As a vital component of every desktop and notebook computer ever produced, the mild-mannered keyboard rarely stands out. Most keyboards such as Samsung Q Series Q430 Keyboard are simple -- if they input text, they're at least doing something right. Gaming keyboards tend to be a little more complex, touting extra features designed to give the player a leg up in-game. Mad Catz's S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 keyboard hopes to do just that, packing in a touchscreen, a handful of detachable components, alternate key caps and a software suite to help leverage the whole package. With far more bells and whistles than the average input device, it certainly caught our eye. Is it unique enough to warrant its $300 price tag? Read on to find out.
In general, keyboards like the Dell Studio 1557 Keyboard are fairly predictable: 26 letters squeezed between a handful of punctuation keys, essential buttons and the occasional number pad. The hardware is usually completed by a dull rectangle frame, a fragile palm rest and some light branding. With us so far? Well, the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 keeps the requisite keys, of course, but plays fast and loose with the standard blocky design: this is a modular, edgy-looking beast. It isn't the first time we've seen the Catz's industrial style, either -- the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 borrows its sharp lines, matte surfaces and metal undercarriage from the company's Rat line of mousing peripherals.
The keyboard apes the Rat lineup's flair for transformation as well, featuring three swappable palm rests (one of which hosts a horizontal scroll wheel and a customizable button), a removable four-toggle function strip and a detachable starboard side for isolating the unit's 10-key, arrow and navigation buttons. Holding this motley collection of components together is a touchscreen hub nicknamed "V.E.N.O.M.," which hosts two USB ports, a handful of productivity apps and up to 36 programmable macros (more on that later). This, too, can be detached -- though the keyboard won't function without it -- and can be relocated exclusively to the floating numpad, cutting the standard alphabet out of the equation for gamers that want a more compact input device. The QWERTY section of the keyboard can scrape by equally well without the 10-key section, and even retains most of the orphaned island's functionality through the use of Fn hotkeys.
The peripheral's palm rests snap in with simple plastic tabs. Once locked in the connection feels solid, but installing or removing the rests feels dicey -- a broken plastic fastener could render an otherwise comfortable palm rest worthless. Nothing broke, thankfully, but then again we were exceedingly careful. Fortunately, the rest of the setup doesn't feel nearly as flimsy: the remainder of S.T.R.I.K.E. 7's parts latch on to the strong metal offshoots of its undercarriage. Black and red mini-USB cables link the active components to the V.E.N.O.M. console, which pipes out the peripheral's input to the PC. The black WASD and arrow keys can be swapped out for two alternative sets, too, featuring light indentation or bright red accents.
Despite its swappable components, detachable island and fancy touchscreen hub, the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 is first and foremost, a keyboard and Keyboard Covers . All other input options aside, the peripheral's standard keys need to stand on their own. That's more complicated than it sounds -- keyboard bias can run hot in the PC gaming community, and not just any slab of alphabetic toggles will do. The S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 falls into the former camp, but tries to appease the latter by matching actuation force with Cherry MX Blue mechanical switches while attempting to mimic the feel of MX Brown switches.
The end result is a soft-landing board that responds to reasonably light touch. The membrane bubbles supporting the key caps are quite springy, too, and manage not to feel thick and spongy like some cheaper keyboards. The keys offer a small amount of travel before registering a press, but not so much as to make quick double-tap actions difficult.
Gamers clocking their actions-per-minute will be happy to hear the keys can sustain up to seven simultaneous inputs, easily hurdling most ghosting concerns. It's quite suitable for normal typing as well -- it easily became this editor's daily driver for nearly a month. Mechanical diehards may miss the harder, tactile feel they're used to, but most gamers won't be disappointed -- the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 is a solid example of membrane input done right.
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