We've often discussed the merits of typing on a mechanical keyboard here at OC3D. Indeed if you've never experienced the pleasure, and you find yourself typing anything approaching a reasonable amount, then you're certainly missing out.
The majority of users will be used to a keyboard that relies on either the scissor-style or a membrane for their keys. These are, to use a technical term, squishy. Not only does this give you a an experience akin to prodding custard, but because the keys are reliant upon you reaching the limits of their travel before the keypress is acknowledge then you can quickly become fatigued.
A mechanical keyboard by contrast uses individual switches for each key, and they are capable of providing the key you have pressed long before they reach the end of their travel. So although you might believe that a laptop style gives a shorter keystroke, it's more than likely that a good mechanical keyboard actually requires less travel before activation. Although you might have 6 of total travel, you only require 2mm. So your fingers can skate across it, leading to a much faster and less painful typing adventure.
Specifications wise the MK-80 ticks all the boxes we'd expect of a current mechanical keyboard. We have the Cherry MX switches that are the heart of any great keyboard. It's no shock to find them in everything, because they're so perfect. This particular keyboard has the MX Blue's, ones with a microswitch click for additional feedback. As well as those the MK-80 has N-Key rollover for those times when banging your head off the keyboard is the only reply possible to a particularly dull-witted forum post. Otherwise it's the usual extras of media keys, LED lighting, gold connections and USB ports.
• Key switch: Cherry MX blue mechanical switch technology
• N Key Rollover: Gaming cluster with anti ghosting capability
• Key strokes: 50 million
• Lightning: Individual LED backlight
• Lightning features: Four levels of brightness
• Connectors: Gold plated connectors for extremely low latency
• Media keys: Media keys for volume control, play, pause and skip tracks
• USB Hub: Two high speed USB 2.0 ports
• Audio ports: 3.5mm Headphone-out and microphone-in jacks
• Cable: 1.8 meter extra thick cable
• Extras: 4 extra orange key caps and key cap puller
• Dimensions: Keyboard 44.45 x 14.48 x 2.54 cm, Wrist pad 44.45 x 6.1 x 1.4 cm
• Weight: 1.27 kg
• Warranty: 2 year
As with all QPAD packaging the MK-80 comes in a sturdy box, with a clear, simplistic, indication of the various features in a way that many graphics card and motherboard manufacturers would do well to emulate. Inside the eye-catching outer sleeve is a well-padded box, ensuring that your MK-80 arrives in perfect condition.
It's strange to see that QPAD have chosen to include un-marked replacement keys. Primarily for the WASD we can only assume they haven't been specifically assigned to certain keys in case you wish to use them for the cursors. Still, a strange decision. They MK-80 itself follows a very familiar pattern. So many mechanical keyboards look like this it's almost impossible to say anything about it. Anyone who has seen the Razer Blackwidow, or Steelseries 6H or Ducky Channel Shine 2 offering will be instantly at home with the layout.
The USB ports and the headset jacks are tucked away on the right hand edge just below the lock indicators. Surprisingly the MK-80 comes with a PS2 connection by default, something which is quickly being phased out of current motherboards. We've seen plenty of infinite-key USB keyboards that there is no need to keep using the PS2 port. Especially as it doesn't even free up a USB port because you have to plug the USB lead in to obtain the lighting.
The lock indicators themselves are nicely designed. A far cry from some of the near-searchlight LEDs we've seen on Cherry equipped keyboards. Finally each key has the LED Cherry MX Blue, in all its clicky glory.
As you would expect from individual key LEDs, the lighting is bright and uniform. There are four settings of brightness from off to full, and this is at its brightest. Unlike many keyboards we see the brightness control isn't adjusted with a combination of the function key and F-keys, but rather the numpad 2 and 8 provide the adjustment.
One of the great benefits to the ubiquitous appearance of Cherry MX switches in mechanical keyboards is that you are guaranteed to have an identical typing experience regardless of the brand. The only real difference is in the model of switch chosen which changes the actuation pressure. So you require more force to depress a Cherry MX Black than their MX Red. The Cherry MX Blue is slightly different in that is has a light actuation, giving it a feel more akin to a laptop-style, but has an audible click when you depress the key. Indeed anyone who only knows of mechanical keyboards from films and the like will automatically consider this the click that old keyboards made. Mechanical keyboards as such don't make this much noise, but the choice of MX Blue's in the MK-80 certainly brings that tactile feedback to the fore.
So if we accept that one Cherry-equipped keyboard types much like another, we're reliant more upon the nuances of each model, and of course the price, to separate them.
Considering that around 90% of the population are right handed it initially seems sensible to place the USB ports and headset sockets on the top right of the MK-80, until you consider how many cables are now coming from your right-hand side. If you plug in a headset you'll find your mouse hand, the most vital part of any gaming experience, surrounded by cables.The only alternative would be to route the cables across the keyboard, or move your mouse further away. Of course you could not use them at all, but then they're an expensive nothing. They'd be better served on the left hand side.
Also we discovered during testing that if you want the keyboard to light up (and who wouldn't) then you need to plug in the second USB cable. Even if you use the adaptor to have the main keyboard cable run in via a USB socket you still require both inserted to obtain lighting. With USB ports at an absolute premium this is almost a deal-breaking element, helped only by the fact that you regain those two ports on the MK-80 itself.
If you prefer a silent option then the MK-80 is available with all the Cherry MX offerings requiring different actuation force (the amount of pressure you need to apply to the key to get it to register) and tactile response (from a smooth linear feel, to a very definite bump that lets you know any further pressing is wasted energy). These are the light and smooth Red, the smooth but harder Black, the medium notch of a Brown or the model we have today that comes equipped with the very light Blue switch that also has an audible click for feedback. Personally we would always choose the soft, smooth Reds. But then we type so much here at OC3D that eventually the clacking of the Blue switches sounds like an invasion of Crickets.
However, despite these couple of small niggles the MK-80 is still an excellent keyboard. It's impossible to turn the Cherry MX switches into an unenjoyable experience and although QPAD have made a slight meal of the bits they can adjust, it's solid enough and with an attractive price-tag of only £90 it's in the mid-range of mechanical offerings. For this reason we're awarding it our OC3D Silver Award.
Thanks to QPAD for supplying the MK-80 for review. Discuss your thoughts in the OC3D Forums.