Keyboard companies are convinced that pressure sensitivity is the next big thing. These analog keyboards can tell how hard a key is being pressed, with the idea being that this can offer more granular control than a traditional keyboard, especially in games. Cooler Master's MK850 is the latest product to boast this feature.
Cooler Master announced that it would enter the analog keyboard market in January 2018 with the MK851. The keyboard was developed using analog input technology from Aimpad, which competes with Wooting as the leader in this space, in the QWER and ASDF key clusters. (Which are the most commonly used keys in most games.) The MK850 was originally supposed to be an Aimpad-less version of the keyboard. The MK851 was canceled in June 2018 and the MK850 took its place, with the company simply dropping plans to release a version of the keyboard without Aimpad's technology.
Cooler Master said that Aimpad's technology allows the MK850 to sense a keypress' depth along the full 4mm travel instead of being restricted to sensing just 2mm. This should offer even more granular controls, although setting up the technology seems like it could be more trouble than it's worth. (More on that later.) That and the MK850's use of Cherry MX switches are its primary differentiators from the likes of Wooting's keyboards.
The MK850 also features per-key RGB backlighting, five programmable macro keys, support for up to four profiles, two programmable scroll wheels, and a detachable USB-C cable. It also comes with a detachable wrist rest that's supposed to help ease some of the pain of prolonged gaming (or typing) sessions.
Those all seem fine and dandy. There might even be potential in analog input--especially if developers start making games with the technology in mind. But the FAQs that Cooler Master answered on the MK850 product page make using the pressure sensitive keys seem like they could end up being more trouble than they're worth.
The company said the MK850's pressure sensitive keys should be calibrated every time the Aimpad technology is reactivated. Not immediately, though, because the LEDs that enable the analog input can take up to five minutes to "warm up." Deadzone compensation keys in the top right are also used to fine-tune in-game controls.
Improperly calibrated Aimpad keys can lead to ghost typing, misregistered input, and probably a lot of accidental deaths. (Imagine playing Dark Souls with a malfunctioning "W" key.) Cooler Master also said the first thing MK850 owners should do is download its software to get firmware and software updates.
Analog keyboards are also recognized as gamepads by connected systems. This doesn't cause any problems most of the time, which is why Cooler Master recommended not to disable the MK850's Aimpad technology, but it also isn't the smoothest experience. As we said in our review of the Wooting One back in July 2017:
"There’s a wonderful amount of flexibility in how you customize your analog controls, but getting things set the way you want them can be a tedious and time-consuming process. In a way, it reminds us of overclocking; you can tweak and fiddle for hours if you let yourself, just to get those settings exactly right and extract the last dregs of the performance you want out of your hardware."
Not to belabor the obvious, but some people don't mind putting in the time required to get the most out of their hardware. Those people can find Cooler Master's MK850 on Amazon (opens in new tab), Best Buy (opens in new tab), and Newegg with an MSRP of $200. (Just don't confuse it with the MK850 from Logitech, though we doubt anyone would make that mistake.)