It takes a lot to intimidate me, but somehow Mad Catz has done just that with their overwhelmingly intense S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 gaming keyboard. It’s not the feature set (which is impressive). It wasn’t the customizable touchscreen (that I love). It was the box… and the seven different parts arrayed across my table. More specifically, it was that these different pieces can be assembled in a variety of ways that allow this behemoth to function as a full keyboard or simply as an add-on for your setup.
Upon removing the device components from the box, I discovered a smaller, rugged, plastic container that housed tools and two additional sets of WASD and arrow keys. It was simple enough to swap out the default buttons with the removal tool and pop on the ones lined in red. Calling out those important keys on such a mammoth landscape seemed like a wise choice. If this makes you cock an eyebrow, it means you were probably expecting this $300 device to be a mechanical keyboard. It isn’t, but it is about as good as you can get with a membrane.
Included (thankfully) is an easy setup card for the full configuration. I placed the customizable set of four buttons on the left, the number pad with an additional bank of keys on the right and all three wrist rests below (including one that has a horizontally-aligned scroll wheel and red button just begging to be clicked) and, finally, the angled touch-screen above. I had formed what can only be described as Keyboard Voltron… once I had screwed in all of the pieces and connected the braided red and black cables that power each piece. Oh, and the power supply. The S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 has its own power supply, but strangely, the touchscreen gets its juice from the USB port on your computer. The AC adapter powers the lighting on the main key array and the USB ports on the back of the display unit. It’s important to note that while the USB ports will work without power, they won’t support heavier duty gear. It’s great for flexibility, and fulfills the goal of configuration based on user needs.
While the bells and whistles are important (and I’ll speak more about what sets this product apart from others in a bit), a keyboard needs to feel good when typing. Most of us expect this important peripheral to be a multipurpose device. It needs to handle our word processing needs, provide a comfortable surface for ten-keying our household budgets and, of course, provide a level of precision when moving around virtual battlefields. The S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 is a damn fine piece of equipment for all of that.
I have been using a mechanical keyboard for a number of months. As those of you who use one know, it takes a bit of time to train your fingers to react properly on one. Switching back to a chiclet or other membrane-based unit can be a jarring experience. While using the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 was still a noticeable change, there is a responsiveness and comfortable tactile sensation in using it. It feels less “squishy” than others in its class, and the spacing (along with the comfortable wrist rests) drastically reduced the time it took for me to become accustomed to it.
I imagine that you are more interested in what justifies the $300 price tag, though. As you might guess, the presence of the V.E.N.O.M. touchscreen contributes greatly. This is where 12 of the 24 customizable buttons reside, though with the three different profile options (triggered by the hard buttons immediately to the right of the screen), that 24 rapidly becomes 72. While the product functions just fine as a standard keyboard with just the USB, it’s the drivers and software that transform it into something on which you might be able to justify dropping this much coin.
The most important thing I can tell you about getting your S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 up and running is that you absolutely cannot, under any circumstances, have Razer Synapse 2.0 installed (or any other Razer legacy drivers for that matter). There is an enormous conflict. You will be able to reinstall Synapse 2.0 after you have the keyboard drivers up and running, though. I spent hours banging my head against this until the folks at Mad Catz were able to guide me through the fix. Learn from my experience.
Now that I do have everything up and running, I’ve found that configuring the customizable keys and everything the V.E.N.O.M. has to offer is a breeze. From the Smart Technology application, you can assign functions to the thumb rest’s wheel and red button (which is terribly tempting to press even when you have no reason to), place important buttons on the easy to reach left-side attachment and grouping that sits above the arrow keys and tweak your display with macros and one-touch launcher icons. It took me very little time to add the executables for all the of the games in which I’m currently engrossed. Especially if you use a variety of services (Steam, Origin, GoG), having all of your games in one place right above the keyboard is handy. I can go straight from the mines of Orcs Must Die 2 to the wilds of Pandora in Borderlands 2 with the touch of a button.
For MMO players the display also offers three countdown timers, which can be used to keep you apprised of how long you have left before skills become active again. The screen also houses a clock (for those times when you want to play, but don’t want to forget to pick up your kids at school), Teamspeak controls (when connected to a server), media buttons and customizations options. The three different profiles can all be assigned different lighting colors, making it very easy to identify which is active, and the mute and volume toggles on the side are extremely handy, especially if you don’t have a headset with in-line controls.
One of my favorite features is the Journal. Here, you can take notes mid-game, directing keyboard functions to the V.E.N.O.M. screen rather than your monitor. This is great for tracking details related to quests in games like Skyrim that encourage player discovery and exploration.