MasterKeys Pro L Review

This review is of the “Intelligent” White LED version of the Pro L, with Cherry MX Red switches.

Having reviewed a couple of more ‘enthusiast’ oriented keyboards like the Vortex Pok3r and the Happy Hacking Keyboard, it feels strange to be making such a glowing recommendation for what seems like a pretty run-of-the-mill mechanical keyboard from CoolerMaster. The simple form factor and the lack of RGB lighting on this particular model make it seem like an uninteresting update to the QuickFire series that CoolerMaster has been making for years (of which I own the Stealth model). But first impressions aren’t everything. All in all, The MasterKeys Pro L is one of the nicest store-bought keyboards I’ve owned, despite having spent a fraction of the cost for it. Keep reading to see why.

The MasterKeys Pro L is part of the latest line of CoolerMaster mechanical keyboards. It joins the MasterKeys Pro S, a tenkeyless keyboard without a number pad, and the MasterKeys Pro M, which features a compressed design without a discrete arrow key cluster. The Pro L features a full 104 keys, with a complete number pad. The keyboard has no dedicated volume controls, which is a turn-off for some. In my opinion, the decision to exclude them makes sense from a design perspective; maintaining the streamlined, simple look of the keyboard meant relegating volume and media controls to simple key shortcuts (all of which are plainly labeled.)

There don’t seem to be any color options aside from the black, and a horrendous special edition “crystal” version that features frosted acrylic casing and clear keycaps. Stay away from that one if you are using the keyboard for anything resembling work, or if you are older than 14.

The keycaps are predictably made of standard ABS plastic, which is durable and light, but is inferior to the PBT material that is rising in popularity (and was nearly universal in the ’90s.) The legends on the keycaps are laser-etched. Because the ABS plastic is more prone to wear and tear and producing an ugly “shine” on the keycaps over time, it is great that the keyboard features standard Cherry molding on the switches–you can replace the keycaps with just about any store-bought set. As a note, if you are buying the keyboard for typing and typing alone, and don’t really care about maintaining a pristine legend design, the included ABS keycaps could very well last you a decade or so.

The keyboard comes with a keycap puller, a nice braided (but very short!) micro-USB cable, and a couple of extra keycaps. It’s very standard stuff. It’s worth noting that the micro-USB connectors on mechanical keyboards have proven unreliable in the past given their tendency to snap, so be careful with it!

Now that the specs are out of the way, on to the meat of this review:
Pros:

Streamlined form factor: despite being a fullsize keyboard, it takes up very little room on my desk, has very little ‘bezel’ space, and everything comes in a neat rectangular package, with no weird markings or gutters like the Pro M.

Beautiful font: keyboards marketed towards gaming tend to have this terrible, ugly “gaming” font on their stock keycaps, but CM Storm took the right approach with this one, with a simple, visible look that really matches the keyboard and avoids stupid ‘gamer’ conventions. The letters are also top-centered rather than top-left, giving it a more modern feel without taking up the entire key like a Fisher-Price kid’s keyboard or something.

White LEDs are superior to the RGB in a number of ways: while some of you may prefer to go with the flashier RGB model of this board, the white LEDs are brighter and sharper, and the user is given far more control over the brightness. You won’t find fancy rainbow effects here, but anyone looking for a refined and elegant backlight is sure to find it in this board. A neat surprise is the switch plate under the board: it is painted a very bright white color, giving the entire keyboard a bright reflective look with or without the LEDs turned on. Excellent design choice here.

This thing is heavy: like the boards of the QuickFire series before it, this board is weighty and substantial, offering very good traction on your desk in case you have a problem with your boards moving around as you type or game. It also simply gives off a premium look and feel, and you can tell that there is a good amount of steel beneath the keys you are typing on. This also augments the amount of resistance that the keys offer, which is very high.

Bells and whistles: I’m not in it for the fancy stuff, but there is a lot to play around with here in terms of the lighting. You can make your own lighting macros, switch between about a dozen modes, change the brightness, and even play Snake on your keyboard (yes, using the backlighting). For people who like that level of customization, this keyboard offers a lot. Me? I haven’t switched out of the standard “all LEDs on” mode in a long time.

Cons:

Switch choices: I love the Red switches that came with this model, but I would honestly love for there to be more choice in switch types. CM Storm used to offer Greens, so the lack of those here is strange. Also, Blacks and Clears are returning in popularity now with power users, so that would be a great incentive for them.

Other notes:

Not sure what happened here, but someone forgot to lubricate my modifier keys. The backspace, enter, shift, and spacebar all sound like a dog’s chew toy when you press them. A quick application of mechanical lubricant removed the problem. There is a high chance that this is an isolated issue with my particular purchase, however.

 

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