PC action gamers have sworn by the WASD formula for quite some time. What is WASD? Well, on your keyboard, these keys are located on the left hand side, and represent the default configuration for up, left, down and right (W-A-S-D respectively). For right-handed gamers, ergonomically, these keys are easier to use (in conjunction with the mouse, for aiming, on your right hand) than the directional keys found next to the number pad. There are some variations, such as ESDF, but the idea is the same.
What is great about the WASD method is that you have several keys surrounding them that can easily be mapped (aka "key bind") to the game's control scheme. The only problem I've ever experienced is sometimes, given the abundance of keys, it is possible to miss one and end up pressing the wrong key bind. In a fierce online deathmatch, this can often mean death to your online persona.
Today, we'll be checking out Belkin's Nostromo n50 Speedpad. Think of it as a mini keyboard, with a Nintendo directional pad built in.
Sophisticated, innovative software and drivers let you use the SpeedPad in combination with the n30 Gaming Mouse for excellent control in any keyboard-based game. It also works with any other mouse.
10 Programmable Keypad Action Buttons
Programmable 8-Way Directional Pad
Ergonomic Comfort for Enhanced Game Play
Compatible with: Windows 98, 2000, ME, XP and Apple Mac OS 9 or later
Belkin Lifetime Warranty Guaranteed
The Nostromo n50 SpeedPad is about 1/3 the size of most standard keyboards. Unless your desk space is completely cluttered, you shouldn't have too many problems finding room for it. Not much to say about the colour choice, but black is a little passé in my opinion. The controller is designed for right-handed players, meaning they hold their mouse in their right hand. Though left-handed players can adjust to the controller, there is a problem that will prevent them from making full use of it, which I will get into later.
Other than the controller, you also get a manual, Nostromo Array Programming Software, and a quick start guide. As usual, it may be a good idea to hit up the manufacturer site .
The n50 SpeedPad has a palm rest to prevent fatigue. It is removable if you find it too high (causing discomfort), or if your hands are on the small side. Seven rubber pads on the bottom of the n50 secure it to the desk, and for the most part, it does a good job of keeping the n50 from moving around too much, which is good considering the light weight of it.
Installation is as simple as finding a free USB slot and plugging it in. Though it will fit, and work, in a USB 2.0 slot, it is an USB 1.1 device, and won't make use of the extra bandwidth USB 2.0 provides. This won't be an issue though as simple keystrokes aren't enough to even saturate the bandwidth of an USB 1.1 connection. Keep in mind that support is limited by your operating system. Most will support the device, but Windows 95 and NT users are out of luck.
There are ten programmable keys on the n50, though don't let those numbers fool you. You can configure one of the keys through software to switch between four configurations, thus ending with four different configs with the nine keys. It takes some getting use to at first, but eventually, it works great. Sure, a keyboard can do more, as it has more keys, but if you got a key binded to your "<--Backspace" key, it means certain death to take your hands off the keyboard to reach for it.
The directional pad is handy for those of you without a game pad, but this is where the problem for left-handers comes in. Assuming left-handers move the n50 to the right side, the directional pad is pretty much useless since it is designed to be used with your thumb. If the n50 was totally modular, where you can move parts around, the problem would be solved, but this isn't the case.
Now, truth be told, this has never really been much of a problem for me, though I am used to MY keyboard. Changing keyboards (should I not feel like hauling mine to a LAN party) will cause me a few headaches as I adjust to the new layout or design. Enter the Nostromo n50 Speedpad. This is not a keyboard replacement per se, but it does make for a good substitute for gaming. It's a lot smaller than a regular keyboard, so taking it with you is a lot more convenient, plus it has some functionality that keyboards do not have.
There is a bit of a learning curve, but it isn't too steep. Yes, you will die a lot adjusting to it, but once you get used to the design, and the programmable keys, you'll quickly wonder why you never used one of these earlier. Serious gamers should take notice.
Other than the problem for left-handers, there aren't any real flaws to point out. More keys will actually take away from the simplicity of the n50, which is its greatest strength.
Pros: Programmable keys, comfortable, logical design.
Cons: Built with right-handers in mind, regular keyboard is fine for most people.
Bottom Line: For casual gamers, I don't think the n50 SpeedPad is an essential piece of hardware. If you're comfortable with your keyboard, and have most of your keys bound within easy reach, stick with what you have, as the n50 does not really do anything to instantly make you a better gamer.