In a world where pairing a gamepad with Windows 10 is easy and most gaming keyboards allow for custom-mapped profiles, a one-handed PC gaming “controller” that lets you copy the main gaming keys from a keyboard or create your own unique setup appears less useful. The Tartarus Pro, however, is something to get excited about for players who have grown accustomed to using personalized keypads. The Tartarus Pro’s physical appearance is similar to that of the 2017 Tartarus V2, but it adds a new iteration of Razer’s optical keys that have adjustable actuation, letting you choose how quickly the keys activate. It’s unlikely to have a significant impact on your opinion of keypads, but it is a creative enhancement in a field where innovation and change are rare, even annually.
Going Pro (With Lasers)
The Tartarus Pro is small but loaded with features. A whopping 32 customisable inputs, including keys, a scroll wheel, and a D-pad, are available on the 2.7 by 5.8 by 8.4 inch keypad. Technically, a device that is roughly one-fifth as wide offers slightly under a third of the features of a full-size keyboard. On my cluttered, disorganized desk, I was able to locate a location for it comfortably next to a full-size gaming keyboard.
By default, the keypad is made to look like the left side of the keyboard. With a 20th “space” key hanging off the lower right corner, there are 19 keys placed in an approximately 5-by-4 box that correspond to 1 through 5, Tab through R, Caps Lock through F, and Shift through C. While having a recognizable layout by default, the keys are simply numbered 1 through 20, and you may program them to perform any of the tasks you’d find in keyboard configuration software as well as controller mapping for an Xbox-style gamepad. The keypad’s agnostic layout seems liberating in contrast to a keyboard, where keycaps and years of conditioning could prevent you from experimenting too much with remapping keys.
The keys are the center of the Tartarus Pro’s new and “pro” features. It replaces the hybrid mecha-membrane keys used in the Tartarus V2 with new “analog optical” switches, which allow you more control over how they actuate, in keeping with Razer’s recent decision to rally around optical and opto-mechanical key switches. In more detail, it enables the keypad to design numerous travel-based actuation points, providing the keys a pressure-sensitive sensation akin to the buttons and analog sticks of DualShock 4 and Xbox One gamepads. Several video games contain a character who walks when you lightly tilt an analog stick in one way and runs when you push it as far as it will go.
It performs as promised when used as intended. When using the “gamepad” profile, the keys resemble controller inputs and the triggers and analog sticks-set keys imitate the half- and full-press functionality of a gamepad. Although it’s interesting to see a keyboard-like gadget close this gap, its applications are somewhat constrained. Beyond those who might have trouble gripping a controller due to grip issues, the majority of folks are still better suited pairing a gamepad.
Analog actuation, on the other hand, becomes quite messy and is only partially functional as a feature for further customization. There are two different modification options for the analog feature. First, you can change the actuation point of the keys, enabling a softer or harder press. You may even choose a second actuation point for any key from there, which will activate a different function.
The first function is a resounding success: Although adjustable actuation is not novel, it is nonetheless a very uncommon feature and exciting to experiment with. Although the Tartarus Pro’s keys already have a light touch, you can create one if you want a true hair trigger.
The second purpose is where things start to go wrong. It turns out that putting one input before another is not enough to make stacked inputs function. Something will go wrong if the two inputs, like walking and running, are not coupled and complimentary.
For instance, while playing Doom Eternal, I added a secondary function to my punch key (mapped as E) such that when the key bottomed out, it would switch to the chainsaw that replenishes ammo (mapped as C). In theory, if I was careful about how hard I pressed, this would give me more control. No matter how hard I pressed, the secondary function would only activate about once out of every three or four presses in practice. I programmed my forward key to jump (mapped as space) at a half-press and move ahead (mapped as W) at a full press. This is an alternative, less carefully thought-out scenario. It turned out that no matter how fast I was, I always leaped first and started walking forward only after I landed.
The device has a scroll wheel like a mouse would have. This brings in three more inputs. Moreover, there is a thumb panel with an eight-way directional pad akin to one on a gamepad. The D-pad has a spherical detachable cover that attempts to make the pad feel more like a thumbstick, although it only partially succeeds. I don’t find the D-pad to be that compelling; if I wanted to move a character with it, I would connect a controller. Nonetheless, I do like the concept of using it as an additional set of thumb inputs. The beauty of the keypad is that you can make that switch without feeling as though you’re giving up any capability, unlike with a joystick or a keyboard.
The Tartarus Pro has varying degrees of effectiveness utilizing an intriguing ergonomic casing for using a keypad. It’s less taxing on your wrist than a standard gaming keyboard because of an adjustable wrist and palm rest. Your hand is kept in a comfortable posture by the cushioning under your wrist and the firm plastic palm rest. Similar to most keypads, it may be less taxing on the arm and back because it’s much simpler to set up on your desk without twisting or squeezing your muscles the way a complete keyboard might.
The fingers, though, may find it challenging. Reaching some keys requires stretching your thumb and fingers out for long periods of time, which is painful. The 20 key, which is activated on the keypad’s bottom right side close to the D-pad, is the main offender. It’s a lot more of a stretch to place your thumb on the key than the motion it’s supposed to imitate (using the space bar on a standard keyboard). It becomes increasingly unpleasant to maintain your thumb in that position over time.
The keys labelled 16 through 19 in the layout’s bottom/near row must also be accessed by curling your fingers back. The keys are tilted down, a clever design element that makes it simple to reach them by gliding your fingers along the keys. But compared to moving a finger from the middle row of a keyboard to the bottom, the motion still seems lengthier and more difficult.
Are You a Keypad Pro?
In the end, the Tartarus Pro is a solid but largely incremental improvement. The Tartarus V2’s design and basic functioning are maintained, however the optical keys on the Tartarus V2 Pro are a substantial and noticeable upgrade over the mecha-membrane switches on the previous model. Similar to customizable actuation, secondary actuation and having two inputs on a key don’t always function as effectively in practice as they do in theory for specific power users.
In the end, Tartarus Pro’s “pro” designation may speak more to your skill with this particular keypad than to your overall gaming knowledge. Try an older, less expensive model, like the V2, if you don’t currently use a keypad. Nevertheless, you already know, don’t you? For those who still use specialized keypads, even a minor improvement might be worth the price of admission. Razer clearly offers something fresh with this product.