Cooler Master’s SK series low-profile keyboards show promise

Update, 1/29/19, 9:50am CT: Cooler Master officially announced the SK621, SK630, and SK650. The SK621 isn't going to be available until March, but the other two are available as of today at Amazon, Newegg, and Micro Center. The SK630 is $120, and the SK650 is $140.

Original article:

Cooler Master showed off three low-profile keyboards at CES 2019, each one sporting Cherry MX RGB Low-Profile Red switches and wireless capabilities. Between the three models, Cooler Master has multiple layouts covered. The SK621 is a 65%, the SK631 is a TKL, and the SK651 is the full-size option.

Other than the different layouts, their feature sets are identical. You can keep them plugged in with the removable USB Type-C cable, but they offer Bluetooth 4.0, too. They support up to three simultaneous PC, Mac, and Android devices. With their RGB backlighting (and side light bars) ablaze, they promise 15 hours of battery life. With the lights off, you can expect them to last four-five months on a single charge.   

There are plenty of onboard controls for on-the-fly lighting adjustments and macro creation, and the caps are conveniently laden with sublegends that show you which keys do what. You can also use Cooler Master's Portal Software Application to get more customization. You can toggle N-key and 6-key rollover.

Although the dark silver-colored models are the ones pictured in all the materials distributed to the press, there are white versions in the offing that are clearly designed to (and surely will) appeal particularly to Mac users.

We haven't had the chance to crack these keyboards open and peek at their construction, but they seem solid. The top plate is brushed aluminum, and they feel sturdy when you type on them. The stabilizers are Costar-style.

Thick chiclets

One of the main issues I've encountered with low profile keyboards is the keycaps. It's an easy trap to fall into as a keyboard maker: You have these low-profile switches, which lets you create a low-profile chassis, so of course you're going to put the thinnest keycaps on there as possible to ensure that the overall package is low, low, low. That means chiclet keycaps. 

That's all great in theory, but chiclet caps tend to be too flimsy for even lowpro mechanical switches, in my opinion. You can feel the problem most prominently with the spacebar; it's not a pleasing typing feel. Some lowpro keyboards out there use variations of half-height caps instead of chiclets, which solves the problem nicely.

The downside of that solution, though, is that your svelte little keyboard gets thicker. And if you're trying to capture the hearts and minds of the Mac keyboard-loving set, you lose that sleek look that chiclet caps provide.

Cooler Master figured out a tweener solution that, upon first impression, is ideal: It kept the chiclet-style caps but simply make them thicker, and added a very (very) gentle scoop to them. I've never typed on caps like these before I put my fingertips on the SK series at CES, and it took me aback for just a moment, like walking in sneakers with a double-thick sole. But just as quickly, I could tell that the thicker caps offered a much better typing experience than some of the thin chiclet lowpro keyboards I've used. I need much more time with one of these keyboards before forming a complete opinion, but I'm optimistic that these thick chiclets will prove to be palatable. 

Cooler Master makes these keycaps, so they're an exclusive option. Because the switches are Cherry lowpro, though, you can drop aftermarket keycaps on the SK series keyboards.

What's the strategy, Kenneth?

If you've been following the months-long progress of Cooler Master's lowpro keyboards and are now scratching your head about these SKU numbers, you're not alone. At Computex last summer, the company teased three different SKUs—the SK620, SK630, and SK650, all of which are wired. But at CES, Cooler Master was only showing the versions with a wireless option—the SK621, SK631, and SK651. 

As far as I can tell from sleuthing, the SK620 is canceled (edit: confirmed), and Cooler Master will produce only the wireless SK621 in the 65% layout. However, the SK630 (wired, TKL) and SK631 (wireless/wired, TKL), and the SK650 (wired, full size) and SK651 (wireless/wired, full size) will all eventually be produced and sold. 

The wireless models are coming, but their releases will be staggered. The SK621 is coming in March, the SK631 is coming sometime in Q2, and the SK651 will arrive in Q3. The reason for this sort of rollout escapes me. 

A twist: The SK630 and SK650 have been released, but they're hard to locate, at least in North America and Europe. They're not on Amazon or Newegg. You can find the SK630 on Dell's website, of all places, as well as on Tiger Direct and a couple of other outlets like Next Warehouse. The same is true of the SK650. Neither SKU is actually on Cooler Master's NA or EU product pages. (Update: They're now available. See the top of the article.)

It's also not abundantly clear why there are both wired models and wired/wireless models, other than some price play. Judging by the posted and promised costs, the wired SK630 is $120 versus the SK631's $140 price tag. The SK650 is $140, and the SK651 will be $160. In other words, you're paying a $20 premium for the wireless capabilities. Given that the SK621 will cost $120 when it launches, a wired-only SK620 (which, again, appears to have been killed) would have been $100.

We've reached out to Cooler Master for some clarity and will update if and when we get answers.

 

Comments closed
    • RedBearArmy
    • 9 months ago

    This is low profile: [url<]https://www.amazon.co.uk/Rapoo-2-4GHz-Wireless-Ultra-slim-Keyboard/dp/B01NANUEQ3[/url<] These articles CM keyboards are still an inch thick. I'll get one anyway if those lazors can be dimmed to 10%

    • Goty
    • 9 months ago

    I wish they made a tactile low profile switch. I’d pick up something like this in a heartbeat (even with the blinkenlights.)

      • DancinJack
      • 9 months ago

      [url<]https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0722GG88M/?tag=prohavit-20[/url<]

        • Goty
        • 9 months ago

        Nice, I didn’t even think to look at Kailh (though I did look for Outemu.) Now I just need to find a version using a non-clicky switch so I don’t get yelled at by HR…

    • Voldenuit
    • 9 months ago

    TKL? The 630 looks more like a 60 percent than a TKL (although they managed to squeeze in arrow keys).

    I do think they would be great if they were $30-40 cheaper, though.

    EDIT: OK, I might be a bit confused by the product pics here. The second pic might be of the 621, which is described here as a 65%.

    • BillyBuerger
    • 9 months ago

    It looks nice. But I’m not sure if those stabilizers are costar. The only picture is of the space bar. Costar still uses the cross mount on the keycap. Those don’t look like that. So you might be limited on using the stabilized keycaps on other keyboards or using other keycaps on this keyboard.

    I wish someone would sell these Cherry LP switches bare. Would love to try them out in some of my custom keyboards.

      • fr8train
      • 9 months ago

      They’re surely not, hence “Costar-style.” Just differentiating between the metal bar (Costar-ish) and without (Cherry-ish). I’m sure it’s just some custom thing that came up with.

      And same here. There’s just no switch inventory yet. A year after debuting, only Corsair and CM have actual products with Cherry LP. Been trying to get Cherry to explain to me why that is. They won’t say it’s a yield problem. My essentially baseless, wild theory is that it *is* something of a yield problem, but it might be self inflicted (as in, they’re obsessing about quality maybe more than needed, I dunno). Or they just aren’t dedicating enough production lines to them because they have too many other switches to make.

    • derFunkenstein
    • 9 months ago

    Wireless keyboards with blinkenlights that last 15 hours with them on and nearly 3000 hours with them off. What a moronic concept.

    • Chrispy_
    • 9 months ago

    I honestly can’t understand why people want to use flat, chiclet keycaps which are a horrible ergonimics/functional downgrade over tapered concave caps when there’s no need to make the keyboard as thin as possible.

    I can only assume it’s Stockholm Syndrome.

      • aspect
      • 9 months ago

      These also don’t look thinner than the already existing low profile key caps that exist for cherry keyboards, likely has more to do with aesthetics over function.

      • CScottG
      • 9 months ago

      Aesthetics. Plus, it doesn’t look like they are truly flat.

      To me the semi-flat cap works well enough.. it’s not something I have a problem with.

      Unfortunately what I do have a problem with is the texture of the cap in conjunction with the semi-flat cap profile.

      Typical ABS is usually crap with a feel that is somewhat slick, and that only get’s more slick with use. This one doesn’t look any different in this regard.

      (I’m also not fond of Red/Black Cherry switches.)

        • just brew it!
        • 9 months ago

        I guess the slickness of ABS doesn’t bother me as much as it bothers you. That said, I’m considering picking up a set of PBT double-shots to replace the stock caps on my old RK-9000 V1 keyboards (still going strong after all these years).

        I think I may be due for an o-ring replacement too; the original ones I put on 5+ years ago seem to be getting a little stiff.

    • sweatshopking
    • 9 months ago

    I just wish the lights were slightly brighter so I could use them to light up an airport runway if need be.

      • Srsly_Bro
      • 9 months ago

      They omitted an “S” In the product name.

      • Growler
      • 9 months ago

      John McClane heartily approves of this idea.

    • Phr3dly
    • 9 months ago

    Super tempted by this. I currently carry an Apple wireless keyboard and trackpad with me on work travel to avoid having to use the travesty of a keyboard and trackpad that my MacBook Pro came with. I’d love to pick up the SK621 to replace the apple wireless keyboard.

    Dat price, though.. $120.. Under $100 would be a much easier sell. If the reviews are good I’m sure I’ll suck it up and pay the extra $20, but I won’t be totally thrilled about it. I wish they’d have a “professional” model that gets rid of the RGB.

      • WasabiVengeance
      • 9 months ago

      Wait, you’re willing to pay $100 for a mac keyboard + $150 for a mac trackpad (both of which I own too and I’m _super_ happy with, worth every penny), but $120 for a keyboard is too much? I mean, it’s only 20% more than your mac keyboard (assuming you’ve got the latest magic keyboard), it’s not 3x as much or anything.

        • Phr3dly
        • 9 months ago

        I don’t know how much the Apple wireless keyboard or trackpad cost, my employer gave it to me. A replacement mechanical would come out of my pocket.

      • fr8train
      • 9 months ago

      I agree with you that a pro model sans lights would be cool. But it’s not gonna happen any time soon. Cherry decided to go RGB with the lowpro switches (seriously don’t know why), and given that they’ve spent an agonizing amount of time getting the first two lowpro switches to market (and just barely at that), I can’t imagine when they’d do another type. And if/when they do, it will probably be tactile or clicky before they go dark.

      But the price is pretty reasonable compared to the rest of the market, TBH. $120 for a really nice RGB keyboard with BT? Not bad all things considered. (I’m not prepared to say for certain that it’s “really nice” just yet, but I like the odds. 🙂 )

    • DancinJack
    • 9 months ago

    Hooooooooo boy those are way too expensive, and I would have considered buying one if they were under 100 bucks and had the switches I want. I love the look, oddly.

      • Gyromancer
      • 9 months ago

      Gotta [url=https://techreport.com/review/33708/havit-hv-kb390l-low-profile-keyboard-reviewed<]Havit[/url<].

        • fr8train
        • 9 months ago

        Haha, how is that not their marketing slogan? Definitely some things I liked about the Havit lowpros. Especially the caps. Actually, just the caps, if memory serves. But that price, yum.

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