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October 16, 2014

Unboxing & Review: CM Storm NovaTouch TKL

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Introducing CM Storm NovaTouch

We see a lot of hype about mechanical keyboards in recent years, boasting better usage experience, feel and of course durability compared to membrane keyboards. Cooler Master has released a few of their own varieties of mechanical keyboards as well and they were all actually quite affordable compared to most other brands in the market.... that is until they released the CMStorm NovaTouch TKL. This piece of technology retails at RM699. 

Big thanks to the folks at Cooler Master for providing the sample for this article, so sit tight and let us explore the reasoning for the NovaTouch's pricetag.

Tech Specs

Features
  • Electrostatic Capacitive Switches (45g actuation), made in Japan
  • Ultra smooth, tactile key presses
  • Backwards Compatible with Cherry for pin-point accuracy
  • N-Key Rollover & Anti-Ghosting for pin-point accuracy
  • On-the-fly Repeat Rate Adjustments for the most responsive controls
  • On-the-fly Repeat Rate Adjustments for the most responsive controls
  • Detachable cable with 18K Gold Plated USB connector
  • Tenkeyless Form Factor
Specifications
  • Key Switch: Electrostatic capacitive switch
  • Key Rollover: NKRO (Windows only)
  • Polling Rate: 1000 HZ/1ms
  • Windows Key Lock: Yes
  • Media Keys: Yes (via F keys)
  • Interface: Micro USB 2.0, full speed
  • USB cable: 1.8m braided, 18K gold plated and removable
  • Dimensions: 35.9 (L) x 3.9(w) x 3.9(H) cm / 14.1(L) x 5.4(W) x 1.5(H) inch
  • Weight: 895g / 1.97 lbs

Packaging

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Upon receiving the package, the first thing I noticed is the classy, all-black design of the packaging.

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Unlike other box designs that tries to include as much information on the box, Cooler Master opted for a minimalist design. Well, I guess this means that Cooler Master clearly understands the potential customers of this keyboard; those who knows what they're buying.

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Thick closed cell foam is used to protect the keyboard from any damage during shipping. Though they could've added another layer on top of the keyboard.

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All the included accessories can be found underneath the keyboard. Not a whole lot there at all.

Closer Look

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What you get in the box:
  • NovaTouch TKL keyboard
  • Steel wire key puller
  • O-ring switch dampeners
  • USB cable
  • Quick Start Guide
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O-rings are commonly used for reducing the key bottoming noise for Cherry MX switches. However the NovaTouch TKL uses Topre switches which the o-rings has little or no effect in reducing the key bottoming noise. I'm sorry, but Cooler Master, this might be a wrong move here.

There's actually a silent variant of the Topre switch which is used in the HHKB Pro 2 Type S. And of course there's silent mod available as well, Topre dental band mod.

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Key puller is a great accessory to include as most mechanical keyboards in the market do not come with it. The inclusion of a key puller means that Cooler Master welcomes you to take advantage of the Cherry MX compatible stem and fully customize the key caps. 

Even better is that the included key puller is steel wire type instead of the cheaper ring type key puller that could scratch your key caps during the key removal process.

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Instead of Mini-USB that used by most of the mechanical keyboards such as Ducky, Leopold, Rosewill... the NovaTouch uses the same Micro-USB cable as your smartphone.

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Since this is a TKL (tenkeyless) keyboard, there's no numpad at the right side. This means lesser table real estate and could potentially improve your posture when using the mouse. Back when CM Storm first launched the QuickFire Rapid (QFR) keyboard a few years back, users complained that the QFR has too much branding and that the rubber coating was awful. Glad to see that Cooler Master takes user feedback seriously and improved on their designs.

Though the keyboard chassis is still rubber coated, the coating feels much smoother. Still, I would prefer that they just stick to good-ol ABS chassis which could help lowering the overall manufacturing cost. The layer of rubber coating might also become sticky after a long exposure to high humidity weather in Malaysia.

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At the bottom we find four reasonably sized non-slip rubber feet to make sure your keyboard always stays in place even during intense gaming sessions.

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The flip up feet also comes with rubber feet.

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Which would provide some incline to the NovaTouch depending on your preference and comfort.

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The Micro-USB port is located at the top left edge.

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While the only visible branding is found at the top right edge.

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In terms of functions, keys F1 to F4 toggles the repeat rate of the keys, which could be useful for certain games that require high speed repetitive input.

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Media functions are also available on keys F5 to F8 while the F9 key is to disable the Windows key.

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I'm disappointed with the keyboard's FN key placement. I wish Cooler Master would have used the Windows key next to it as FN key and retained the Menu key.

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Removed all the keycaps. Kudos to Cooler Master on the stabilizers' design that works with Cherry MX keycaps.

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The spacebar had slightly different stabilizer design to accommodate the larger key. Note that I missed the extra spring on the spacebar that is placed on the middle switch.

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This keyboard does not have LED indicator for caps locks and scroll lock. But I do notice there are holes prepared for the LEDs which can be seen in the photo.

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Scroll lock also have an LED placement hole. Back when Cooler Master demoed the preview unit, all the LEDs are present, not sure what made them drop it in the final product.

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The keycaps are made of ABS plastic with the print lasered and infilled. ABS is the most common material used in producing keycaps. While it might not be the most durable material, the ease of production and mass availability makes it the cheapest option which given the price of the keyboard, we can't complain much.

Final Thoughts

If you're accustomed to typing with a Cherry MX keyboard or regular rubber dome keyboard, you might feel disappointed when you first type on the much more expensive Topre switch. The reason is that Topre is a hybrid between rubber dome and mechanical. The switch consists of rubber dome and spring, hence typing experience might resemble that of the much cheaper rubber domes. It can't be helped as we, as users tend to directly relate the performance according to the price we paid.

After spending a few days breaking into the switch, we get to feel the distinctive difference of the Topre switch. Again, typing experience is a very personal thing, some might prefer it some may not. Since this keyboard does not come cheap, we advise impulse buyers to do their homework and test the switch before buying to avoid buyer's remorse.

The main thing that make the Novatouch so special is because of the key switch it uses - Topre Hybrid Capacitive switches. This switch can only be found previously on a Topre RealForce and PFU HHKB Professional 2. To makes it even more unique is that the Topre stem has been specially designed to fit Cherry MX keycaps. Since there are much more selection of Cherry MX keycaps, obviously this is a smart move. This is great news for Topre keyswitch lovers who are always limited to a few selection of key cap. 

Finally, the price. As expected from a keyboard that uses Topre keyswitches, the NovaTouch costs a whopping RM699. That might not sound cheap especially when you can get TWO Filco Majestouch 2 TKL at the same price. But if you were to compare it to the RealForce & HHKB Pro2 which priced over RM800+, the NovaTouch is a steal!

Pros
  • Solid build quality
  • Topre key switches
  • Compatible with Cherry MX keycaps
  • Minimalist design
  • Branded removable USB cable
  • Included steel wire key remover
  • NKRO (Windows)
  • Media shortcuts
  • Cheapest Topre keyboard yet
Cons
  • Rubber coating on the chassis
  • O-rings (useless)
  • ABS caps, less durable and wears off faster than PBT/POM keycaps
  • No Menu button
  • No Caps Lock & Scroll Lock LED indicators
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