We here at Tbreak have spoken before how much appreciate Roccat products. Razer might be the mainstream company (as mainstream as gaming peripheral manufacturers can get), but any serious and/or competitive gamer is at least aware of Roccat’s contributions. The Roccat Isku Keyboard is the latest product from Roccat and one of the most anticipated pieces of gaming gear, and given Roccat’s track record, it is easy to see where all the hype comes from.
Looks matter when it comes to high end devices, and not just for aesthetics reasons, as design can affect the usability, and in gaming, where a fraction of a second makes the difference between winning or losing, design affects performance just as much as functionality. Isku sports a great design that combines between visual appeal and comfort. The keyboard’s body is one of the bigger ones we have seen. Thanks to its smart design, it doesn’t come off as bulky or cumbersome. The keys are all arranged to maximize the users speed and efficiency, and they extra keys that Roccat adds (Macro Keys, Thumbster keys, media keys...etc) never feel out of place, or as “extras”, but feel like they’re part of the keyboard. The keyboard also sports a large wrist rest, which some might find overkill, but actually serves its purpose extraordinarily well thanks to convenient design and positioning. All this is complimented by a large Roccat logo marking its territory at the bottom of the keyboard.
The keys have a great feel to them, smooth and silky and gentle to the press. One of the cool looking features of the device is the backlit keys, however it doesn't seem to be fitted in too well. Viewing the keyboard from a top down angle, the backlit keys look bright and clear, however, the more you move back the less clear each key appears to be, and when you’re sitting at the normal position a lot of the keys are reducing to blue blurs. This is especially annoying when you are first getting used to the position of the keys and have to focus on each key to tell what is the letter/symbol on it
The Isku is all about customization, which is done mostly through Roccat’s in-depth yet intiuitve software. As a gaming keyboard, Isku is hellbent on making your gaming experience streamlined and efficient. Through the keyboard’s control panel, you can customize the Macro keys, the function keys, and the media keys, and you can even give secondary functions to the WASD region keys. Customization is now backed up by the Macro Live function, where you can assign macro keys on the fly without having to resort to the control panel. Just pess the Macro Live button, press the Macro key you want to assign to, press your desired key combination, and then press the Macro Live again.
However, the two new customization features that Isku brings are the Thumbster keys and the Easy Shift key.
Lets start with the Thumbster keys. The space bar doesn’t have to hog your thumb all the time now, as the Isku features three keys below the space bar that give you extra functions to make you more efficient, and they are fully programmable, although they are designed for quick swtiching between profiles.
The other feature, Easy Shift, pretty much doubles the customization options. Easy Shift gives a secondary feature to pretty much any customizable key on the keyboard, from the functions to the thumbster to WASD keys. The Easy Shift also plays a part in the Roccat Talk feature.
Yup, that’s one the coolest new features in the Isku. Roccat Talk allows both your Isku Keyboard and your Roccat Kone mouse (or any other Roccat product with the Roccat Talk) to work together. You can configure your desired functions on the mouse, and use the Easy Shift key to execute said functions on it, with the mouse giving you visual feedback. For example, you can now use your keyboard to activate the Easy Aim function on your mouse.
Other than the major features, there are other smaller areas you can customize. Through the control panel, you can adjust the brightness of the backlighting, from full brightness to no light at all, you can disable the windows keys (we all know how annoying they can get), and you can even customize the speed at which a key starts repeating its function when its held down! Seriosuly, I’m surprised the keyboard doesn’t allow to customize the shade of grey that I want the wrist rest to be at.
And once customized everything to your specific likings and comfort, you can change the profile and assign entirely new customizations to that profile. You can do that a total of five times.
The biggest problem I had with keyboard was getting used to all the key positioning. At first, I had to actually look a few times to see what key I was pressing. The extra keys Isku adds also cause some confusion; for example, I am used to go to the leftmost top key to press ESC, well in this case, the leftmost upper key is the first macro, and I am embarrassed to admit that a few times I pressed and was annoyed that it didn’t execute the ESC function. But all that is hardly a problem, and once you get used to all the key positions, Isku is really fun, and more importantly efficient to use.
I popped in Street Fighter IV to try the keyboard out (what what?! SFIV is fun with a keyboard), and the difference in performance was noticeable. The keyboards response time is excellent, and given they key’s smoothness, some key combinations that were clumsy with keyboard became easy and simple to pull off. They keyboard has improved my performance (but didn’t make me a better player, no gaming hardware does that), and I’m happy to say, my online rank rose, and I’m proud to say I am now in the top bajillion players in the leaderboard.
I tried out other games from Deus Ex to Empire: Total War, and while none of them do require a keyboard of this caliber, it was still an enjoyable experience using the keyboard, if not for the extra customization then for the comfort that this keyboard provides. However, the people who will get the most kick out of a keyboard like this are the RTS and MMORPG players. With more customization than you can count, you will be able to assign macro keys for everything from building various units to regulating your undead warlock’s breathing rate.
But then again, keyboards aren’t only for games (no seriously), and the keyboard functions just as well outside WASD land. The typing flows smoothly, and keys feel great, and although users of mechanical keys may feel that typing on this keyboard is a downgrade, most people will find this typing on the keyboard to be smooth and comfortable. The macro keys can give you some handy shortcuts for use outside of gaming. I assigned a macro for quick switching between Arabic and English typing keyboard, and given my work which requires me to switch often, and sometimes mid sentence, between Arabic and English, it really streamlined my work.
Throughout all this, they keyboard provides good comfort for your hands and wrist, and you can go on tryping for long hours without feeling tired. The wrist rest, aside from its convenient design, also includes material that will hold of prespiration, so no more sweating from your palms and all the uncomfort that may cause.
We cannot crown the Roccat Isku as king of keyboards, but we still have to recognize it as one of the best keyboards we have used. While the customization might be over the top for regular users, hardened MMORPG and RTS players will find it to their liking. Unfortunately, the backlit keyboard was a bit of a letdown, but it is by no means a failure, and still serves its purpose, yet there is still plenty of room for improvement. None the less, the Isku is still a great product, and despite what flaws it may have, it continues Roccat's track record of delivering quality gaming products, and it makes us even more eager to see the sort of innovations Roccat will provide in the future.