Cooler Master MasterKeys MK850
Features, features, and more features.
LET’S START WITH a question: Are analog keyboards an intrinsically dumb idea? The answer could depend on how well trained your left hand has become at smashing WASD as hard as it can. Most of us have developed those fine motor skills in our thumbs, not our fingers, so approaching something like the Cooler Master MK850—which marks the commercial debut of Aimpad’s long-gestating optical analog tech—might require a significant period of refactoring and readjustment. And not just when using the analog keys, because CM’s decision to put modetriggering M-keys up the left edge of the keyboard, just asking to be triggered by an errant pinkie or a mis-angled palm, is initially infuriating.
This isn’t the first analog keyboard to arrive. We’ve done our share of gushing about the excellent Wooting One, and its full-sized sequel is due any minute. The MK850 is also not fully analog, saving its optical sensors for a patch of eight keys between Q and F. That’s actually not a bad thing. While Wooting’s whole board actuation height adjustment isn’t present here, there’s really no reason beyond that to have every key analog-enabled, and Aimpad’s radical mix-up tech means Cooler Master has been able to use proper mechanical switches.
You don’t get a choice of switch—it’s Cherry MX Reds or the highway, son— but again, that’s a logical move. The smooth travel, reasonable resistance, and high digital actuation point of the linear MX Red switches make them great for straight gaming and decent for typing, and also means they’re suited perfectly to that analog double duty. It’s central to Aimpad’s take on the tech: The company’s optical sensors gaze up at the base of commercial switches to check how far they’ve been depressed, in contrast to Wooting’s combination of completely passive switches and an entirely optical mainboard. In theory, this might make it applicable to heavyweight Cherry MX Black switches (or, indeed, non-Cherry hardware), but it’s unlikely to fit anything with a tactile bump—analog and linear feel like inseparable bedfellows.
Analog functionality is just the tip of the MK850 iceberg. There are two (two!) super-smooth knurled rollers on its jutting-out backside, alongside a row of dedicated media keys, and a pair of USB 3 pass-through ports behind, made possible by a slim braided USB Type-C cable. The slightly irritating M-keys access pre-configured analog modes, sidestepping the annoyance of applying said modes in software. On that point, there are three mysterious keys above the number pad, one that effectively reboots the keyboard, and two to tweak the analog actuation point on the fly.
If you don’t want to use Cooler Master’s Portal software, which is easy, functional, and stable, there’s a cavalcade of customization options built in to the keyboard itself, from macro programming to RGB effects. While these are almost completely unfathomable without reading a manual (as is generally the case with Cooler Master keyboards), everything’s stored on board, making this a perfect portable keyboard. The lighting itself is frankly stunning, with clearbased switches that play nicely with a handsome brushed aluminum top edge, more effects than anyone could possibly need, and a subtle light bar running along the front edge that you’ll never see if you employ the magnetically attached soft PU leather wrist rest.
Even if you were to discount the option of using the eight analog keys, this would be a stupendous keyboard package. But those keys work well, and it’s hard not to appreciate the fact that their stealthy presence doesn’t make any portion of the keyboard feel even slightly different from the rest. They’re not dumb—they’re awesome. If only they didn’t contribute to making this one of the most expensive stock mechanical keyboards on the market today, we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.
Switch Type: Cherry MX Red
Form Factor: Full-size
Media Keys: Yes
Macro Keys: Configurable
LEDs: Full per-key RGB
N-Key Rollover: Yes
Pass-Through: 2x USB 3.0
Dimensions: 18.7 x 6.1 x 1.7 inches
Warranty: Two yearsPlus:
Overflowing with features; beautiful lighting; neatanalog tech.Minus:
Requires mental retraining; M-keys can be annoying; so expensive.Price: