The mechanical gaming keyboard market is so overstuff that you can find a decent one for a fair price from just about any brand that has ever even seen a video game. In an effort to save sanity, we’ve decided to do fewer of these in the future.
And really, we don’t know where this device category goes in the future except for better materials and more RGB. This brings to the Cooler Master CK552. You’re wondering if this would have made the cut under my promise to only review keyboards that are doing something new or interesting. And no — it probably wouldn’t have. But that’s only because, on paper, it doesn’t stand out.
But the CK552 does have noticeable features when you get your hands on it, and that makes me more excited to use it — even if the model I used has issues with specters and spooks.
The CK552 is exclusive to Best Buy in the United States and Staples in Canada for $80, and it is available for purchase now.
What you’ll like Cooler Master CK552
Well-made and designed
When you first slide the CK552 out of its packaging, you probably won’t have too many strong feelings about it. This is a keyboard. No one can argue with that. But as soon as I picked it up, I grew more attached to it. This is thanks to its brushed aluminum chassis and substantial, high-quality key caps.
The CK552 is a full-sized QWERTY keyboard with a numpad. It uses Gateron red switches, which — as you would expect — work, sound, and feel a lot like the popular Cherry MX Reds. The CK552 also has programmable per-key lighting that you can control with Cooler Master’s simple software.
The RGB looks great and works as expected without any headaches. If you want to go without the Cooler Master software, you will still get plenty of basic lighting options as well. That’s nice, and I almost like the basic spectrum wave enough to stick with that just so I don’t have to install anything else onto my system.
The Gateron switches are also OK. They are mechanical with a linear actuation, which is nerd for they don’t make a click when you depress them. They will still clack when the caps crash into their wells, but the switch itself doesn’t have a physical or audible click to let you know that you’ve activated it.
Instead, as many want from a gaming switch, the key actuates the instant you press it. It’s also not as loud as blue or brown switches from Gateron or Cherry.
The CK552 does not come with other switch options if you prefer something more tactile or clicky, but you could just get the Cooler Master CK550 instead. That’s essentially the same keyboard with some minor differences in its look, but it comes with option for Gateron red, blue, or brown switches and is available on Amazon.
But the best part of the CK552 are those quality materials. The aluminum is solid and cool to the touch. It makes it seem like the keyboard is drilled into the desk and immovable. And the default keycaps have a subtle resistant surface that makes them catch your fingertips at the slightest touch.
You can find plenty of keyboards that have similar qualities, but not as many in the $80 price range.
What you won’t like Cooler Master CK552
As mentioned, like the Gateron Red switches, but will note that frequently notice false-positive inputs from the “F” key and a few others. Whether you’re typing or playing a game, the keyboard seems to register F when you don’t intend to press it.
You may be brushing it or depressing it just a fraction of an inch, but that is enough to actuate the Gateron. That’s not great during typing. You’ve done it multiple times while writing this review, and it’s annoying. But it’s especially deadly in a game.
This problem is anecdotal, and we don’t have the resources to buy 5,000 of these keyboards to test how often it registers false-positives. But that is my experience, so we’re letting you know.
Cooler Master doesn’t include any install media in the box, so you’ll have to go to the website to download the software for the CK552. Actually, the company barely includes anything in the box; there’s no manual, either. We won’t knock Cooler Master too hard for the omission since you have to go to the company’s site to get the software anyway. we will take issue with the fact that there is no actual documentation. The “manual” download goes to a one-page document, most of which we reproduced at the bottom of the last page. It doesn’t explain how to use the listed keys at all, so we had to spend most of a day figuring that out.
There wasn’t much point in doing that, though, since you can control all of the same functions using the keyboard’s software. The download from Cooler Master’s site installs the Cooler Master Portal, seen above, which lets you then automagically download and install the software for any connected CM devices. It’s a weird extra step that other companies’ software, like Steelseries Engine or Razer’s Synapse, doesn’t require.
The reason it’s required here is that each Cooler Master input device requires its own application, separate from the others. This has a number of implications, but the most obvious is that there’s no way to synchronize lighting effects across devices or copy a macro from one device to another. The former point is bothersome, but the latter point is almost irrelevant because the macro editor on the CK552 is one of the less useful examples of the form we’ve seen.
Macro editing is done purely through recording. This means you can’t insert mouse buttons or joystick actions in your macros, nor can you manually build macros by inserting keystrokes. You have to tap each key you want in the macro, in sequence. The whole experience is pretty unfriendly; you can’t move keystrokes around after recording them, you can’t insert delays, and you can’t set a default delay between actions. You also can’t program keys to perform Windows functions, run scripts, or launch applications like you can with other companies’ software. Finally, since there isn’t a fun cluster on this keyboard, you have to remap keys to assign macros, which means you can’t use those keys in other macros without unbinding them.
Having to manually enter the delay for each action wouldn’t be so bad, but you can’t even tab between the delay fields. You have to use your mouse to click through them, and you have to make sure and press enter after typing in your delay every single time. It’s tedious and cumbersome. To make matters worse, that kind of shoddy UI design pervades the CM software. You can’t resize any of the windows, for example. They’re also not HiDPI-aware, so trying to use the 1366×768 app on a 184-PPI display took a bit more focus than usual.
Best Buy has a good return policy, so if you like what you see and what I have to say about it, I think you could try it out to see if you have the ghost inputs. But if you’re on the fence, you have a million options for keyboards that do a lot of the same stuff with similar materials. The Logitech G610 Orion Red is on sale on Amazon for $80. I like the HyperX Alloy FPS Tenkeyless. Corsair has some nice options. The Razer Ornata, which I love, is $85 on Amazon.