The keyboard is the one item we interact with most on our computers yet it's usually such an afterthought that we purchase a cheap $10 part for systems worth thousands of dollars. Today Brian Ã‚"VeloxiÃ‚" Rubin chimes in with his review of Saitek's back-lit keyboard and pad system.
A few years ago, companies like Saitek (with its Gaming Mouse) and Microrosft (with its Strategic Commander) created devices, meant to supplant the keyboard in various gaming situations. SaitekÃ‚'s Gaming Mouse, for example, consisted of a mouse (obviously) and a pad for the left hand, which had a hat switch for use as directional keys in first person shooters, instead of the usual WASD combination. It wasnÃ‚'t a bad device (I might still be using it today if the mouse was optical), but eventually, the keyboard won the battle.
Saitek saw the writing on the wall, and like other companies, have created products not to replace the keyboard, but to improve upon it. The result is SaitekÃ‚'s GamerÃ‚'s Keyboard, a USB-enabled keyboard with an extra programmable pad. While you might ask yourself, Ã‚"Why would I use this keyboard over the typical $10 keyboard?Ã‚" The answer is simply, because the GamerÃ‚'s Keyboard kicks ordinary keyboards in their white plasticy-asses.
The GamerÃ‚'s Keyboard came in a normal-sized keyboard box, with a driver CD and a sheet of installation instructions. Installing the keyboard was simple. Turn off the computer, plug the keypad into the keyboard, plug the keyboard into your USB port, and power on the computer. Once Windows is loaded, install the drivers, youÃ‚'ll then see the pad in your control panelÃ‚'s game controller applet (screenshot below).
One of the first things youÃ‚'ll notice about the keyboard is its backlighting. Both the keyboard and the pad have a blue light underneath the keys for nocturnal gaming, and it looks mighty cool. YouÃ‚'ll also notice how solid the keyboard is. If you hit someone with this keyboard, theyÃ‚'ll go down. Its heft means it wonÃ‚'t move around the desk too much, which is very handy in hectic gaming or typing situations.
The keyboard itself is very functional, having all the essential keys and volume control keys. This is a nice change of pace over keyboards that seem to have a button for every common function on the computer Ã‚– such as email or internet Ã‚– yet are barely used, if at all.
One of the things that I find very positive about the keyboard is its tactile feel. My favorite keyboards were the old IBM keyboards that weighed 20-30 pounds and made a very loud clicking sound when typing. I always felt the tactile feedback on those keys was wonderfully solid. SaitekÃ‚'s Gaming Keyboard seems to meet halfway between those older, solid keyboards and todayÃ‚'s softer (read: mushier) keyboards.
The keys have a very firm feel to them, and feel just right even after several hours of typing or gaming. The actual keys have a thick feeling to them, adding to the keyboardÃ‚'s overall solid feel. The keys seem to be made from some type of non-slippery plastic, so when you put your fingers there, they donÃ‚'t slip to other keys, as is common with other keyboards after only an hour or so of use.
The typing response time also feels a bit quicker than typical keyboards. IÃ‚'m unsure if such a thing can be noticed, but I did notice a very slight increase in response time between pressing the keys and seeing an on-screen response. I tested this using the GamerÃ‚'s Keyboard and a normal keyboard -- both connected to the USB port -- and did seem to notice a very small increase in performance from the Saitek keyboard. Call me crazy, but it is something I noticed, and feel it must be mentioned.
The additional keypad also holds these features of solidity and sturdiness. The pad is basically a second numerical keypad, only with two mode buttons. The pad is also fully programmable. Using the included profile editor (shown below), the pad can be programmed in all three modes (unshifted, Mode A, and Mode B) for a myriad of keyboard commands. While it might not seem like much use in a FPS or RTS, this pad comes in handy in sims such as Falcon 4.0 and (of course) Jumpgate.
While IÃ‚'ve been heaping praise at SaitekÃ‚'s GamerÃ‚'s Keyboard, one must wonder if there are any downsides to the product. Well, itÃ‚'s only USB, so those with only original keyboard ports are out of luck. It wonÃ‚'t work with a USB-to-Keyboard Port connector (IÃ‚'ve tried) because the keyboard port apparently doesnÃ‚'t put out enough power for the backlight. While this isnÃ‚'t a slight against the keyboardÃ‚"…I had to think of something! I mean, this keyboard is frigging awesome!
In conclusion, those gamers in the market for a new or upgraded keyboard would do very well with SaitekÃ‚'s GamerÃ‚'s Keyboard. ItÃ‚'s sturdy, solid, and if itÃ‚'s like my trusty X-36 H.O.T.A.S., will last for many years. The backlighting and programmable pad are just icing on the cake.
Brian Ã‚"VeloxiÃ‚" Rubin