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Is it time to upgrade to optical switches?

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HP recently added a new keyboard to its roster of OMEN gaming products, and it’s dubbed the Sequencer (See it on Amazon). The big deal here is that the Sequencer has optical switches, which registers a keystroke when a light beam at the base of the switch is broken, making it theoretically “faster” than a mechanical switch, with “speed you can feel” according to HP. If you recall, this is the same type of switch found in the recently released Razer Hunstman Elite, and Bloody offers them as well. Do these special switches really offer a competitive edge? Let’s dive in and find out.

HP OMEN Sequencer – Design and Features

The first thing I noticed taking the Sequencer out of its box was its weight. It’s a fairly heavy keyboard, with very little flex as you try to bend or twist it. I was reminded of that scene in Wanted when James McAvoy lays out Chris Pratt with his office keyboard. Had he done that an OMEN Sequencer, Pratt would have lost more than a couple of conveniently selected teeth. Its stiffness is surely the result of its anodized aluminum top-plate.

Similarly, the USB cable is as sturdy as can be. The braiding is ridiculously thick. I can’t imagine any office chair wheel or pet (save perhaps for a highly determined Jack Russel terrier) could chew through it. The permanently attached cable terminates in two USB plugs, one for the keyboard’s data and another for USB pass-through. The Sequencer places its lone USB port on the keyboard’s top-left diagonal edge.

HP OMEN Sequencer Gaming Keyboard Review

The matte black Sequencer has per-key RGB lighting, which is expected, but a few things make the Sequencer stand out in such a crowded field. For example, the space bar is family-sized and there’s a gorgeous anodized red volume wheel. It’s fashioned with a corrugated, diamond-patterned grip that contributes heavily to a premium, $180 keyboard feel.

There were some interesting design choices made on the keys themselves too. A grey line rings the perimeter of the WASD keys, just to signal that these are the “gamer” keys and making them easier to locate at a glance. These lines don’t have any differentiating texture though, so they’re not super useful. On the other side of the keyboard, the HOME button has been replaced with a key bearing the OMEN logo. This key opens up the OMEN Command Center, which I’ll discuss below. On the left-most side of the keyboard, there are five dedicated macro keys, and thankfully they are offset a bit so as to not be in the same area as the ESC key.

HP OMEN Sequencer Gaming Keyboard Review

Of course, I have to mention the switches. The Sequencer uses “blue” optical-mechanical switches, so keystrokes are detected using a small beam of light inside the switch. According to HP, these switches have a response time of 0.2ms, compared to the average mechanical keyboard response time of 2.5ms. The mechanical aspect of the switches are similar to Cherry MX blue switches, so they’re both clicky and tactile.

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HP OMEN Sequencer – Software

Truth be told, the OMEN Command Center isn’t the most fleshed-out piece of software, but it still comes with the essentials for a gaming keyboard. There are only two main tabs, Lighting and Macros, and they both do what you’d expect.

The Lighting tab lets you customize the backlighting of individual keys, and you get quite a few presets to choose from too if you just want to click a button and see a new color pattern.

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In addition to the presets, there’s also preset themes: OMEN Volcano consists of reds and oranges; OMEN Jungle consists of greens and yellows; and OMEN Ocean is blues and purples. There’s also OMEN Galaxy, if you just want a rainbow. If none of these are to your liking, you can also set your own theme. While this sounds like a lot of customization, it really boils down to just selecting from a list of presets.You can also adjust the color of keys individually, of course.

The Macro tab provides a bit more customization than the lighting tab. Within the Macro tab are four more tabs that let you create a specific type of macro. The Shortcut tab lets you macro two to three keystrokes to a keyboard shortcut. I didn’t use this one too much, but I did macro ctrl+alt+del to make opening task manager a bit easier. The Multi-Key tab is your standard macro recorder. You start recording and input a series of keystrokes. You can then choose to keep the pauses in between each keystroke or not. The Launcher tab lets you bind a key to launch an application. Finally, the Text tab lets your macros output text rather than just keystrokes. The Multi-Key tab is the one you’ll likely use the most. What’s especially nice about it is how after recording your macro, you can edit the delay in between input to your heart’s content.

HP OMEN Sequencer – Gaming

Most reviewers use first-person shooters to test gaming keyboards, but I decided to mix things up a little. To put the OMEN Sequencer to the test, I used (currently) PC-exclusive fighting game Brawlhalla. Seeing as Brawlhalla’s gameplay was built with keyboards in mind, I figured a game that’s more reaction-time intensive than an FPS would be the perfect way to put those optical-mechanical switches to use.

HP OMEN Sequencer Gaming Keyboard Review

The switches were as clicky as you’d expect from blues, but they felt way more responsive. With headphones blocking out the loud clicking, the response times felt more akin to Cherry red switches (often regarded to be the best for gaming). I was a little skeptical of HP’s claims about these switches, but they do live up to the hype.

While I’m on the topic of keys, I have an oddly specific nitpick. As noted, this keyboard doesn’t have a HOME key. While this didn’t trouble me one bit in Brawlhalla or any shooter you can imagine, it did affect my enjoyment of MapleStory 2’s pre-launch event, Mushking Royale. To please long-time fans, the game lets players use the original control layout, which has keys like INSERT, END, and, most importantly, HOME be used for certain skills. Of course, every time I try to press the HOME key, instead of using a skill, I’m greeted by OMEN Command Center. A minor point, but I still found it rather frustrating.

While using macros in a fighting game might be frowned upon by some, I still had some fun setting macros for certain true combos (a combo is “true” if the opponent has no way of escaping it). My one problem with the software was the lighting, as there’s no way to adjust the brightness. During daytime gaming, it was a bit too dim for my liking, and at night it was far too bright.

Purchasing Guide

The HP Omen Sequencer Gaming Keyboard has an MSRP of $179.99, and that’s usually the price you’ll find it for on Amazon, but as of press time it was $139:

The Verdict

The OMEN Sequencer is a great keyboard, even if it lacks a few of the features and always-intuitive software you’d expect from a keyboard in this price range. That said, its optical-mechanical switches feel noticeably more responsive than standard blue switches, and the red volume roller was a joy to use, but it’s just a bit overpriced for what it offers.


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