I hadn't thought much about keyboards before. I needed something with at least 26 letters, some punctuation, a space bar, you know, something to type on. I liked my MacBook keyboard, I had a few other cheap keyboards that weren't too bad, but I never knew what I was missing out on. After reading a LifeHacker article about technologies you just don't come back from, I got curious. Among the items listed was a mechanical keyboard. Everyone was saying the same thing about mechanical keyboards. They loved them. Every single person loved their mechanical keyboard, and said they feel amazing to type on. So, I started shopping. After getting my search down to two keyboards, I finally chose one, and I'm glad I did. I picked the CM Storm Quickfire Rapid, a mechanical keyboard with a variety of keyswitch options. Now, I'm in clickity-clack typing heaven.
First of all, let me explain a mechanical keyboard. Depending on how old you are, this may be easier than it would be for the younger kids. You see, these days, most people will type on a screen, laptop keyboard, or cheap membrane based keyboard (those mushy desktop keyboards). Few people know the typing bliss of a typewriter or mechanical keyboard of yesteryear, like old IBM keyboards or the old Apple Pro Keyboard. On a mechanical keyboard, every key is an individual switch. You can see one on the right. Instead of mushing a rubber membrane, springs and metal contact switches define when the keys are pressed. Instead of a lightweight scissor mechanism, like those in laptop keyboards, there's enough weight required for each key, and enough travel, to feel simply satisfying. It's hard to describe, especially since each mechanical keyswitch is slightly different. Each type of switch provides a different feel, and people will have their own preferences, but some switches are better for gamers, or those who prefer a quiet keyboard, or those (like me), who usually work alone and don't mind a loud keyboard, and just want the best feeling typing experience possible. Learn more about keyswitches from this excellent Lifehacker article, which will also demonstrate how these keyboards differ from one another. Every type will feel different, and keyboards that use the same kind of switch will only feel slightly different. If this sounds complicated, it's really not. I opted for the Cherry MX Blue switches on my CM Storm QuickFire, but other options include Cherry MX Brown and Cherry MX Red. Basically, the blues are clicky and loud, best for typists, the browns are less clicky and quieter, a good blend of the two, and the reds are almost silent, and best for gaming, but not quite as good for typing.
What I'll have to say for the CM Storm QuickFire Rapid (with Cherry MX Blue switches) will apply to many other mechanical keyboards, as they all use the same basic technology, even if they do have their own customizations. What they'll share is a similar typing feel, but they may differ in many other ways.
Let's mix things up and start with the issues I have with this keyboard. My first task after opening up the packaging was swapping the modifier keys. On Windows, the Windows key is in the middle of the control and option keys. As a Mac user, you're not going to want this. So the first step is to change the physical keys around. The Windows/Command Key is slightly taller than the others on this keyboard, so you definitely want it in the right place. Fortunately, for mechanical keyboards, this is very easy. Cooler Master includes a nice key changing tool, which makes keys easy to remove. I swapped the keys, but Mac OS was still confused. It was treating the alt/option key like the command key. So, I went into System Preferences > Keyboards, and changed it under “Modifier Keys”. This was also a quick and easy change. It's a headache I wouldn't have had to deal with if I had chosen a mechanical keyboard made for the Mac, but the CM Storm QuickFire Rapid was made for Windows. The real problem comes up when you try to use this keyboard with an iOS device. Using the Lightning to USB cable Apple sells, any USB keyboard can work on an iOS device. However, those made for Windows or desktops in general won't have all the features of an iOS keyboard. You can't change the modifier keys on iOS, so your command and alt keys will be swapped. Secondly, there aren't buttons for home, although you can control the volume with the function keys and the FN key. It's not perfect for the Mac or iOS, but it's definitely usable with just a bit of configuration on the Mac. If you're willing, you can set this up exactly how you want it.
There are some cons related to the keyboard that users on all operating systems will notice. First is the noise. The Cherry MX Blue switches are some of the loudest switches available, so I knew it would be noisy. I was typing part of this review up last night in my living room, and I was afraid I would wake my roommate. Turns out, he's a heavy sleeper. Check out the video above to hear it in action. This certainly isn't a quiet keyboard, and you may wake your roommates or annoy your coworkers with it. I work from home and couldn't care less about the noise. In fact, I like it.
The other issue is an issue of portability. This is a heavy keyboard, and it's pretty thick too. Whereas Apple's mantra is “thinner and lighter”, mechanical keyboards are thicker and heavier. This is the heaviest keyboard I've ever used. You're not going to be putting this in your backpack anytime soon. Of course, if you were thinking of going down to Starbucks to type something up, you'll probably want a different keyboard, if only for the noise. Then again, it'll make you the most noticeable hipster there, which is kind of the point, right?
One thing that may bother some people is the sheer simplicity of this keyboard. There's no number pad on here, which I actually liked as it doesn't waste as much desk space, and the functions are limited to the function keys. There are no special bells and whistles, like USB 3 or a USB hub on the keyboard. You won't find LED backlighting either, so hopefully you can touch-type in the dark. Of course, if you type enough to be considering an excellent mechanical keyboard, you probably can touch-type. Finally, there's no bluetooth here. Mechanical keyboards are almost always wired.
Now, onto the positive aspects of this keyboard. The reason I decided to include this after the problems is simple, there are fewer good things I have to say than bad things, but those good things carry so much more weight. I simply love typing on this keyboard. I love the loud sound of each key. I love the linear pressure I apply to the key to make it depress. I love the travel of each key. I absolutely adore the little click that occurs just before the key bottoms out. This keyboard has spoiled me for other keyboards. I've tried my MacBook keyboard, the Apple Wireless keyboard, my Belkin Bluetooth iPad keyboard, and a membrane Logitech keyboard I had on hand. None of them measure up anymore. I feel like I'm cheating myself by using them. Whereas I used to think the MacBook keyboard was decent, I now wonder how I ever put up with those shallow and quiet keypresses. Even the Logitech keyboard, which I thought was a fantastic keyboard, feels mushy and emotionless now. Each keypress on the CM Storm keyboard is a pleasant feeling, like a good stretch or like cracking your joints. I feel this keyboard after I stop typing on it. The amazing typing feeling makes me never want to go back to another kind of keyboard. That alone would be enough for me to recommend buying this keyboard.
There are other great aspects to this keyboard. Cooler Master offers different versions of it, with different keyswitches. There's the Cherry MX Blues, which are the keyswitches I'm using. These are the ultimate typist's keyswitches, but are noisy. Then there's the browns, which are far more quiet than the Blues, with just a bit of click. Then there are the Reds. These are silent, and have a linear motion, no click unless you press down on them hard enough to bottom out. These are great for gamers, as they take little pressure to push down. Speaking of gamers, this keyboard also comes with alternate WASD keys, which are red, have arrows on them, and are taller keycaps than the surrounding keys. The normal keys just feel like another keyboard, but these additional keycaps, which are easy to swap in, help gamers find their home on the keyboard WASD keys without looking. If you're a gamer, especially if you consider yourself competitive, this is a nice bonus feature. For people working at home or in a noisy office (or who don't think their coworkers will mind), the Cherry MX Blue keyswitches are for you. For those who want a mechanical keyboard with a click (less than the blues), but not the noise, the Cherry MX Brown option is the one for you. For gamers, go with the Cherry MX Reds and the alternate WASD key caps for light presses and linear actuation.
The CM Storm Quick Fire Rapid also feels sturdy. Each key feels perfectly crafted, and I doubt it will show any signs of wear anytime soon. The keyboard is heavy, as I mentioned before, but this is true of all mechanical keyboards. What's important is that the weight in this case isn't just from the amazing keyswitches, but also from the sturdy housing around them. Even the (removable) cable is a nice thick braided cable. This is definitely a quality keyboard, despite costing far less than most other mechanical keyboards. Mechanical keyboards usually cost over $100, but this one clocks in at just $79 on Amazon, Newegg, or a number of other retail sites. It's also been rated as one of the best keyboards you can buy, regardless of price, and made Lifehacker's top 5 list of mechanical keyboards. For costing less than the rest of them, this keyboard really hits above its weight class.
I love this keyboard, I really do. The complaints I have are valid, especially those for the iPad, but they pale in comparison to the excellent typing feel this keyboard provides. It's a sturdy keyboard for office warriors and gamers alike, and will be at home on virtually every desk. I wish I could carry it with me everywhere so I never have to use an inferior keyboard again. Alas, it's too big and heavy for that. Mechanical keyboards are a bit pricy, but I recommend them to people who type a lot and want more from the experience. If you're looking to upgrade your keyboard to the best kind of keyboard, the CM Storm QuickFire Rapid with keyswitches of your choosing would make a fantastic choice. This has been one of those purchases that I definitely don't regret, and I'm very happy with it. I can't recommend a mechanical keyboard enough, and that goes double for the CM Storm QuickFire Rapid. You can find it on Amazon here.
My Rating: 4.5 / 5
Nearly perfect. Issues with Mac OS and iOS detract from an otherwise sublime experience.