The explosion of high-end custom mechanical keyboards in the last few years has meant that there’s now a wealth of options out there for amazing-looking, ruggedly-built keyboards. However, generally, the price of entry is high, or you’re forced to do much or some of the work yourself. Self-building can be fun but can go wrong, and it takes time some of us just don’t have available. That’s where the Monsgeek M1W SP comes in.
This compact tenkeyless (TKL) 75% keyboard from Monsgeek has a stunning design with an all-metal case, shades of gray keys, and side-illuminated keys, plus it offers wireless and Bluetooth connections too. All that and it costs just $167. That’s not cheap for a keyboard, but it represents stunning value for its quality, making it a sure-fire contender for our best gaming keyboard list.
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The Monsgeek M1W SP is, quite simply, the best-built keyboard I’ve ever used. Despite only having a 75% form factor – where the numpad is removed along with the Scroll Lock, Print Screen, Insert, and Pause buttons – this keyboard weighs just shy of 2kg. That compares to just 1,223g for the entirety of the Mountain Everest Max, for example, which drops to just 881g when you remove its modular numpad and multimedia sections.
Most of the M1W SP’s weight comes from the huge blocks of thick machined aluminum that make up the entire outer casing of the keyboard. Monsgeek doesn’t make any bold claims about the thickness of the material, but in places it appears to measure over 10mm in depth. It’s so heavy that it’s legitimately difficult to pick up the M1W SP without hooking your fingers into the deep grooves on the sides, which are stylishly accented in gold paint.
What does all that weight actually mean for day-to-day use? Well, it means the keyboard never slides around – thanks also to several slim-but-secure rubber feet on the base. It also means you can go hell for leather in your typing or gaming sessions without fear of your keyboard getting away from you. It also makes the M1W SP just a lovely keyboard to feel and interact with.
There is one downside, though. Ok, two. If you drop this keyboard it’s going to make a mess of your foot/floor/cat and probably won’t do the keyboard any good either – lighter-weight boards might go flying more easily but stand a better chance of surviving the trip.
The other downside is the lack of resistance to certain types of damage. As with any anodized aluminum finish, a slight scratch in this pristine black chassis (also available in silver with pink keys and white with purple keys, though not in ISO layout, only ANSI) becomes quite obvious compared to a scratch on a uniformly black plastic case.
This tiny mark is hardly visible but still notable – the silver version of the M1W SP will hide these marks better
Also, the sharp (looking) lines of the edges of this keyboard make it prone to such damage. We’ve only had this keyboard a month or so and have already picked up an admittedly tiny nick in the front edge. Still, plenty of other premium keyboards use anodized aluminum so it’s not like Monsgeek is treading new ground with these pros and cons.
As for the rest of this keyboard’s design, it’s a lesson in minimalist perfection. The slightly sunken keys, the perfectly-judged gradient of gray coloring on the keycaps, the use of side-mounted legends on the keys (the tops of the keys are plain), the simple black volume knob, and of course the compactness of the 75% layout, all combine to create what I consider to be the best-looking keyboard on the market.
Internally, the M1W SP uses a gasket mount design, which is where the PCB and switch plates are mounted on rubber gaskets that fit into the frame of the keyboard. This essentially provides some cushioning and sound absorption between the keys and frame. Interestingly, though, Monsgeek has opted for a polycarbonate switch mount plate, rather than metal, to actively provide slightly more cushioning (with keyboard flex generally being seen as undesirable) and even more sound absorption.
Monsgeek has also outfitted the M1W SP with two layers of PORON foam to help further cushion the key plates and deaden sound. These comprise two of the eight layers of material that make up the main keyboard unit, not including the switches and keycaps.
While it may look like a very simple device that’s all about premium build quality rather than features, the M1W SP does have a few tricks up its sleeve. That said, when it comes to physical features, it’s fairly modest.
You get a single USB-C input at the left rear, and the digital volume knob/encoder in the top right, but otherwise that’s basically it. There’s no USB pass-through or other connections, no modular bits, no included wrist rest, and not even flip-down feet for height adjustment. It’s just a big plain block of metal with keys on top.
However, pop off the Caps Lock key with the included keycap remover and there’s a mystery switch. Slide this down from its default middle position and the keyboard switches from a wired mode to wireless mode, with which it’s able to communicate with its included 2.4GHz dongle or via Bluetooth 5. Slide up the switch and it moves to a Mac wireless mode too. Operating in wired mode and 2.4GHz wireless, the keyboard has a polling rate of 1kHz, but it’s only 125Hz in Bluetooth mode.
What’s more, with the switch in wireless mode you can combine the Fn key with the E/R/T/Y/U keys to switch between three Bluetooth devices, wireless and wired modes. The Fn key can perform a load of other tricks too.
In combination with the Windows key it can disable the Windows key for gaming sessions, with the spacebar it will show battery status, with the cursor and Home/PgUp/PgDn/End keys it will adjust RGB backlighting, and it will control multimedia playback with other keys too. Then there’s the volume knob that you can tap to control the backlighting brightness (four levels).
It’s a comprehensive selection of controls, many of which will either take a long time to learn or never become familiar, but the core functions quickly became second nature to me. Included in the box alongside the keycap removable tool and wireless dongle are a switch removal tool, part-coiled USB-A to USB-C cable, and spare stabilizers.
The M1W SP is only available with Akko V3 Piano Pro switches, though you can buy the barebones version without switches and slide in your own choice of switches, thanks to this keyboard having hot-swappable switch mounts. Akko is the parent brand of Monsgeek, and it produces a wider range of keyboard parts, with Monsgeek concentrating on the premium aluminum keyboard range.
The V3 Piano Pro switches are linear, with an operating force of 50g, which is 5g heavier than the classic Cherry MX Red linear switch. They come pre-lubed and use a Cherry cross keycap fitting, but with extra side stabilizing sections.
In use, the V3 Piano Pro switches feel great, despite my general preference for tactile keyswitches. They’re ultra-smooth and stable. Notably, though, there’s no adjustable actuation or other fancy switch abilities here – to adjust the feel and response of the keys you’ll just have to swap them out.
As for all that sound-deadening effort, these keys aren’t all that quiet. There’s no boom and echo from the casing amplifying the key sound or passing your taps on to the table below, but there’s still a distinct high-pitched click from the keys bottoming-out and topping-out.
Measuring with a decibel meter from 20cm away I recorded a level of 62dB during regular typing. This was matched by the Cherry MX 3.0S (review incoming) and just beaten by the Corsair K70 Max which measured 61dB, with that keyboard having a noticeably lower-pitched thud to its sound. Meanwhile, the Razer Huntsman V2 remains far and away the quietest mechanical keyboard I’ve tested at just 46dB.
As for the keycaps, I think they look amazing, especially when they’re not illuminated. The gray gradient – or the white-to-purple and white-to-pink gradients of those color options – is just a stroke of styling genius. They’re also quality units made from doubleshot (two layers of plastic) PBT plastic, so shouldn’t wear to a shine or have the legends wear away, though of course having the legends on the sides of the keys ensures this won’t happen anyway. Notably, some PBT keycaps can feel a little rough and grainy but these are super smooth.
However, these keycaps have a problem, which is the legibility of the legends. Doubleshot keycaps often suffer from a lack of legend sharpness and this is seemingly exacerbated here by the side-positioning of the legends. In bright conditions, the legends on the lighter-colored keys can be very tricky to make out. This particularly tripped me up when using the number keys, with the lack of a numpad making it an even more acute problem.
Switching from colored backlighting to plain bright white helped – and it’s much less of a problem in darker lighting conditions – but there’s clearly room for improvement here. It’s good that Akko offers loads of compatible alternative keycaps on its website. They may not match the sweet gradient color scheme but they could add some crucial ease of use.
The M1W SP houses a 6000mAh battery that Monsgeek claims can last up to 24 days with no backlighting or up to nine days with backlighting. This tallied with our experience, and while nine days may not seem like much, the easily accessible USB-C port, provided coiled cable, and quick charging meant that a weekly top-up was no great chore.
That said, we’d be inclined to accept the slight mess of a cable and switch the keyboard into wired-only mode for general desktop use, saving the wireless function for only when needed. Though admittedly having to remove the Caps Lock to turn on wireless makes occasional use inconvenient.
- Stunning design and build quality
- Surprisingly versatile with wired+wireless+Bluetooth
- Astonishingly good value
- Side key legends can lack clarity
- Very heavy
- Must remove Caps Lock to switch to wireless mode
The Monsgeek M1W SP specs list is:
|Dimensions (mm)||333 x 146 x 32.6 (W x D x H)|
|Weight||1963g (2.2kg including box)|
|Format||75% (84 keys)|
|Connection||USB-C (USB-C to USB Type-A cable), 2.4GHz wireless, Bluetooth 5|
|Switch type||Akko V3 Piano Pro (linear)|
|Switch life||Not stated|
|Extras||Keycap puller, keyswitch puller, USB-A to USB-C cable (part coiled), spare stabilizers|
The Monsgeek M1W SP price is $167 for the fully pre-assembled version, including switches and keycaps. The barebones version without switches or keycaps is $144.
Monsgeek sells the M1W SP direct on its website but you can find some Akko models that have a similar design on Amazon.
The Monsgeek M1W SP has absolutely blown me away with its combination of amazing build quality, striking design, useful connection options, and, most of all, astonishing value. For this price, I absolutely would not expect to get wireless support with a keyboard made to this high a standard.
Is it perfect? Not quite. The readability of the side labels on some of the keys is not great, making the lighting look untidy, while also sometimes adding a touch of frustration when using the number keys. If you’re not a generally confident touch typer, you may find this keyboard just a touch frustrating, though you can of course swap the keycaps for many other options available on Akko’s website.
Even with these caveats, though, the M1W SP does enough to jump straight on our best gaming keyboard list as the best 75% keyboard I’ve ever used. Meanwhile, if you do fancy having a go at building your own fully custom typing tool, check out our How to make a custom keyboard guide.
It’s hard to have perfection on our 100 point scoring scale but this keyboard comes incredibly close to achieving it. Its incredible build quality and style are joined by genuine usability and practicality for a keyboard that’s a joy to use and surprisingly reasonably priced.