One keyboard to rule them all!
For most people, buying a new keyboard is something that happens when their old keyboard stops working properly, and about as much thought is put into it as what socks to wear in the morning. For gamers however, things can be a little more complicated. With the large amount of time spent tapping their keyboards, a gamers choice must include comfort and hardiness, amongst other considerations such as additional functions. Also, any gamer that takes pride in their gaming rig will want something that not only looks good, but looks good enough to turn heads. Well, Mad Catz have something that will tick all of those boxes and more, but it comes at a price.
The Mad Catz S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 gaming keyboard is the beast that haunts the dreams of PC gamers, taunting them with its customisable form and near limitless functionality. As the perfect partner to the equally impressive R.A.T. mouse range, the top of the range keyboard is designed with gaming in mind and could very well be the most complete keyboard ever created. It may also try to take over the world…
So, let’s start at the start. Out of the mighty box, the lucky owner of the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 keyboard will find no less than seven different components that can be clipped together in a variety of different ways. The most complete set up will involve clipping the V.E.N.O.M. Touchscreen panel behind the main keyboard, tilted up for perfect viewing. The numeric/arrow pad slots in to the right, and has its own optional palm rest. There are two additional palm rests that can be attached to the main keyboard, one of which has adjustable height, a wheel and a button. To finish it off, there is also a four-button panel which can be attached to the left side.
When assembled like this, the keyboard takes up a lot of room but really does look impressive. The keyboard is backlit with a choice of 16 million colours, which can be adjusted through the V.E.N.O.M. panel and assigned to different profiles. The entire unit has a very angular look, matching very well with the R.A.T. mouse range, but will not be to everyone’s taste.
However, the magic of this gaming keyboard is that you don’t have to fit it together in this way if you don’t want to. All of the various components can be taken off and there are plenty of other ways to slot the panels together, one of which doesn’t even make use of the main keyboard. This way, the gamer is guaranteed to have the keys they require for whatever game they are playing, without taking up more room than they need.
The build quality is incredibly solid and feels like it will take plenty of punishment, a necessity for the hardcore gamer. Rather than the more desirable mechanical keys, Mad Catz have chosen to go down the membrane keyboard route. Whilst many hardcore gamers may find this off-putting, they should rest assured that the keys mimic the feel of a mechanical keyboard very well, and are quieter. In fact, it feels really nice to type with.
Offering yet more customisation, the keyboard comes with its very own little accessory pack, much like the R.A.T. mouse. Inside this little case, the owner will find a tool and screws for fixing everything together, and some alternate keys. Gamers can swap out the WASD or cursor keys for some more tactile options with sets of each. There is even a tool for lifting the keys from the keyboard.
Finally, you have a bunch of very hardy, red and black braided cables for connecting everything together and plugging the keyboard into the mains and the PC. The keyboard can be used without the mains connection, but it reduces the functionality of the included USB ports.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the keyboard is the V.E.N.O.M. touchscreen panel. From the panel, which is bright and responsive, the gamer can launch dedicated apps designed to make their gaming life easier. At the moment, the options for these apps are limited, but Mad Catz promise that more are on the way. Still, right now there is access to clocks, stop watches, a rather handy journal that allows the gamer to take notes whilst they are playing, a Team Speak app, settings and shortcuts to launch programs. There are also a further 12 customisable macros. This makes a total of 24 programmable macro buttons. On the right of the touchscreen panel are three separate profile buttons, allowing a total of 72 different commands – more than most gamers will ever use.
To go with this mighty keyboard, Mad Catz offer their Smart Technology programming software. Whereas I had a slight headache getting this software to install with the R.A.T. 7 Contagion mouse, with the keyboard everything went smoothly and before long I was programming buttons with ease. The software really is very easy to use, even when programming complicated multi-button press and pause macros, and there are already a huge number of profiles available to download if you just can’t be bothered.
Now is the time that I burst the bubble and discuss the problems with the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 keyboard, because nothing is perfect. Let’s start with the most glaring issue – the price. Retailing at around £250, this is a seriously expensive piece of kit. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the keyboard is beyond the reach of all but the most serious PC gamers, and so it should be. Beside the fact that it is a very capable, and very sexy, keyboard, the majority of the advanced functions, the macro keys and even the V.E.N.O.M. touchscreen unit, really will only be used to their potential by the serious gamers. For your average gamer, the keyboard won’t actually make them any better at the games they play and will only serve as a conversation point or provide bragging rights.
Another problem is the size of the thing. Being that the keyboard is customisable in that you can choose which modules to add and where you add them, this is not perhaps a big deal. But I would guess that most gamers buying this keyboard would want all of the components present, in the standard layout, to get the full value for their money. You don’t buy an expensive gaming steering wheel and leave the pedals in the box, do you?
So, fully assembled with all of the appropriate parts, the keyboard is pretty big. Anyone who uses an under-desk tray for their keyboard can just forget about it, the keyboard is too wide and the V.E.N.O.M. touchscreen unit makes it too high. Even on the desk itself, gamers will find their mouse area seriously restricted. For many gamers this will not be an issue, but it is something that you should be aware of. When was the last time you cleared your desk?
Having spent the last couple of weeks playing around with the keyboard, I can honestly say that it is beautifully made and supremely functional. However, there is one design choice that I think is a mistake and will hopefully be rectified in future models. The space bar has a rather stylish lip which looks very cool and sits nicely in a cut out section on the main keyboard case when pressed down. This lip essentially makes the space bar larger and, in the heat of battle, an easier target to press. But pushing down on the lip itself rather than the actual button, results in the button tilting forward rather than actually being pressed, causing it to either jam and require another, more precise, press, or it clunking down in a jarring way. It doesn’t feel nice, for the user or for the keyboard.
So there we have it. A trio of problems with the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 keyboard. Only one of them is really a big deal, and even then it is only a big deal if you are not very precise with your button presses. The cost and the size of the fully assembled keyboard are both subjective problems that can be overlooked by the more serious gamer.
Which is kind of the point. This is a keyboard for the serious PC gamer. It has function upon function, many of which would be wasted on the standard gamer. But that doesn’t stop it from being an object of desire. It is gorgeous to look at and will raise comments from anyone who sees it. Do you need the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 keyboard? Of course not. You don’t need a Ferrari for a trip to the shops, but I bet you wouldn’t say no…