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Glorious GMMK Pro Keyboard Kit Review

Custom Keyboards Go Mainstream

Christopher Coke Posted:
Category:
Hardware Reviews 0

Glorious has been on a roll lately, developing products that PC gaming enthusiasts have clamored for like the Model O Wireless Gaming Mouse. It was one of the first companies to bring hot-swappable switches in its original GMMK keyboard. The GMMK Pro takes things a step further. It's a full custom keyboard kit that aims to deliver on all of the latest trends in the world of mechanical keyboards: a full aluminum case, gasket mount, hot-swappable switches, and a compact 75% layout (with a volume knob!), as well as Glorious' own GOAT stabilizers. At $169.99, it's one of the most affordable kits you can buy but can it deliver on so many big promises? 

Specifications

  • Current Price: $169.99 (GPCGR Store
  • Layout: US (ANSI) (83 keys, including clickable Rotary Encoder)
  • Keycap Puller Tool: Included
  • Plate Mounting Type:Gasket mounted design
  • Switch Puller Tool: Included
  • Case Material: Aluminum
  • RGB: 16.8 million color RGB LED backlight (south-facing) and LED sidelights
  • Stabilizers: Pre-lubed Glorious GOAT stabilizers (screw-in)
  • Cord Length:6 feet
  • Removable Keycaps: Yes
  • N-Key Rollover: Yes
  • Removable USB Cord: Yes
  • Interface: USB-C 2.0
  • Modular (Hot Swap) Switches: Yes
  • Open Source Firmware Compatibility: QMK
  • Switches: Not Included
  • Typing Angle: 6 Degrees
  • Weight: 3.3 lbs (barebones - estimated)
  • Dimensions: 332mm x 32mm x 135mm
  • Warranty: 2 Years 

Overview: Taking Custom Keyboards Mainstream

The Glorious GMMK Pro may just be the best way to join the world of custom mechanical keyboards. At $169.99, it offers a lot and is a good value compared to other custom kits with similar features or even piecing together your own. Purchasing a similar kit from another company could easily extend to $250 or more, largely due to manufacturing cost. Glorious is one of the few companies able to pull a kit like this off: produced at scale to keep prices low and with enough of a foothold in the enthusiast community to sell enough to make it worthwhile. In both exposure and accessibility, Glorious is pushing custom mechanical keyboards mainstream. That doesn't mean it's perfect, however. 

Before we get to it, let's look at what this keyboard offers. The biggest feature is its full aluminum case, which is available in Black Slate or White Ice (which is silver). And by “aluminum case,” I don't just mean a top plate or thin metal shell. The GMMK Pro is made of two pieces of thick, milled aluminum. Unbuilt, it weighs 3.3 pounds or about 1500 grams - roughly the weight of a heavy, full-size, completely built pre-made. The GMMK Pro is a 75% compact keyboard, however, which makes that weight feel all the more substantial due to its smaller size. 

The GMMK Pro, and 75-percent keyboards in general, is rather small but features all of the core functionality many gamers need, saving desk space. It keeps the function row and arrows, but chops the numpad and condenses the navigation and editing cluster to a single column on the right side of the board. It's wider than a 65% keyboard but about the same length, giving you more space for your mouse hand. 

Apart from form factor, it’s clear that Glorious had its ear to the ground for what has been popular in the mechanical keyboard community. Gasket mount, rotary encoder, case foam, plate foam, hot-swap, pre-lubed, screw-in stabilizers, support for custom QMK firmware… If you’ve watched keyboard YouTubers or Twitch streamers and wondered what all the hype is about, this kit will show you.

Before going on, let’s break down some of these terms:

  • Gasket Mount: Many keyboards screw the PCB, or circuit board directly into the bottom half of the case. This can make the typing experience stiff (not something you’re likely to notice if you’re coming from normal pre-made keyboards) and transfers the impacts from typing through to the case, generating noise. The GMMK Pro’s gasket mounting system uses poron foam strips on the top and bottom case and sandwiches the PCB between them, muting the sound. Many keyboards achieve a softer, cushioned typing experience with this mounting system.
  • Case and PCB Foam: These thin foams dampen sound and reduce reverb throughout the case. PCB foam goes between the switch plate and the circuit board. Case foam goes between the PCB and bottom case.
  • Hot-Swap Switches: Switches that can be pulled installed or removed simply by pulling them out, no soldering required. Great for trying new switches.
  • Rotary Encoder: The volume knob, which is clickable on this keyboard. Should be programmable in the future.
  • QMK: Open-source keyboard programming software that is saved to the keyboard itself, allowing you to take your changes to any PC without software. Supports multiple layers and advanced keymaps. 
  • Stabilizers: Dummy switches connected by a wire to either side of the real switch under the larger keys, including Backspace, Enter, Spacebar, and Left Shift. 

In addition to these, Glorious also supports the keyboard with its Glorious Core software. It’s still in beta but allows you to remap keys across three layers, record macros, shortcuts, and control the GMMK Pro’s lighting. The software is very rough around the edges currently but is functional to get your keyboard up and running. 

And yes, that does mean per-key RGB lighting that is fully customizable with 18 preset lighting effects or your own custom lighting scheme. 

One extremely important note is that, like most custom keyboard kits, the GMMK Pro does not ship with keycaps or switches. You can purchase these separately when buying the keyboard from Glorious or load it with your own switches and keycaps from elsewhere. While this might seem odd, it is completely standard practice for DIY keyboard kits. 

Accessories Galore

One thing custom keyboard builders love is customization and Glorious is ready to meet that demand. It’s offering a wide array of accessories to support your build, including thick, dye-sublimated PBT keycaps, Glorious Panda switches (Glorious’s take on Holy Panda switches), Gateron and Kailh switches, custom switch lubricant, a lubing station, switch pullers, keycap pullers, coiled and braided aviator cables, replacement switch plates in aluminum, brass, and polycarbonate, replacement knobs, replacement USB Type-C daughterboards, wrist rests, o-rings, and more. 

In essence, Glorious is creating a system where it can be a one-stop shop for newcomers to the hobby, allowing them to really dial in the feel of their keyboard. For example, changing switch plates isn’t something many people would consider but it can definitely impact the typing experience. Brass is hard and dense, leading to a high-pitched sound and firm typing feel. Polycarbonate, on the other hand, is more flexible under the finger and leads to a deeper sound when typing. 

At the moment, you can only buy the GMMK Pro directly from Glorious, and the keyboard builder walks you through the different accessories you’ll need (or want) to buy at the same time. With a set of Gateron switches and PBT keycaps, the total cost jumps to $254.97. 

With that out of the way, let’s get into my impressions of this keyboard.

Reviewing the Keyboard Proper

The GMMK Pro arrives mostly pre-assembled. Inside the box, you’ll find the keyboard built and ready to receive switches and keycaps. Below it is a keycap puller, a switch puller, a basic braided USB cable that’s actually quite nice (so there’s no need to pay extra for a coiled cable beyond aesthetics), and a set of extra poron gaskets to increase the flexibility of the board and add extra damping. If you have switches and keycaps, you can press both into place and be ready to go, but this is a board clearly intended to be tinkered with, so it’s worth opening it up. 

Doing so is easy, and you’ll want to do it to add a layer or two of extra gaskets to the top and bottom case. The stock gaskets are pretty thin and compress easily once the keyboard is built. Adding a second layer to both halves improves the damping effect and adds a bit more flex to the keyboard. The overall typing experience is still stiff, however, due to the way the switch plate connects to the PCB. There may be a minor damping effect, and you can see a bit of flex if you really press on the keys and look from the side, but with normal typing, the gasket mount implementation is a bit of a lost cause. Yet, I say that as an enthusiast who has used other gasket mount keyboards. If you’re used to normal gaming keyboards, you’re going to find the typing experience to be a big upgrade from your average Logitech or Razer keyboard.

That’s because the two layers of foam and the density of the milled aluminum case absolutely do dampen the typing sounds and lead to a much more solid and satisfying experience overall. There really is no competition to even an expensive gaming keyboard. The GMMK Pro is an upgrade, full stop. That’s especially true if you’re using a set of PBT keycaps. Glorious’s own PBT keycaps are decent, with thick walls and dye-sublimated legends that won’t fade over time. I was sent the Ocean themed set to test but the look wasn’t for me. I swapped out to another set called Heavy Industry from RAMA Works. If this is your first full, thick aluminum keyboard, you will be in for an absolute treat.

I love the amount of small touches Glorious has applied here. The USB connection, for example, is on a separate circuit board that can be replaced if it ever breaks. Where it connects is recessed into the case, so you don’t see any exposed metal on the cable. The rotary knob is metal with knurled sides so it’s easy to grip and has a subtle tactility when turning it, so you know it’s registering. The RGB is bright and vibrant and there are diffusers on either side to make it look better on your desk (they’re not bright enough for underglow, though).

For newcomers, I also love that they included hot-swappable key switches. This is an excellent feature as gamers making the jump to a nicer keyboard for the first time will also be discovering the massive array of new switches that are available. Trying something new is fast, easy, and doesn’t require purchasing a new keyboard. Plus, what newcomer wants to solder? I tested the GMMK Pro with its Glorious Panda switches, lubed with the company’s own G-Lube grease. They’re very tactile and fun to type on, though are expensive at $24.99 for a box of 36 switches ($74.97 to fill out the whole keyboard). You can buy these pre-lubed but that bumps the price to a dollar a switch or $104.97 for the required three boxes). 

Glorious even included custom stabilizers that should have been great but unfortunately weren’t. They daringly called these stabs “GOAT” stabilizers but they are far from the greatest of all time. In fact, they were some of the most frustrating I’ve used. They’re screw-in stabilizers, meaning they screw directly into the PCB and are more stable as a result, and are factory lubed to get rid of rattle. New boards even have dampening pads underneath the stabilizers to kill clack further. Amazing, right?

Not so much. 

One of the downsides to producing a kit like this at scale is that there can be inconsistencies. My kit had too much lube on the Enter kit and too little on the Spacebar (Backspace and Left Shift were perfect). After addressing that and swapping keycaps, I came across another problem: both of those keys started sticking. I’m not sure if it’s because of the keycaps (which are premium, expensive caps) or the stabilizers themselves, but when pressed off center, the stabilizers would press against their housings and not return correctly. I fixed this by using a screwdriver to stretch the housings a touch — but should a $170 keyboard kit with all of these premium features have two keys that don’t return correctly? I think not.

Stretching this stabilizer with a screwdriver prevented it from sticking but the results aren't exactly pretty

There are also some other oddities, like missing keys that don’t have obvious mappings. The right column, by default, is mapped to Delete, Page Up, Page Down, and End. No Home? Most keyboards would simply map that function to an Fn combination, such as Fn+End. Here, it’s entirely missing.

The GMMK Pro is fairly full-featured outside of that, however. You have function combos for controlling media, launching the browser or My Computer, changing layers for multiple keymaps (great for having multiple maps for different games), and controlling lighting. To get around the above, I remapped my own Home button and pushed Print Screen to a second layer. Problem solved.

Software: Functional but Unfinished

Then there’s the issue of software. The GMMK Pro uses Glorious’s Glorious Core software. It’s currently in beta and, while functional for remapping, macros, and other customization, it’s clearly far from being complete. There are simple oddities, like needing to select key remaps from a long, scrollable list or having to hit save after every change to not lose that remap. 

Then there are others, like not being able to set a layer button to work only when held. To get Home back on the top layer, I moved Print Screen to a second layer. On most keyboards, like Razer with its HyperShift functionality, you could set one key to access these secondary functions when held. Here, you have to tap to access the second layer, hit your command, then tap another key to go back to your top layer. For gaming, this could potentially be an issue; however, it seems workable if you create profiles or layers specifically for games with extensive remaps. 

Glorious also promised QMK support and, more excitingly, VIA. QMK is a custom remap tool and it is admittedly cumbersome. You have to go to a website, change your keymaps, download a file, and then go through more steps to flash your keyboard. Keyboard builders like myself love VIA because it removes all of those extra steps. You’re given a diagram of your keyboard, you change your keymap, and it automatically applies. Easy peasy. 

This functionality is important and one of the key things that sets the GMMK Pro apart. Or will. Due to the chip shortage and delays brought about by COVID-19, the team at Glorious had to change controller chips on the keyboard to hit its release window. The new chip requires extra programming to make work with QMK and VIA and it’s not done yet. The expected release Window is sometime this month, though it seems likely to slip at this point. 

You might be wondering why this matters at all when Glorious has its own Glorious Core software. Well, that answer comes down to pure functionality. QMK/VIA allow you to change your keyboard at its core. For example, I usually set my Caps Lock key to act as a caps lock when tapped and a layer toggle when held. That means, without moving my hands from home row, I can instantly swap IJKL to become arrow keys. I then surround those with my navigation and editing buttons. It’s a small change but has allowed me to transform even tiny 60-percent keyboards into miniaturized TKLs. I can then take that keyboard into any PC scenario, even without software, and have that exact same functionality. 

Once this is added, it will be a huge benefit to the GMMK Pro.

Final Thoughts

The GMMK Pro isn’t perfect. Those stabilizers were a problem and anyone who purchased the board and had them stick or be slow to return would be rightfully upset. At the same time, for users interested in making the jump from a gaming keyboard to a custom, this is one of the most accessible ways to do that, and fixing over-lubed or under-lubed stabs is easy. The gasket mount is gimmicky the way it’s implemented, but it’s not something that will have meaning unless you’re coming from another custom keyboard. If you’re coming from a normal gaming keyboard, even an expensive one, what you will notice is what an upgrade the board is as a whole. The dense, aluminum case lined with sound damping foam makes a tremendous impact on the typing and gaming experience and you notice the upgrade immediately. 

Though it won’t be for everybody and still has room for improvement, the GMMK Pro is a good entry point for users curious about the world of custom mechanical keyboards and wanting to try one for themselves. The keyboard is in stock, ready to buy, and should largely remain that way, which isn’t something that can be said about popular, custom mechanical keyboards. I’m looking forward to seeing how this keyboard evolves in future revisions. Right now, buy it if you’re not married to gasket mount and aren’t afraid to make a few tweaks. If you’re on the fence, it might be better to wait for a revision.

The product discussed in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purpose of review. 
 
7.5Good
Pros
  • Solid CNC-milled aluminum case
  • PCB and case foam for a nice, dampened sound
  • Well, priced for a heavy, aluminum keyboard kit with these features
  • QMK/VIA support has been promised in the near future (July 2021 as of this writing but could slip)
  • Modular design
Cons
  • Gasket mount doesn’t work well
  • Glorious Core software works but isn’t finished yet
  • QMK/VIA isn’t finished yet
  • Inconsistent lube on stabilizers
  • Stabilizer tolerance was too tight for my Heavy Industry keycap set and required modding to fix


GameByNight

Christopher Coke

Chris cut his teeth on MMOs in the late 90s with text-based MUDs. He’s written about video games for many different sites but has made MMORPG his home since 2013. Today, he acts as Hardware and Technology Editor, lead tech reviewer, and continues to love and write about games every chance he gets. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight