Monoprice Cherry MX Red Mechanical Gaming Keyboard (November 16th, 2012)
Product Manufacturer: Monoprice
- No odd inputs, allowing 'stealth'
- Two-port USB hub, passthrough audio
- Cherry MX Red keyswitches
- Smooth keypress with tactile response
- 'Heavy' keypress force
- No odd inputs, limiting custom options
- Some backlight bleed
Input devices are critical to the computing experience. As we mentioned in our review of the Logitech G-710 gaming keyboard, they are frequently given short shrift. Devices with features tailored towards a specific market typically have a higher price tag associated with them. Monoprice sells more than just inexpensive cabling -- they have an entire range of gaming keyboards. We had the opportunity to check out the Monoprice Cherry MX Red gaming keyboard from the eponymous manufacturer in both professional and gaming environments. Does the offering from the peripheral vendor stand out from the crowd on its features, or because of its price?
Mechanical keyboards are expensive, there's no doubt about it. Rather than just a printed circuit board with a momentary contact plate underneath each key, the mechanical keyboard features an individual switch with varying tension depending on the manufacturer and grade of switch. This Monoprice offering contains 104 Cherry MX red key switches. First released in 2008, the switch fell out of production in 2010, and re-entered the marketplace this year, only now starting to reappear in boutique keyboards such as this Monoprice offering.
Mechanical key switches have a much different "finger feel" than membrane or scissor-switch keyboards. When a key is pressed by the typist, the keyswitch sends a key press signal to the computer when a key isn't quite pressed completely down. Testing found a 4.05mm key switch travel, with an actuation of 2.0mm. The Cherry MX Red switch found in the keyboard has a significant force required, as compared to membrane or scissor-switch keys. When the keystroke is actuated, it feels very similar to pushing a tack through a layer of paper -- the user feels a tangible change in the resistance of the press following the actuation of the key, and "bottoming out" the key isn't required to actuate the key.
As with the recently reviewed Logitech G-710+, the key feel is very similar to the Apple Extended ADB keyboard from two decades ago, but a bit more key force is required. After learning to not "bottom out" keys with too much force, well passing the keyswitch actuation, we did find a slight reduction in accidental typos, as well as a minor increase in typing speed. Gaming experience is somewhat more objective. While we found no observable increase in response time during our trials, "wear and tear" on wrists and hands was somewhat lessened after a long session of various first-person shooter titles. This review benefitted somewhat from practice with the G-710+, but the benefits found in shifting to a mechanical keyboard from a "standard" membrane keyboard were also proven in additional testers with no mechanical keyboard experience who tried the keyboard as well.
As opposed to most gaming keyboards, there are few additional features on the keyboard visibly declaring it as a gaming keyboard. The normal row of F-keys line the top of the keyboard, and there are no discrete macro keys lining the board anywhere. The software for the keyboard still offers macro recording, de rigeur for gaming keyboards, executable from the F-key line. The lack of additional input devices on the keyboard isn't a detraction for the most part, and permits the keyboard to function normally on a Macintosh OS X system with no driver support, which is a plus. Additionally, no LCD screens, wheels, throttles, or other such "enhancements" allow the keyboard to blend in a bit when connected to a multipurpose computer.
Connectivity to the Monoprice Cherry MX Red gaming keyboard is provided by a single USB 2.0 port and an input for microphone and a headset. The keyboard provides a pair of USB 2.0 ports in the form of an minimally powered hub, allowing for mice, controllers, or other low-power device to be plugged directly into the keyboard. Our testing found the USB ports to be just a little too close together, effectively prohibiting some connectors with wider than the norm plastic sleeves on the USB plug from being connected together. The audio-in ports are pass-through ports with no amplification, and allow sometimes short microphone and headphone cables to be connected to the keyboard, rather than directly to the computer. Pass-through 1/8-inch cables are woven into the USB cable for connection to the audio ports on the computer.
The red backlight is settable from very dim to bright and throbbing. Each key has its own LED, which is a nicety not found on every keyboard, giving even light projection. A bit more shielding on each LED would be nice, as there is a significant amount of light bleed out the bottom of the keyboard. A quick call to Monoprice technical support called this a "feature," but we remain skeptical of that claim. Regardless if feature or bug, it is just a small amount of bleed, and if it proves to be distracting, backing off the brightness by one notch eliminated the bleed. Kickout feet allow for some height adjustment, but the thickness of the keyboard is offset by an optional and sturdy palm rest included with the keyboard. Included with the keyboard is a set of four orange keycaps plus key removal tool, likely intended for the WASD grouping for easy location but can be installed anywhere.
Any input or output device review and experience is highly objective and difficult to classify for every user. The Cherry MX Red keyswitch does take more force than expected, and we found it to be polarizing among the testers we gave the unit to try. We found the high resistance to be an assist in relearning to use a mechanical keyboard, giving improvement over most keyboards for both day-to-day usage as well as gaming for desktop computers, but individual preferences will vary.
All in all, the Monoprice Cherry MX Red gaming keyboard is an inexpensive entry for a very high quality keyboard. The 45-gram press force required on the keys isn't for everybody, though, and should be tried first. The no-frills nature of the 104-key keyboard is a blessing and a curse -- extra inputs or keys aren't available for specific in-game functions, but it can be argued that the more standard look of the keyboard offsets the benefits gained by assorted inputs that may or may not be able to be used with every title to be played.