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Review: CoolerMaster Novatouch TKL Mechanical Keyboard
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Review: CoolerMaster Novatouch TKL Mechanical Keyboard

Tom LiNovember 14, 2015

Cherry, Meet Topre

cooler-master-novatouch-tkl-custom-pc-review-4Cooler Master has long been a VIP in making mechanical gaming keyboards with Cherry MX mechanical switches. But its newest flagship keyboard adds something rare into the scene.

Enter the Cooler Master Novatouch TKL, a tenkey-less keyboard that uses Cooler Master’s exclusive Hybrid Capacitive Switches. In a keyboard world where everything seems to be made using Cherry MX, Kailh, and rubber dome, anything but are considered as rarities. So just what kind of a switch does the Novatouch TKL use?

Hybrid Capacitive Switch, What Is It?

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Turns out, Cooler Master’s exclusive Hybrid Capacitive Switch is based on a premium switch type called Topre. Topre switch is characterized by its tactile feedback, high durability, ~1mm actuation distance, and uniform travel. It’s considered by many dedicated typists as the best switch to type on. While several flavors of Topre switches exist, the standard Topre switch is by far the most prevalent and is available in a variety of weights.

Topre switch is considered to be a “hybrid” switch due to its unique construction where a conical spring is layered between a electrostatic membrane and the PCB. The membrane (often made of silicone) is responsible for providing most of the tactility, while the conical spring helps build capacitance and detect key presses. When pressed, there’s a bump at the actuation point, then the rest of the travel becomes linear throughout. Due to its capacitive nature, Topre switches have a actuation point of just 1mm, making them one of the fastest keyboard switches on the market.

The Topre switch Cooler Master chose to use has a 45g actuation force. Cooler Master put a spin on the regular Topre switch by adding in a Cherry MX keycap compatible stem. Users who enjoy customizing their keyboards with exotic keycaps can now do so on a Topre keyboard.

A Closer Look at the Cooler Master Novatouch TKL

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Here’s a look at the packaging for the Cooler Master NovaTouch TKL.

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The NovaTouch TKL came packaged very well. The keyboard is swallowed by foam on all sides.

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As a premium keyboard, it’s no suprise to see that the Cooler Master has loaded the Novatouch TKL with accessories. Aside from the manual, Cooler Master has also included a keypuller, a bag of O-Rings, and a braided USB to microUSB cable.

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The Cooler Master Novatouch TKL sports one of the cleanest designs we’ve seen from the company. There’s no obtrusive logos anywhere to be seen. Form factor for the NovaTouch TKL is the standard North American Ten-Keyless (TKL). This allows greater portability and conserves desk space for people who don’t need the numpad. Although it lacks a numpad, the keyboard is still quite hefty at 895g. The entire chassis is constructed of a smooth, matte, fingerprint resistant finish.

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The only indication that this keyboard was made by Cooler Master is a CM Storm logo at the front of the chassis.

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The Cooler Master Novatouch TKL stands fairly tall so users should definitely use a wristrest. The top is slanted slightly to add a bit of ergonomics.

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The microUSB port sits flush with the chassis which means that damage from cable movement could be a possibility. I’m a much bigger fan of Cooler Master’s previous keyboard designs with the USB port underneath the chassis utilizing cable channels to prevent any sort tugging from putting pressure on the port itself.

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The bottom of the keyboard is fairly plain.

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There are two plastic feet which help raise the NovaTouch TKL if needed. The feet are padded with rubber at the end to reduce slippage.

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One of the biggest features of the Cooler Master Novatouch TKL’s Topre switches is that they use a Cherry MX stem. The switches feature purple sliders, which were used in Topre’s RealForce keyboards.

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The Topre stabilizer under the space bar uses a single spring to push up the key. The stabilizer’s side mounts retract into the chassis, making reinstalling the spacebar difficult.

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The ABS plastic keycaps is probably the least impressive feature of the Novatouch TKL. The letter face is printed using laser etching so they may start to fade in a short period of time.

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Note: Keycap not included. Picture shows Cherry MX Keycap compatibility

Cooler Master NovaTouch TKL Performance

For testing I used the keyboard for several weeks in a variety of typical use scenarios including coding, writing articles, and gaming.

The Cooler Master Novatouch TKL had a very distinct feel. Its Topre switches felt like a more tactile and consistent version of rubber dome. Key presses were fairly quiet even when bottomed out. Because of its 1mm actuation distance, the Topre-equipped Cooler Master Novatouch TKL makes a perfect companion for fast typists and intense gamers. Overall, I enjoyed hacking out long articles with the Cooler Master Novatouch TKL. One issue I did notice right away however is that there’s no indicator lights for the caps, scroll, and windows lock keys. This made it annoying at times as it was difficult to tell whether or not I accidentally had my capslock on.

Moving on to the gaming. The Novatouch TKL handled well in EA’s Battlefield 4, but it wasn’t anything extraordinary. With that said, the benefit of Topre switches really distinguished themselves in the spam-intensive Starcraft II; while it was hard to tell the difference between acutation speed, I did enjoy how smooth the key travel was. The keys remained stable under force and rapid presses, and had no ghosting issues throughout testing. One thing to note is that my wrist became sore quite fast due to the lack of a wristrest.

For typing speed, I tested a variety of keyboards using typrX. Initially, the feel of the Topre switch threw me off, and I actually saw a decrease in my typing performance. With that said, my typing speed jumped back after getting accustomed to its feel. While I saw almost no change in my typing speed compared to my CM Storm QuickFire Rapid with Cherry MX Blue switches, the real difference lies in the feel. Compared to the QuickFire Rapid, the Novatouch TKL has a softer feedback when bottomed out. It’s also not as as loud as Cherry MX Blues and more tactile than Cherry MX Browns. Those interested in testing your own typing speed can go to typrX to benchmark your own typing speed. I’d suggest taking the test 5 times and taking the average for best results.

NKRO/Anti-Ghosting Testing

To test the NKRO/anti-ghosting functionality of the Novatouch TKL, I’ll be using a web app developed by Microsoft’s Applied Science Group. More information about the webapp, ghosting, and NKRO may be found here. The NKRO/anti-ghosting test is conducted using the USB connector.

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I dropped an old college textbook on the Novatouch TKL and tried to cover as many keys as possible. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long enough to cover the whole keyboard, but it’s safe to say that the NovaTouch TKL shouldn’t have any ghosting issues.

Cooler Master NovaTouch TKL Conclusion

cooler-master-novatouch-13-custom-pc-review-1The Cooler Master Novatouch TKL is pretty much the definition of a no frills, quality product. There’s no obtrusive logos plastered all over the chassis, there’s no backlighting on the keyboard, there isn’t even lights under the caps lock or scroll lock buttons. According to Cooler Master, this was done on purpose as they’ve purposely designed the Novatouch TKL for touch-typists who hack away at 80+ words per minute without even giving the keyboard a glance.

While the Novatouch TKL skimped on the light show, its build quality is phenomenal. The keyboard’s got quite a bit of weight to it and feels very solid. The braided cable should be able to withstand a ton of wear and tear. However, the included 90° angled micro USB cable has me worried. I’d much rather have a straight cable as this can put unnecessary strain on the port. An even better alternative would be placing the USB port a little further inside the chassis and use cable channels to hold the cable in place.

The Hybrid Capacitive switch combines the excellence of Topre switches and personalization of Cherry MX into one package. Its 1mm actuation point is very low, but you’d be hard-pressed to notice the difference in speed between a Cherry MX switch and a Topre switch. However, what you will feel is the incredible smoothness of the key travel. The stabilizer under the spacebar did a great job at keeping the bar stabilized even when I pressed it on the edge. Due to the distinct feel of the Topre switch, I found myself needing some adjustment time before I returned to typing with full proficiency. The option of being able to customize the Novatouch TKL using customized keycaps is a huge plus as well.

Cooler Master’s Novatouch TKL came with some nifty features and accessories. I liked being able to lock the Windows key when gaming. The repeat rate of the keys can be adjusted directly through the keyboard, although I don’t really see how this can be applied to any practical use. The included bag of O-Rings didn’t muffle the noise by much, but it did dampen the feedback when I slammed the keys to the bottom. So whether or not you install them is up to your preference.

Good thing Cooler Master included a key puller with the Novatouch TKL because its stock keycaps are pretty bad. After just a month of use, the printing on certain keys have already started to fade. As a flagship keyboard, this is where the Novatouch TKL falls short. Obviously, this was done to cut costs so we can get these Topre switches since they’re quite expensive. But thanks to its Cherry MX compatible key stems, users can easily swap it out for a set of keycaps of their own.

The Cooler Master Novatouch TKL can be had for around $165.99 on Amazon. Although this may seem like a splurge for even a top-notch mechanical keyboard, it’s currently the least expensive Topre-equipped keyboard on the market. Because of its distinct feel, I recommend trying it out in person or buying a switch tester before making the purchase (just like you should with any other switch type).

CPCR-Silver

Sample provided by: Cooler Master

Available on: Amazon

About The Author
Tom Li
Tom has a strong passion for computer hardware and technology. In his downtime, he enjoys gaming, playing guitar, and photography.

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