Introduction, Specifications and Pricing
After being thoroughly let down with the last keyboard we saw from Cougar (600K), we again step up to the plate to have a look at the last of the series. This time around there should be much less to go wrong, simply based on the fact that we are moving away from Cherry MX switches and the technology and circuitry needed to make such a device function properly, and this time we are venturing into membrane switches. Many readers may turn their heads and scoff at this design, but believe it or not, there are a ton of users out there who just have not accepted the mechanical keyboard bandwagon, or truly have no need for such a keyboard.
For the group that does not feel that the pricing and feel associated with a mechanical keyboard is justified, Cougar was sure to offer an option to take on that share of the market. Now while the 700K is the top of the line for Cougar currently, and the 600K was a similar design, just stripped of a few things that some may not need, this time around we are back to getting all of the things we would associate with a top tier gaming keyboard, with only two major changes. One of course is that there are no mechanical switches in this design as we mentioned, but the other major change is the lack of metal to structurally solidify the device, but that also offers a keyboard that is ultra light and just as functional as the 700K.
This latest of the trio of offerings from Cougar is of course the 500K. While we are not a huge fan of membrane based keyboards as a whole, as we just spend way too much time typing away on keyboards not to look for one that gives us the best custom feel, we do see that devices like this still do have a solid foothold in the market, and just because we do not prefer them over a mechanical keyboard, does not mean that we cannot appreciate the design and feature set of such keyboards. What we really love about this design, is that unlike with our 600K, this 500K membrane switch based keyboard works as intended right out of the box. So with a stellar start to the 500K review, let's dive right in and see just what Cougar is offering with this peripheral.
As the naming in the chart shows, the 500K is indeed a gaming keyboard, and is based on membrane switches. With textured plastic used as the top and bottom frames, and the lack of a steel or aluminum plate in the design, this time we are dealing with a 0.9kg keyboard. Around the outside, you will find the full assortment of keys and a full number pad, Macro keys, lighting keys, multimedia keys, the works, even offering a pass-through USB port at the back. Speaking of the back, this is also where the 1.8 meters of braided cabling comes from to allow the gold plated USB 2.0 connections to be made to the PC.
It also features an ARM Cortex 32-bit MCU to take control of all of the functionality, and is what talks to the PC and keeps the settings from the UIX software system. while they do list specific gaming styles that this keyboard supports, it is just an idea of usage, as this keyboard will also functions just as well with any style of game or work load you can throw at it. The nice thing is that we even still get 1ms response time, repeat rate options, a Windows lockout key, and there are also six additional programmable buttons that sit to the left like we found on the 700K.
While most mechanical keyboards on the market are in the range of $100 or more, and is likely to stop most buyers in their tracks with just that, we are seeing that for a membrane based keyboard, the Cougar 500K is retailing at $89.99. To us that isn't really all that great. Considering the fact that as time goes by, mechanical keyboard pricing tends to drop into this range, it really blurs the line to how far you can push a non-mechanical keyboard price before you are just asking too much. On the flip side of the coin, we have seen others offer keyboards in this range that are not mechanical as well, but even with those we were pretty hard on them about the pricing. We feel if you are going to choose the average route in a gaming keyboard, it should also come with average pricing. With the bar set pretty darn high with just the price point alone, let's see just how well the 500K from Cougar can convince us that it is worthy of said investment.
Packaging, Accessories and Documentation
We see that when it comes to the box that the 500K arrives in, you get the same level of packaging as the high-end models do. On the front of which, we see a large image of the 500K all lit up and with the palm rest in place. At the bottom along with the naming, we see a feature set that includes membrane switches, but still offers NKRO support.
On both of the longer sides of the packaging, they both will have this Cougar logo and the naming, but at the other end of this long side is a tiny image of the 500K, and the one on the front is much easier to see, so we will stick with that image for now.
Both of the shorter sides are identical in their presentation. On either end, you will find the company logo and product naming, along with a larger image of the illuminated keyboard, as well as offering the web address at the top.
Rather than to show the Cougar logo on this longer side, we moved to the other end of the panel and show the specifications list they provide here along with bar codes, serial number, and layout of the keyboard.
Around to the back, we again find that Cougar pulls no punches and offers an image of the keyboard with features pointed out around it, while to the right side of it, we then find a listing of eight features found in and around the 500K along with images. The bottom is then used to again list all of the features, and is then repeated in various languages to cover their markets across the globe.
We mentioned that the same level of packaging is included, and that is also true of the inside as well. Here we find this much lighter keyboard, which may not need this level of protection gets the same dense foam to separates the bits inside and make certain that the product will arrive in great shape.
Also, just like with the previous two boards we looked at, under the keyboard, in the box, we again find a black envelope. Here it contains a user manual for the 500K and a trio of stickers to add to anything you see fit to put them on.
Cougar 500K Keyboard
Fresh out of the box, we find that the 500K resembles the 700K quite a bit. Rather than the aluminum top plate though on the 700K, this time, with membrane switches being used, they opted to go with black plastic across the keyboard to match the front and back edges.
Because of the extra buttons on the left edge of the keyboard, this time, unlike the smoother sides of the 600K, the 500K has a large angled section that sticks out a fair bit past the main shape.
As for those six extra keys, they are marked G1 through G5, and all are programmable to do just about anything you may need them for. It could be to launch an application, it could be for Macros, it could also be for anything else you may need to add to your keyboard layout for day to day productivity.
At the top edge of the 500K, rather than repeat rate buttons, we find a on-the-fly Macro Record button, and three keys specifically marked M1 through M3 that can also be used to swap keyboard modes. This time, unlike in the 600K, the LED notches to the right actually function, and are set up to denote which repeat rate is currently in use.
The layout of the main section of the keyboard is pretty standard for what we are used to these days, but there is one major change to this design over most others. If you look to the space bar, you will see that it is split into two sections so that you can opt to reprogram the G6 key if desired.
At the top edge of the right side of the 500K we see that there is a lighting control button along with a Windows lockout button, and moving to the right we see some of the multimedia keys as well, separated with the lock LED lighting to denote the Caps, Scroll, or Number locks are active.
Moving back a bit to take in the rest of the right side of the keyboard, we find all of the usual suspects. The scroll lock and pause/break keys allow you to swap roll over modes with the Function key, and along with the main arrow keys, we also see that the 2, 4, 6, and 8 keys on the number pad can also be used for movement.
The right edge of the keyboard is much like we see on any keyboard. It is angled back a bit, and also angled to keep the styling that Cougar keyboards offer. While we did not see one on the other end of the board, on this end there is a brass coated screw that matches the brassy Cougar name plate that runs the top edge of the keyboard.
As we saw with the previous two keyboards from Cougar, even the 500K comes with a single USB 2.0 pass-through port to allow users to keep the desk a bit cleaner and plug in the mouse or headset here rather than running those wires all the way to the PC.
Dead center under the Cougar name at the top, we see the rubber grommet coming out the back of the keyboard. the grommet is pretty solid and does not flex much, but keeps the end of the braided cabling from fraying as well.
At the other end of the 1.8 meters of cabling, we see that one fat cable is then broken down into two before they terminate in the pair of gold plated connections. Again, only the one with a keyboard icon in it is needed for the main functionality, but if you want to use the pass-through port, you must have both connected.
Since all the keys on the front are raised, we find no weep holes on the bottom of the keyboard. Instead, we find a bunch of screw holes, the product sticker, and two notches in the leading edge to accept the optional wrist rest.
While at the front there are two pads about the size of a Nickel, at the back it is the same runner cap on the feet that are now extended that keep the back edge of the keyboard from sliding around when they are collapsed.
At this point we took the wrist rest out of the box and snapped it into the front edge of the keyboard. As it sits, the rubber pad is on the left side, and we find more brass touches to go along with the nameplate at the top.
Also just like with the others, the rubber section is completely removable should you not desire to use it. We also showed on the 600K and the same holds true here, this rubber section may look strange there, but it will magnetically lock onto the right side of the rest as well.
Much like the 700K, this 500K offers full illumination of all of the keys, rather than the WASD and arrows of the 600K. The lighting button allows these lights to be dimmed from 100% in three more stages, and also allows the LEDs to be turned off all together.
A lot of devices out there want you to grab downloads for the software only, and if there is a firmware update, you normally need another download. With the 500K software, once the UIX software is set to install, it starts off with a firmware update prior to installing the driver suite.
Once the UIX software is installed and opened, this is the main page you will run into. Here we find three modes under the game management tab, a place for an image of said profiles, and below are three tabs to allow settings to be changed. Here we see the performance tab is open, and to the right we can adjust the polling rate, rollover support, and change the repeat delay time. To the right, we can change the times the repeat rate presses that key with a test below it, and it closes with a bit on the mode switches.
Jumping back just a bit to the profile management, here we find what is going on there. You can import profiles from other devices if desired, but here is where you will build a system of things to boot once a game or application is launched, and is also where you can add the images for the various profiles to show up in the software.
The key assignment tab is where things can get interesting. Here you can program each of the G-keys, and is also where you can establish whether the right side of the space bar is for space, or anything you want it to be used for. To the right there are menus for basic function that can be dragged and dropped into the boxes at the left, including what is shown, or any Macros you may have waiting in the wings.
Under lighting controls, there isn't much control to be had honestly, but there are some options here. At the top it shows the five settings that the light button on the keyboard can offer. The thing is you can select or deselect any of the five so that you get exactly what you want for intensity, but with all settings, the only color option is orange or off.
Yes, we did miss the interior of this keyboard in images, and that is due to one simple reason. With all of what we could access removed as far as screws, clips, and sections of the top go, there was something inside still holding it all together, and rather than to break the keyboard, we just replaced the screws and moved on. Typically we would think this may be an issue, say if you spilled something, but the way this is designed with the membrane switches, and how tall the key caps stand over the top plate, you really have to try hard to get liquid inside, even if spilling a gallon of whatever directly onto the keys. Beyond that, even while light, and being slightly flexible with the all plastic construction, they board does offer a decent feel to the way these switches depress. It isn't exactly the feel of a hybrid style switch, but has a bit more resistance on the way down that do many membrane boards we have used before.
Considering all that was lost with the 600K, we do like that Cougar takes a more full-on approach when it comes to the 500K, being based on the switches it has, you really need to pack in the features to help these boards demand the money that is being asked. While this design is a mere $40 less than a fully mechanical keyboard with lame lighting, the 500K is sure to offer not only the full backlit layout with intensity control, it also brings back the G-keys, we can swap modes on-the-fly without any help from the software, we can record Macros on the go, and as long as you like orange, we really have nothing to complain about with the looks of this keyboard either.
While we do feel that the pricing is a bit higher than others in the 500K league, we do appreciate the fact that this worked fully right out of the box, and speaking of the box, there are not many that will deliver you a keyboard with this level of protection for it. We also have never had an issue explaining our distaste for using a membrane based keyboard, but unlike the 600K we just looked at, this 500K has spent quite a few days on the desk, and while we felt a bit more finger strain over the long term, we really did not mind the actuation of these keys.
Not being able to fully take it apart to look for some form of trick of the trade, or to see if they are a hybrid design with a spring involved, we do like what they did when it comes to this 500K keyboard. Of course for us, we would opt for the 700K, but with the price point set here, and the level of features like the pass-through port, full NKRO that works, Cougar has reestablished that they are indeed very capable of making a keyboard that is comfortable, ergonomic, and specifically with the 500K, you won't break the bank, or have to make the move to mechanical heaviness just to enjoy a new Cougar keyboard.
|Quality including Design and Build||90%|
|Bundle and Packaging||93%|
|Value for Money||88%|
The Bottom Line: Cougar offers the 500K with tons of features, and with the UIX system involved, there is plenty more to offer! While not the most affordable membrane based keyboard, you do get a lot of bang for the buck with this design.
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