A Programmable Mini-Keypad for Gaming and Work
The keyboard is probably the oldest input device for anything really. It predates computers, some of you may even remember the old typewriters. The design and functionality are timeless, even with the creation of touch inputs and now voice, keyboards are still used for the majority of interaction with electronic devices, be they virtual or physical. What has changed, or rather been iterated on, has been the additional functionality that programmable keyboards have brought to the game. In particular, for certain use cases a smaller limited keypad has become a preferred supplement to the keyboard and mouse. As is usual gaming has become the test bed for these innovations with Razer popularising programmable keypads with the Nostromo and its successor the Orbweaver, version of both which I own and now Coolermaster is getting in on the game with the Controlpad.
What’s in the Box?
As a backer of the Kickstarter campaign I received this unit, though after many delays due to Covid 19 issues, in the second half of 2020.
Having backed one of the top tiers that included five additional keycap sets, I received a pretty decent size package. Included with just the unit is a magnetic wrist rest, a braided nylon USB Type A to Type C cable, a keycap puller and the most basic of documentation. The additional keycaps are secured in a plastic clamshell to ensure that you do not lose one or two under your desk when opening the box.
Industrial Design – Modern and Minimalist
The simple design of the Controlpad includes 24 keys, one double the size of the others whose most obvious use is as a spacebar. What does set this keypad apart from others on the market are the premium materials and construction.
The body is made of brushed aluminium and finished to the highest quality. The switches used in my model are Cherry MS Reds, exceptionally tactile and, yes, loud. I do prefer the “clickiness” of the Reds in my mechanical keyboards as opposed to the quieter and sometimes more membrane like switches used in quieter keyboards.
Coolermaster included two infinite rolling wheels on the Controlpad, something that I do not particularly care for. It’s not that it is not useful, but rather that without a natural stopping point you can just roll past where you want to stop when adjusting things like volume or in photo editing, colour correction or brightness. The wheels are not loose, but they do not have the ratcheted feel that a good mouse wheel has giving you a tactile indication of each step in your adjustments. AS with each key, the wheels can be mapped to anything you want, if for some reason you prefer to use one as a scroll wheel instead of the mouse wheel you can do that.
The keycaps, both on the unit and in the additional sets you can purchase, are of a high-quality plastic and the printing on them is near perfect ensuring that the RGB backlighting shines through clearly on each key. The additional sets that you can purchase are labelled for FPS games, Abobe products (Premiere, Illustrator and Photoshop) and a blank set that you can markup however you want.
Ergonomically the design of the Controlpad is lacking. It is a simple rectangle, almost as if Cooler Master looked at a number pad and decided to add more keys to it. In contrast Razer has taken time to design something that fits naturally in your palm while also ensuring that all keys are within easy reach of your fingertips no matter your hand size. This is accomplished by making the wrist rest and the palm rest adjustable for almost all hand sizes and positions. While something like the Orbweaver allows you to rest your hand in a natural position, the ControlPad forces you into the unnatural position that all keyboards tend to for resulting in the proliferation of RSIs in the workplace.While the Controlpad’s wrist rest is nice and soft, I found that I either used it further down my forearm and from the pad’s magnet or not at all. The Controlpad does have adjustable feet to raise the angle of the device, but it is a one angle adjustment and I would have preferred a couple of stops for a more customisable and comfortable angle.
Customisation for Dummies
The ControlPad in conjunction with CoolerMaster’s software allows you to create up to 24 profiles of customised key assignments. However the lack of a physical profile switch is an oversight. This is solvable by assigning one of the keys to a profile switching function, in my case Key 01 in the upper left corner, but that reduces the number of usable keys to 23. This is also solved by auto-profile switching when you tie a profile to a program executable so that when you launch a game the ControlPad will automatically switch profiles to the one you assigned to that game. In productivity programs, you can do the same and the profiles switch relatively seamlessly between whichever program is active at the time.For the gamers you can do the same but be warned if you are using GamePass the game executables tend to be locked behind a security firewall (thanks Microsoft) not allowing you this sort of access. Changing permissions and running the app as an admin did not help this situation at all.
As with all programmable peripherals, the keypad’s usefulness depends heavily on the software. Sad to say that Cooler Master took the wrong cues from Razer. First the good, the software launches immediately and with few hassles, the Logitech software for the G910 is endlessly problematic. It immediately identifies all compatible devices and the layout of the various sections is neat and tidy. Lighting, Macro recording and Profile sections are easy to navigate and almost intuitive to use.
Where it gets dicey is in the remapping section. First you will have the option, or think you do, of using a simple or advanced mode. Now simple is just that, you have mapping input options such as keyboard, mouse, media, gamepad and many others to choose from. If you want to create a quick set of inputs this is what you should use.
Secondly if you want to create profiles and disable certain keys or generally take your time creating that perfect profile you must use the advanced mode in conjunction with the simple mode. This is a bit of an unnecessary as the key Reassignment Category under Keyboard simply does not have any of the keyboard letters listed. So, what I have done is simply used Advanced Mode to disable all the keys, and then go into Simple Mode to assign functions to the relevant keys.
But you can ignore all the above, at least as it comes down to Simple and Advanced Modes. Why? Well I figured out just by looking at functionality that when “Simple” is highlighted I think you are actually in Advanced Mode and vice versa. I cannot actually be sure though so you can decide for yourself from the screenshots.
Back to the good, individually backlit keys means that you can create custom lighting for each key. So WASD, in red, Function keys in purple, number keys in a dark blue and the disabled keys not lit at all. Quick and easy visual references which honestly making switching keycaps for gaming somewhat pointless. The LEDs are bright, and the colour palette is seemingly endless with fine granular control over the intensity of the R,G and B between settings of 0 and 255 as well as brightness. Even during the day with bright sunshine, I can easily distinguish the keys by colour. RGB lights finally make sense and have a use!
Jack of All Trades, Master of All?
Any programmable peripheral is capable of being used for more than just gaming. As an accountant (stop sniggering) I have used my keyboards to create productivity shortcuts for use in Excel. You cannot know the joy when you cut down your time to do your daily tasks by seconds until you have spent hours to create custom functions on your keyboard.
The Controlpad puts that functionality front and centre with the simple addition of the replaceable keycaps. Focusing on content creators, probably the guys who most often perform repetitive tasks in editing software, the Controlpad makes a case for a place on the office desktop. This is where the almost muted design helps as while the Razer design is certainly more comfortable, it does look out of place even on a professional creative’s desk.
My experience with the Controlpad in productivity uses is limited to simple Windows functions and Excel (accountant remember) and once setup, assisted by my knowing what I want to have from years of setting up other peripherals, it is a breeze to use and does save you time in the long run by automating those mundane and repetitive tasks. And of course, having access to 24 different profiles does mean that you can use this across games and productivity.
For the gamers, Cooler Master has licensed the Aimpad technology for the Controlpad. In practice this means that keys are analogue inputs meaning that depending on how far down you push the key allows for different contextual actions. As with analogue controllers, pushing W down slightly will have you character move forward at a walking pace. Push it further and he will move at full speed. I have not been able to setup the system to have three settings for walk, run and sprint, but I am sure some clever person out there will figure that out. You will also have finer control if you are insane and play driving games with a mouse and keyboard. Aimpad also claims that your crosshairs in a FPS will remain perfectly straight and clear when moving using this tech, but I honestly can’t say that I noticed that. Aimpad has built in support for 100 games so all you need to do is activate it in the software and calibrate the pad for it to work.
Yay or Nay?
At the Kickstarter price of $160 including all the keycaps this is was a pricey purchase. I am not sure what the final retail product will sell for, but I doubt it will be much less than $150 just for the unit with the keycaps, I am guessing, retailing for probably $20 to $30 a set.
Price aside, if you are someone who values shortcuts, who wants to free up some space and who enjoys creating customised settings that only you understand, the Controlpad is a desirable addition to your arsenal. It is solidly built with almost infinite customisation options and the fact that you can use it how you want makes it easy to recommend.
It is not a must have, but it is a great to have.
Build8/10 Very Good
Ease of Use9/10 Amazing
Software Support7/10 Good
- Solid build
- Infinitely customisable
- Individually backlit keys
- Additional keycaps available
- Aimpad support
- Software needs work
- No dedicated profile switching button
- Not ergonomically designed