Quite likely, keyboards aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when you hear about EVGA. Graphics cards are clearly the most important, followed by other components such as motherboards and power supplies. The majority of the company’s PC contributions are internal, although there are a few variations, such as the $174 EVGA Z20 gaming keyboard. It includes dedicated macro keys, media buttons, USB passthrough, and the much-rarer audio passthrough. However, in order to create a better keyboard rather than just a flashy one, a manufacturer must master the fundamentals. EVGA’s Z20 falls short of expectations. The keycaps are loose and shaky, and the Light Strike LK optical switches are tinny. All the conveniences in the world won’t be enough to transform the Z20 into a competitive flagship keyboard without a strong base of a great typing experience.
Dressed to the nines
The Z20 is a substantial game keyboard. The keyboard takes up a lot of room, measuring 1.6 by 18.5 by 5.8 inches (HWD) on its own or 1.6 by 18.5 by 8.6 inches (HWD) with its detachable wrist rest. This is due, in part, to the Z20’s several luxurious features; the Z20’s 109 keys and dedicated media controls render it a laptop centerpiece that catches the eye.
It has RGB light bars on the sides that fan out from the anodized aluminum base plate. The EVGA badge, which is adorning a big piece of silver plastic on the back side, also protrudes from the keyboard. With its flashy RGB lighting and additional buttons, the Z20 seems to be a statement item in several respects. Among other respects, it seems cheesy; the silver plastic logo item is too big and gaudy. The wrist rest, though smooth and leatherette-coated, feels a little weak.
The buttons, which are the heart and soul of every keyboard, are still on shaky ground. Despite the fact that optical switches have become more common in the last 2-3 years, the Z20 uses Light Strike LK optical switches, a long-standing third-party optical switch with waning popularity. This clicky-style turn emits an especially tinny sound that I found more grating than friendly. (Linear-style Light Strikes are also possible for the Z20 if you actually want less noise.) Furthermore, as you click the wobbly keycaps, they jerk. The loose keys make for a shaky, uncomfortable typing experience.
The Z20, on the other side, has almost every function a gamer might expect. On the left side of the keyboard, there are five dedicated macro keys labeled “E1-E5,” as well as a Game Mode tab. There are four dedicated media buttons and a large volume roller in the top-right corner.
Around the sides, there are two passthrough ports: a USB port on the rear at the base of the power cord and an audio jack on the left foot. Also on top-of-the-line keyboards, audio passthrough is becoming increasingly uncommon. However, it is useful; a growing amount of top gaming headsets need USB compatibility in order to take advantage of digital features. Depending on the PC configuration, audio passthrough will also help to reduce desktop clutter.
The Z20 also has certain luxurious features that aren’t particularly spectacular. It has a higher polling intensity of up to 4000Hz, or one input per 0.25ms. Polling intensity, which specifies how often signals are transmitted from your keyboard to your PC, has recently become a popular function in gaming mice, but increasing it over 1000Hz has no effect on keyboards. At most, it can improve the efficiency of keeping a key down.
The most distinguishing characteristic of the Z20 is a proximity sensor at the front of the keyboard, which EVGA refers to as the “Time-of-Flight” sensor. The ToF sensor detects whether you are next to or far from the keyboard and automatically wakes up/sleeps the device. On paper, this seems to be a futuristic feature; in fact, I didn’t find it waking or sleeping the screen any faster than my daily routine.
Configuration apps that enable you to remap keys, software macros, and set RGB lighting are often weak points for manufacturers that do not prioritize peripherals. Consider the EVGA Unleash RGB. The Z20’s setup looks dated and doesn’t fit very well. The windowed, single-screen interface has the majority of the functionality you’d like to see in a configuration app: Custom profiles with remapped buttons, homemade macros, and your own RGB setup. It also allows you to adjust other parameters, such as the polling rate and the keys that are disabled by the Game Mode command.
When you use these functions, problems emerge. About the fact that a keyboard visualization is prominently displayed, the software does not reveal what personalized keys do until you touch them and then adjust their purpose. The keyboard chart appears in both menus, causing you to continue to adjust keys even though you haven’t selected the right tab. These are just a few minor yet perplexing design decisions that render Unleash RGB an unsuitable companion for any keyboard, especially one with dedicated macro buttons that require customization.
Unleash RGB allows you to build up to nine keyboard profiles, which is a tiny amount in the grand scale of things. Most configuration apps enable you to build an infinite amount of local profiles and save a few of them in onboard memory.
Keyboards Aren’t Parts
The EVGA Z20 isn’t especially exciting, despite its impressive spec sheet. At $174.99, it isn’t nearly as pricey as Editors’ Choice picks Corsair K95 Platinum XT and Razer Huntsman V2 Analog, but it is firmly in the luxury flagship range. With so many excellent keyboard choices, the Z20’s more obscure functions, such as audio passthrough and the proximity sensor, are its biggest draws. If such features don’t appeal to you, there are several other top gaming keyboards to choose from.a