Who was it that said that for the job to be done right, you need the right tools? For a gamer, what are those tools? Other than a fast PC, the right input device is really important to pile up those frags. Truth be told, I'm a really bad gamer, so let's see if the Zboard CrossFire will bring me some hope in my quest of conquering the online world.
The keyboard base and wrist support come shipped in the same box, whereas our FPS keypad arrived in a separate box, along with instructions and driver CD. The keypad is hinged in two places, allowing it to be folded in three for easy transport. Both boxes clearly illustrate the contents, and arrived without any damage.
The Zboard CrossFire is a keyboard, designed for gamers. This hardware kit is made up of three separate components, which are the base, the key set, and a plastic wrist support. The highlight of this keyboard is the interchangeable key sets. By default, the Zboard only comes with the base and wrist support. Sure, there is a paper-based key set, but it won't feel the same as a proper plastic one. You can buy a regular keypad or choose from among several different gaming key sets. For the purposes of today's review, we'll be focusing on a key set designed for First-Person-Shooters (FPS), the Crossfire.
One nice thing about the Crossfire (as well as the other models) is that they are very portable. Simply fold them and unfold them if you need to take it from place to place.
The Crossfire has what the manufacturer calls "butterfly" keys that are not only large, but also more comfortable to use than the WASD method. For extended periods of gaming, I'll have to admit that my left hand didn't seem to ache as much as it would with my other keyboard. Common hot keys are placed strategically within easy reach, but I did find the buttons hard to figure out. However, these can be remapped, but nonetheless, there will be a learning curve. Another nice touch are the various "zones" where common commands are/can be placed in a logical manner.
Installation is straightforward, and in case you're still confused, the keyboard's base has illustrations molded into it. Simply place one end of the key set in, and lay it out across the base.
Before you get into your gaming, you absolutely have to install the driver for the keyboard. The software will configure your keys for gaming or standard Windows use. Unless you purchase the "standard" keyboard layout, the FPS keypad we have is a non-standard key set and trust me, it's a real pain in the *ss to try to type something without installing the drivers.
Once the software is installed, the Zboard will function as a regular keyboard. Like most of today's standard keyboards, you even have all the shortcut buttons for mail and Internet. The more I played with the keyboard, the more I realized perhaps the keyboard could be used for more than just gaming. A quick look online and I discovered that you can download key configurations not only for games, but for applications as well. Imagine finding a configuration for strip poker! Just kidding, but there are configurations for applications like Flash MX.
Aesthetically, the look of the keyboard is really nice. It has a sharp, black finish with adjustable legs to change the keyboard's angle. The Zboard has a nice weight to it, so you don't have to worry too much about it flying across your desk (Ed. Note: Unless you just got owned, and throw it in frustration).
In terms of ergonomics, there is the wrist support, which is a nice touch if you tend to cramp while typing. Unfortunately, this is likely to be a common occurrence as unless you use a standard key set, you're going to have to adapt to the key layout. Granted, I still wouldn't use this keyboard (as configured with the FPS key set) for day-to-day typing, but it is annoying to have to swap it for a real keyboard. So, for the times I felt lazy, my hands were punished for it.
Key response is decent, and feels much like a typical BS-Membrane keyboard. None of the keys ever got stuck, though it's Winter now, so it's not like I'm sweating all over it.
Overall, our feelings are somewhat mixed. Even with the add-on application support, I'd still look into investing in a standard key set to use with it. There is a bit of a learning curve, but I did get used to it fairly quickly. However, truth be told, as an everyday keyboard with a gamer's key set, you're better off using a real keyboard.
From a gamer's perspective, with the proper key set, this keyboard does simplify things by laying out the keys in a logical manner. Whether you use the predefined setup, or you customize it, the Zboard can be a useful device. Like we mentioned earlier, you can setup "zones" for commonly pressed keys, so your favorite keys are always nearby.
On the otherhand, if you're used to your current keyboard, the Zboard doesn't really help you that much. Although the key layout is friendly for novices, experienced gamers may not feel the same way. If you've accustomed yourself to a regular keyboard, why go through the trouble of learning again?
I will leave you on a small thought that will help you decide what is best for you&
A good musician is not someone with a 2000$ guitar who can play twenty strings at a time, and play a few tunes. A good musician is someone who could take a crappy guitar and manage to play few tunes and make it sound beautiful.
Pros: Well designed, different key sets for different applications, fully customizable
Cons: No regular key set comes with it, not terribly comfortable to use with custom key sets.
Bottom line: Hardware doesn't make the gamer. Hand-eye coordination, and a lot of practice does. Whether a custom keyboard, or a five dollar one is used, it's the time you take to hone your craft that makes a difference.
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