Well, here’s a product that came out of nowhere and surprised me. Mad Catz is really trying to produce some high quality peripherals (Check out Jeremy’s Warhead review) and at Gamescom, they announced a really tricked out keyboard. Named the S.T.R.I.K.E 7, this modular keyboard is a unique gaming keyboard that’s got some really great features, but it’ll cost you a pretty penny.
Let’s start with the design. The angles used and construction in various areas can be a turnoff for some folks. I’ve shown the keyboard to a lot of my coworkers and friends and I got a wide gamut of reactions. For me, the keyboard may look a little “loud” initially, but it didn’t take me long to get used to it. And even though it is a unique design, the spacing and placement of the keys are pretty standard.
The main keyboard is a standard 102 keyboard setup. Now, it does use a membrane, which some folks scoff at. They think that unless it uses some mechanical setup like Cherry MX keys, it’s not good quality. Well, I don’t have a preference just as long as it’s responsive and types well in both normal and gaming usage. Mad Catz explains why they went along with a membrane setup rather than switches with the following statement:
Opinions on keyboard keys are highly subjective. How do you cut through the opinion and provide something that is useful for everyday computing and long gaming sessions?
We have developed our membrane to have a 60g actuation force. Our research showed a possible range of between 50g and 80g. Too high, and the long gaming sessions would start to take their toll on your digits. Too low, and the key would not reset at a fast enough speed for gaming. Our actuation force sits in the optimum zone of this range and is specifically targeted at reducing muscle fatigue and discomfort whilst remaining speedy and responsive over long gaming sessions.
The goal with our membrane was to achieve great tactile feedback for our key input. We specified that there should be a bump in the actuation to let the gamer know that their input had been received; the 60g actuation force helps deliver this tactile feedback.
As well as actuation, the reset point of the key is also crucial for in-game actions. Actions such as double taps would not work if the reset point was further back on the key travel than the operating point. We have made sure that the reset point is tuned to the position of the operation point, to ensure that fast input isn’t missed whether you are gaming or typing.
We wanted our keys to be as quiet as possible, so that even if you game in to the early hours, nobody else in your dorm or house will have to know about it.
So that’s Mad Catz’s reasoning, but if you’re dead set on mechanical keys, it probably won’t change your mind.
On the left side of the keyboard, you can attach four extra programmable keys. These keys vary in different sizes so you can easily know which one you are pressing. Another set of programmable keys are located above the cursor keys. These keys are set at a different height, also making it easier to know where they are located and to access them by touch. With the lower height, the main arrow keys aren’t interfered with.
The whole keyboard and keypad panel lights up in glorious color. The color spreads out in a nice uniform pattern across the membrane under the keys. You can easily set the color with the touch screen as well as its brightness. It’s easy to do with the touch screen interface on the V.E.N.O.M. and you can do so without having to get out of the game or application you are in.
All of the parts are connected together with various USB cords. They are heavy duty braided cords so they seem like they can stand up to some wear and tear. Neat the USB connector to the computer, it splits to allow for a power plug to provide the juice needed to run the keyboard and its parts. Included are some extra cables of various length for the different types of configurations that are available. I really like the solid feel of the cables that Mad Catz provides you with the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7.
There are many features about the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 that sets this keyboard apart from the rest. For starters, it’s physically customizable. Seven parts make up the complete setup, but you can take and re-arrange some of those parts to your liking. Do you want a small keypad with the LCD screen on the left of the main keyboard? Go ahead. Want separate out some of the parts a little more. Mad Catz has included some extra cables to do so. Even the wrist reps can be adjusted in length. My only concern is that the attach points for the wrist and palm rest with dial and button are just plastic clips. Their durability might be in question should you do a lot of changing around, but most people will probably just keep one setup design and leave it at that.
The unique palm rest that’s part of the setup can tilt and extend. A button and a dial is also here, which gives you a few more programmable options. When using the WASD area for me, it was a little bit hard to keep my thumb near the button or dial area though, but those with bigger hands might be able to do it a little easier. Even after using it for a month, I still wasn’t too comfortable with using the button consistently when I had it mapped to a function in a game, but I’m a lot better now than when I first got the keyboard.
Included with the set are some additional keys that you can change out on the keyboard. There are some WASD keys with some raised edges that will help you easily find the keys with touch. They’re actually pretty nice and something that I enjoyed using when playing first person shooters. Arrow keys with the same raised edges are also included should you prefer those. If you are done playing games, just simply swap them back to the regular keys. Tools are included to make swapping out keys easier and they all stay nice and organized in a carrying case.
The feature that stands out the most though is the V.E.N.O.M. touch screen. The colored screen features 12 screens or apps of varying features. Setup is pretty simple with Mad Catz’s software although I’m still trying to figure out how to change the clock on the LCD from military to a 12-hour display. It’s a resistive screens, but I still found it to be very responsive. The colored screen shows the apps in a nice bright display. The launcher app, which gives you quick access to launch programs, will show the icon of the application making it easy to see and pick out. One of the more convenient apps lets you take notes, which helps when I play RPGs and need to keep some thoughts and clues handy. For those that use Teamspeak, a very nice app will help coordinate communication with teammates and choose channels. I am not a Teamspeak user, but it looks mighty useful and one I hope expands to other chat applications like Ventrilo or those integrated with apps like Steam.
On the outer left edge of the touch screen are multi media keys. You can adjust the volume as well as perform microphone muting. The buttons do stick out a bit but they are easily accessible and easy to press because of this. Although, I am a little concerned about how strong they are considering they are plastic and jut out a lot. I’m hoping they stand up to the wear and tear of being pressed many times, but only time will tell on this one.
The right side of the touch screen has three buttons that let you select the profile of your keyboard. Have a few games you play with different setups? You can change to one of the profiles saved by pressing on one of the three buttons. You can tell which profile you have set by the color change of the extremely large logo that’s situated to the left of the screen. The logo is rather large and gaudy and I wonder if it would’ve been better to make it smaller or something less loud. I’ve heard a few complaints about it though, but like anything you look at for a long time, you’ll most likely get used to it. I’ve stopped noticing it after my month’s usage with the product.
The height and angle of the touch screen made glancing over to see and interact with very easy. Where I had to look further down on the Logitech G19 keyboard to catch what was on the LCD, the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7’s LCD screen’s placement is well situated here.
While the touch screen is very nice to look at and use, what I want to see is integration with games like how Logitech’s G19 has in some games. Curiously, there is a lack of hardware monitor app on the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7, which Logitech’s offering has and can be pretty informative. The V.E.N.O.M. touch screen is nice to use and I am really hoping there’s more support for it in the near future. One of the things that hindered the Logitech LCD keyboards was the lack of applications and we won’t know if this will also be the same for this as well.
On the back of the touch screen are two USB ports. They’re conveniently placed and let you attach two peripherals. Since the keyboard is powered via an A/C adapter, you’ll have fully powered USB ports to use.
Speaking of connections, what I think is missing though an audio pass through that’s prominent in many gaming keyboards. To be able to have access to headset plugs on the keyboard is a nice convenience and you could do so and keep it to one USB connection like the Logitech G110.
Macro programming, application setup, and profiles, a staple of many gaming keyboards these days, are here with the included software. The software is easy to use and I had no problems changing my keyboard settings and creating some much needed macros for a few of my games and development tools.
With a month’s usage on the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7, I’ve found that the typing to be very good in normal everyday usage. As a developer and a writer, I spend a good amount of time in Microsoft Visual Studio and Word. Typing long periods of time was no issue and I found myself to be accurate and fast with the membrane keys.
Gaming was also fantastic as I was able to press multiple keys without issues. Seven is the limit before ghosting appears in the main area of the keyboard. As I mentioned earlier, the provided WASD keys with the raised edges really helped me quickly feel where my fingers are when playing first person shooters. Testing the keyboard with various types of games such as Borderlands 2, Diablo 3, Counter-Strike Global Offensive, Team Fortress 2, and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 held up incredibly well and all the macros functioned on target. The keys are soft and responsive providing a good experience throughout.
The question though is is the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 worth $300 that Mad Catz is asking for. The unique modular design does afford you plenty of options on how you want set it up. The gorgeous touch screen provides some useful applications, but some are missing that I think would’ve been helpful and are standard on other keyboards with an LCD. Keys are comfortable to type on and offer good feedback even though they aren’t mechanical. I think that if we see some more applications available for the touch screen, you’ll have one very solid pick up. Without application support from third parties, it would be a shame as it would waste such a nice screen that Mad Catz has provided. Although expensive, Mad Catz has a nice setup or gamers with some good customization options and performance.