A new low profile keyboard enters the ring.
Mechanical gaming keyboards can be a dime a dozen, but the Cooler Master SK650 (See it on Amazon) is something different. Taking inspiration from Apple’s keyboards and the chiclet keys of laptops, the SK650 attempts to offer the best of both desktop and laptop worlds by combining genuine Cherry mechanical switches, full programmability, and RGB lighting with a slim, low profile design (These are the same switches in the Corsair K70 Low Profile). At $139.99, it falls right in the middle of Cooler Master’s keyboard line-up and is about the average price for a mechanical keyboard.
Cooler Master SK650 – Design and Features
The Cooler Master SK650 uses Cherry’s new MX Low Profile Red switches, which are similar to normal Cherry MX Reds with smooth and linear travel. However, these new switches feature a redesigned housing that allows the keys to sit much closer to the top plate. Cooler Master has paired them with short, flat keycaps similar to the chiclet keys found on a lot of laptops.
Compared to a standard height keyboard like HyperX Alloy FPS RGB, the SK650 sits low. The space bar is nearly half an inch shorter. The keycaps also sit much more close together; in fact, they’re twice as close as the either the Logitech G513 Carbon, or Corsair K70 RGB Mk.2 I had on hand for comparison. My first few days were filled with typos and wrong button presses as I got used to the closer spacing. It felt natural eventually but those first few days were frustrating as someone used to a standard keyboard.
For gaming, the Cherry MX Low Profile Reds feel great. They actuate 40% faster, triggering actions at 1.2mm like the Cherry MX Speed switches found in the Corsair K70 RGB Mk.2. Their travel distance is reduced from the Speeds, bottoming out at 3.2mm instead of 3.4mm, which theoretically allows them to rebound faster but in practice is too slight to notice. The higher actuation point definitely does feel faster and the smooth travel makes them perfect for games like Battlefield where milliseconds matter. If you’re the rare gamer who plays fighting games with a mouse and keyboard, they also make double taps easier to pull off. For typing, they’re less ideal as the linear travel makes it easier to make typos when touch typing.
The SK650 is a gorgeous keyboard. The minimalist aesthetic works well with the low profile design. The brushed aluminum and several exposed screws also give it a slightly industrial look that I really like. Like most RGB keyboards, the SK650 uses a “floating key” design which allows you to see to illuminated switch housings underneath the keys. The RGB is bright and vibrant and the reflection on the aluminum top plate enhances the shine in a really appealing way. The lights can all be turned off if you’re not a fan of RGB or sleep in the same room as your keyboard.
It features a brushed aluminum top plate, akin to Cooler Master’s flagship MK750 gaming keyboard.
The build quality of the SK650 is decent. It features a brushed aluminum top plate, akin to Cooler Master’s flagship MK750 gaming keyboard. A reflective bezel offers a nice accent along the outer edge. It features a braided cable that’s detachable, so you won’t need to replace the whole board in the event of a broken wire, and it’s USB Type-C as well. The SK650 is lightweight at 670g, which is just about half the weight of the HyperX Alloy FPS RGB, which is great for traveling though does allow for some flex when pressed on. In normal use, I didn’t find this to be an issue and four rubber feet kept it stationary on my desk.
The keycaps are a letdown. They’re UV coated ABS plastic and single-shot, or one piece of plastic, which is true of virtually all major gaming keyboards. However, the coating Cooler Master used began to shine with unsightly finger oils after only two days of use. I’m not a particularly oily person, especially in the middle of a New York winter, and in over 50 keyboard reviews I’ve never had a keyboard get shiny so fast. Whatever they’ve used here needs another look because scrubbing the keyboard every two days just isn’t an option. The low profile keys also have the unfortunate side effect of highlighting every speck of dust that falls between the keys, so you’ll need to clean it often regardless.
A side benefit of the low profile design is that it has a muting effect on noise when bottoming out.
The keys are quiet, though. If you’ve ever used a mechanical keyboard, or even sat next to someone using one, you know how noisy they can be. A side benefit of the low profile design is that it has a muting effect on noise when bottoming out. The keys are almost silent when moving your fingers across them, too, making them quieter than any of the aforementioned keyboards I used in my side-by-side testing. You could easily use the SK650 in the same room as a roommate watching TV without disturbing them.
Sadly there are no dedicated media keys. The functions are still there as secondary functions but there’s something about having a volume roller that just makes a keyboard feel more premium, not to mention making it easier to use. At this price point, it is something I would have expected to see.
Cooler Master SK650 – Software
One of the things that Cooler Master is known for is providing lots of programmability right on the keyboard itself without the need for software. While impressively backlit keyboards like the Razer Blackwidow Elite or the Corsair K70 RGB Mk.2 force you to use their software suites to program primary and secondary colors, the SK650 allows you to do this through easy-to-learn key combinations. Fn+F2-F4 acts as an RGB palette mixer, each adjustable in 10 levels, allowing you to precisely dial in your favorite hue.
There are plentiful built-in options with 16 ready-made presets (twenty when you use the software). You have your standard breathing effect, two rainbow spirals, several different reactive typing modes, and more. Eight of them can be color customized and the arrows can be used to set the speed and direction of their travel. There’s also a neat Snake-like game built in as a 17th option where you use the arrow keys to lead the snake around the board, which is something I’ve never seen before. All told, this is far superior to the handful of presets that come built-in on Corsair, HyperX, or Razer keyboards. The keyboard is also able to store four profiles. Each of these profiles holds your lighting customizations and up to twenty macros.
Learning how to customize your lighting and program macros on the fly takes time that not all of us have or want to invest. Thankfully, Cooler Master’s Portal software offers a user-friendly alternative that should feel right at home if you’ve used other keyboard programming software. Here you’ll find all of the expected functionality from a high-end gaming keyboard, including customizing your LEDs, remapping keys, and recording macros.
Customizing your lighting with the software is easy, but compared to Corsair’s iCUE or Razer Synapse, more limited. Like the onboard controls, you’re able to control primary and secondary colors and apply individual effects to up to four different sets of keys. You can even apply up to four different layers of effects, but customization is limited to color, direction, and five steps of speed. You won’t be creating super-intricate animations like the Corsair K70 RGB is famous for, but you can create something that looks good in no time flat.
Programming your keys is also a snap. Switching over to the Macro tab, you can select a name for your new macro and then it’s as simple as entering in the commands you would like to map. Delays are easy to edit through a clear drop down menu, allowing you to change them en masse or individually. This allows you to create more intricate command strings and use macros where instantaneous inputs would otherwise fail to register.
Cooler Master SK650 – Gaming
Having never used a low profile mechanical keyboard for gaming before, I was very curious to see how natural it would feel and if it would offer any actual performance benefits. My go-to series for peripheral testing is Battlefield since response time and accuracy make all the difference. The SK650 didn’t disappoint. The smooth, linear travel of the keys felt great under my fingers.
The higher actuation point did take some getting used to, which was also true in my second test game, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. Initially, the keys felt almost too sensitive and I would occasionally find myself rushing forward by accident. As I would think of my next move, unconsciously tensing my fingers would apply enough pressure to trigger the key, resulting in more than one death as I blew my cover. This was something I overcame in just a day of testing but it had me second guessing whether I liked the switches. Once I’d trained myself to use a lighter touch, that problem disappeared and everything began to feel natural.
The last game I tested with was Guild Wars 2. It’s an older game, but the movement mechanics require quick double taps to dodge incoming attacks. Even more than a normal Cherry MX Red, the low profile switches allowed me to be more nimble and to take less damage thanks to that higher actuation point.
Comparing these experiences to the Corsair K70 Mk.2 with Cherry MX Speed switches (same 45g actuation pressure and 1.2mm actuation point), I found myself preferring the low profile of the SK650. After using the Cherry MX Speed switches on the Corsair for several days after using the SK650, I simply made more mistakes with those sensitive switches on taller keys. Your mileage may vary but for my personal typing style, the low profile design of the SK650 provides a much better experience with touchy key switches.
The Cooler Master SK650 has an MSRP of $139.99 and it’s the same price online.