Ever feel like your keyboard’s just not impressive enough?
Mad Catz were kind enough to send us over a Strike 5 keyboard for us to test, and we’ve been putting some time in with it in a variety of different applications. Our original conversation with a representative focused around the problem that many adult gamers want a keyboard and mouse that not only serves as excellent gaming devices, but as productive tools when they’re doing work or other tasks. The Strike 5 is a huge beast with 21 programmable keys, three modes to switch between, and an ‘E.Y.E’ OLED display that can run a few simple apps or even start programs for you.
The Strike 5 comes in a huge box, and as with all Mad Catz products, the packaging is pretty impressive. Everything slots together nicely in the boxes and it’s genuinely exciting to unpack. It’s also a little intimidating; there are loads of micro USB cables, screws and metal plates sticking out. The reason for all of this is that the Strike 5 is almost completely modular. You can plug in exactly what you want and leave the rest behind. If you can do without the wrist rests and even the numpad, the keyboard still looks great without anything awkward sticking out. This means in terms of space there’s a lot of flexibility, perfect if you’re taking your keyboard on the go and want to be able to fit it in your backpack, not needing the numpad.
The E.Y.E tool is also more than a novelty, allowing you to rotate a dial around the screen to select different programs and functions, and then with a single button you can load things up. I’ve taken to having a lot of my games loaded up into it with the easy-to-use profile editor, and then using that rather than searching through Steam or Windows. Of course if you regularly play more than ten or so games it could get a little unwieldy but there’s a joy to be found in seeing the icon of your favourite games appear on your keyboard. There’s also a little control pad of programmable buttons on this module as well as the usual media controls such as play and fast forward. We’ve been using this to control all of our screen shot and video capture buttons, keeping them out of the way of the main keyboard where they might interfere with other more pressing commands. We did have some difficulty in assigning control + shift + number combinations to these buttons but that might have been our fault.
The keyboard itself is huge once it’s all set up. It is also slightly flexible thanks to the way it is arranged into multiple parts, and this means if you’re not playing at a desk (as we tend not to do, having our personal gaming PCs set up in the lounge) it actually holds fast a little more comfortably. Not all of the macro keys are easy to reach at first but once you get used to the layout and using it within games then you’ll find them as natural as keys like Tab and backspace. Near where your left wrist will rest there’s an extra button and wheel that can be set to different features, and the wheel is surprisingly useful as a natural second scroll wheel assuming you use one on your mouse. For things like zooming or horizontal panning it can be incredibly handy.
In terms of usability within the workplace, you might feel a little bit silly with all of the fancy lights and the E.Y.E screen, but the extra programmable keys are incredibly useful. We’d never really considered using things like that for work before, but I’ve already got it set up to do things like shift-return in Word and entering a few commonly used tags in HTML and it feels immediately liberating. In programs such as Photoshop or video editing software it can be even more powerful, with the odd arcane button combinations being replaced with a single push. My only complaint on this front is that it can get difficult to remember which key is programmed to which function. Over time of course you’ll learn, but as it stands it can be difficult to tell. Hopefully in the future programmable keys will have a little screen of their own with the name of the function. If you take the time (and it’s not too much time) to set up all the modes for different software you want to use and you play around with it enough to get back to touch-typing but including the macro keys, it could definitely improve your productivity. The macros you can set up can be quite complicated so if say you want a single button to encode a video with specific settings or apply a certain effect in Photoshop, that’s something you could do. You could even program entire swathes of code or html into it and use it as an extended and immediate clipboard.
For games there’s already a number of profiles on the Mad Catz website for more popular titles, but you’ll probably want to sort out your own commands based on your playstyle. For instance in Starcraft 2 I had the little wheel by my left thumb set to scroll between bases, and the macro buttons to assign units to groups rather than using shift and a number. Do be aware some competitive games have rules against using more complicated macros, so read up on the terms and conditions before you get banned.
The build quality is fantastic, as it tends to be with the last few years’ Mad Catz products. While the surfaces are plastic, there’s a lot of metal holding it all together and nothing feels loose or cheap. All of the keys are solidly place and the only possible weak points are the joints between the components.
Now onto the negatives: the biggest fault with this keyboard is that for around £160-170 it’s not mechanical. The keys can feel slightly spongy and if you’re used to a mechanical keyboard you’ll find it incredibly off-putting. After we were done testing, I passed the keyboard on to another writer for the site and returned to my mechanical keyboard as I find typing at speed much more satisfying. Of course this is a double-edged sword, some people can’t stand the sound of mechanicals and the Strike 5 is almost silent when typing. It is worth mentioning that the next model up, the Strike 7, supposedly features keys that mimic the feel of mechanical presses, without actually being mechanical. We haven’t had a chance to test that hardware so we’re not sure how accurately it recreates the feeling.
The only other gripe we have with this kit is that there are no extra USB slots on the keyboard itself. As we play games in a house environment, we want to keep trailing cables to a minimum. On some of our other keyboards there is a USB pass-through that means we can have the mouse and keyboard on one side of the room with only a single cable going to the PC. We can also use it for things like headsets and gaming pads that tend to have quite short cables, without the need for messy extenders. This is an oversight that I’m hoping will be included in future models but it’s definitely a consideration if you sit with your keyboard a long way away from the tower.
Overall, for £160, whether this keyboard is worth it or not depends entirely on whether you have a preference for mechanical. If you do, then there are some great mechanical alternatives out there. If mechanical isn’t your thing, then this is the best non-mechanical keyboard we’ve used. It’s incredibly useful for a wide variety of games (although MMOs and strategy games are an obvious fit) as well as any professional application where you need to perform the same tasks or complicated key combinations. Some might be shocked at the price tag but since it’s one part of your PC you’ll be interacting with every single time you use it, perhaps it’s worth spending that little bit extra to get something of such high quality.