By: Kenneth Kwok
June 7, 2013
Well, it is finally summer. I have to say I have been waiting for quite some time now. Summer is one of the few seasons here in Vancouver where it does not rain just about every day, and that is a good thing. Too bad most of the time I am now stuck at home working on things in front of the computer, as there is always a ton of things that needs to be done. One of the most integral parts to doing all these things, of course, are the peripherals attached to your computer. I mean, how would you play games or write reviews without a mouse and keyboard? If there is one thing I have learned over the years from using a computer, I would say these parts can be easily overlooked. Sometimes, you don't even notice until you finally need to replace your mouse or keyboard -- but in most cases, the difference it can make is pretty astounding. One game I picked up lately that requires usage of both the keyboard and the mouse is Osu!, which is a rhythm game. A game similar to Osu! would be Guitar Hero, Rock Band, or Elite Beat Agents, except, of course, it is based on the PC. One thing I learned after prolonged play, other than the fact that I kind of suck at rhythm games, is just how different a change in keyboard and mouse can do in terms of performance. With that said, you are probably wondering what this has to do with anything. Well, today, we will be looking at our last of the trio of Cooler Master Storm products we have looked at in the past few months. Specifically, we will be going into an in-depth analysis of the Cooler Master Storm QuickFire TK Blue mechanical keyboard.
I am not sure if I can actually say much more about this big brown corrugated cardboard box, other than the fact this will be the last time we will mention it in a review. We talked about it in the past in both the Cooler Master Storm Power-RX and Cooler Master Storm Recon review. Anyway, the box came in to us in good condition from Cooler Master's American office in California, USA, with UPS Standard being the shipping method used. Found inside the box are the previously mentioned two products, and of course, our Cooler Master Storm QuickFire TK Blue keyboard. After all this time, I am still not sure why the box was so large, but at least it kept the products inside safe with the large amounts of brown wrapping paper stuffed inside.
Being in the Cooler Master Storm series of products, the retail box of the QuickFire TK Blue carries the same red, black, and white design scheme, as with our previous products. The usual Cooler Master logo can be found at the top left, with a big picture of the Cooler Master Storm QuickFire TK Blue near the center of the box. Located slightly below is the name of the product 'CM Storm TK' in the red and white scheme that can be found throughout the rest of the packaging. Finally, on the right, we have a small metallic design with a label on top showcasing the Cherry MX Blue keys. This whole design is encompassed by the metallic surface that looks semi-destroyed due to the keyboard.
Before moving on further, let's take a look at the features and specifications of this keyboard, as found on the Cooler Master website:
- Key Switch: Cherry MX Blue
- Keycaps: ABS, grip coated, removable
- Keycap Puller: Yes, ring-puller
- Backlight: All keys, Blue, 5 Levels, 3 Modes
- Key Rollover: NKRO (windows only)
- Polling Rate: 1000 Hz /1 ms
- Interface: USB 2.0 full speed
- USB cable: 1.8m, braided, gold plated, removable
- Weight: 544 g/1.2 lbs
- Mechanical CHERRY MX switches with a lifespan of over 50 million key presses
- Compact layout with integrated Num pad block
- Full LED backlight, with 3 modes and 5 brightness levels
- NKRO over USB for unlimited simultaneous keystrokes
- Embedded steel plate for maximum stability and durability
- Super Grip pads and Keyboard stand-offs with rubber feet
- Windows keys can be disabled
- 7 easy-access multimedia shortcuts
- Detachable braided USB cable and cable routing groves at the underside of the keyboard
After flipping open the flap top box, we are greeted with only a few things inside the retail packaging. The first thing we see is a small little features booklet, which mostly talks about the limited warranty of the product. Other than the instructional booklet, we are only left with the Cooler Master Storm QuickFire TK Blue keyboard itself wrapped in a white foam material to keep it from getting damaged while inside the packaging. It did a good job of keeping the product flawless, and most importantly, dustless -- since dust can accumulate quite easily on a black keyboard. Also found near the keyboard is the ring style key remover; this one is pretty universal, and should work with other keyboards as well.
Looking at the layout of the Cooler Master Storm QuickFire TK Blue, we can see it is pretty close to a standard keyboard layout, save for a few minor details. The first one being the lack of arrow keys and function keys located near the right center of most keyboards. The second would be the use of a half height enter key. Due to the use of a half height enter key, the "\" key found above is double the size of a normal key, which is very useful for coding purposes. This also leaves room for a full sized Shift key, which is a great asset for any gamer who prefers using this one. One other noticeable change is the inclusion of a function key, found right in between the right Windows key and right Ctrl key. This layout of the Cooler Master Storm QuickFire TK Blue, for most intents and purposes, serves the market well, and is useful for both normal keyboarding and gaming alike. In terms of design, each individual button has a translucent opening to them displaying the key; this is done since the whole keyboard is backlit. We will go over this a bit more later on in the review, but in general, the keys are well made, and are a pleasure to use.
When it comes to keyboards, 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 key switch 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 Storm QuickFire TK Blue we are looking at today costs the most, because each key switch is an independent part. This keyboard is fully loaded with Cherry MX Blue switches, which are said to be the best key switches to use for regular typing. This is due to the 'click' created on these keys, and with a low actuation force to trigger them. One issue that pops up is Cherry MX Blue based keyboards are hard to double tap, because the release point is above the actuation point. We will talk more about the usage of these keys later on in our review.
Sizing in at 377.5mm width, 138mm depth, and 33mm height, this is probably one of the most compact keyboards I have used catered to gamers. The ability to have such a compact keyboard is a great addition for any gamer looking for a portable keyboard to bring with them to LAN parties or other such events. One thing this keyboard lacks is the inclusion of a wrist wrest, which is quite forgivable due to the compactness of the keyboard; not to mention the lack of space to actually mount it without increasing the overall size of the keyboard. Otherwise, the rest of the Cooler Master Storm QuickFire TK Blue is the standard fare. It has everything you would expect from any keyboard -- except the inclusion of function keys, which are also the F1 to F12 keys. These can be accessed using the function key found between the right Windows key and the right Ctrl key.
Another important feature to the Cooler Master Storm QuickFire TK Blue is the inclusion of removable key caps. With the included ring style key remover, it is possible to remove any of the keys on the keyboard to easily clean between the gaps, and possibly to swap keys around if one chooses to try a different keyboard setup (Or just for pure trolling). Found underneath the keys are our Cherry MX Blue switches with a small blue LED implemented on top of each of them. The inclusion of the LED on every single switch makes the whole keyboard backlit; this can be enabled or disabled using the function keys we talked about earlier. In addition to turning them on and off, it is possible to set the brightness of the LEDs; this is especially useful for those of us that like the backlight, but would prefer to have its intensity reduced at night or while sleeping. The other function keys can be used to control music, volume control, and disable the Windows keys. This last feature is exactly what I want in a gaming keyboard. The option to turn off my Windows keys without having to go through software to do so is very convenient. It can be quite frustrating to press the Windows key when you mean to press the "Ctrl" key in the middle of a game.
Probably the most noticeable change in this keyboard is the lack of middle buttons, which includes the arrow and navigation keys such as "Del" or "Ins". For the Cooler Master Storm QuickFire TK Blue, all of these keys have been put into the number pad area. This all sounds great on paper, but in real life application, it leaves quite a bit to be desired. It is perfectly fine to have these keys above the arrow keys when you are gaming, and avoid using the number pad anyways. However, when you want to do some regular productivity tasks, it becomes a pain to have to switch between the number pad and the arrow keys. It became very apparent when working with Excel spreadsheets, and having to change all the time between the two. In terms of gaming, however, the keyboard does as one would expect, and should be more than good enough to bring to a standard LAN party. Just don't expect to have too much of a good time when you try to get some office work done.. so don't bring your Cooler Master Storm QuickFire TK Blue to work. Overall, the Cherry MX Blues are great switches and provided excellent feedback, making them perfect for typing and gaming. The only exception to this was the inability to double tap, which can be quite important in some games that require this for some actions.
Three standard indicator LEDs corresponding to Num Lock, Caps Lock, and Scroll Lock can be found at the upper right hand corner. They each glow blue when activated, and adds to the overall blue coloring of the rest of the keyboard. With the Num Lock enabled, the LEDs on the arrow keys turn off, and of course, with it off, the arrow keys light up. As previously mentioned, all the keys are backlit, and can be easily turned on and off using the top function keys.
Looking at the back of the Cooler Master Storm QuickFire TK Blue, we can see the USB cable lead out. It comes out the very center of the keyboard, and has a detachable Mini USB cable. There is also room for sticking the cable either through the back or through the left or right. This is a very handy feature for bringing a portable keyboard around, and having not to worry about damaging the cable or connector. In addition to it being removable, the cable is also nicely braided, and measures in at 1.8m in terms of length. The male USB connector is gold plated for the looks and style. For sure, most people by now understand gold plating the outside of a connector does nothing in reality to affect performance, so for the sake of looks, that is why they are still in use today.
Other than the connector, we only find a label at the bottom, as well as four rubber grips. These are always a great addition, as it makes the keyboard not move around when you are into those games that requires intensive keyboard usage. Found near the top are two stand-offs that can be raised, and also have a rubber coating on the base of them to make sure that the keyboard doesn't move around as you types. All in all, the pickings at the bottom of the keyboard are pretty slim, but more than enough for a portable keyboard at the end of the day.
So, how well would I say the Cooler Master Storm QuickFire TK Blue stacks up to the competition? Well, let's just say it does not disappoint if you are looking for a portable gaming keyboard. The build quality, fully backlit keys, Cherry MX Blue switches, and the layout is really a great asset for anyone looking to do some gaming. When it comes to size, the keyboard is more than portable enough to carry around. With the inclusion of a detachable cable, the portability of this product is quite high. On top of that are the function keys, which I think is a great touch, especially on such a compact keyboard. The usage of the F1 to F12 keys as additional system keys is a great idea in my opinion. The only problem with this keyboard is the lack of a dedicated arrow and navigation key section. This makes it hard to use the keyboard for anything other than gaming. Every time you have to use the number pad, you will have to disable the arrow keys, and vice versa. For the sake of portability, something has to be sacrificed, but I guess having this option is better than not having the number pad at all. Retailing for $110 at press time, the Cooler Master Storm QuickFire TK Blue is definitely on the more expensive side. But if you are looking for a portable gaming keyboard with Cherry MX Blue switches, then this is the keyboard for you.
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 aren't 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.
If you are willing to shell out some money for one of the best portable mechanical gaming keyboards around with Cherry MX Blue switches, the Cooler Master Storm QuickFire TK Blue is the one to buy.
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