When it comes to keyboards, just about everyone makes them but only a few companies have been able to really get things rolling. Cooler Master is one of those companies, they bridge the gap between the high-end expensive enthusiast brands and gaming products with simple keyboards at decent prices from a brand most people know. Over the years more often than not I personally have been using them on my own computer and that is with a huge stack of other keyboards available to use. So any time Cooler Master introduces a new model they have earned my attention. They reached out a few months ago about an upcoming keyboard, well really a new variation on their current lineup, the Masterkeys PBT. They sent out the S model, or what most call their TKL version. Today I’m going to check it out.

Product Name: Cooler Master Masterkeys S PBT

Review Sample Provided by: Cooler Master

Written by: Wes

Pictures by: Wes

Amazon Affiliate Link: HERE

 

Specifications

Key Switches

Cherry Green

Cherry Silver

Cherry Blue

Cherry Red

Cherry Brown

Layout

87/88 keys Tenkeyless

Material

Plastic / Metal

Color

Black

Polling Rate

1000 Hz

Repeat Rate

1x / 2x / 4x / 8x

Media Keys

Yes, via FN

Windows Key Lock

Yes

Cable

Detachable with Micro-USB

Connector Cable

USB 2.0

Cable Length

1.5 Meters

Dimensions

14.1 x 5.4 x 1.5 in (35.9 x 13.8 x 3.7 cm)

Weight

33.9 oz (960 g)

Included

Keycap puller

Protective bag

7 extra colored keycaps

 


Packaging

The packaging for the Masterkeys S PBT follows the same theme as all of Cooler Masters “Master” products. The box has a dark gray background with the Cooler Master logo up in the corner with “Make It Yours.” next to it. There is a full photo of the keyboard with the model name up over top of it then down on the bottom edge they have the genuine Cherry MX switches logo and one showing this is the PBT keycap model. There are also stickers that show the layout and the keyswitch used. Ours has a USB layout and it used Cherry Green switches. The back of the box has a little information on the features repeated over and over in different languages and a photo of the keyboard blown apart to show each layer.

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Inside the box, the keyboard comes wrapped up in a foam bag. This was a little different than the Masterkeys Pro RGB models that I own a few of, those come in a microfiber bag, I don’t know what prompted the change. Also inside the box, you get a sleeved USB cable as the keyboard does have a detachable USB connection. You also get a small manual for documentation. I found it a little strange that they included the red replacement keycaps for the WASD and QWER keys and I think those caps might not be PBT or as thick as the stock keycaps, they used to include these WAY back in the day with their Quickfire keyboard. The plastic keycap puller was also a downgrade from the metal wire version that came with the Masterkeys Pro RGB’s.

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Photos and Features

So the Masterkeys S PBT is going to look very similar to all of the TKL keyboards Cooler Master has made in the last 6-7 years. It has the same simple bezel design that all of their TKL keyboards have had and it has the dark gray rubbery finish that they moved to later in the life of the Quickfire so there isn’t too much that is new here. The S designation in the name means this is the small or TKL model but the PBT is also available in the L or full sized form factor as well. The S basically is just missing the number pad so you get the normal F row, direction pad, and normal alphas and modifiers. The PBT keycaps do look a little different than past models, the color/finish looks a little different and I will get into that later and the font is much better than some of the “gaming” fonts that get used.

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A little closer look at the keyboard shows us that the Masterkeys S PBT does have a completely standard layout meaning it has the traditional 1.25u keys on the bottom row and you would be able to find replacement keycaps in the future if needed but doing that would completely get rid of what makes this PBT model different. The one area that was different on this model is they have moved the three status lights normally above the number pad over to be above the direction pad. On previous models with backlighting, they used built-in backlighting but the PBT model doesn’t have backlighting so they had to get a little creative. Beyond the normal key functions, Cooler Master also slipped in a function layer that gives you media controls in the home button area as well as the ability to record macros just like the Masterkeys Pro with F11 through Pause.

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For comparison, I did dig out a few of my other Cooler Master TKL keyboards. Specifically two Masterkey Pro S’s. The bezel finish looks a touch lighter when they are next to each other but that could just be variances in the finish. Here you can see the LED indicators and most importantly we can see that the keycaps have a completely different finish that makes the PBT caps almost look dark gray. The PBT keyboard in the picture was an ISO layout that Cooler Master originally sent me, later replacing It with a proper model so ignore the changes in the enter key area. Things like the fonts are the same though, except when compared to the crazy one up top with custom keycaps lol.

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So Cooler Master kept their branding to the small logo on the keycaps so looking around the keyboard there isn’t much going on around the edges. You can see that the removable cord can come out on either side or out the back of the keyboard depending on what your desk layout requires. Then for the side profile, the bottom sits flush on the desk but there is a slight angle to the keyboard, in addition to that the keys also have an OEM profile that adds more angle and a curved shape.

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The bottom of the keyboard has four good sized rubber feet to keep everything in place. You can also flip out the rear feet to add more angle if you need it, those feet also have rubber on the ends as well. The three different cord routing areas all lead back to the center where the cord plugs into the micro-USB connection. This is always a tight plug if you aren’t using the included cord. Then in the center is the model sticker with the regulatory information, the model, and serial number.

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So for keyswitches Cooler Master uses Cherry MX switches only. My sample has Cherry Greens with their clicky action and higher spring rate. This is more of a lower popularity switch, the look to also have  Silver, Blue, Red, and Brown switches from looking at what is available for pre-sale on Amazon. Browns are my personal preferred switch but they basically have everything covered including the new silver speed switches. For the longer switches, Cooler Master went with Costar stabilizers, this was a little surprising because the Masterkeys Pro uses Cherry stabilizers. Costars tend to rattle less than Cherry’s so a lot of people prefer them, if you are replacing keycaps though the Cherry’s are a lot easier to work with.  

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Okay so here is where the PBT designation comes from. Traditionally most keyboards you buy have ABS keycaps. This is just fine but ABS wears quicker, this is why you see ABS keycaps get a glossy finish on top where your fingers touch them. So a lot of enthusiasts actually prefer to run PBT keycaps because it doesn’t wear like that and they last a lot longer. So the whole Masterkeys PBT is basically all about the upgraded PBT keycaps. In addition to the keycaps being PBT, they also went with a much thicker design. This gives a much nicer solid feel when typing. For legends they went with laser etched, I would have liked double shot but these are still a huge improvement over normal keycaps. In the second picture, you can see the thickness difference compared to the keycaps that come with the Masterkeys Pro.

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Performance

For performance testing, I just replaced my Masterkeys Pro L that I normally use with the Masterkeys S PBT for about three weeks of daily use. This let me test it while gaming and writing. Considering all of the past experience I have had with the Masterkeys Pro and even the previous Cooler Master keyboards with the same exterior design most of my focus was really on the new keycaps. I kept a Masterkeys Pro out with ABS caps for comparison and just like I expected, the thicker PBT keycaps make a big difference in the feel and sound when typing. They give a more solid feel, especially if you bottom out the keys when typing. As for the sound, the green switches are obviously a loud switch but they have a different tone with these keycaps. Then of course in that time there was also no wear done to the caps, you would actually have to run them for a lot longer for any sort of comparison, but I have actually run PBT keycaps on most of my personal keyboards with no noticeable wear on any of them.

My other concern was with the laser etched legends, in the past, I have seen them be a little more vulnerable to dirt getting in and discoloring the legends but in my 3 weeks of testing this didn’t become an issue on the Masterkeys S PBT. The move to Costar stabilizers worked out decently. I didn’t have any rattling or issues with them when typing or gaming but as someone who will sometimes pull my keycaps off to clean my keyboard or to swap them out I would still prefer Cherry stabilizers so I can avoid fighting with the wires and tiny clips.

Beyond the keycaps, for anyone who hasn’t used any of the Cooler Master keyboards in the past. I was really happy with the thin bezel design, on top of already being a TKL keyboard they don’t waste any extra space with the bezel so the overall board is small and simple. The built-in function layer media keys are in an easier to use spot with them being in with the home button, you can use one hand to use them but I just never have any need for media keys. I use streaming for music most of the time when working and I don’t need to flip through any movies or TV shows.

Overall the keyboard has a good construction, you can't flex it at all and it is heavy enough to not slide around or anything. The plastic bezel does pick up some oils in your hands if you are handling it but it doesn’t rattle or move around. As for the new location of the status indicator LEDS, I almost never even noticed them. I rarely look at indicators anyhow but I would prefer to see them use smaller pinholes for the indicators to keep the look cleaner.

 


Overall and Final Verdict

With the testing behind us and having taken a closer look at the keyboard itself, what’s the story on the Masterkeys S PBT? Well, like other Cooler Master keyboards, this model has the same simple and clean styling with a thin bezel, almost no branding, and that flat black finish that I love. What is different though is the inclusion of PBT keycaps. This means much better durability, a nicer finish, and very thick keycaps that give a much better feel and sound. All of that really helps add to the already good construction of the keyboard.

There is still room for improvement, I would love to see the new LED status indicators be a little smaller with pinhole LEDS. I also wouldn’t be against doubleshot PBT keycaps over the laser etching. Now the Costar stabilizers should make a lot of people happy, but I personally would prefer Cherry stabilizers just for simplicity in removing and installing keycaps in the future. The last downside to me was the lack of backlighting, but that is mostly just my preference.

For pricing, at launch, you can find the Masterkeys S PBT for $79.99 and this puts this specific model in lower than the backlit models from Cooler Master. Considering you are actually getting a great keycap set along with a good keyboard I think this is actually a good value. I’ve seen people spending almost this much just for a good set of thick PBT keycaps like this, so not having to do that in addition to the cost of the keyboard is nice. So if you are looking for a discrete keyboard with no backlighting and that will last for a very long time this is the keyboard. The PBT keycaps eliminate the one area that could have wear in the future.

fv5recommended

Live Pricing: HERE

Author Bio
garfi3ld
Author: garfi3ldWebsite: http://lanoc.org
Editor-in-chief
You might call him obsessed or just a hardcore geek. Wes's obsession with gaming hardware and gadgets isn't anything new, he could be found taking things apart even as a child. When not poking around in PC's he can be found playing League of Legends, Awesomenauts, or Civilization 5 or watching a wide variety of TV shows and Movies. A car guy at heart, the same things that draw him into tweaking cars apply when building good looking fast computers. If you are interested in writing for Wes here at LanOC you can reach out to him directly using our contact form.

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