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Marsback M1 hands-on: Mechanical keyboard puts on brilliant light show while you game and work

Currently selling via Kickstarter, the keyboard is jam-packed with features and RGB lights and lets you build a custom experience.

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Josh Goldman/CNET

From the moment I opened the box for the Marsback M1 mechanical keyboard I could tell it was different from every other keyboard I've tested lately. The 75%-size keyboard, currently sitting fully funded on Kickstarter, is sort of a greatest hits collection of features topped off with a bonus track of blindingly bright RGB lighting.  

The M1 is a wireless keyboard with a large 6,000-mAh battery and while opening the box I pressed the spacebar and, in an instant, it came to life with a supernova blast of colorful light. The light poured from everywhere and it was brighter than you'd find on your typical gaming keyboard.  

Part of the reason for its brilliance is that it actually has more lights. Not only are LEDs under every keycap, but 21 additional LEDs wrap the outside of the keyboard, illuminating its frosted translucent polycarbonate frame. This gives you two zones of lighting that can be independently controlled with preprogrammed patterns stored on the keyboard. Or you can use the company's desktop app to create your own lighting designs. The software also lets you set up macros, remap any of the keys and create profiles, two of which can be stored on the keyboard.  

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The keyboard body is CNC-machined translucent polycarbonate. 

Josh Goldman/CNET

The customizations for this keyboard don't stop with the lighting, though. Marsback is offering three keycap options for its campaign. The preproduction keyboard I tested has white-topped pudding PBT keycaps but a dark gray set of ABS keycaps, as well as a floral-themed pink-and-white sakura set, are also available. 

Given the amount of light output, the pudding caps are likely the best option since they let the per-key RGB light shine through. Without letting the light through, the keys end up backlit only around their outer edges making the legends difficult to see in dim lighting. The key switches do have standard MX-style stems, so you can easily swap out the caps with others. 

Speaking of switches, the Marsback M1 uses the company's own linear switches. Smooth and quiet, they are a pleasure for typing and gaming. That said, the version I tested -- Marsback offers three linear options -- was light with a 45-gram actuation force and a 2-millimeter actuation point. If you prefer a tactile or clicky switch, the switches are hot-swappable so you can put in whatever you want. The keyboard sounds fantastic, too, with just the muted clack of the keys bottoming out and there's no discernible key wobble.

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The case has nonslip pads on the bottom but no feet to adjust the angle.

Josh Goldman/CNET

The 75% size is a good compromise to save space on your desk while still offering all the keys you'd find on a tenkeyless model, which has no number pad. The layout can be switched between Mac and Windows with a simple key combo and Marsback plans to include additional keycaps. This size gives you arrow keys and the full function key row, although, with no space between the function keys and the number row, I regularly overshot and missed the number keys. 

As I mentioned up top, the keyboard is wireless thanks to a large rechargeable battery inside. The Bluetooth 5.1 connection can be linked to three different devices and you can switch between them on the fly. You can also use the keyboard wired (a USB-C-to-USB-A cable is included) and if you plan to use the lights all the time, you'll probably want to opt for the cord. Even at their dimmest, the lights are bright and you'll have to charge it daily if you're using it wirelessly. It will go to sleep when not in use, though, and with the LEDs off it'll last for up to two months, Marsback says. 

From its customization options to its size to its out-of-the-box performance, there is a lot to like about the Marsback M1. The price, however, is a bit scary. The Kickstarter campaign still has few days left on it with the availability of an early bird price of $179 (approximately £130 and AU$234 converted). While that price is fairly reasonable given the features and quality, Marsback says it will retail for $305. In my experience, though, the actual price once it starts shipping will likely be closer to the Kickstarter one.

With the keyboard being a Kickstarter campaign, there is some risk involved. It is fully funded and Marsback expects to ship them to backers in July. A spokeswoman for the company said the biggest challenge at the moment is the global chip shortage impacting everything from PS5 production to cars, but didn't think it would delay the manufacturing of the keyboard. Also, this isn't Marsback's first Kickstarter: Last year it successfully funded and shipped the Zephyr gaming mouse that had a built-in fan for cooling your palm while gaming.