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Cooler Master SK650 review: Jack of few trades, master of one

Expert Reviews Staff
21 Oct 2019
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
140
inc VAT

The SK650’s alluring design and vast customisation qualities are let down by a low-profile key setup that doesn’t quite work

Pros 
Sleek design
Quiet keys
Cons 
Expensive
Lacks some basic features
Clustered keyboard
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The SK650 is something we’ve spent years clamouring for: a sharp and slimline office keyboard, with the fast and satisfying mechanical key operation of a good gaming keyboard. It has square chiclet keys in the broad style of the Microsoft Surface Keyboard or Apple Magic Keyboard, as well as their compact take on the full-size form factor, but underneath the caps are special low-profile versions of linear Cherry MX Red switches.

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Cooler Master SK650 review: Specs

This isn’t just a case of using thinner keycaps, as the Roccat Vulcan 120 Aimo does. Here, the switches themselves are smaller, which allows for a couple of big differences to most MX Red boards. First, the chassis of the keyboard itself can be much thinner, hence the SK650’s svelte profile and comparatively low weight. Second, actuation distance and total travel depth are both lower, down from 2mm and 4mm (respectively) on standard MX Reds to 1.2mm and 3.2mm. That’s an almost identical pair of specs to those of the MX Speed Silver switch and, as such, the SK650 feels nice and lively even if you’re more likely to feel the thud of the switch bottoming out.

Even that could be a positive, as it’s still a linear switch, which otherwise lacks a tactile bump. Bottoming out therefore provides valuable feedback, and the noise level is ideal for quiet working: you can clearly hear when you’ve hit a key hard enough, without the drastic click-clack of the Asus TUF Gaming K7.

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Cooler Master SK650 review: Design

However, this combination of sleek design and mechanical practicality is not a perfect marriage. Most chiclet keyboards work because their keycaps are thin and travel distance is very low; as a result, you rarely clatter into adjacent keys when aiming for or receding your finger from the one you actually want. Likewise, the fatter keycaps of mechanical keyboards avoid this by having trapezoid-shape keys that narrow towards the top, again making it easier to dance between them without making accidental contact.

The SK650 has an uneasy combination of square keys, deep travel (even if not as deep as standard MX Red keys) and tight spacing. The result is a much greater risk of hitting, or at least brushing, the wrong keys. We initially didn’t feel as if we were more typo-prone using this keyboard, until we realised that – because the SK650’s core concept felt so new and unfamiliar – we were taking more care and typing more slowly. Forcing ourselves to return to normal speed, we found it was easier to at least make accidental contact with the wrong keys, even if it was usually too light to register a full depress and subsequent input.

The typing angle doesn’t help much, either. It’s not completely flat, but the SK650 slants upwards only very slightly, so there’s more of a stretch to reach the topmost keys. There are no folding legs for height adjustment, so you’ve no option but to try to get used to it.

These typing problems are unfortunate, as otherwise, this is an exquisitely made keyboard. Build quality exhibits the toughness typical of most mechanical gaming keyboards, and it looks almost beautiful, with genuine brushed aluminium (no plastic approximations here) and extensively configurable backlighting.

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Cooler Master SK650 review: Features

There is software for this, but you can apply pretty much any customisation with the Function keys. That includes swapping between a huge selection of sweeping, pulsing, breathing and flashing effects that rival even that of Asus’s keyboards, and you don’t just have a basic brightness toggle. Instead, you can fine-tune the brightness of the individual red, blue and green LEDs, helping you find the perfect colour and brightness at the same time. There’s also on-the-fly macro recording, another shared feature with the ROG Strix Flare and TUF Gaming K7, as well as a Windows key-lock option and full key remapping support, although this last one will require the Cooler Master Portal companion software.

That’s about it for features, however. Possibly owing to the SK650’s tightened-up dimensions, there are no USB ports, audio jacks or dedicated media keys, although at least playback and volume controls are incorporated into existing keys instead of being left out entirely. The braided cable detaches, which could be handy for travel, but some more everyday functionality would have gone a long way.

This is especially apparent given the price, which is at least £40 beyond a good deal. We’re not sure how exactly the SK650 justifies its own expense, beyond a general desire to position itself as a high-end product: the ROG Strix Flare, TUF Gaming K7 and Vulcan 120 Aimo are all much cheaper, despite having either a greater arsenal of onboard hardware or comparably innovative key-switch tech.

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Cooler Master SK650 review: Verdict

If you’re looking for an office-friendly mechanical keyboard, the Razer BlackWidow Lite is a better – and far more affordable – choice. It doesn’t have highly customisable backlighting or low-profile keys, but it’s still rather slim and won’t look out of place in a non-gaming setup. The SK650, meanwhile, has enough going for it to make for a decent keyboard rather than a bad one, but the often awkward typing experience also shows why you should be careful what you wish for.

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