When it comes to my peripherals, I have lived a Spartan life. A plain black keyboard has served me as both my gaming and productivity tool and I’ve never felt the need to change it as it was sufficiently able at both tasks. One of the things that fascinates me about the PC is its flexibility. While I was content with a plain keyboard, that in no way meant I assumed it was the optimal device. Thus, I was intrigued when I was given the chance to try out the Roccat Isku, as the multi-functional keyboard seemed to offer improvements for both play and work.
Size wise, the keyboard comes in at 9.7” x 20” (24.7cm x 50.9cm). It’s tall, as the media keys and profile lights line the top and a wrist rest lies along the bottom while length is caused by the five macro keys that sit on the left. I can’t fault the vertical length or the height on top as the features demand a larger design, but the wrist rest at the bottom makes the device a bit unwieldy. It can’t be removed either, so keep the size in mind if you have limited desk space.
The plastic that makes up the board is black, which provides an aesthetic consistency that I like. The shape of the board is another issue though. It’s purely a matter of personal taste, but I find the diagonal cuts that highlight the unit to be unappealing. That being said, it may relieve the board of some size for those who would be unable to fit the device on their desk otherwise.
I’m of the mind that if a gaming keyboard aims to have the full functionality of a normal keyboard, users shouldn’t expect to have to switch out boards when moving from work to gaming. The keys have a smooth coating on them that makes typing pretty great. The wrist rest also makes both typing and gaming a comfortable experience. The keys themselves are backlit with blue light- the five levels of intensity can be cycled through easily with the press of a button. As someone who enjoys a darker room at night, the backlit keys are a great additional feature. I’d also like to point out that the board uses rubber domed, not mechanical keys. While the feel of each is a personal preference to each user and rubber domed obviously doesn’t last as long, it does have the advantage of being quieter when used.
Speaking of features, let’s dive into the ones that are designed to better your gaming experience. The first is the five macro keys that run vertically along the left side of the keyboard. They can be programmed to activate various other keys on the map, and the thing I used them for most was for games that use keys on the right side of the board. In Dragon Age: Origins I used the five keys to gain access to the item and map screen and set up my quick-save and screen capture functions as well. I found this extremely useful. Though all functions can be re-bound to whichever key, I often find the limited number of keys easily accessible with my left-hand a problem with games that have as many features as Dragon Age. In Minecraft, I made them activate some of the various functions in Rei’s Minimap mod.
The real power of the macro-keys isn’t in giving your left hand access to more buttons though- it’s in the ability to key multiple, timed presses with just the effort of one. I understand that the greatest use of this comes in MMORPGs- a genre that I don’t play. Since I don’t have any accounts in an MMO that I’ve used lately- much less one that I had both the skills and familiarity with to effectively use the macros- I went ahead and opened up the notepad program on my desktop and got to programming.
The keyboard has a physical record button with which will remember both the buttons and exact timing of your presses. It works well enough, but for those who really want to micromanage their macros, the Roccat Isku software is a must. Instead of physically pressing the buttons, the software allows you adjust the timing of the presses down to the millisecond and program simultaneous buttons as well. Notepad confirmed that accuracy of both manual recording and programming through the software. I even jumped into a TF2 server and used the macro buttons to insert various nonsense phrases into the chat; trolling at the touch of single button.
Another important feature of the Isku is the EasyShift key. Roccat has replaced the function of the Caps Lock with this new feature that gives the twenty keys in the WASD area and the dedicated macro keys alternate functions. What I found the most use of this was for games that use the entire number row. Perhaps it’s the years I spent in retail working the 10-key number pad, but I’ve never gotten quite adjusted to using the number row in-game- I end up having to look down when I’m forced to use them and opt to use the mouse wheel when I can to avoid the worst way of activating functions: UI button presses. I ended up using the shift key to gain easier access to entire number row and found it advantageous in activating spells in Dragon Age and in using the full range of weapon functions and class abilities in both S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat and Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad.
I’ve mentioned the software before and it’s worth bringing up again. I think one of the most important parts of buying any tech product is that it comes consumer-friendly out of the box but also allows customizability to users who dig down a little further. The software that Roccat offers for the Isku allows that range of flexibility that makes a gaming keyboard really attractive. Aside from being able to change what the Roccat specific keys do, the software allows the media buttons to be changed, deactivate some keys that have a tendency to interrupt gaming (I’m looking at you, left Windows button), change the backlight and adjust the light timeout. In addition, the software saves up to five active profiles that can be easily switched by using one of the three buttons on the bottom, allowing for quick change between games.
The Isku is a great keyboard. It offers lots of useful features for gaming that don’t hinder its use as a productivity tool. The build gives a great feel for both working and gaming, and the software gives it the malleability for individuals to personalize and specify in whichever ways they’d like. While the ungainly size, aesthetic direction, and rubber dome keys may be a put off for some, the advantages to those who can accept those conditions are great.
Here’s the Rundown:
+ Comfortable feel
+ Backlit Keys
+ Roccat features are useful
+ Software allows for great customization
- Rather large
- Design aesthetic is either love it or hate it
- Rubber dome rather than mechanical keys
The Roccat Isku was developed and manufactured by Roccat and is available at the retail price of $99.99. It was provided by the manufacturer to RipTen for the purposes of review.