Review: SteelSeries 7G gaming keyboard

High-end keyboard week continues! You may not have heard too much from SteelSeries yet, but they’re big in Europe and they’re starting to make their mark here. One of their flagship products is the keyboard I’m typing on right now: The 7G. It’s aimed at gamers, but more in that it’s extremely durable and reliable as opposed to being covered in buttons. Read on for the skinny.

This will be a shorter review than the others because this keyboard is really incredibly straightforward. Its layout is almost completely normal and it has no visual flair to speak of short of the built-in wrist rest that gives it a sort of, well, enormous look. It’s removable (it’s not really even attached) and I can really go either way. I prefer a gel wrist rest but the SteelSeries one is at least more substantial than Razer’s, if not quite as cool-looking.

So what does this thing have other than a bunch of keys? Well, first let me talk about the keys some more. They have a big, chunky feel to them and the depression is pretty deep. It’s described as “no-click” but that just means it doesn’t have an intentional click. It’s actually quite loud, so don’t buy this for undercover work. I feel that I end up pushing on the corner of the space bar because of how tall it is, but that could just be a personal problem. I haven’t had any problems at all with keys sticking or responding slowly.

Good for two-player SNES emulation in a pinch
SteelSeries is proud of this keyboard having every single key separately detectable — that is to say, like buttons on a controller, no matter how many you press down, it will always detect them. Most keyboards use a simple method of key-down detection that results in no more than two being pressable at a time. This only becomes a problem at critical times, so it’s not something you usually notice. No, it’s only when you’re trying to strafe diagonally, jump, and hit reload all at the same time that your keyboard doesn’t respond and you end up dead. Best avoid the possibility entirely, right? Well, SteelSeries certainly thinks so. You have to connect it through PS/2 to make this possible, so keep that in mind.

Also, just to put the idea into your head: Secret of Mana with all three players on one keyboard? Now that’s a party.

Port side
The keyboard also has the requisite (and handy) headphone, microphone, and USB ports on the back left side. I’ve been using them all and they work perfectly.

Media control comprimise
The media keys are the only departure from a regular key layout. Instead of a left Windows key, you have a SteelSeries logo. Press that and keys F1 through F6 become media control buttons. Mute, volume, play/pause, forward and back — again, very straightforward. At first they didn’t work for me, but I determined it was trouble with my Winamp. Note to others: enable global hotkeys, or whatever similar setting there may be in your player. No actual configuration of the keyboard is necessary — indeed, it comes with no software at all and requires none. How refreshing! That means it has full functionality wherever you bring it.

There is a problem with the media keys as they are set up, though. While I don’t mind the use of a modifier key to make them happen (cuts down on clutter), the way it’s set up is inconvenient for your hands. You can’t do it with just your left hand without interfering with your right, and vice versa. And if you use both, it’s a whole other operation. While using the F-keys is a natural solution and allows for track navigation without looking, it also makes things a little bit harder since those keys are out of the way for a reason. It’s not much of a problem but it’s worth mentioning.

I doubt, however, whether you’ll be bringing it anywhere. It’s quite heavy and although it seems very durable, it’s not really set up for travel. No, this is your home keyboard that will remain functional for the next 5 years, no problem.

CrunchGear’s recommendation
This is a premium keyboard, and you’re paying a premium price. What makes it premium, you ask? It’s a bit like the difference between a regular flashlight and a Maglite. Sure, the flashlight lights up and you can see stuff in the dark, but the Maglite does that and it’s also solid enough to deflect a bullet or be used as a bludgeoning tool. It’s not likely you’re going to need that capability, but it feels good to know it’s there. The feel of this keyboard is the same feel I get from a Maglite, or a hard pair of workboots, or a canvas backpack you know will never die. If you’re okay not having gimmicks like LCD screens, dials, and touch-sensitive buttons, all of which are very breakable, then this is probably the last keyboard you’re ever going to have to buy. But the fact is that few people can justify spending $150 on a keyboard at all, less still for one with as basic functionality as this one. It’s probably $150 worth of sturdy, but it’s up to you to decide whether that’s what you want in a keyboard.

Note: Now, I’m also withholding judgment for a minute until I get my hands on the Das Keyboard; after all, they’re in the same category and we’ll see whether one is demonstrably superior. Find out tomorrow.