I’ve owned quite a few keyboards over the last few years, and I’ve reviewed a few for Gaming Trend as well. A good keyboard you can be comfortable with is important, but sometimes it doesn’t feel like an area where you see much innovation. One of the things I’ve seen recently that’s new to me is the push in 60/65% keyboards. These mini-devices definitely help for someone trying to conserve space, and allow for using your personal keyboard in more places than one. Cooler Master sent over their newest one, the CK721, just the other week, and after some time banging around on it, I certainly like the direction they’ve taken this one.
So let’s start off with what one of these keyboards is. Compared to a regular keyboard, the 60/65% keyboard is, well, you guessed it, 60/65% of a regular keyboard. Usually you see this done with the elimination of the entire number pad side of the keyboard, along with making the top row of F keys sub-functions of other keys, and, after tidying everything up a little bit, gives you a bit more desk space. This “should” give the one picking up said keyboard a bit more versatility than a normally sized keyboard, and help one with optimizing space.
Beyond that lesson, let’s get to what comes in the box. Obviously you’ve got the CK721 snug in there, along with a wireless dongle, a braided USB-C cable, an extension adapter, and a keycap puller. A nice extra addition to this particular keyboard is the WR510 wrist rest, which is made of a nice foam material that is very comfortable. It fits perfectly at the bottom side of the CK721, and has a rubberized base to keep it from moving. Also appreciated is the splash resistance, just like you’d get out of most large mousepads on the market.
As for the keyboard itself, it has a sturdy aluminum top, which adds a nice heft to it. It’s also removable, for the purpose of switching them out with customizable tops Cooler Master plans to release, according to the website description. One thing is for sure, thanks to the rubber feet and the weight of the CK721 it doesn’t move, and the kickstand underneath works great to accentuate that as well as help the user find their most comfortable angle from whatever position they’re taking.
The lower half of the keyboard is plastic, however, as are the key caps. These key caps in particular don’t feel as premium as I’d like them to. It’s another area where it sounds like better ones will be available for purchase later, but these seem to be where some cost cutting measures came in. While the keycaps might not feel as high-end, the 3-way dial is a nice touch, a metal piece that you can customize to do things like turn up the volume of your device (even worked on my iPad), or reduce the brightness of the RGB lighting. It’s a nice extra touch that many 60/65% keyboards don’t have.
Beyond all of the technical jargon, the performance of the CK721 itself is certainly stellar. While I’m not as big of a fan of the red linear switches- each press has a spongy feel to it – they do their job admirably. I also have to call out the keyboard being available with the blue clicky switches, as well as brown tactile ones, so you have plenty of options to ensure you have the best feeling keystrokes possible. I spent my time with this keyboard typing away on invoices (as well as writing up this review), and never had as much as a wayward key press. The only thing I will mention is it can be a bit loud like many mechanical keyboards, with this one even having a hum coming from the springs, although you could chalk that up to it being so new.
For connectivity, the CK721 is an all-around champ. There’s the regular connection, using a USB-C cable (thank goodness) through a port on the top front side, which doubles as your charger for the internal battery. For wireless use, you actually have two options, a USB dongle at 2.4GHz that fits neatly into a compartment on the left side of the keyboard, and a 5.1 Bluetooth connection. It seems like any way you slice it you’ll be able to connect very quickly, with plugging in the cable or dongle providing immediate results, and the Bluetooth syncing as fast as you can click the switch into position for it. Even making the CK721 discoverable only takes 5 seconds. This versatility is incredible, and it means I’m rarely in a spot where this keyboard won’t be connectable, including right now as I use it with my iPad of all things to type up this review.
Taking it anywhere is the crux of the CK721’s design, and the compact nature of the keyboard makes it easy to carry while not feeling flimsy. This is due to the two part design- the aluminum top with the plastic bottom. I do wish the bottom could be aluminum as well to assist with the durability; I worry about plastic items possibly cracking if they rattle around a book bag, but the plastic chosen doesn’t feel flimsy. That and the additional weight would make this keyboard much less portable. The balance between tough and light isn’t simple, and the blend of the two works for the CK721. Picking it up, taking it to work, connecting through Bluetooth, turning that off, coming back home, and immediately connecting it to my computer or iPad make it one of the most portable yet feature-filled keyboards I’ve ever used. The CK721 also fits almost anywhere, so it’s the perfect travel keyboard, as well as the one to use if you’re light on space.
Of course, wireless and Bluetooth means a lot of battery usage, and the CK721 seems to have that in spades. I’ve been running around with it for about a week and a half, and so far I’ve yet to run down the advertised 73 hour battery life. Now, this is with LEDs off, so if you want to maximize it you can’t be running a bunch of RGB lighting, but I don’t see why this couldn’t become the primary keyboard for anyone who moves from place to place on the regular. I intentionally did that, and while I did plug it up when I got home to my desktop, lasting all day in a day job where I type out invoices and into the evening as I type up gaming news and reviews is amazing. I barely noticed the battery to the point this is the last paragraph I added to the review because I forgot to talk about it, which is insane.
Something that is very noticeable on this keyboard is the RGB lighting, which is sublime. While I’ll always support function over form, the lighting on the CK721 is very bright, with a bunch of customization options in the Cooler Master+ software to make it shine in the way you’d like it to, or even not at all. This is present even if you’re using the keyboard with another device, so it’s nice to see you don’t lose your personal customization choices just because you want to use it away from your desktop and the software. There’s also plenty of macros and of course you can change every key press if you want, so being able to set things up your way works amazing.
One of the things I’ve noticed while using the CK721 though is if you decide to go without the RGB lighting, or change it to a pulse setting based on a keystroke, it can be hard to see the sub-functions of the keys without direct lighting. Let me explain this a little bit more. The secondary function of your key (your 1 key could double as F1), are listed on the bottom side of the keycap. Because of that location, it’s tough to see it. Continuing on the sub-functions, as someone familiar with using “Alt-Z” to open my NVIDIA overlay, I eventually figured out how to use the Cooler Master key in order to access those sub-functions. But, there wasn’t any literature with the keyboard telling me about this. I’m generally floored by the lack of instruction that comes with hardware nowadays, so this isn’t new, but maybe a QR code that takes you to a video explaining the new things the keyboard does on your Youtube channel? That’d be awesome.
Before we get out of here, let’s talk about the elephant in the room of any purchase: the price. The CK721 weighs in at a meaty $119.99, and while it’s at least close to its peers, it does eclipse them a bit. I think some of that is due to the wrist rest; that could easily add $20, but I’m not sure if it’s worth it to the person looking at different keyboards on a shelf. I think this keyboard is probably worth the asking price, but in a world where budget options do exist people will always look to get something cheaper.
Cooler Master CK721
The Cooler Master CK721 mechanical keyboard is a fantastic blend of portable design and versatile use. It fits easily in a backpack, and you don’t have to surrender almost any functionality in order to make it that manageable. The price may be a tad high to some consumers, but this keyboard is packed with so many features that it will be easier to ignore.