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Cooler Master SK650: Get Low, Get Low, Get Low

By Robert Baddeley on January 29, 2019 | Hardware Reviews | Comments

Cooler Master SK650: Get Low, Get Low, Get Low

If you’ve read my previous articles, you’ll likely find that I am a fan of Cooler Master when it comes to computer cases.  I’ve reviewed three of them for MMORPG.com and found myself impressed by build quality and attention to detail with each one - whether premium or budget.  So, when I found out I’d be spending a month with a new, embargoed keyboard I was quite excited, to say the least.  But did my expectations hold with reality?  Was using the first mechanical chiclet keyboard I’ve ever come across all I hoped it would be?  Did the RGB suit my fancy? (Like any RGB wouldn’t).  Read on to find out.

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Specifications

  • MSRP: $139.99
  • Switch Type: Cherry MX RGB Low Profile Switch
  • Materials: Aluminium / Plastic
  • Color: Gunmetal Black
  • LED: RGB
  • Polling Rate: 1000Hz
  • Response Rate: 1ms / 1000Hz
  • MCU: 32bit ARM Cortex M3
  • Onboard Memory 512KB
  • Software-less System: for Multi-media, Macro Recording and Lighting Control
  • Multi-Media Keys: Through Function Key
  • Cable: Braided & Detachable USB Type-C
  • Software Support: Yes, via Portal
  • Connector Cables: USB Type-C (Keyboard) to USB 2.0 Type A (Computer)
  • Cable Length: 1.8m
  • Dimensions: 43 x 12.5 x 2.5 cm
  • Weight: 629g
  • Warranty: 2 years

Chiclet you say? Can I eat it?

No, not the gum, but also that’s kind of the right idea.  If you’ve ever seen chiclet gum, you know the shape.  The idea behind a chiclet keyboard is to give the typist rectangular-shaped keys with decent space between them so there’s a smaller chance of hitting the wrong key while simultaneously making it easier to hit said key through the increased surface area due to the lack of a beveled edge.  If you’ve ever laid eyes on the hardware vomit that is the “Apple Magic Keyboard” (like there’s anything magical about it) then you’ve seen a chiclet keyboard.  The Razer DeathStalker Chroma Membrane is another example. 

The thing is, however, is that the Cooler Master SK650 is the first mechanical chiclet keyboard I’ve ever seen personally.  I’m sure there are some out there somewhere in the vast voids of the internet that will inevitably be linked to me but at the time of this writing, the SK650 is a first for me.  They also stray from one of the main ideas of a chiclet keyboard - the amount of spacing between the keys.  The caps are really close together - closer than a standard mechanical keyboard and markedly closer than membrane style chiclet keyboards, the results of which are two-fold.  First, it makes this keyboard look freaking amazing.  It’s really hard for me to describe but the rows of caps, perfectly level without bevel floating on light is a look not replicated anywhere I’ve seen.  Second, it yielded a mildly annoying learning curve to typing on the keyboard.  The decreased spacing between caps combined with lack of bevel actually increased the amount of accidental key presses I made - the exact thing chiclet keyboards aim to alleviate - and it took a solid three to four days before I was able to get my error rate back down to baseline.  Not a deal breaker but certainly not something I was expecting or will be celebrating.

The Build

Build quality on the SK650 is pretty run of the mill of an RGB keyboard in this price bracket.  The main body is made from plastic with a brushed metal aluminum plate.  Each key is individually backlit as well as an opaque rim of RGB light around the upper border of the keyboard body.  The USB-C is centered at the top of the keyboard and represents the only port in the entire keyboard - no pass-through of any sort.  The caps are a slightly textured double-shot plastic that feels really nice under your fingers.

The switches are where the board shines with Cherry MX Low Profile Red switches under each and every key.  Anyone that doesn’t fancy red switches will be disappointed, however, as the SK650 only comes in this variety.  I’m a fan of clicky keys myself but these low-profiles have grown on me and give a satisfying, non-mushy clack when bottomed out against the metal backplate.  When CM says that these are low profile switches on a low profile keyboard, they mean it. Standard Cherry Reds come in at 18.5mm in height while the low-profile reds on the SK650 measure in at tiny 11.9mm.  The end result is a keyboard that sits only about 3cm high, virtually eliminating the need for a wrist rest. 

To Software or not to Software

If you’ve used Cooler Master keyboard before you’ll know that part of the draw is their highly touted ‘on-the-fly’ system.  If you’re not sure what these means it’s just Cooler Masters way of saying that they keyboard supports onboard programming without the use of the software.  This, of course, extends to using keys to change between lighting profiles and control the multi-media and volume on your computer.  One step further, however, is the ability to control, record and execute LED backlight settings and macros - all without software.  This is a big draw for someone like me who is currently boycotting Windows (three cheers for Linux) because it means I’m still able to get everything out of the keyboard that it has to offer.  The on-the-fly system is made possible in part by a 32-bit ARM Cortex processor housed in the keyboard, which helps process keystrokes and macros from onboard memory in a flash without having to transmit that data to your computer for processing first.

Though I don’t have a screenshot of the software for you I did plug into my wife’s computer to check out the software control on her Windows machine.  The software experience starts by downloading the Cooler Master Portal from CM’s website.  Similar to how Razer’s software works it will detect the CM peripherals you have connected and install the drivers for them, as well as complete any firmware updates they require.  Once all the software and drivers have been installed you’ll use the portal to run the software for the SK650 and you’ll get a window with four tabs: LED, MACRO, KEYMAP, and PROFILES.  I won’t insult your intelligence by explaining these to you but I’ll elaborate that the LED section will show a layout of your keyboard (full, TKL or 60%) and allow you to try out different presets as well as per-key apply effects or layer effects.  I found the entire software suite to be very intuitive and easy to use.

Final Thoughts

I really think Cooler Master delivered a solid product this go around, though the name SK650 leaves a lot to be desired.  We have a truly unique looking keyboard that’s sure to turn heads and look good on any desk.  I think the price is slightly too high considering we’re missing out USB passthrough (not that I expect it from a low-profile keyboard) but any sale down the road would take care of that gripe for me.  After getting used to using the SK650 I can’t really imagine using a different keyboard: typing and coding go without a hitch, gaming feels great and the macros come in handy in both situations.  The chiclet-style caps hover on a bed of light in a way that is unmatched by normal caps, in my opinion, making the SK650 a defacto standout standard to beat in 2019.

Pros

  • On-the-fly control is outstanding
  • Low-profile switches are super fast and shallow
  • Chiclet-style with RGB looks unique and amazing

Cons

  • Only one switch type
  • Keys are a little too close together

The product discussed in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purposes of review.