Summary: Ideazon is back from their first flailing attempts at producing a gaming keyboard, this time with the Merc. JCal puts the toy through its paces and gives us the results here.
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.
Unfortunately, most of these mods support games that have only been released in the last few years. There are exceptions like the original Half-Life but itís a shame that games like Quake III Arena and Tribes 1 and 2 donít have mod files for the Merc. Also, none of the mods for the Merc are for RTS games which is something that the Zboard does have support for thanks to its interchangeable keys for games like Age of Empires III or the recently released Battle For Middle Earth II. The good news is that Ideazon is currently holding an open beta test for a new version of ZEngine that adds programmable keyboard support for all of its products. For the purposes of this review of the Merc we will not include our opinions on this upcoming feature since it is still under development, but if you purchase a Merc and want to try out the beta version you can download the drivers at the Zboard community web site. We will have a full review of this new feature when it comes out of beta.
So how is it actually playing games with the Merc compared to a typical keyboard? As one might expect it is different and there is a little bit of a learning curve. However once that brief time period is over it was a treat to use the keyboard in playing titles that the Merc supports for its mod files. From wiping out opponents in Half-Life 2: Deathmatch to vanquishing super villains in City of Heroes to going back to older games like Painkiller, we found that the Merc gaming layout to be very much an improvement over the original Zboard designs. In other words, we got a lot more kills, we move faster in the games and overall had an enjoyable experience.
So was there anything that was lacking in the Merc? We mentioned the fact that older games are not supported for the most part and there are no RTS games supported at all but we hope the upcoming programmable drivers will solve that problem. We missed the fact that the Merc lacked the two on board USB ports that the original Zboard has. Again, some people might be upset that the number and Home/End keys have been merged on the right side. Other than that there is not a lot to complain about.
A solid keyboard design
Not all games are supported
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