The keyboard has been a staple of PC gaming since the dawn of time. When you think about it, itÃ‚'s also fairly inefficient for gaming purposes since we only use about half of it for any given game. That being the case, it was only a matter of time before game-specific replacements came out to take the place our trusty keyboards.
Enter the Speedpad.The Nostromo Speedpad is BelkinÃ‚'s attempt to streamline the functionality of the keyboard into a smaller and more ergonomic design which would reduce the amount of time spent stretching for keys and improve your skills. For the most part, the Speedpad delivers on that promise. Roughly the shape of a hand the Speedpad has ten keyboard keys along the top where your fingers rest, a scroll wheel on the right for your index finger and a D-Pad you can use with your thumb. It is designed for gamers who use the mouse with their right hand and the keyboard with their left. Sorry lefties, thatÃ‚'s what you get for trying to be different.
Installing the Speedpad is easy, just install the software, plug the USB adapter in and off you go. The Speedpad comes with some software that allows you to apply a key or series of keystrokes to each key on the device, including eight directions on the D-Pad itself. It also comes with a ton of pre-configured layouts for various games but you will most likely end up making your own. Once you have a few games configured itÃ‚'s easy to switch between profiles by right clicking on the Speedpad icon in the systray and selecting the profile you want to use. I should also point out that you can launch games from within the Speedpad software as well. Very handy.
To give you a rough idea of how things work, here is how I have Raven Shield configured with the Speedpad:
Movement keys, lean left and right, crouch, stand, reload and zoom are all configured for the ten keys along the top of the Speedpad in such a way that makes it easy for me to perform any task while moving. Maneuvers like the tricky Ã‚"lean while strafing and moving forwardÃ‚" are easily done with this config. In order to switch weapons and items quickly IÃ‚'ve configured different directions on the d-pad to each item key. Pressing the D-pad left give me my main weapon, pressing down gives me my secondary item, right does the third item and up whips out my hand gun. I donÃ‚'t use the wheel for Raven Shield but I would imagine applying it to weapon switching or zooming in would work well enough.
That uses up all my buttons on the Speedpad but if I needed more I could use the Ã‚"shift modeÃ‚" which essentially allows you to apply completely different functions to each key. With three shift modes you can essentially have 50+ different keys configured on the one device. I donÃ‚'t think IÃ‚'ll ever make use of it but itÃ‚'s nice to know itÃ‚'s there.
So how does it handle in the actual game? Since the design is very similar to a keyboard it doesnÃ‚'t take long to get used to the new layout of the keys. Within about a half hour of fumbling I managed to get my proficiency up enough that I wasnÃ‚'t panicking and whipping out my heartbeat sensor when an enemy appeared in front of me. Another hour or so and I was doing even better than I did with the old keyboard. There is something to be said for not having to waste that extra one second reaching for a key to switch weapons. Everything is right there at your finger tips.
The nicest thing about it is I donÃ‚'t have to sit up so I can use the keyboard properly. You can play with the Speedpad on the table of course but I find myself leaning back in may chair and using it on my left knee. ItÃ‚'s very comfortable and it doesnÃ‚'t hurt your performance in any way. ItÃ‚'s especially nice for slower paced game like Morrowind since you spend quite a bit of time running from place to place.
As you could imagine, the Speedpad is also useful for other genres outside of the FPS. It works very nicely for Diablo II and assigning a few functions to it for Age of Mythology also proved useful. Nothing mind-blowing but again, the ability to lean back and play it your way is nice.
I do have a few issues with the device although they arenÃ‚'t killers by any means. First, there is a bug where if you press three certain keys at once it activates a fourth. In the case of Raven Shield, if I press my move forward key along with strafe left and lean left it activates my crouch key for some reason. The website FAQ mentions this occurrence and suggests making a macro key to perform the function instead of pressing all three buttons at once. They do claim a fix is in the works but weÃ‚'ll see if that comes to pass.
The second issue is that the wheel on the device acts more like a throttle rather than a mouse wheel since it doesnÃ‚'t roll all the way around. ThatÃ‚'s ok since we use the wheel on our mouse anyways but it may prove a bit irksome to those who would want to have that full mouse-like functionality.
ThatÃ‚'s about it for issues, I would like a slightly heavier device although as it is the Speedpad doesnÃ‚'t slide around when using it on a table. It also has a lifetime warranty so I donÃ‚'t think there would be any problems with it falling apart anytime soon.
Is the Speedpad a must have for gamers everywhere? No, not really. While it is nice to use a smaller device than the keyboard it isnÃ‚'t leaps and bounds over the old standby. That said, it IS a bit better and it does offer more flexibility in how you sit and play your games. Laptop gamers and LAN party enthusiasts especially would probably find the Speedpad works great in tighter quarters.
For the price of roughly $29 US ($39 Canadian) BelkinÃ‚'s Nostromo Speedpad is a good buy if you have a bit of extra cash and donÃ‚'t mind the extra step configuring it for your favorite games. IÃ‚'ll be using mine for years to come and personally, I found that improving my gaming experience with all games for that price is well worth it.