but I can’t prove it.) Red is the only choice, although Roccat makes them in a tactile brown for some other recent keyboards.
That’s okay: those 45-gram keys are surprisingly smooth and satisfying, allowing me to instantly acclimate even to the smooth keys. They seem to have achieved hall effect smoothness (see Kailh’s BOX series for an example) with only a standard cross rod. The 1000Hz polling rate isn’t adjustable, but with a wired design, there’s no reason it should be. The card is capable of 100% key rollover, for you fans of strategy games relying on APM.
The layout is the usual 65%, meaning a tiny body that adds an extra column of keys on the right to better accommodate a full arrow cluster. This takes care of most of the learning curve, with a dedicated delete key in the right place.
The software doesn’t allow you to move the Fn key, which is one of my pet peeves, but that matters a lot less here than on a more restrictive 60% layout. All other keys are available for reprogramming, macros, and five different program or game auto-profiles, with an option to store some to memory on the keyboard itself. Swarm is far from intuitive, opting for a gray-on-black “gamer” look that hurts my eyes, but it’s easy enough to tell if you’re used to those flashy driver packages.
Construction and Portability
The Vulcan II Mini is incredibly light at just 17.6 ounces, light enough to forget you’re carrying it in a backpack. Although it’s not the lightest board on the market, it’s so easy to move around that you’re unlikely to split your hair. Despite its light weight, it still manages to use an aluminum main deck and include dual-stage keyboard feet for added comfort, a nice touch.
I’m less thrilled with the center-mounted USB-C port. While it’s always nice to have a detachable option, there’s no way to route the cable to the right or left, and its deeply recessed cavity means some USB-C cables won’t fit. Don’t lose the one in the box.
I would have liked to see a wrist rest option, especially considering the Aurora Borealis-style wrist rest included with the full-size Vulcan II Max design. Again, that’s an unfortunate omission at the price, but I guess that’s one less thing to lose on your trip to the LAN party.
The Vulcan II Mini is a comfortable and super portable compact gaming keyboard, with a smart layout and bearable, if not enjoyable, software. The stunning light show from its dual-LED setup, with specially designed keycaps and optical switches, would have been much more impressive if it could be tied to the Wi-Fi-connected lamps in my office.
At $150, you’re paying dearly for these lights that only sync with other Roccat hardware. Razer’s similarly optically powered Huntsman Mini is $20 cheaper, but without the much more usable 65% layout, and Corsair’s K65 RGB Mini is $40 cheaper, ditto. Similar offerings from Glorious and Keychron offer better programming and customization for less.
So the Vulcan II Mini, despite some strengths in build and design, is hard to recommend based purely on its price. But if you’re willing to pay extra for those pretty lights, and don’t mind the lack of flexibility in how you show them off, it might just be worth it.