Shift and Control

I really did not know what to call this post but I wanted to write it anyway. November last year I wrote a review of my new mouse, the Razor Naga 2012. Well, I just took delivery of a new keyboard, a Steelseries Cataclysm bundle. It came with a standard keyset and the Cataclysm keyset specifically coded with Warcraft in mind.

I’d wanted a new keyboard for ages but I only have a small desk, most keyboards don’t fit on it very comfortably. In all honesty neither does this one, but it’s smaller than most of the others I looked at, so on balance it’s fine. Plus my previous keyboard was wireless, part of a keyboard/mouse set that came with the computer. It had an annoying habit of running out of battery during boss pulls, so it was time to upgrade.

Out of the box
I pulled it out of the box and plugged it straight in. I didn’t restart my computer, or turn it off, I just plugged and played, it worked immediately. I did install the Steelseries Engine which is needed to make the most of the keyboard but it was a really simple process. The keyboard comes with two USB slots (one powered), a headphone and a mike point for headsets. This is actually really convenient as it means I can plug my headset in while I’m using it, and disconnect and put it away the rest of the time. Before it was plugged in at the back, so just stayed plugged in, and I was forever knocking it off it’s perch on top of the tower.

I put the Warcraft keyset in and booted the game back up. This is where I hit my first annoyance. I guess because it was programmed in Cataclysm they’ve changed the macro codes. All the buttons for raid markers didn’t work, so I had to manually reprogram them. It only took as long as it did as I had some trouble figuring out the software, once I understood it, it was easy to program all manner of things. I added in some extra macro codes up the top for positioning world markers, and I changed the binding for autorun so it didn’t conflict with my mouse anymore. So it didn’t work straight out of the box perfectly, but in a way that’s a good thing. If it had worked I wouldn’t have bothered learning the system to add the extra bindings or finally fix the numlock conflict. So, it did me a favour really by needing that maintenance.

Ease of use
When I first started typing on it I ran into problems. The keyspacing was obviously different from my old keyboard, and the enter key was very different. On my old keyboard enter was a large button, essentially taking up the space of two keys. On this, there are two keys, two different keys, and so it’s an adjustment to find the smaller enter key. The spacebar is split into two as the keyset folds and I kept trying to hit the gap. The typing position is also different, as it’s a different keyboard, so of course it’s going to have a different feel.

My typing started slow, and clunky, and full of mistakes. I was worried as I don’t usually have issues with my typing like that when I use different machines. Perhaps it was the home environment, yet different keyboard that was throwing my muscle memory off and making for a longer adjustment. Either way, I’m typing this post now and it’s fine. I think I might still be slightly slower but by the time NaNo rolls round next month, I’ll either be as solid as ever or I soon will be.

My favourite non-warcraft part of the keyboard is that it has media keys. Now if the phone rings I can hit pause, I don’t need to find the program and click the button. I can also skip tracks the same way without having to stop what I’m doing. It’s a quality of life thing, I had this on the keyboard before my last one and I have missed it. Plus there’s the extra keys at the top, on the Cata keyset I put world markers on them, for the regular keyset I might program them to open regularly used programs, I haven’t decided yet. That’s what I think is so great about this keyboard is it’s flexibility.

When I decided I wanted to switch keysets I wasn’t too sure how it was done. I wondered whether I could do it while the keyboard was plugged in, I read the instructions and it didn’t say. So I just decided to go for it and I took the standard set off and put the Warcraft set on. It was very, very easy and it took absolutely no time at all. The only thing I had to do was shutdown and then reboot the engine that makes the macro keys work. It recognized the different keyset straight away, with no intervention. Actually swapping the keysets was completely painless which means that it’s something I will actually do a lot. If it had been difficult then I would have left one of them in all the time, and not got any use out of the second, but as it’s so easy I could swap it multiple times a day without issue. Plus, it didn’t feel like swapping caused any stresses in the device, as it went in so easily, so it’s not like swapping it regularly will cause it to break either.

Look and feel
It looks very shiny and polished but at the same time kind of old school. The large SHIFT in caps like that, that logo reminds me of old tech, Atari is coming to mind. The company logo actually seems to be lit up at the top which is fun.The keys themselves are chunky and they have a good amount of space between them. These keys are also very square, by that I mean the sides of them don’t slope, they just go straight up and down. My old keyboard there was a gap between the keys at the top, but then they sloped down so there was less of a gap at the bottom, which meant it collected dirt and was very difficult to keep clean. I don’t see that they’ll be any issue with cleaning the keysets.

A detachable wrist support is included. I don’t usually put these on the keyboard as it makes them bigger, and there really isn’t room. However, I am using it right now as I couldn’t get a comfortable typing position without it. The knuckle on my left index finger is aching now having typed this far, I’m guessing because it’s having to twist or stretch in an unfamiliar way. Hopefully I can adjust the typing position or it’ll get used to it before next month.

The keyboard is obviously plastic but I just had to double check to see whether it was mechanical. I don’t think it is as the description talked about rubber domes. However, there is definitely a click, clack typing noise, and the keys feel solid and seem to depress quite far. The whole thing feels and looks firm and solid, not cheap or flimsy in the slightest.

The only slight issue is the labels on the keyboard, saying what the keys are, are US, and I’m obviously using the UK keyboard configuration. So it says that the @ symbol is on 2 on the number strip and it’s not, that’s where ” is, and @ can be found where ” says it is next to the enter key. The £ sign is on 3 where it says the hashmark is, and I haven’t found the hashmark yet. However, I don’t actually look at the keyboard when I’m typing as I can touch type, so it doesn’t matter what it says, my fingers know where the keys are.

I’m really pleased with it, though you could probably tell that as this review has been universally positive. Aside from it’s size, which it can’t help, and the typing position, which I will get used to, there aren’t any real drawbacks. When I told someone how much it was I expected them to be shocked. They aren’t very technical and I thought they’d think it was a ridiculous price, instead they were shocked it was so cheap and thought it was great value for money. I think it was great value too. If you buy the standard Shift keyboard from Steelseries direct it’s £76 (£41 from amazon). If you buy the Cataclysm bundle, which includes the keyboard, standard keyset and the Warcraft keyset, direct from Steelseries it costs £50 (£80 from amazon). So it’s a bit weird that from Steelseries direct you can get the standard keyboard and keyset, plus an extra keyset for £16 less than just the standard keyboard/keyset.

Maybe it was because it’s the Cataclysm bundle and we’ve had Mists of Pandaria for over a year now. I don’t know, either way I think I got a great keyboard for a great price, american labels or not, reprogramming macros or not. My last keyboard came with the computer for free and lasted six years, I can only hope this one lasts as long.