LAS VEGAS, NV -- Although Cherry of course has its low-profile ML switches, the company will quietly admit that the two-decade-old design is lacking, especially given the surge of low-profile switches from the likes of TTC, Adomax (Flaretech), and of course its primary rival, Kaihua. Thus was born the need for a better Cherry-made low-profile switch, which the company has dubbed “Cherry MX Low Profile RGB.”
Cherry reps told us that customer demand pushed the company to develop lower-profile switches, although clearly there were market forces at work, as well. There’s a small arms race for the next typing space, and right now slim desktop mechanical keyboards are a new category, but laptops--well, the opportunity in the laptop space is enormous.
Teardown And Specs
Designed for both laptops and slim desktop keyboards, the whole package is a hair under 12mm tall (11.9mm). In order to better accommodate the electronics under the switch, the bottom of the housing has cavities etched out. Incredibly, that buys another couple of millimeters of space under certain parts of the switch.
The switch promises that same 50M click performance as its larger desktop counterparts. It uses a single-pole contact, and it has SMD LEDs that are mounted directly onto the PCB (which also helps with the space issue).
This is an “RGB” switch, meaning it has a clear housing. RGB switches are sometimes a curse and a blessing, because light bleeds profusely from under the keycaps (which is a desirable effect sometimes), whereas a typical opaque switch housing with an LED mount offers reduced brightness and uneven shine. Cherry sought to ameliorate both problems by making the bottom of the switch housing translucent instead of transparent and also by creating a crescent-shaped opening for the LED to shine through. The idea there is that the crescent will both let light shine brightly through but also direct it a little more widely under the keycap.
The stem is the classic Cherry cross design, but the company opted to employ the same sort of pipe that Kaihua employed on its Box switches. This helps to prevent moisture and crumbs from penetrating past the switch housings and causing damage (it gives these Cherry switches an IP40 protection rating), which is especially important if they’re deployed on laptops.
Although aftermarket keycap enthusiasts may be salivating at the presence of the cross stem design, note that only lower-profile keycaps will work; because of the height of the stem, a full-size keycap would strike the top panel of the keyboard before the switch bottoms out. On the other hand, that opens things up for a whole new family of aftermarket low-profile Cherry-compatible designs.
Note that although Cherry did not state definitively whether or not it had any specific plans to make Brown and Blue versions of the MX Low-Profile RGB switch, the company is considering it. Certainly a wait-and-see approach is wise, but it’s almost a certainty that we’ll see additional version of this switch within the next product cycle.
|Cherry MX Low-Profile RGB||Tesoro Slim Red||Tesoro Slim Blue||Kailh PG1350 (Choc)||Kailh PG1232 (Mini Choc)||Tesoro Agile Red||Tesoro Agile Blue|
|Type||Linear||Linear||Clicky||Linear, tactile, clicky||Clicky||Linear||Clicky|
|Actuation Point||1.2 +/-0.3mm||1.1 +/- 0.4mm||1.1 +/- 0.4mm||1.5mm (+/-0.5mm)||1.2mm (+/-0.5mm)||1.5mm +/- 0.5mm||1.5mm +/- 0.5mm|
|Actuation Force||45 +/-15gf (40g initial)||45 +/- 15gf||40 +/- 10gf||50gf||50gf||45g +/- 15g||45g +/- 15g|
|Pressure Point Force||--||--||50 +/- 15gf||60gf||60gf||--||Unknown|
|Total Travel||3.2mm +/-0.25||3.0 +/- 0.3mm||3.0 +/- 0.3mm||3mm (+/-0.5mm)||2.4mm (+/-0.5mm)||3.5mm +/- 0.5mm||3.5mm +/- 0.5mm|
The total travel is 3.2mm, and it’s worth noting how tight the tolerance is there, at 0.25mm; often you’ll see 0.5mm, although TTC claims 0.3mm. The difference between 0.3mm and 0.25mm is minute to say the least, but perhaps Cherry was merely trying to make a statement by halving Kaihua’s tolerance spec.
The actuation point is a full 2mm above the end of the full travel, at 1.2mm. The force curve for this switch is quite flat. The initial force is actually 40g, which is heavier than you’d expect, and the operating force is barely heavier, at 45g.
A Cornucopia Of Designs
Cherry had several prototype designs in its suite bearing the new switches; Cooler Master had a non-working prototype in its suite, too.
By far the best one, in our subjective opinion, is the Pok3r. It feels amazing--just firm enough, likely aided by the metal chassis--with a keycap profile that suits it nicely. It's dressed in PBT keycaps with the popular throwback-style colorways, and the caps are tightly spaced.
The Cooler Master concept will be most desirable to people who want to have a keyboard in a communal family or office space but dislike both the black chassis/bright lights gamery designs and the retro/aftermarket keycap looks. In short: It looks like Apple could have made it, which appeals to a lot of people.
Ducky is taking a crack at this, too. On its full-size black keyboard, it employed short but concave PBT keycaps and a top panel design that contains the backlighting a bit. DataComp’s version of a low-profile keyboard has a smaller, more compact layout, and the caps are a vintage shape--just sawed off at the bottom to accommodate the shallower travel. Uniqey had a little four-switch demo keypad in the suite with prototypes of low-profile GMK keycaps, too.
Here’s the takeaway from the above: There’s already a variety of keycap profiles in the works. The market will clearly not be limited to chiclet caps or any other lone choice.
We’ve been able to spend a good bit of time with a variety of low-profile switches at this point, and we’ve discovered that generally speaking, the construction of the keyboard in which they reside has a great deal to do with how they feel. With some of these prototype designs, we can say with confidence (and without denigrating any other switches) that the Cherry MX Low-Profile RGB Red switch is everything you want from a low-profile switch. It’s firm enough and feels stable, with a strong rebound, and the cross stem surely adds in keycap stability.
Look for some, or all, of these designs (and more) to emerge over the next year or so.