Cooler Master MasterKeys Pro S Review
Cooler Master has finally jumped on the RGB mechanical keyboard bandwagon with the release of their MasterKeys Pro S and MasterKeys Pro L keyboards, the latter being their full-sized offering and the former being their tenkeyless (TKL) variety. I spent the last month using the MasterKeys Pro S TKL as my daily driver, and lived to tell the tale. Scroll on down, brave OMGeek reader, to find out if this is a piece of gear that you should lust for.
Design-wise, CM have opted for a conservative (if you discount the flashy LEDs) minimalist look. From the front you'd be hard-pressed to distinguish this TKL from any number of similar looking basic TKLs from other manufacturers, save for the obvious CM logo keycaps where you'd normally find Windows keys. Upon closer inspection, however, you'll notice that CM is using the exact same shell as in their Novatouch TKL from 2014. The MasterKeys Pro S also ships with the same keycap puller — a thoughtful inclusion — along with the same brilliant 1.5m long detachable micro-USB cable with braided cloth housing and L-connector that was included in the Novatouch TKL box.
But that's where the similarities between the two keyboards end. Unlike the Novatouch with its esoteric Topre switches, the MasterKeys Pro S opts for more traditional (by mechanical keyboard standards) Cherry MX switches, available in Blue, Red and Brown flavors. The RGB LEDs are also new — whereas the Novatouch TKL was decidedly unflashy with its dearth of any LED backlighting, the MasterKeys Pro S does the 16.7M color RGB thing that's all the rage with the kids these days. The addition of RGB lighting and its associated electronics also translates to a slightly heavier keyboard — the MasterKeys Pro S weighs in at 930g, about 65g heavier than the Novatouch TKL.
Tell you what though, that RGB lighting is pretty sweet. Cooler Master touts these LEDs as being bigger and brighter than normal, and they've mounted the LEDs right up against the Cherry MX switches. One other trick they've done to give amp up the lumens of the MasterKeys Pro S is to use a white backboard on the keyboard chassis instead of the traditional black plastic. This means that the light from the LEDs also reflects off the backboard and shines through the spaces in between keys, so it does make sense that this keyboard comes across as more brightly lit than others.
The white backboard does come with a couple of downsides that may impede your enjoyment of this keyboard, however. The first is some minor light bleed in the spaces in between keys. If you have some funky intricate customized lighting scheme set up on your keyboard for certain games, there's a small chance that you'll find the light bleed distracting. Individual keys are properly lit with the correct colors, but the space in between two keys lit in differing colors will appear in a third color: the combination of the earlier two. This bleed wouldn't be obvious in a keyboard with a dark colored backboard.
The other downside is more superficial, and it involves the dirt that builds up under the keys of any keyboard after prolonged use. Everybody knows that keyboards are disgusting (relevant XKCD). Over time, dust and other human… detritus… inevitably collects in your keyboard, and most of the time we are able to ignore it. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Well, with a white backboard, dirt shows up very clearly. Eugh. Let me tell you, it's a really good thing CM included that keycap puller, because if you're as easily squicked out as I am, you'll be using it a lot, along with many antibacterial wipes.
The bright RGB LEDs would be meaningless without a means of properly controlling them, and here CM actually delivers something that other lesser manufacturers struggle with: they've developed a hardware configuration software with a very simple and intuitive interface. I cannot understate how impressed I am by the simplicity and usability of the Cooler Master Portal software. To illustrate this point, I was able to download and update the device firmware with just two clicks, and the entire process took less than 10 seconds. It's patently obvious that the configuration software was not merely an afterthought to this manufacturer. (Ahem, Roccat…)
Besides allowing you to easily update firmware, Cooler Master Portal also allows you to customize up to four color profiles, and to import and export color profiles, in case you wanted to share your creativity with other MasterKeys Pro users. However, at the time of writing this review, it seems that their userbase simply isn't that large yet, so it took me some effort to delve deep into Cooler Master's forums just to find a measly one or two profiles to download. But once I'd downloaded them it was super simple to import them and edit them as necessary. It should be noted, however, that the configuration software, as far as I can tell, is exclusively for editing LED color schemes; it does nothing in the way of recording or editing macros, which seems like a bit of a miss for a macro-enabled gaming keyboard.
Apart from the RGB lighting, Cooler Master has also managed to squeeze quite a few features into the MasterKeys Pro S's diminutive frame. You get the stuff we've come to expect from a tenkeyless mechanical keyboard from this RGB generation: 16.7M colors, USB N-Key rollover, and quite a few house-made LED color schemes to choose from. I kid you not, there's even a mode that turns the keyboard into a game of snake. Very cute.
Another feature that sets the MasterKeys Pro S from other TKLs are its busy-looking keycaps. Every key on the top row of the MasterKeys Pro S save for the escape key, and each one of the six keys above the arrow keys has an alternate function assigned, and the keycaps are emblazoned with their respective alternate functions. These alternate functions include the ability to modify the color and operation of the LED array directly without the use of the configuration software, the ability to quickly switch between LED modes as well as color scheme profiles, the ability to record and delete macros on the fly, and some simple media controls.
The aforementioned media controls are adequate — you have your standard play/pause, stop, forward and backwards track skip, volume up and down buttons — but Cooler Master has mystifyingly chosen to omit a mute button. Sure, you could just use the volume down button, like some sort of barbarian, but it seems strange that CM has included alternate function keys for recording an infinitely-looping keyboard macro, but not toggling audio mute. It's far from being a deal breaker, but this is my biggest gripe with this keyboard.
The SRP for the Cooler Master MasterKeys Pro S in Singapore is S$219, which is very competitive when compared to other RGB TKLs. In fact, it's almost too much of a coincidence that CM priced this keyboard at exactly the same price point as the RGB version of the Ducky One TKL. I've never used one, but on paper it looks like the Ducky is edged out on the basis of its lack of configuration software. But even if taken in isolation, given the feature set of the MasterKeys Pro S and the pedigree of the CM brand, I personally think S$219 actually seems reasonable.
In conclusion, I really like the Cooler Master MasterKeys Pro S. It's probably my favorite TKL to date. It's well designed, feels premium, looks pretty (if you keep it clean), and is supported by excellent configuration software. The biggest concern I have about the keyboard is the lack of a mute button, but I think most people would be able to live with that. For now, this is the RGB TKL to beat.