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CM Storm NovaTouch TKL Review — Half-Baked Hybrid

The CM STorm NovaTouch TKL has a clever underlying premise, but this membrane and mechanical keyboard combo doesn't score.

Our Verdict

The CM Storm NovaTouch TKL has a clever underlying premise, but this membrane and mechanical keyboard combo doesn't score.

For

  • Decent gaming performance
  • Small and light

Against

  • Awkward Hybrid Capacitive keys
  • Bland physical design
  • Too expensive for what it does
  • Slows down typing considerably

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+.