Mechanical keyboards for all
Keyboards aimed at gamers are so common at the moment, you’d be forgiven for being completely confused by them. A popular conceit is to brand them as some sort of esports tool, making you better at MOBAs in the same way that a Longhorns jersey makes you better at baseball. This sort of thing has worked in the world of meatspace sports for so long, it’s no surprise it’s crossed over.
The M500 is a budget model, merely “designed with the world’s best esports teams,” without mentioning who they actually are—a solid slab of matt black plastic, with enough metal in its base to give it a decent weight and purchase on your desktop. Each key sits atop the dependable favorite Cherry MX Red switch, giving it the easy up and down motion of the Dow Jones Average, but lacking the responsive click found in the Blue variant. There’s no option to change the switches out, but the low level of force needed to activate them—they only have to move 2mm—makes the Reds a popular choice. With a rating of 50 million clicks, they should last a while, too.
There’s some clever cable management going on underneath the keyboard, with three positions to choose from for the captive two-meter USB lead to exit from the back. This is such a simple idea, it’s remarkable that it doesn’t appear on more of the top-end keyboards—we’ve seen it a million times on budget-oriented models, yet it just doesn’t seem to transcend beyond that price point. While under there, you’ll find two feet to raise the keyboard s angle, and some shaped rubber pads that retain their grip, even with the feet deployed. It’s thoughtful touches like this that can raise even a minimalist
budget keyboard above its peers. There’s a pattern underneath that’s meant to increase the structural integrity of the keyboard, but we’re less sold on that one. Perhaps keyboards bending in the middle is a common problem.
Thanks to the lack of bells and whistles on offer, one of the first things that strikes you as you look down at the M500 is the typeface used to cut out the letters in the key tops. It’s a large friendly sans serif, and understands that a W is not an upside-down M. The punctuation, secondary functions, and numbers could be bigger, particularly the media keys, but with the blue backlight (it comes in one color only, as befits the nature of the unit) shining through, it’s utterly clear and easy to read. Of course, being Cherry stems, you could swap the keys out for another set if you wanted, but the soft feel of these, even with their hard edges, means they’re comfortable to use, and easy to differentiate if you’re a touch typist.
SteelSeries’s Engine software enables you to program macros (there are no dedicated macro keys on the board, so you’re really looking at F keys here) and other customization options, including profile switching across compatible mice and headsets, as soon as you launch a game. The blue lighting can “breathe” across four levels of brightness, but there are no crazy peacock displays on offer. There’s full anti-ghosting and 104-key rollover, if you’re the sort of person who likes to mash multiple keys at once.
Logitech released a similar stripped-back unit recently in the form of its G610 (see the October issue for our review), and when more than one manufacturer does the same thing, it’s a trend. This is a trend we can support, because no one really needs the world’s most utility-focused nightclub dancing around their keyboard. A quick-start guide is included in the box, but none of the stickers or other assorted fluff that’s likely to go straight in the trash. Concentrating on the basics is what makes a keyboard great, and creating something that feels damned good under the fingers is the key to forging a long-lasting relationship with anyone who sits and clacks keys all day.
- Stripped-back gaming keyboard that gets all the basics right
- Versions with other switch types would be nice.
Form Factor Standard
Media Keys Integrated F keys
Macro Keys None
N-Key Rollover 104-key
Dimensions 17.3 x 5.4 x 1.6 inches
Warranty Two years