We did a double take last week when we saw Corsair’s announcement that its new K55 keyboard would cost just $50. The K55’s announcement boasted of RGB lighting, too, which is typically a premium feature. Considering that Corsair’s top-end mechanical keyboard, the K95 RGB, carries a price tag of $190, and the going rate for any mechanical keyboard with RGB lighting is over $100, this was both rather shocking and would severely undercut much of Corsair’s competition.
Razer’s least expensive mechanical keyboard is the $70 BlackWidow X TE, for example. But when we drilled down to the detailed specs of the K55, we noticed that there was no mention of the switches. Curious, we reached out to Corsair last week with questions but have yet to hear back. Our own observations, though, tell us that this is not a mechanical keyboard. (Update: We've now heard from Corsair, see note at the bottom of the article.)
Indeed, where usually you’d find something like “100% Authentic Cherry MX Switches With 50 Million Click Lifespan And Preferred By Pro Gamers” or some such marketing spiel plastered on top of the specifications list, there was no mention of switches at all, save for this, the fourth bullet of the list: “Quiet and responsive keys give a satisfying feel.”
Ah, there it is. These are not mechanical switches; they’re probably just membrane switches. Then, we looked closer at the language describing the lighting: It’s RGB, yes, but it’s three-zone backlighting, not per-key, and although Corsair’s CUE software is mentioned in the press materials, it’s in reference to the Harpoon RGB mouse the company announced at the same time as the K55.
Further, if you look closely at the images in the release materials, it appears that instead of a metal top plate design, the keys are resting on a translucent plastic bed.
Funny enough, as we saw with Razer’s “Mecha-Membrane” Ornata and Cooler Master’s “mem-chanical” MasterKeys Lite L non-mechanical-switch keyboards, that plastic actually makes for a lovely backlight arrangement, diffusing the light better than the top plate designs that are so popular. However, whereas Razer and Cooler Master pushed their not-quite-mechanical keyboards as budget-friendly alternatives to their mechanical-switch products, Corsair just kind of buried all of that in its press release.
The K55 is a fugazi. We still don’t know what exactly Corsair used for switches on it, but it is a $50 keyboard with nice-looking RGB (three zone) backlighting, and it has six vertical G keys on the left side for macros, so hey, that’s something.
Update, 11/14/16, 10:20am PT: Corsair got back to us to confirm that the K55 is indeed a membrane keyboard. It will serve as the replacement to the K40 and the K30, which launched back in 2013.
There are mechanical keyboards out there though and some rgb backlit like the rosewill rgb80 ($50-65), azio mgk1 ($60), cherry g84 ($72), thermaltake poseidon zx ($72) among others that fall in at $80 or less. Not all are full rgb backlit, some use kailh instead of cherry mx switches.
It would be curious to see if they did anything special with the membrane switches on these or if they're just enthusiastically priced semi rgb backlit standard membrane boards.
Definitely enforces the need to read the fine print. To be fair it's not false advertising, they didn't go out of their way to make it sound like a mechanical board in an attempt to fool consumers but they didn't exactly make it clear that it wasn't either. Typical marketing ploy allowing potential customers to make assumptions that land in their favor.
It would work for that, sure. There are several others out there are also non-mechanical but have nice lighting, etc. Like these:
And, well...lots of others.
"Mechanical" refers, basically, to the fact that a keyboard has actual switches instead of rubber dome or scissor designs. (That's what you get in those $10 keyboards you find everywhere.) Mechanical keyboards are not necessarily loud and clicky.
Cherry and Kailh red switches are linear, so the only sound is the thunk at the bottom of the key travel. Brown switches have a little "bump" in the travel, but they're not loud per se. Blue switches are loud, though...very loud.
If you don't want to fiddle with customizing your switches to cut out noise, look at Topre keyboards or Logitech's Romer-G switch keyboards. They're a little softer-sounding, IMHO.