By: Jonathan Kwan
September 13, 2019
If I were to ask you what the largest country in the world by land area is, you would probably answer Russia -- which is, indeed, the correct answer. But if I were to ask you what the second largest country in the world by land area is and you answered Canada, you would be wrong. In fact, by that metric, Canada is not even the third largest country in the world. Our land may be from sea to sea, but it follows behind China and the United States; Canada is only the second largest country in the world if you count the sum of land and water areas within international boundaries and coastlines. Another surprising fact: Russia, while very large, is not as large as you think it is. With a land mass of 148,940,000 square kilometers, Russia is less than half of Africa at 30,200,000 square kilometers. Now that the facts are settled, how come we have such incorrect perceptions about the size of countries? Other than the fact we usually count water into the size of countries, it is also the way we draw maps. The flat maps we are used to is from a 16th century map projection from European cartographer Geert de Kremer, and it greatly exaggerates the size of countries further away from the equator. When it comes to keyboards, what do you think of when I say full-size mechanical keyboard? If you think of a massive chunk of metal and plastic that occupies the majority of your desk, it may be because of what you were used to. The Cooler Master SK650 White Limited Edition is here to shake things up. It is still a full-size mechanical keyboard in a sense it has everything including a numeric keypad, but it is sleek and compact in every way possible. Read on to see how it is different!
Our review unit of the Cooler Master SK650 White Limited Edition came in a large brown corrugated cardboard box from Cooler Master's American headquarters in Brea, California, USA. The keyboard was all that was inside the box, but we have received many more products from the company since then. Using FedEx International Ground, everything arrived in great condition to us here in Calgary, Alberta, Canada for our review today.
The retail box design for the Cooler Master SK650 White Limited Edition continues the company's latest "Make it Yours" campaign, which we have seen in the SK621 and SK630. The white background is complemented by mainly black text for maximum contrast along with a burst of purple to help you remember who made it. Cooler Master's logo and slogan is at the top left corner, backlight activated image of the keyboard is printed across the center, and the model name and product description are located at the bottom left corner in shiny purple text. On the other corner, two icons indicate its RGB backlighting and Cherry MX switches, respectively. Our particular unit has Cherry MX Red Low Profile switches. Feature highlights can be found on the remaining sides of the box.
Before we move on, let us take a look at the specifications of the Cooler Master SK650 White Limited Edition, as obtained from the press material:
Switch Type: Cherry MX RGB Low Profile Switch
Material: Aluminum / Plastic
Color: Silver, White
LED Color: RGB
Polling Rate: 1000 Hz
Response Rate: 1ms / 1000Hz
MCU: 32bit ARM Cortex M3
On board Memory: 512KB
On-the-fly system: Multimedia, Macro Record, Lighting Control
Multi-media Keys: Through Function Key (FN)
Cable: USB Type-C Detachable & Braided
Software Support: Yes, through Portal
Connector Cable: USB Type-C (Keyboard Side), USB 2.0 Type A (Computer Side)
Cable Length: 1.8m, Braided & Removable
Dimensions: 430 x 125 x 25 mm
Weight: 629g / 1.387 lbs (without cable)
Warranty: 2 years
Out of the box, you will receive everything you need plus a few other things that are really nice to have. Securely placed inside the box is the Cooler Master SK650 White Limited Edition keyboard itself contained in a classy suede drawstring bag, while the keycap puller and USB Type-C to USB Type-A cable is included inside a separate small box at the bottom. On the product literature side, you will find a quick start guide that shows you what some function key combination do.
The Cooler Master SK650 White Limited Edition, like the rest of the SK-series, is a very minimalist keyboard even though it comes with a keypad. As its name suggests, this is a special version in white, but you can buy the regular model that features black keycaps and a gunmetal colored backplate. It is one of the cleanest looking keyboards I have seen in a long time; very classical Apple. With straight edges, no dedicated macro keys, and a reference layout, you will have to look pretty closely, and in a sense, figuratively, to see what makes the SK650 special. Indeed, there is nothing that really sets it apart other than the fact this is a good old mechanical keyboard with real Cherry MX Low Profile switches. There is no integrated wrist rest and there is no specially designed OEM accessory for it. Meanwhile, the exposed silver colored brushed aluminum backplate is great to look at. It even hides fingerprints well. The sides and bottom are all made out of quality black plastic. Overall, I am a big fan of the looks, but aluminum backplate flexes slightly under heavy load. It would be nice if it was stronger, but it is not a major concern.
The Cooler Master SK650 White Limited Edition measures in at 430mm width, 125mm depth, and 25mm height. This is about as compact as a standard full-size QWERTY keyboard will go. To go along with its low profile, the keyboard weighs about 629g according to the manufacturer. This is exceptionally light for a mechanical keyboard.
Once you turn off the lights and activate the Cooler Master SK650 White Limited Edition's RGB backlit keys, the keyboard really shines -- no pun intended. The perimeter is also lit for extra effects and the font is large and easy to read. The SK650 features full independent key RGB backlighting when you use it with software. The RGB backlight and macros can be programmed or adjusted on-the-fly without software as outlined in the user manual. A dedicated ARM Cortex M3 is inside to run complex lighting effects like the built-in snake game.
I am a big fan of fully backlit keyboards and I am happy Cooler Master designed the SK650 White Limited Edition with this feature. The Cooler Master SK650's key illumination distribution is reasonably even for the most part. The area between the keys are also backlit thanks to the reflection of the LEDs, and I like it. One thing to point out, for keys with more than one line of text label, you will notice the top half is significantly brighter than the bottom half. This is due to physical design limitations of Cherry MX stems, as you can see in our photo above.
Hitting the Function key along with the labeled F1 through F8 buttons and arrow keys allow you to do things like cycling through different lighting effects or adjusting the effect speed. One strange omission is the backlight intensity cannot be adjusted on the fly directly. The closest thing you can do is to reduce the intensity of each RGB channel, but this is not an intuitive method. Fn in combination with F10 to Pause are for macros. The productivity keys double as your multimedia keys with Fn held down. You can even switch profiles, stored on the keyboard's 512KB internal memory, by going through Fn in concert with 1 to 4. Fn in combination with F9 toggles Win Lock on or off. Win Lock is an important feature in any gaming keyboard, because let us face it: How many times have you tried to duck in your favorite FPS while engaging an enemy, only to be killed instantly, because you missed the "Ctrl" key and your game was minimized? Hit the same key combination again and you can even lock the whole keyboard.
The extra-flat acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic keycaps are of average quality. Polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) keycaps such as the ones found on the Cooler Master MasterKeys L PBT are stiffer, harder, and has better color retention, but the ones found on the Cooler Master SK650 White Limited Edition are smooth and feels nice on the fingers despite showing a bit of oily marks.
Almost everything here is pretty standard in terms of layout with a few additions. I prefer the single row Enter key layout as present on our US QWERTY Cooler Master SK650. Keyboards with a double row Enter key usually means the "\" button is moved to the left side of the right "Shift" key; reducing the size of the latter. I am more used to having a full width Shift on the right and a half height Enter. Obviously, this is more or less personal preference, but having a half height Enter key makes a lot more sense to me.
The Cooler Master SK650, unlike the tenkeyless SK-series, has dedicated lock indicator LEDs. They are located above the numeric keypad labeled "N", "C", and "S" for number lock, caps lock, and scroll lock. The lock indicator LEDs are also RGB and can be configured by the user. One omission I noticed is the backlight for the Windows key will not turn off when Windows lock is activated. Even more confusing is when the full keyboard lock is activated; everything looks exactly the same. Those who are not familiar with their SK650 could be left wondering why their keyboard stopped working.
If you do not know what a mechanical keyboard is, there are three main types of keyboards in the market today. The cheapest is the membrane keyboard, which is the easiest to make, but also has poor typing feel and response due to squishy keys. A scissor switch keyboard has its own independent keyswitch mechanism for each key, which delivers improved tactile response and typing experience. Modern scissor switch keyboards can be very good for everyday office use. Mechanical keyboards such as the Cooler Master SK650 White Limited Edition costs the most because each keyswitch is an independent part.
The SK650 features Cherry MX Red Low Profile switches. Corsair and Cherry collaborated on the design of this new switch and was first found in the Corsair K70 RGB MK.2 Low Profile. In turn, the Cooler Master SK650 is reasonably quiet during operation even though it has no dampening. It is a bit louder than the K70 RGB MK.2 Low Profile with a higher pitched tone when actuated, but it is quieter than the average Cherry MX Red keyboard.
I really enjoy the feel of the Cherry MX Red Low Profile. Cherry MX Red Low Profile, like the regular MX Red, is marketed as a gaming type switch. The maximum key travel distance is 3.2mm with actuation at 1.2mm compared to the regular MX Red at 4mm total travel with 2mm pre-travel. With an actuation force of 45g in a completely linear fashion, it is about 15g lighter than the MX Black; generally speaking, the Cooler Master SK650 will feel very different than other non-mechanical keyboards. It will feel different than other mechanical keyboards as well. It is quite intriguing to use a keyboard that feels so familiar and different at the same time, considering I have been using Cherry MX Red switches exclusively since 2013. This keyswitch is desirable for gaming because you will be bottoming out all the keys anyway, but the lack of the "bump" of the Cherry MX Red Low Profile may not appeal to everyone. It is rated for fifty million operations like other Cherry MX switches. The base is strong as aforementioned, but there is some keyboard flex under heavy loads, but it is not a major concern.
The Cooler Master SK650 White Limited Edition is a full NKRO keyboard. NKRO stands for N-key rollover. If you have used keyboards with limited NKRO capabilities, you may have experienced ghosting issues in the past -- where when too many keys are pressed at the same time, your system unable to register any more strokes. A full NKRO keyboard like the Cooler Master SK650 White Limited Edition overcomes this by independently polling each key, making all inputs detectable by the hardware regardless of how many other keys are activated at the same time. This mean in the event you have every other key on your keyboard depressed, it will still register the last stroke. While this is a highly unlikely scenario, since you have only ten fingers, this is as good as it can get.
At the back of the Cooler Master SK650 White Limited Edition is the USB Type-C cable lead out. It comes out in the center and is detachable. This braided cable is of average thickness and extends 1.8m in length to connect to your computer via one standard, non-gold-plated USB Type-A connector. When we bring about the question of whether gold plated connectors are actually useful or not, let us just say if it was the actual pins, then possibly -- since gold offers better conductivity than other metals. This theoretically establishes a better connection with your computer, but on a digital signal level, we must understand it is a discrete one or zero; if anyone tells you they can tell the difference, you can definitely defeat their theory with a double blinded test. Additionally, if you are referring to the gold part of the connector you see on the plug, I would like to point out it actually does not make any physical contact electrically with your computer. In other words, it is nice to have and it is pretty to look at, but it is not anything significant on a practical level. The lack of a gold-plated USB connector will not have any performance impact on the Cooler Master SK650 White Limited Edition.
At the bottom are four small rubber pads to help the SK650 stay in place during intense gaming sessions. The keyboard itself is pretty lightweight, so it might shift a bit if your table does not have a lot of grip. There are no flip-out risers at the front to tilt the keyboard up for those who prefer it. There are no keyboard drain holes either, so it is advisable to keep your Mountain Dew at a distance.
The Cooler Master SK650 White Limited Edition works along with a version of Cooler Master Portal, which is a lightweight 9.4MB download from the company's website at press time. This program unifies your Cooler Master peripherals into one application. Confusingly, there are two versions of the program with the same name and they work with a different set of products. Once the program opens, it will detect the products you own and download additional content specific to your models. The keyboard firmware can be updated from here as well. All settings are stored on the keyboard's 512KB internal memory for up to four profiles.
The main configuration window is separated into four tabs, as shown in our screenshot above. The first tab, LED, allows you to select RGB lighting effects and colors. The Macro tab allows you to program macros. Key Map shows a picture of the keyboard, where you can select individual keys and change their functions. Profiles is where you can import and export the four profiles stored on the keyboard's internal memory. Overall, I found Cooler Master Portal to be basic, but it is very straightforward and easy to use. It is certainly not as powerful as Corsair's iCUE or SteelSeries' Engine. In fact, you can do most of the things directly on the keyboard without software, but my overall experience was positive.
The Cooler Master SK650 White Limited Edition is still a full-size mechanical keyboard in a sense it has everything including a numeric keypad, but it is sleek, lightweight, and compact in every way possible. Now that we have reviewed every keyboard size in the SK-series -- including the Bluetooth wireless SK621 and 80% tenkeyless SK630 -- the SK650 White Limited Edition remains to be one of the cleanest looking keyboards I have ever reviewed, now with an even more Apple-inspired white color scheme. Its supremely compact dimensions and clean edges packs some seriously awesome hardware under the hood like the rest of the lineup. Sitting below the silver brushed aluminum backplate is a powerful ARM Cortex M3 processor to handle all the lighting effects including a built-in snake game and 512KB of internal memory to store your custom configuration profiles. On top of it are excellent Cherry MX Red Low Profile switches with everything RGB backlit including the lock indicator LEDs. As per Cooler Master tradition, the SK650 connects to your computer via a USB Type-C to Type-A cable and can be programmed with or without software. Needless to say, there is a lot to like about the SK650 White Limited Edition, whether it is looks, feel, or features. If there is anything to improve on this product, I would break it down to four key points. Firstly, use PBT keycaps instead of ABS keycaps. Second, the way Windows Lock works is slightly confusing; an indicator LED would go a long way. Third, strengthen the backplate to reduce keyboard flex. Lastly, make the LED brightness adjustable on the fly. All in all, the Cooler Master SK650 White Limited Edition remains to be one of the best sleek and clean looking full-size mechanical keyboards in the market today for an MSRP of $160, now with an aesthetically pleasing white color scheme.
Cooler Master provided this product to APH Networks for the purpose of evaluation.
APH Review Focus Summary:
8/10 means Definitely a very good product with drawbacks that are not likely going to matter to the end user.
7/10 means Great product with many advantages and certain insignificant drawbacks; but should be considered before purchasing.
-- Final APH Numeric Rating is 7.4/10
Please note that the APH Numeric Rating system is based off our proprietary guidelines in the Review Focus, and should not be compared to other sites.
The Cooler Master SK650 White Limited Edition remains to be one of the best clean and sleek full-size mechanical keyboards in the market today -- now with an aesthetically pleasing white color scheme.
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