Sunday, July 04, 2021

Review: Cooler Master ControlPad Gateron Red, 1st Impressions

Picked this up a couple weeks ago for about $100 (CAD) in June-ish 2021. Full price was listed as $130 on but that seemed a bit steep even though I'd paid $100 for a non-programmable mechanical keyboard or two -- I was ready to spend $150 on a compact Ducky keyboard. It dropped to just under $100 and I jumped on it.

I missed the part on the product page where I was supposed to request a box... It got shipped with no additional packaging with a shipping label slapped on one side. For a $100 item to go through the shipping system with no protection, I was ready to send it back but the box was in okay shape and nothing seemed broken.

Planned Usage
It was purchased for productivity purposes only and to be paired with AutoHotkey. I just wanted something the size of a numpad that custom keys could be assigned to and any fine-tuning would be done via AutoHotkey. Specifically, custom keys like Shift/Alt/Ctrl + <key>. Something from a company I'd heard of before was a big selling point too. Unfortunately, the Ducky Pocket One no longer appeared to be available. I had tried to use a Logitech G502 mouse with F13 to F24 assigned to the buttons but it was a right-handed mouse and finding the buttons to push didn't feel natural -- maybe if I had a left-handed or ambidextrous mouse like a Logitech G903. The infinite scroll wheel was amazing compared to the G600's wheel on my actual mouse though.

How has it gone so far?
The Cooler Master ControlPad was set up to the left of a full-sized keyboard. Some keys were reachable using my left hand while the hand was on the keyboard hovering over WASD. Keys were definitely easier to find and press compared to a right-handed mouse. The most popular key was #24 which I'd assigned a left-click mouse button to -- I wanted to click stuff or fire in an FPS game to give my right index finger a break. All the other keys were assigned to F1 through F23 to correspond to the # label on the ControlPad key. I tried one of the preloaded profiles that made it like a controller... Gave up once I forgot what any of the keys were and didn't want to start mashing keys. The game (Fallout 76) disabled the mouse once I turned on the controller which didn't help. With the ControlPad's placement, I could easily reach the keyboard's Ctrl and Shift keys which opened up more options. 

I planned on keeping it and thinking of more ways to use it. The possibilities for productivity, especially when paired with AutoHotkey, looked good. Just needed to play with it more and see how it worked without MasterPlus software installed.

The not so great
Initial impressions after unboxing and plugging it in were terrible: I was seriously considering returning it. I thought my ControlPad was defective for the first few hours because I couldn't get it to save a profile. The problem turned out to be the one mouse button assignment -- I forgot what it was, maybe mouse scroll up/down. Once I stopped assigning that button to a ControlPad key, everything worked.

I was not a huge fan of the Cooler Master MasterPlus software. The first few times I loaded the program, I thought it crashed because it just stopped working. Nope, it was just loading or syncing with the ControlPad. I hadn't found a way to disable updates so sometimes I opened MasterPlus to check something and I needed to do an update -- the update process felt like a complete reinstall which required choosing a file path (Edit: I found a way to bypass the update by opening up Task Manager and using End Task on the updater).

At the time of writing, I hadn't found a way to delete any profiles. The ControlPad provided a generous 24 profiles which was 22 more than I wanted. I usually set my mice up with 1 or 2 profiles -- if they didn't allow deleting profiles, I just copied the same thing over to the other ones. MasterPlus had the option to export and import a profile so that made doing the same thing pretty easy. I set one of the ControlPad's wheel keys to change the profile: roll up was Profile 1 and roll down was Profile 2. No need to cycle through 24 for my uses. My Logitech mice just used one button to switch profiles and it was manageable since I didn't need to cycle through 24 profiles if I accidentally pressed it.

The plan was to set the Cooler Master ControlPad up to use without the MasterPlus software, so while these issues were annoying, I didn't really consider them long-term problems. 

Other thoughts
One of the main selling points of the ControlPad should had been the pressure sensitive keys. I stopped gaming that much years ago so it didn't apply to me much. The only use of this feature for productivity that I could think of was for scrolling: light tap to scroll a bit, full tap to scroll a lot. 

The LEDs were nice but I played around with it for 5 minutes and turned most of it off -- I did the same with all my gaming keyboards and mice. 

I didn't use wrist rests so tried the one included with the ControlPad for a minute and put it back in the box. 

The braided USB cable was very nice and long enough for my uses. I would had preferred the port to be placed on the back edge of the ControlPad instead of underneath. Attaching and detaching the cable was more trouble than it should had been due to this. The USB port on my Hyper X keyboard felt excellent and it didn't get in my way.

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