UK price (as reviewed): £79.99 (inc. VAT)
US price (as reviewed): $79.99 (exc. tax)
We reported on Wednesday that MSI had released a new mechanical RGB keyboard, the Vigor GK50 Elite, as well as the accompanying Vigor WR01 wrist rest as a separate product, and today I’m able to bring you a review of both.
The GK50 Elite comes in two flavours, Box White and Blue, both of which use clicky switches. If you’ve switched off already, I’d encourage you to read on nonetheless, as I was pleasantly surprised by the switch action on the review sample despite not really being a fan of clicky switches, at least as far as Cherry MX Blue switches – and their various clones – go.
Before diving into why, let’s examine the keyboard itself. The Vigor GK50 Elite has a full-size layout, but MSI keeps the surround chassis slimline, so the footprint (435mm x 135mm) doesn’t feel excessive.
The build quality of the 800g board is largely good even if it is mostly plastic, and it’s aided by the addition of an aluminium alloy top plate with a pleasing brushed effect. On the underside, the extra bit of housing for the braided 1.8m USB cable is a nice touch, and the numerous rubber pads keep the keyboard firmly planted with or without the hind legs flicked out.
With octagonal keycaps, a non-standard font, and the MSI dragon logo neatly encircling the arrow keys, the GK50 Elite’s gamer aspirations are clear. It’s not a design that tickles my fancy, but it’s also not garish or as over the top as it could have been. The keycaps are also not quite the same height as each other, something MSI describes as ‘ergonomic high-low keycap design’, and this is apparently done to allow for a more natural position that reduces strain over time.
You get a couple of accessories in the box: a keycap puller to assist replacing/cleaning, and two replacement keycaps. These are alternative Ctrl and Alt keys with a rounded convex surface said to make them easier to press. I suppose having them may also make you less likely to hit the dreaded Windows key, but that can be locked via the FN key (disguised with a dragon logo). MSI has replaced the scroll lock indicator with a more useful one that lets you know if the Windows key is locked.
There are no pass-through ports to speak of, but other features include n-key rollover to eliminate the potential for missed presses, and the Vigor GK50 Elite’s FN key can be used with the top row to control media playback and volume. Meanwhile, the navigation and arrow keys give you control of the RGB lighting. With these you can change the mode, colour, speed, and brightness, and the options are plentiful enough that most people can probably get by without the need for software. For more precise control, Dragon Center can be installed, but it’s always nice to have hardware-bound controls – who needs yet another application running in the background?
Sadly, MSI’s approach to hardware control is uniquely inconsistent. It’s not advertised, but the GK50 Elite actually has three onboard profiles, each of which can have its own lighting pattern saved as well as custom macros for most keys. What’s crazy, however, is that you can only switch profiles through Dragon Center. Yep, you need software to switch between the onboard hardware profiles. I don’t think I’ve ever come across this in almost a decade of reviews, and I assume it can be fixed with a firmware update, but I’m very surprised this made it to retail without being flagged. You also need the software to program any macros, which is another downside but also more forgivable given that software interfaces can make things easier here.
Update 27/08/20: MSI has been in touch and responded to my criticism of the keyboard's inability to switch between its three hardware profiles without using the software. MSI's reasoning is that 'to have too many profiles available to switch with the hardware could be confusing'. That said, MSI has also stated 'we will consider adding hardware switching in future development if that's what the majority of users prefer'. My own opinion on the matter remains unchanged.
Clearly, more attention has been paid to lighting than custom macros or profiles, but the lack of hardware controls for the latter seems like an oversight nonetheless. Even so, the physical design bolsters the lighting: the LEDs themselves are bright and vivid, and the semi-reflective property of the metal combined with the raised keycaps and suitable spacing between them complements this nicely – the quality of the lighting is very good. The clear switch housing is another benefit, and while the LED position means that top symbols are the brightest, the lower symbols on keycaps also receive adequate illumination. The default white has a slight blue tint to it but nothing crazy.
With the physical examination complete, we’ll take a quick peek at the software before getting to the switches and how they perform. But before that…
UK price (as reviewed): £19.99 (inc. VAT)
US price (as reviewed): $19.99 (exc. tax)
Many keyboards are bundled with a wrist rest. Some are good, some not so good. MSI has decided to keep the Vigor WR01 separate from the keyboard, and it’s definitely spruced up compared to your standard bundled offering – as you would hope for £20.
There’s oodles of grip from the rubber underside, and the slight incline facilitates a natural typing angle. The ‘cool gel-infused memory foam’ actually lives up to the marketing, as the wrist is both comfortable and surprisingly cool in use. Whatever ‘ice silk lycra’ is, I’m a fan, as the surface material is nice to rest on. The light stitching also presented without signs of fraying.
The WR01 has no magnets and no attachment mechanism, so it’s free to be positioned wherever you like and is of course compatible with any keyboard as a result.
A quick glance around the web suggests £20 isn’t unreasonable for a standalone wrist rest. As such, I’m happy to recommend it if you happen to need one.
Over the page, it's back to the keyboard...
September 18 2020 | 18:30