capsule review

CVT Avant Stellar

At a Glance
  • Creative Vision Technologies Avant Stellar Keyboard

CVT Avant Stellar.
Photograph: Rick Rizner

Tired of mushy-feeling keys? To some users, soft- and quiet-key approaches are anathema--they remember the old-school mechanical keyboards that came with an incredibly crisp and positive feel and a satisfying click with every keystroke. Historically, the IBM-style or "PS/2" keyboards, popular from the 1980s through much of the 1990s, have a warm spot in the hearts of computing old-timers--and the former PC vendor Northgate Computers had a competing style with a differing layout but a similar "clicky" feel.

Creative Vision Technologies has a keyboard that's targeted specifically at fans of the latter. The $189 CVT Avant Stellar proved stellar in nearly all respects. The keyboard feels solid and heavy--it's sturdily constructed from metal and plastic.

The Avant Stellar lacks the slick-looking ergonomic curves and media buttons of today's new keyboards. Instead, this model with a PS/2 connector focuses on the basics, with its own unique and logical key layout that includes two rows of 5 function keys along the left side of the keyboard and another 12 function keys stretched across the top. Other niceties include a conveniently large, reverse-L-shaped Enter key, an oversize Backspace key, an inverted-T design for the cursors (with the Insert, Delete, Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down buttons stacked above it).

The plethora of function keys are set to Windows' defaults. However, with the included utility (on two floppy disks, one for Windows 2000 and XP users, the other for Windows 98, 95, and 3.1 users), you can easily program the keys to handle your custom macros and do a variety of editing tasks (such as cut, paste, and so on) and keystroke combinations. Unfortunately, the utility won't let you program the keys to launch specific applications, as competing models allow.

All of the keyboard's keys are programmable--even the letter keys--and the Avant Stellar stands out from the pack by including two replacement key caps (for Caps Lock and Ctrl) and a key remover tool. Together with the bundled utility, keyboard sticklers have the freedom to reconfigure the keyboard to reflect the key alignment that many believe to be sacred--namely, the Ctrl, Shift, and Alt keys are all in a row, with the Caps Lock key banished far away from the Shift key, off near the spacebar.

Immediately, you'll feel the difference typing on this mechanical keyboard. The keys crisply respond to your fingers, making typing easy and comfortable--particularly for touch typists. The keys have deep, full travel that's very comfortable and positive. The oversize Enter and Backspace keys are a huge aid considering how frequently they're used. Likewise, if you like keyboard shortcuts, you will love the double row of function keys (situated just centimeters away from these command keys). Of course, not everyone will set up these other keys this way.

Like a lot of other veteran users, I find the "noisy" clickety-clack keystroke sound to be comforting; it provides audio feedback that helps me establish a good typing rhythm. However, the clicking of the keys echoed somewhat within the keyboard. I experienced a slight ringing sound that was certainly tolerable, but might seem a bit intrusive to some of my fellow editors. A company spokesperson suspected that this might have something to do with the desk surface we typed on--I used the keyboard on a fairly narrow (wooden) desk tray and a regular desk--but he didn't provide any further possible explanations.

If you miss those good old fashioned keyboards with their loud clicking sounds, you'll like this mechanical keyboard and its multitude of programmable keys.

Melissa J. Perenson

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At a Glance
  • Creative Vision Technologies Avant Stellar Keyboard

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