The onset of the personal computer gave birth to a new form of media entertainment that has caught up with man within roughly 4-5 decades, it is called gaming, It was like a volatile explosion that spread to the far reaches of the world and is one of the biggest industries when it comes to finance and profit, as the technology progressed it surpassed the film and television industry leaving it behind in the dust. The internet intensified the gaming sensation by making it a mecca for those trigger happy souls who were looking for some payback, it gave birth to online gaming and the world became a competitive beehive of gameplay seamlessly transitioning between data nodes. Furthermore it gave birth to the term E-sports and it was where the “best of the best” in gaming were pitted in high adrenalin rush matches. As e-sports gave birth to gaming as a professional sport, various companies like Razer, Steelseries…etc. were born and were determined to provide a hardcore arsenal of specific hardware tailored to suit professional gamers. And ever since then it has been a fierce competition of the hardware intensified gaming performance.
Steel series sets out on its bold new innovative product, The Zboard. The Zboard features an entirely new type of keyboard design that is suited to specific games and offers a vast array of customization options along with the basic computing features intact. It seems like a very fresh idea and the zboard is like an attach and play keyboard. The entire panel can be shifted and can be replaced with new panels (available in the market) to suit specific games like shooters and button mashers and so on. It looks less like a keyboard and more like a high tech contraption from a Futuristic Sci-Fi Flick. Read on for an in-depth analysis.
The Zboard comes with two attachments (One standard keyboard and one specialised keyset focusing FPS and RPG games) and the usual prerequisites like an instruction manual and the wrist support panel. The packaging is fairly minimalistic and follows the same design as earlier steel series products. The Zboard is readily available in India at nearly all specialised shops and is priced at roughly 4,000 INR (60$).
The Zboard has a distinct variation in various customization options and the keyboard can be fully adapted to nearly any game on the planet. The learning curve is a bit steep as you have to get used to typing on the QWERTY keyboard and it takes a while to digest as you have to locate the appropriate key and visualise accordingly, but it’s fun to experiment with different genre of titles
The dedicated gaming panel is great for fairly all genres as once you get used to it you will be spotting and shooting like a pro. The Zengine, a dedicated software is used to customize the entire keyboard which includes key mapping and re-mapping (according to the games), macros and shortcuts (such as a specific key press for launching a dedicated application).The Zengine has a streamlined User interface for easy customization and installation of the Zengine is highly recommended.
The Zboard was tested with an array of games both young and old:
1) Star Wars Battlefront II
2) Rayman Origins
5)Left for Dead 2
7)Aliens Vs Predator
Each game was played around roughly 25 minutes and the keyboard performed reasonably well, the keyboard fits in perfectly for FPS games(and other games as well,I prefer FPS) as it was fun to have dedicated keys for different tasks. Example in Left for dead you can customize the F key to melee making it faster to respond to on coming zombies. Although in reality its just an arrangement of pre-mapped, custom shaped keys, the effect is better than you might expect. The six-way directional pad (which maps the WASD and Q and E keys) is well-sized, and hitting the right directions quickly becomes aesthetically more intuitive than using the standard attachment. The standard keyboard attachment is not very impressive and performs like any other email surfing pop clicker. The keyboard has two USB ports acting as a fairly decent hub to attach other peripherals. It is recommended to use the gaming attachment as it has better response. Overall the typing feels mediocre as sometimes the keys have to be dipped a little harder when doing the usual computing like email’s and web surfing.
The Zboard isn’t the most stylish looking device out there, it comes in a matte black base with the keysets having a grey coloured bar indicating the different shortcuts, it feels sturdy enough and responsive, so can’t fault it too much. The build quality is fair and feels somewhat balky when compared to competitors or even other steelseries keyboards. It isn’t the cheapest keyboard or gaming keyboard out there- particularly given that it is not wireless- but it’s far from the most expensive available. it is actually decently priced. Ultimately the difference lies in an intelligent layout that helps to ensure gaming performance and the ability to use the great software and huge flexibility for profiles and macro’s. The overall design is fairly good and you can easily downsize the keysets to carry along to a tournament or even a casual LAN party.
The SteelSeries Zboard allows us to tailor keyboard to any game. The board looks decent and will appeal to gamers and as it sits snugly in the mainstream keyboard base its build quality and visual aesthetic can be side-lined with the amount of customization options the keyboard has. A quick and easy installation method is one of the reasons the keyboard stands out , allowing us to switch keysets within seconds and the ability for the SteelSeries software to configure itself and remap the keys without user interaction is great. We would however have liked to see SteelSeries using keysets designed for each game rather than generic units with distinct artwork. An intelligent layout helps to ensure optimal gaming performance and the ability to use combination of keysets and great software and huge flexibility for profiles and macro’s ensures that every gamer will find a configuration which benefits them. Finally it may appeal to new gamers or individuals who want to upgrade their existing keyboard to something tailored to gaming but due to the mediocre build quality and flaws it may not appeal to a stronger base for those looking to upgrade their existing gaming keyboard. Overall the package is decent and offers a substantial value for money.