I’ve used a few products in my time that were geared towards first person games that were hit and miss. Some of the configurations were great to use while others fall flat. Ideazon, makers of the transforming ZBoards, has come out with another keyboard that takes their popular large WASD configuration and attached it to a regular keyboard. Dubbed the MERC, we’re taking a look at this new product to see if it really does help you in FPS gameplay.
As you can see from the pictures, the MERC there’s a 34 key gaming pad titled at 11 degrees on the left side of the product. The setup is similar to the ZBoard from Ideazon but there are some placement differences. For example, the number keys are more clustered above the movement keys than on the ZBoard keyset. Another example of a small change from the keyset is that there’s another button to the left of the jump key.
If you haven’t seen the ZBoard FPS keyset, the keys are sized and placed to be idea for those types of games. The movement keys are enlarged so they are easily reached while the placement of the number keys in two rows will make it easy for you to change weapons without moving your hand away from the WASD keys. The more widely used keys such as use, reload, and voice are also placed closely to the movement setup.
Another nice feature of the gaming side is that the various buttons have different shapes and feel to them so you can easily tell what you are pressing without looking. For example, the reload and use key are situated on top of each other but the reload key is concave while the use key is convex. While minor, this did help me quickly identify the correct key to press in hectic situations.
Great placement is also exemplified by the location of the jump button. With the hand in the WASD position, my thumb rested naturally on the jump button. I was easily able to jump around and move even though the jump button is smaller than the traditional space bar. Overall, I was easily able to reach all the buttons without any problems with my left hand.
A major difference between the MERC and a ZBoard keyset is that you do get a full keyboard along with the specialized gaming keys. This can be great for some folks as you don’t have to switch keysets when you want to do some regular typing but still have access to the gaming side of things in one easy setup.
Unlike the G15 keyboard from Logitech, you can’t program profiles currently. Word is that that’s going to change with a software update but as of right now there’s no way to create a custom profile. The only way to get a customized keyboard setup is to use the default setting and map the keys in the game. Installing the software and plugging the keyboard in an available USB slot are the two steps to setup the peripheral. After you install the software, a Zboard icon is placed in your system tray. From here you can access your profiles and there a great deal number of profiles. You’ll see a nice colored display of keys and what they are used for in the game you select.
I took the MERC keyboard out for a spin on Call of Duty 2 and Unreal Tournament 2004. I chose the two because I wanted two contrasting styles of games with Call of Duty 2 being a little slower paced FPS while Unreal Tournament 2004 offers a more twitch and reflex based gameplay. It did take me a few sessions to get used to the buttons and where they are situated. After a day or two of playing the two FPS games, I was able to use the setup instinctively. Playing the games for long sessions, my hand was pretty comfortable and I really enjoyed the oversized movement keys. Response time seemed pretty good and I didn’t notice any key pressing anomolies when using the gaming pad portion of the MERC.
So while the keyboard is successful in implementing a great WASD setup for games, the main keyboard exhibited some problems for me. I’m a programmer by day so I spend a lot of time typing. With the MERC keyboard, the spacing for the keys seemed a little too tight for me. The keys are very quiet when pressed and offered good feedback. I do like the strength of the springs underneath the keys. While I did become proficient enough to type with it on a daily basis, the feeling of being cramped still came into play and I wasn’t as comfortable doing daily activities with the MERC keyboard as I did with other ones.
As you can see from the above shot with the well used G15
at the top and the MERC
on the bottom, the keys for the G15
are a little wider than the MERC
's setup. While it doesn't seem like much, the small increase in size and spacing does help typing. Even after a few days usage, I went back to the G15
for general typing.
You’ll also need to get used to the position of the arrow keys and number pad. The left side of the MERC keyboard is contains a combination of the two. The arrow keys are located at the bottom while the number keys are placed above it forming four rows of five keys except for one row of four with the large enter button. In essence, the arrow keys are pretty much positioned as they are normally and I don’t use the number pad that much so it wasn’t too much of a change for me. Other people might have trouble at first but they should get adjusted to the setup with continued usage. Overall, not a huge deal breaker and I can understand Ideazon merging the two into one area to try and save some space.
I do like the positioning of the multimedia keys however. Located in the upper left part of the keyboard, the keys control your media player and are easily accessible with your left hand. They are sized adequately and worked in controlling my Windows Media Player when I listened to my MP3 collection.
Overall as a general keyboard, I didn’t particularly enjoy typing on it over my Logitech G15, Compaq keyboard, or the Microsoft variants that I have around my desk. Working all day on a keyboard, I want to be as comfortable as possible and the MERC keyboard wasn’t at the top of the list. I found myself switching back to other keyboards when doing long sessions of programming or writing.
The gaming portion of the MERC was done well and I expected that as Ideazon’s ZBoards are well liked by the community. The regular portion of the keyboard needs some more work in my opinion. Even so if you do heavy gaming with first person shooters and not as much general typing like a programmer or writer, the MERC keyboard can be a good pickup. I’m anxious to see Ideazon implement the programming capability so that the keyboard can be setup to anyone’s taste. Ther MERC keyboard is also less expensive than a comparable Ideazon ZBoard with a FPS keyset. It’s not as cool or innovative as the ZBoard but is a nice less expensive alternative for FPS heavy gamers.
The gaming aspect works out well but regular typing needs some getting used to. There's also a lack of programming ability but a software fix should be out sometime this year to add that in.