A couple of years ago I decided to get the Ideazon Zboard, a PC gaming oriented keyboard that had the rather unique feature of being able to life the entire keyboard set-up out of its casing and replace it with a keyboard specifically labeled and designed for a specific game. From first person shooters like Doom 3 or Battlefield 2 to RTS titles like Age of Empires 3 to event MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, the Zboard gimmick worked from a marketing standpoint.
However, there was a problem with this Zboard design. The extra keyboards costs $19.99 each and the base model cost $49.99 (that got you a regular PC keyboard set up for normal PC work along with a generic gaming PC layout with some dedicated buttons on the left). Back in 2003, Jakub gave the original Zboard a score of 58 percent for this very web site, which is a review I completely agree with. Thankfully Ideazon now has a much better product in the Zboard Merc, a keyboard thatís cheaper than the original Zboard that should handle the specialized needs of many gamers, up to a point.
Letís look at the physical layout first. The Merc is a bit larger than your standard keyboard (about 21 inches in length) thanks mainly to the left side thatís dedicated to gaming. You have 34 buttons on the ďgamingĒ side. Six of them are in the center; four of them are oversized for your WASD in-game movement set up along with two other oversized buttons for turning left and right. Up on top are 11 circular number keys. The other keys surround the rest and can do a number of functions depending on what game you are playing. Some are labeled for crouching, run/walk, jump, use and reload which are basic functions in a number of first person shooter titles. There are also buttons for quick save and quick load along with the print screen button that you can use for taking screenshots. The print screen button is the only major function that has been moved entirely to the gaming side of the Merc. It does not appear on the right side of the keyboard at all as it normally does. Up on top of the Merc are some media buttons that you can use to play video or music files and three hot keys for opening programs that you can set yourself. The bottom of the gaming portion of the Merc sloops down to give your left hand and wrist a more comfortable feel while resting on the desk.
The other two thirds of the Merc keyboard layout feature the normal workplace controls. There are some minor tweaks to the design compared to most normal keyboard controls. In addition to the previously mentioned fact of moving the print screen button to the gaming side, the Home/End keys have been merged with the number keys on the right side which means that in order to activate those number keys you will have to toggle the numbers keys on. I donít personally use the numbers key on the right side much so this didnít really affect me. (Of course everyone uses their keyboard for work differently so your mileage may vary). As a work keyboard the Merc is quite good. The buttons themselves are quite responsive and donít feel slippery which is quite frankly one of the problems I had with my original Zboard (perhaps because of the removable design). The Merc also sits on the desk at a slight angle upward. While this is noticeable it didnít really affect my use of the product.