GOLEM keyboard project

GMMK Pro: the ultimate review

It seems the hype surrounding the GMMK Pro couldn't be stopped by that infamous sound test. The marketing department at Glorious PC can breathe a sigh of relief. Glamour shots of GMMK Pros are flooding the relevant subreddits, blogs and Youtube channels. The model seems to be a success story. But you know what? It seems there is still a demand for an honest critique of this keyboard.

If you are looking for an unbiased, independent opinion without the fluff, and would listen to an analysis of the usefulness of all the features, rather than a suspicious "review" stuffed with affiliate links, this comprehensive guide is for you.

After reading this article you will be able to answer the question: "Should I buy the GMMK Pro?"

Review methodology

I'll go through all the features and claims on the official Glorious GMMK Pro page.

Factor in that I seem to be resistant to hype and also allergic to meaningless marketing bullshit at the same time. So this is going to be a fun journey.

What is the GMMK Pro?

The GMMK Pro is a premium 75% gasket-mounted keyboard by Glorious PC with machined aluminum case, a rotary encoder, proprietary screw-in GOAT stabilizers and QMK/VIA support.

Don't panic if you are not familiar with the custom keyboard terminology – I will explain everything in details.

"Black slate" GMMK Pro with IFK Cafe keycaps
(Source: Reddit)

Approaching the question from another direction, there are two trains of thoughts when it comes to the GMMK Pro: it is "a showpiece of engineering and design", or it is just an overhyped 75% keyboard.

History & Announcement

The GMMK is a line of gaming keyboards by Glorious PC. Up to this point, it had a standard (100%), a tenkeyless (TKL) and a 60% keyboard.

The Pro is the new member of this family with a 75% form factor, announced in November 2020.

What does Glorious say about GMMK keyboards?

"The GMMK Gaming Keyboard was the world's first fully modular mechanical gaming keyboard. Our keyboards and accessories are built to provide ultimate ergonomic comfort, performance, and customization for an unparalleled typing experience."

The marketing staff producing this loves two things for sure: meaningless buzzwords and insulting anybody serious enough about ergonomics, keyboard performance and typing.

No problem with that. Lying is what some of us are paid for. The keyboard itself can still be a great one. But honest critiques like this are there to reveal the truth:

Keyboards are input devices used for various activities. Gaming and typing being two of them. However, these two tasks require totally different layouts and setups, i.e. keyboards. Claiming your gaming keyboard provides "unparalleled typing experience" or is ergonomic in the slightest sense is a shameless lie.

Physical layout

The 75% layout means the Pro, compared to the standard keyboard, ditches the number pad but retains the dedicated arrow keys with a reduced set of navigation keys cramped to the side of the alpha cluster.

Halfway between a tenkeyless (TKL) and a 60% layout.

Including the rotary encoder button this layout features 83 keys. The encoder shouldn't really be counted since its activation force is much higher and its lifetime is much shorter. (It is not intended for frequent use.)

Let's say the GMMK Pro has 82+1 keys.

Which means with this layout you lose some dedicated keys for less frequently used functions (Del, PrtSc, ScrLk, Pause). Most of these are rarely used and can be put on a logical layer, although, depending on your workflow, you may miss the Del key.

Additionally, the Application key is removed from the bottom row – I barely ever touched it in my almost 30 year long typing career, so that's not a big loss. (I'm not sure about you though.)

Features

Let's go through each feature of the GMMK Pro to help you decide if these are something important and valuable for you or just the usual marketing bullshit again.

Let's start with the Pros:

Pre-built & available

For seasoned enthusiasts used to wait up to 1-2 years for a group buy to deliver, this may not be a big deal. But for mere mortals, instant (?) availability may be crucial.

Also, being a pre-built, beginners and less serious buyers are not excluded from the potential users. (However, soldering is still one of the most useful skills you can acquire imo.)

Availability means of course nothing if you jump into a group buy to get your switches or keycaps for this build (which comes barebone, i.e. without switches and caps).

Spacing around the arrow keys

It's strange that even arrow keys are considered a feature now, but the popularity of keyboards with 60% layouts (without arrow keys) can explain this.

Even better, in contrast to many 75% models, the GMMK Pro has the arrow keys slightly spaced apart from the alphanumeric keys. This arrangement is sometimes called the exploded 75%.

This is similar to the 1800 layout, and can make a lot of difference in usability!

(That said, I'm happily typing and coding without dedicated arrow keys for years now.)

Firmware

QMK/VIA support. This is fine. If you are not sure what this means, QMK is probably the most popular open source keyboard firmware for non-wireless keyboards. Feature-rich and well documented with great community.

The point is, with introducing new features to QMK, your keyboards capabilities will grow too.

The only commonly heard complain about QMK is that it's not the most user-friendly software. This is where VIA comes in handy, which is a graphical user interface (GUI) to configure your keymaps.

VIA is a desktop software, so you don't need to go through the hassle of setting up your own building environment – a barrier to many people when it comes to building real custom keyboards.

–-

Now, let's take a loot at the features I consider gimmicks: buzzwords, marketing bullshit or irrelevant ones you will barely use. Some of these will only please your eyes for a few days and will add nothing to the functionality or experience in the best case. (And corrupt usability in the worst.)

Color options

Well, we may consider this attribute a neutral one. (You don't buy a Porsche because it's black or a BMW because it's white.)

The GMMK Pro comes in black and white, dubbed "black slate" and "white ice".

Some group buys are run with much more color options, but black and white are arguably the most popular case colors.

Gasket-mounted plate

"Naturally dampens keystrokes for a unique haptic and acoustic experience."

Mounting style is simply the way the plate (the switches are sitting in) is fixed/mounted to the case. It can indeed effect typing feel and sound.

There are quite a few mounting styles: top, bottom and sandwich mounted, burger mounted, spring mounted, etc., but somehow, coming late to the party, gasket mounting became the actual favorite lately.

Which is simply using gasket material between the plate and the case, providing a more cushioned feel while typing. Kind of an improved (?) version of the burger mounting style with humble O-rings.

I hate the overused term "personal preference" with regards to keyboards – in most cases it is only used to mask ignorance or indifference –, but mounting style is just that: personal preference.

Similar to if you like a more stiff or more flexible plate. It comes down to your typing style. (I can imagine you can feel a difference if you are heavy handed, abusing your board by bottoming out all the time.)

Sound is influenced by an abundance of factors.

The feel is influenced by many factors too, and the cushioning function of the gasket is very similar to that of a gummy leg on the bottom of your keyboard case.

Plate materials

Btw, switch plates are available in two materials: brass and polycarbonate (PC) plastic. Brass (just like aftermarket or custom steel ones) will provide a sturdier, stiffer feel, while the polycarbonate plate provides greater flexibility (different typing experience). The PC one lets the light of LEDs better through the plate.

Aesthetic high-profile case (with forward slope)

Both the high-profile and forward slope (6 degrees in this case) are common features of fancy Instagram-friendly keyboard designs, but they shouldn't be mentioned on the same page with "ergonomic" or proper typing.

An ergonomic working environment comes down – among other factors – to the relative hand/arm and keyboard height. It shouldn't be hard to realized that a high case is counterproductive in this sense.

The higher the board the harder to use it ergonomically (see: wrist extension and related musculosceletal disorders).

It isn't a coincident that the first standards regulating keyboard design (DIN), dating back to the '80s, aimed the reduction of keyboard height.

And – according to some revered designers of the first keyboards – the forward slope (in those times achieved by foldable legs retaining the possibility to use the board in flat mode!) was introduced only to please those who CAN'T type properly.

The slope helped inexperienced typers to keep an eye on the keycap labels – which is a bad practice, especially from an enthusiast...

CNC aluminum case - Individually machined and engraved

How do you CNC a case other than "individually"? Do you mill more cases at one run? And why is one better than the other? (For the buyer, not the manufacturer.) Anyways.

My heart is aching whenever I see such a waste of natural resources. But I know this is what makes this board "ultra premium" and "luxury".

And one more thing somebody should explain to me: what on Earth is the added value of an engraving on the bottom? When did you studied the bottom of any keyboard the last time? (Except of course the stickers of vintage ones?)

5-pin modular PCB

What makes this PCB modular is a real mystery. Can you exchange the MCU? No. Can you put it together from different pieces altering the layout or the functionality? No.

Do they mean hot-swap? Probably. But that's not modular. The GMMK Pro is not modular.

But a hot-swappable PCB means you can easily install switches without soldering. Be careful though, hotswap sockets are vulnerable and lifted pads are common problems.

And 5-pins mean simply PCB-mounted switches which is not surprising from a PCB.

GOAT stabilizers

"Screw-in, pre-clipped, factory lubed."

GOAT stabilizers are the proprietary stabs of Glorious.

Well, if you can't live without 1.5+ unit keys and long spacebars, and you don't want to lube or do your own mods, pre-lubed screw-in stabs may sound helpful and important.

However, if you are open to real custom and ergonomic keyboards with thumb clusters, you wouldn't need stabilizers at all.

For users of most ergonomic split keyboards stabs, along with clipping and lubing them, are a strange solution to a non-existing problem.

No stabs, no rattle, no hassle.

Rotary encoder

I have encoders on my real custom keyboards. I know how useful they are. (I never touch them. They don't have much function on a real ergonomic keyboard.)

"Fully programmable, controls volume & media by default, clickable."

FYI, you will play with this for a few hours and then forget about it. The point is, if you are thinking about another model too, and the rotary encoder is the only difference, this shouldn't be a deciding factor.

Additionally, if you take sound quality seriously, you will have an audio interface, external sound card, mixer etc. with some dials and sliders already to play with.

All other uses of encoders (scroll, zoom, paging, RGB etc.) are well investigated and hard to justify (see: uses of rotary encoders).

Signature side lighting panel

This is not underglow, nor per-key RGB, these are two strips on the side of the case with no function other than questionable aesthetics and to shoot some photos for your social media.

We've seen this many times, and you don't have to buy a $400 Space65 Cybervoyager to play with something like this.

"Fully programmable 16.8 million color RGB"

This means that each RGB color component (red, green and blue), i.e. three barely visible tiny LEDs in the same chasing, has 255 hue steps. Which is common and totally irrelevant.

255x255x255=16.8 million. (Psst. What if I'd tell a marketing guy that there is a saturation value too? 4.2 billion colors! And a brightness level? 1 trillion colors!)

Fun fact: if you stick a cheapo LED strip into your housing it will have the same colors.

"Fully programmable"? Sure. It means you can change the color. How innovative from an RGB LED! Basically, you have the common underglow feature on the side.

The only function of these lights I can imagine is using the mod lighting feature of QMK to indicate active layers. (If you consider this to be anything useful.)

16.8 million per-key RGB

(Again, a big enough number may impress some ignorant buyers.)

"Fully customizable, south-facing LEDs, multiple color modes and animations."

OK, this is apparently gamer territory. RGB lighting is a cause for ridicule in some parts of the hobby.

But even if you are a gamer, you should know that there's nothing new or extraordinary here. What you get with the GMMK Pro is common.

The common color modes and animations are a feature of the (free and open source) QMK firmware, not the keyboard.

The Glorious CORE software offers more LED-functionality.

Removable USB-C cable

You get a 6 feet braided cable with an USB-C connector. The USB port is in the middle of the aluminum case.

Price

Barebone (without switches and keycaps) from: $169.99.

I can't really judge if that's cheap or expensive. It really depends on your financial situation and possible alternatives (with slightly different feature sets – just to make comparison even more difficult).

I would say the price is reasonable and isn't much for a CNC milled aluminum case, which is probably the most pricey component and the biggest part of the final price.

Another question is if you need such a case at all.

And if that wouldn't be clear yet, let's stress again: you can't use this barebone keyboard out of the box. You have to buy and put in/on switches and caps.

Build quality

Material choice and build quality are important for a product marketed as "ultra premium" and "luxury".

Let me come back to this part later. For now, there are some reports on the bad factory lubing and some dents and scratches on the case. But these cases seem to be rare.

Competitors & Alternatives

I'm not interested in anything with the standard layout and staggering (an outdated design from the 19th century) so forgive me not to be able to present you a comprehensive list of similar keyboards.

Some alternatives: - IDOBAO ID80 v2. Very similar (without the encoder), has proper underglow. - LCK75?

Similar layouts without the F-row: - Drop Alt. - KBD67 Lite ($109) if you don't insist on the aluminum case. If you do, the KBD67 MKII is more expensive ($235). - More premium: Saka68 and Space65 Cybervoyager come with similar spacing around the arrows, which is more than a nice touch. Another option in the premium category is maybe the ai03 Vega. They are pricier of course.

And finally: any decent TKL. There's only 1.4 inch / 3 cm difference...

The benefit of the GMMK Pro is the availability (let's see). You don't have to go through the group buy process and to build it.

But if we strip off all the gimmicks, what's left is just a prebuilt 75%.

If you want to compare prices, don't forget to factor in the extra switches and keycaps if they are included in other offers – which is sometimes the case.

Target group

According to Glorious

"Enthusiasts, gamers, professionals"

What do you mean by keyboard enthusiast? Simply a consumer? Collector? Imo an enthusiast begins where the average consumer ends.

The gamers - well, I'm not part of this consumer group, so this may be a valid statement. I think this may be the real target group.

But "professionals"? What professionals? There's no such thing as a general "professional". There are all kinds of professions requiring different keyboards and other input devices. You can't take care of the special needs of a writer/blogger, a programmer and a competitive gamer at once with a single keyboard.

What is important for a profession may be completely useless for another.

The real target market

So other than the marketing __bullshit__ callwords, what does the GMMK Pro – its form factor and features – tell us about the real target market?

The potential buyers are those who are not conscious enough about their preferences, nor their gear, and want an easily accessible option with the potential of showing-off among their peers – without any soldering, assembling and modding.

Rotary encoder? Side lighting? Per-key LEDs? Gasket mounting? All these are just marketing without added value.

All in all, this board seems to target people who are not serious enough about their gear and are willing to choose the easy way. I'm not sure if gamers in general belong to this group. But I'm sure enthusiast do not.

Should I buy GMMK Pro?

If you need a prebuilt 75% keyboard with CNC-milled premium aluminum case, and can find a good use for a rotary encoder, then go for it.

If you prefer function over form and gimmicks, take a look at real ergonomic keyboards, split/angled layouts or at least split spacebars.

Verdict

The GMMK Pro is a 75% keyboard mostly for gamers and people who want an easily accessible keyboard without the hassle of doing much research or modding.

If you know what you want and you know this is what you want, feel free to buy it. You won't be disappointed.

In any other case you better do your own research on your workflow and the keyboards capable to increase your efficiency.

Because the classic staggering is a remnant of the 19th century. Keyboard designers and the keyboard builder community is way ahead of these kind of designs.

(No GMMK Pros were harmed during this ranting.)