Tesoro Gram Spectrum review: slim and classy
Standard (low profile)
Tesoro/Kailh Agile Red, 60g (measured)
2 lb. 7 oz. | 17.5 x 5.5 x 1 in.
Low profile, removable cable
The Tesoro Gram Spectrum occupies a unique niche. It offers white/black color selection, RGB backlighting, and a low profile design. For now, its cost is justified by high build quality and a special set of features.
The Gram Spectrum's software is not user friendly. The paint is chip prone, so this is a stay at home keyboard. The paint issue is compounded by the fact that the plate is steel, so rust is a possibility.
Unboxing the Tesoro Gram Spectrum
The Tesoro Gram Spectrum arrived in a beautifully printed box with a number of glossy graphics (and a few dings, but that’s what the box is there for). No expense was spared for branding, and that’s entirely reasonable. I think that Tesoro should plaster their name all over this product because (spoiler alert) it’s a great keyboard.
Inside the box you’ll find the Gram Spectrum wrapped in a protective plastic sleeve. Two foam blocks protect the sides of the keyboard from dings during transit. A small flipbook format manual is included, but there isn’t a keycap puller present. I’m not fond of that choice, as this is a premium product. Its price seems to justify an extra or two.
The Tesoro Gram Spectrum’s case is a floating design, meaning that the switches are mounted in its upper case. The upper plate is painted steel, which measures 1.4 mm thick. The paint on my Gram Spectrum is lightly textured, resulting in a classy look. The lower portion of the case is ABS plastic, which may yellow over time in the white version of the keyboard. The unit doesn’t creak, flex, or otherwise cause unpleasantness in any way. I think the finish is great, frankly.
I like the steel plate, as it gives the keyboard significant weight and stability. It roots itself to desks. There is one thing to be aware of when purchasing a keyboard with an exposed steel plate, though. If you mar the paint, cutting it back to bare metal, rust becomes a possibility. Normal keyboards use steel plates, but they don’t expose the edges of those plates to wear. Plastic shells prevent nicks and dings. If you throw the Gram Spectrum into a backpack, for example, sand in the bottom could shred the paint off the plate edge. That would open the door for rust (particularly if your bag gets wet from rain or water brought in by shoes). I managed to chip a corner of the keyboard during its photo shoot. It was a pretty light impact on a metal surface, so the paint could be an issue if you wear watches or other sharp edged jewelry. For that reason, I recommend this keyboard as a “stay at home” model. If you do need to bring it somewhere, purchase a soft bag with a drawstring, not a zipper, to transport it.
The Gram Spectrum has a massive number of fasteners. The sheer numbers involved mean that its parts are held together tightly. I typically don’t like to see plastic screws, as metal inserts are ideal, but in this instance it doesn’t affect things in the least. In fact, there are two screws that sink into metal inserts on the rear of the case. I wish that the screws were painted white to match the case, but that’s a minor issue. The PCB is secured to the top plate by soldered switches, so it’s not going to flex or misbehave. While we’re on the topic of the PCB, it’s worth noting that it has some serious depth. It’s approximately 1.7 mm thick, which is quite impressive. There aren’t any significant soldering errors, so the keyboard gets a pass in that regard. It isn’t perfect due to some ugly QC markings, residue, and wave solder balls that have adhered to the switch legs. The solder balls are welded to the plastic pretty well, so I’m not docking points for them.
Cables typically aren’t worth showcasing, but the Gram Spectrum’s is a thing of beauty. Its only flaw is a lack of strain relief, which is insignificant if you use the keyboard in non-travel situations. It’s thick, it’s braided with a beautiful glossy fiber, and it has gold plated connectors. There’s even a ferrite bead. Did I mention that it’s removable? In short, it’s a nice cable. I’m less satisfied with the Gram Spectrum’s pads. It has a total of four. Each is placed in a corner. It isn’t a huge deal due to the rigidity of the case, but it’s still something that could be improved upon. A central pad in the front of the keyboard would solve the issue. They are textured, so that’s a point in their favor.
The Gram Spectrum has wide fold out feet with nice rubber bumpers. They’re a bit thin for my liking, but they can withstand reasonable amounts of pressure without bowing. This keyboard shouldn’t be shoved into haphazardly packed bags or thrown about, so I won’t dock any points for their design.
Switches & stabilizers
Kailh low profile red switches, marketed as Agile switches by Tesoro, leave me with mixed feelings. They’re tiny things with an attractive red border. Their scratch levels aren’t too different from MX Browns. They’re marketed as linear, but in reality they have a very light tactile point. It isn’t enough to interfere with gaming in the least, so I would call these red switches a great blend between tactile and linear switches. Are they solid for gaming? Yup. Will they throw a typist off entirely? Nope. It’s pretty obvious that they have less travel than a standard keyswitch, but their higher activation point isn’t all that noticeable when typing (at least not for me).
They’re a bit heavier than I expected at 60 grams, but that’s actually nice in a short throw switch. It makes bottom outs a bit softer. That’s a real concern in low profile models. These are actually some of the easiest switches for me to avoid bottom out on due to their slightly higher activation point. If you are a bottom out typist, you’ll be pleased to know that this keyboard is quiet. There is a sound absorbing mat in the bottom (that’s what I think it is, at least) to prevent gnarly noises. If you’re typing on a particularly hollow sounding desk, you might experience some ping. That’s true of most keyboards, so it doesn’t impact the user. My experiences weren’t entirely perfect, though.
The Y key was defective in my first review keyboard. When pressed, it would hang about halfway down and let loose with a nasty crunch, sometimes getting stuck before rebounding. It did output a keystroke, but it certainly wasn’t pleasant to press. This is probably that one nightmarish failure which every manufacturer dreads, so I didn’t dock any points. On the other hand, it could indicate an incomplete quality assurance process. If they only check key output, for example, some malfunctioning switches may slip through. You’d need a machine that checks pressure and travel distance to ensure 100% compliance. In an expensive keyboard like this one, the failure is certainly disheartening. I don’t have access to failure rates or QC practices at Tesoro, so I can’t say for sure. My rep didn’t provide further information about the malfunction or what steps, if any, were taken to prevent further failures.
I can say with certainty that Tesoro handled the situation well. I’m a reviewer, of course, so there was extra incentive for a smooth replacement. Nonetheless, there was no hassle or request for evidence when I explained the issue. If you’re returning a premium product like this one, it’s quite likely that the process will be easy (particularly if you buy the keyboard on Amazon).
The Costar style stabilizers in this keyboard are generally good. The ones that work well don’t influence the switch feel very much. They’re lubed, so I’m sure that alters their performance for the better. Some of the stabilizers, however, are a bit scratchy. It’s most noticeable when pressing the backspace key on this keyboard. Stabilizer quality seems to be a mixed bag in new Tesoro keyboards, as the Excalibur SE Spectrum exhibited slight variations in performance too.
The Tesoro Gram Spectrum sports low profile ABS doubleshot keycaps with some lasered sublegends. The white variant of the keyboard, which is what I’m reviewing, could suffer from yellowing over time. I typically wouldn’t comment on legends, but I think my opinion is valuable in this case. The gamer font here is pretty bad. Note that many legends were reused in multiple locations. The most atrocious is the G legend, which is reused for 9 and 6. With that said, the caps are passable. They aren’t particularly thick, but echo and ping aren’t a big problem due to the solid construction and small keycaps.
Replacing the caps will be a pain, assuming that you need to at some point. You would need to find a set with some oddly sized keys in Cherry profile. Once you source a compatible set, you must O-ring it to keep the keycaps from impacting the top plate. Then, and only then, you’ll end up with usable aftermarket caps. I don’t think there’s more to discuss, so let’s move on.
The Gram Spectrum’s LEDs are nice. They’re bright, saturated, and well blended. Color transitions are smooth too, meaning that active lighting effects are impressive. Unfortunately — and this is a fairly time consuming issue — the red switch accents and red PCB blend with the backlighting, creating a red tint. When you have a particular color in mind, you need to pick its RGB value and do some troubleshooting to remove the reddish cast. When you’re using the keyboard without a particular color in mind, the reddish haze acts as a nice accent to the switches. You should also know that the lock LEDs output blue light only, which can clash with certain color schemes.
The white plate on my review model spreads lighting effects out across the entire keyboard in a visually appealing manner. I don’t think things would be quite as vivid on the black version of this keyboard. Color spread is probably the greatest advantage of a white plate if you’re into lighting effects.
A measured maximum draw of 453 mA means that this keyboard is exactly where it should be in terms of power usage. It leaves close to a 50 mA margin for poor USB 2.0 implementations, which are still floating around in some computers.
The Tesoro Gaming Keyboard software leaves a lot to be desired. Its macro system is reasonable, but the lighting settings are intensely frustrating. Changing colors across the entire keyboard is easy. Selecting lighting effects isn’t tough either. Assigning colors to individual key colors is nightmarish. You need to find the right lighting effect first. Spectrum Colors is the ticket. Click on each key to set an RGB color value. You can also try to use the minuscule RGB value chart by clicking on it, but you can only click. Dragging has no effect, which is annoying in such a small palette. The software doesn’t even allow users to select a few “favorite colors,” so you’ll need to jot down RGB values and type them in for each key you reassign. You can’t even use the tab key to switch between the three data entry fields.
The Gram Spectrum is held back by its software. It will mark the lowest point of your experience with this keyboard.
There really isn’t any spillproofing to speak of, nor are there any drains. A spill in the Gram Spectrum would require extensive cleaning, especially if you dump a colored drink on the white variant. The sound reduction pad, both case halves, and the switches would be fair game for deep cleaning. I advise buying a warranty if you’re a spill prone person, because one slip will probably ruin this keyboard.
Labels & branding
I’m very impressed with the minimalist front branding on the Gram Spectrum. It isn’t ostentatious, it matches the shade of the lasered caps, and the design theme is carried over to the lock LEDs.
I’m less excited about the rear label. It will hold up to wear and tear just fine, as it is plasticized, but the font makes me wonder if the designer graduated from the Hogwarts School of Graphic Design.
I like the Gram Spectrum. It isn’t without flaws, which include paint durability and poor software. That doesn’t mean that the keyboard is unfit for its market segment. I wouldn’t recommend this keyboard if you’re looking for something with a mature RGB LED implementation, though the software is usable if you spend enough time with it. I mean a lot of time.
Instead, look at this keyboard for what it offers physically. It is white (though there is also a black model), low profile, and exceptionally well built. Even the Kailh switches were enjoyable and novel. I’m not sure how long this keyboard’s pricing will be justified, as other low profile options are on the way to the mass market, but for now it occupies a unique niche. Feel free to send us photos of your Gram Spectrum on social media.