CM Storm NovaTouch TKL Review — Half-Baked Hybrid

Some unexpected combinations work very well, like peanut butter and chocolate. Others, like your foot and a heavy jar, are less pleasant. The CM Storm NovaTouch TKL ($200) combines membrane and mechanical keyboard design with decidedly mixed results.

If the idea was to make a peripheral that's as quiet as a membrane and as tactile as a mechanical, then CM Storm partially accomplished its goal. Unfortunately, the NovaTouch TKL brings the worst aspects of both keyboard types along for the ride and doesn't do much to mitigate those flaws.

Design

"Plain" is probably the best word to describe the NovaTouch TKL, although "uninspired" works as well.

As the "TKL" stands for "tenkeyless," the device lacks a numpad, and sports a detachable cable for easy travel. Otherwise, the keyboard is about as dull as can be. It's black with white lettering and no backlighting, and has slightly indented keys to facilitate easier typing.

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At least the NovaTouch TKL is small: 14.1 x 5.4 inches. This is slightly smaller than CM Storm's QuickFire Rapid tenkeyless (14.9 x 7.2 inches), and considerably smaller than a full-size keyboard like the Razer BlackWidow Ultimate (18.7 x 6.7 inches). At 1.97 pounds, it's also light enough to transport.

Keys

The key design is where the NovaTouch TKL gets a little strange. I'll say this much for it: You've probably never seen a keyboard quite like this one. When I first popped off a keycap to see what kind of switches it had, I was baffled to see a purple button underneath. This is a topre switch: well-known in Japan, but rather uncommon on this side of the Pacific.

CM Storm calls this technology "Hybrid Capacitive switches," and the company uses a novel combination of mechanical and membrane technology. Without going into exhaustive detail, the switch is essentially a mechanical one, but rests on top of an electric membrane. This, in theory, makes the key as responsive as a mechanical one and as quiet as a membrane version.

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In practice, this hybrid design turns typing into a slow, mushy mess. On the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, I scored 100 words per minute with a zero percent error rate on the NovaTouch TKL. This may sound good, but using a standard Dell office keyboard, I scored 111 words per minute with a 1 percent error rate. The Nova Touch TKL's slower response time felt noticeable, and even though the spring-back speed prevented a few mistakes, it made typing feel laborious instead of quick.

If you've ever used a keyboard with Cherry MX Switches (which are quiet and responsive to light touches), the Novatouch TKL is a little bit like that, just trapped in molasses. The keys are quiet, but not as quiet as a membrane model. They're tactile, but not as tactile as a mechanical model.

Features

To its credit, the NovaTouch TKL is extremely lightweight from a software perspective. The device has no dedicated software, so once Windows installs a default keyboard driver, you're good to go. Like most other keyboards, the NovaTouch TKL has media controls, but there's not much to say about them other than that they do what they're supposed to do.

The keyboard also has the sometimes-useful ability to repeat keystrokes two, four or eight times. Activating and deactivating the repetition requires pressing two function buttons at opposite ends of the keyboard, so you're not likely to do it by accident. I found this feature useful when playing Star Wars: The Old Republic, as the repeat keystrokes saved me the trouble of mashing the 1 button when trying to activate my most common skill.

Performance

The NovaTouch TKL plays games pretty well, although I didn't notice any significant difference from other gaming keyboards, either membrane or mechanical. I tested this keyboard with Titanfall, StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, Watch Dogs and Star Wars: The Old Republic, and it handled nicely across the board.The keyboard's unique abilities only came in handy on The Old Republic, in which the ability to repeat keys was helpful. Otherwise, gunning down enemy pilots in Titanfall, taking down Terran armies in Heart of the Swarm and hacking into Chicago infrastructure terminals were all very straightforward and easy to control.

The NovaTouch TKL doesn't particularly stand out in any one genre, but works well for general gaming. Hardcore massively multiplayer online (MMO) players may not find it terribly useful, though, since it lacks a numpad, macro keys and macro creation software.

Bottom Line

The NovaTouch TKL has a clever underlying premise, but combining membrane and mechanical technology does not confer any particular advantages. While CM Storm's website claims that the Hybrid Capacitive switches are both faster and more durable than their more traditional counterparts, I actually typed more slowly than on a traditional keyboard and didn't find that my gaming performance improved.

The best thing I can say about the NovaTouch TKL is that it works, but just working is not enough, especially given its unjustifiably high price tag. If the Hybrid Capacitive switches really pique your interest (or you really want to try a popular Japanese switch type for yourself), try to get your hands on the keyboard before you commit. Then, consider buying a mechanical keyboard with similar Red switches instead.

Specs

Actuation: 45 g
Key travel: 4 mm
In-key rollover: >10 keys
Size: 14.1 x 5.4 x 1.5 inches
Weight: 1.97 pounds

Marshall Honorof is a Staff Writer for Tom's Guide. Contact him at mhonorof@tomsguide.com. Follow him @marshallhonorof and on Google+. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.

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11 comments
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  • lightsol
    The awkward hybrid is called.. topre
    1
  • rossipedia
    This has got to be the least informed article I've ever read.
    2
  • Cosme Benito
    This article gave me cancer. The switches the keyboard is using are Topre, which are considered to be premium. The "purple things" are adapter stems so you can use cherry mx keycaps with topre switches. You should totally get some base information before you review a product.
    2
  • lightsol
    Anonymous said:
    This article gave my cancer. The switches the keyboard is using are Topre, which are considered to be premium. The "purple things" are adapter stems so you can use cherry mx keycaps with topre switches. You should totally get some base information because you review a product.


    Indeed, the review was quite royally uninformed.

    Then again you could look at it as a review by someone who has no clue what they are using, but still, for a professional reviewer, it was pretty bad.
    1
  • rioc
    How about letting someone review products with actual knowledge in the field of operation?

    This review has as much worth as me, as IT Network-Engineer, writing a review about the qualitiy of various shoe-soles without knowing anything technical about it, but just judging by my personal feel... too subjective.

    I mean, sure, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but a review has to be based on facts (which are totally absent here) and be written objectively...
    Even somebody who totally dislikes topre switches would've written a better review, since it would be based on facts, and not an opinion which could come from a six year old bashing around on various keyboards and then selecting an actual Yamaha keyboard as the winner, since it makes the most melodic sounds...
    1
  • shIPPing
    You can't really comment on feel of switches in a review. Different people like different switches, so just because you don't like the feel doesn't mean it's a bad board. Also, I think it's actually quite a nice, minimalist board and they got rid of that god awful font, so that's a bonus. Overall, this review is way too objective and lacking in real information.
    1
  • srslytho
    Way to surreptitiously edit your article there, buddy.
    1
  • srslytho
    The irony here is that this article seems half-baked; the keyboard its pretty spot on for what it intends to offer.
    1
  • woss
    i am using this keyboard to write now. This is most easiest typing effort keyboard for long long time typing.

    i used TYPE-HEAVEN, too much efforts, push hard for each keys.

    i used K70, that is difficult to type due to keys are very high outside base (look nice does not mean typing nice)

    i used Razer stealth 2004, that is good, but still can not compare this NovaTouch.

    i used RapidFire, that one very good.

    You close your eyes typing, you type 10000 words, and then you will now your wrist, and you reach the right result.

    am I right?
    0
  • afsdfdsf
    A review based on no actual facts. The reviewer is not well informed into the world of mechanical keyboards and information relating. Topre switches are made for typing. That is the bottom line. It does not need the bells and whistles of a gaming keyboard such as back lighting and what not.

    Furthermore, the fact that you put slows down typing as a con because your typing was impaired is simply unacceptable. It is technically not a con as there is no fact that it slows down typing of any user using the keyboard other than your own experience.

    You also stated that the keyboard is plain. A keyboard needs to do what it was built to do and for Topre switches that is typing. It doesn't need fancy logos, lighting and macro keys. For most games, a TKL keyboard will function without requiring macros. Secondly, you would not purchase a TKL keyboard if you wanted to play MMORPG games unless you had a solution to that by using an MMO mouse.

    I would to see some more objective reviews based on facts other than from one's personal experience. It should consider your experience of the keyboard, but do not use the negative experience to bash on the board simply because you did not enjoy the keyboard. That is simply unprofessional.

    You stated that people should try out Topre prior to committing to the NovaTouch. I'm sorry to say but the NovaTouch is the cheapest Topre TKL type keyboard in market. The entrance level Topre Typeheaven is the cheapest but it is a full sized keyboard. Also the fact that you compared it to a red switch makes you feel like you know nothing about mechanical keyboards. The NovaTouch TKL is closer to a Cherry MX Brown keyboard rather than a red. Please do you research before making bold statements.

    Furthermore, I'd like to ask you a question. What do you think is more important in actual typing; typing speed or typing accuracy?
    1
  • nickm50
    It's actually one of the cheaper keyboards with Topre switches. I have a HHKB Pro 2 that I paid almost $300 for. So when I saw this review I almost fell off my chair. $179 is a bargain compared to most keyboards in this class; in addition, it has the unique ability to use Cherry MX replacement keycaps. That's right, the NovaTouch is the ONLY Topre keyboard that has any real customization options. And the author constantly bashed it for "looking dull". Well perhaps, but you can make it look as pretty as any other board on the market, unless of course you're looking for a backlighting option. If the author had done any research whatsoever on the NovaTouch, he would be saying some very different things; I guarantee it. I guess part of the blame is on Cooler Master for not marketing this keyboard better.
    2