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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Mad Catz S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 Gaming Keyboard

Mad Catz unveiled the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 Gaming Keyboard today. The thing looks like a behemoth. With multiple wrist rests, macro keys, a thumb wheel, a numpad, and a giant LCD screen, it seems like they tried to Frankenstein together everything possible to create the "ultimate" customizable gaming keyboard. Unfortunately, it'll set you back $300, and the most important part - the keyboard itself - is run-of-the-mill rubber dome.

The S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 has a total of five modules that can be swapped around - the keyboard itself, the numpad, a removable "function strip" with macro buttons, a wrist rest with scroll wheel and "action button," and a "control module" with V.E.N.O.M. touchscreen. Apparently Mad Catz doesn't fully understand how an acronym works and just wants to make the names of their products really annoying to type. Maybe V.E.N.O.M. stands for "Very Enormous Needless Optical Module" and S.T.R.I.K.E. "Self-Tailored Really Incredible Keyboard that's Expensive." I don't get it.

The lack of mechanical keys in a $300 keyboard makes me a sad panda. According to the product page, the keyboard has a "specially engineered membrane which mimics the tactile feel generated by the mechanical keys often preferred by gamers - without the resultant excessive noise." They admit that mechanical is the way to go on their own page. Yes, mechanical keys can be noisy - my keyboard has Cherry MX Blues that can be heard across town - but there are quieter options like MX Blacks available in addition to O-ring dampeners that reduce the sound made by a switch bottoming out.

Let's establish a baseline here. Right now, you can get a Logitech G19 Keyboard for $160 at both Amazon and Newegg. The G19 has standard membrane keys, an LCD screen, macro keys, a numpad, and an attachable wrist wrest. It's also the most expensive keyboard I could find on Newegg aside from the SteelSeries 7G for $169. The hot spot seems to be in the $70-120 range and includes a variety of membrane and mechanical keyboards with varying "gaming" features. Granted, there are some features to this keyboard that are of higher quality than others on the market - it looks like they really focused on the LCD touchscreen, and the left-hand wrist rest and numpad can be combined to make a custom gaming pad similar to a G13 or Nostromo.

The only person I could see using this thing to its full potential is the die-hard MMO player who wants everything at their fingertips during a 4-hour raiding session. When I first starting using a G15 I assumed I would never use the LCD screen, and with a couple of exceptions (Ventrilo and temperature monitoring) that was pretty much the case. A solid keyboard has a layout that you can navigate without staring at your hands, and a screen on your keyboard kind of veers off from that idea, especially since it's a touchscreen with no tactile feedback. Sticking to layout concerns, I've never been a big user of macro buttons on keyboards. Again, MMO players are probably the target market there, but it seems like I can never find my way across the keyboard gracefully to hit one of the additional buttons. I'm an FPS player at heart, so my hand always centers on WASD, and flailing around trying to hit macro keys with my pinky finger never worked out well for me.

To me, the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 is horrifically overpriced. The LCD screen looks flashy but isn't a needed peripheral on a keyboard and the lack of mechanical keys at $300 is a ridiculous oversight. Grab a $100-150 mechanical gaming keyboard and put the 150 bucks you saved towards a second monitor or some beefier hardware.

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