There are certain things in life that fall into the “I didn’t even know I needed one until I tried one” category. For example, I found the very idea of a GPS in the car to help me find places to be the height of irrelevancy when measured against my innate sense of direction and my familiarity with maps. Then I tried one. More precisely, I tried one when I got turned around and lost when forced to take an unplanned detour. Or, as another example, consider a heated driver’s seat. That seemed to be a purely unnecessary luxury, right up until I turned one on during an early morning drive one frigid February morning. Now I will not have a car that doesn’t include heated seats.
This week, I tried a gaming keyboard. “Why,” I asked myself, “would I possibly want a ‘gaming’ keyboard?” And, in my normal way of missing the most obvious question by asking a useless rhetorical question, I then asked, “Wait. What makes a keyboard a ‘gaming’ keyboard in the first place?” Good question, that, and thankfully easily answered by the folks at SteelSeries.
As it turns out, there’s far more to it than just pretty decals, decorations, copyrighted game branding, and glowing lights. Which isn’t to say that SteelSeries doesn’t have a full line of such keyboards; they do. But those are just bell and whistles. The real meat of a gaming keyboard is, not surprisingly, in the keys. There are two primary issues/weaknesses with regular keyboards that are addressed in a gaming keyboard: performance and durability.
Durability is the easier of the two to describe. It is simply this: can the keyboard stand up to the rigors of millions of key presses (an issue that I suspect is centered primarily around the ‘W’, ‘A’, ‘S’, and ‘D’ keys) and the periodic pounding of a frustrated fist? The answer for the typical keyboard that comes out of the box alongside even the highest-end PCs is a resounding “No!” No less critically, the question of durability arises when transporting the keyboard to and from LAN parties, conventions, and competitions. The keyboard itself may or may not survive, but those two weak little feet in the back corners? I lose those more often than I lose socks in the drier.
Wait! LAN parties?? Do people still do that??? Okay, you can skip that one.
This brings us to performance. In some ways, performance is tangentially related to durability in that the materials used to add robustitude to the keyboard often introduce improvements in performance. Consider the normal low-budget keyboard with its plastic membrane or rubber domes under each key. They feel mushy, they can be slow to respond, and they only get worse with time. These are not the traits and weaknesses that are going to endear a keyboard to the gamer. In fact, they greatly increase the odds that an aging keyboard will meet its final, inevitable demise in the form of the aforementioned frustrated fist.
Less obviously, most keyboards can only handle so many simultaneous key presses at a time without overwhelming whatever little gizmo it is that elicits a tinny beep when it can’t handle the information being passed to it by the overtaxed keyboard. While I’m not a sophisticated or talented enough gamer to ever need to press that many keys in a deliberate fashion (my personal mode being more along the lines of two frustrated fists), it would seem that there are people that need to be able to hold down multiple keys simultaneously. If there weren’t, SteelSeries wouldn’t have solved for it.
So, having introduced all of these potential weaknesses in the run-of-the-mill keyboard, surely I am also going to offer up a solution to these woes, right? Well, yes, of course I am. Thanks for asking!
For the last few days, I have been using a SteelSeries 6Gv2 gaming keyboard in both my gaming, such as it is, and my day-to-day work. The 6Gv2 is designed to provide increased durability and performance in a reasonably sized keyboard in a way that will appeal to all types of users, which is to say that it hasn’t got all of the lights and decals of a more traditional gaming keyboard. In fact, it looks right at home in a professional office environment.
As I did before, I will talk about durability first. Obviously a week isn’t a long enough period to have used any of the keys millions of times, although with my poor typing skills I think the backspace key is already into the hundreds of thousands. But I can say this: it feels durable. It strongly reminds me of the old IBM keyboards that came out with the early IBM office computers. Back then, men were men and keyboards were considered to be durable office equipment. Plastic was used for 8 track tapes. Those days are long gone, of course, but I still fondly reminisce about the good old days when a keyboard could double as a personal defense weapon. They were particularly popular in the Bay Area because they were the one thing in the office that wouldn’t move in an earthquake. I’m telling you, those things were tough! I’m tempted to take the 6Gv2 out to the batting cage and hit a few fast pitches with it, just to see what would happen. I won’t, though. I like it too much and I’m not sure that is precisely the kind of gaming it was designed for. But given the preponderance of metal materials used in its construction, I'll bet it could handle an inning or two.
Within the office environment of a Fortune 15, pounding fists into keyboards is worth an express ticket to HR-ville so I haven’t really tested the proffered resistance to fits of temper. I have, though, had a great deal of time to get a feel for the increased performance, albeit primarily in the areas of tactile feedback and faster response. I’m a heavy typist and the low-quality keyboards normally provided to me are unsatisfying when new, and often non-functional soon thereafter. On the other hand, the feel of the 6Gv2 is phenomenal as compared to the mushy response of the typical keyboard. I can bang away on this thing like a chimpanzee with no ill effects.
A lighter typist would probably appreciate the lighter and shorter stroke required to get a response from a key; in fact, I asked one to try the keyboard for awhile and she raved about the light touch she was able to use. She will also be thrilled that I referred to her as a “lighter” typist - she has completely unwarranted concerns over body size issues. I’ll refrain from clarifying that I meant a lighter touch on the keyboard, though. I like to spread good cheer whenever I can, especially if doing so doesn’t require too much emotional, fiscal, or physical effort.
SteelSeries goes to pains to point out that they did not include a Windows key. This is a feature that I can truly appreciate having myself inadvertently brushed the Windows key (obviously the most responsive and sensitive key on the keyboard because, well... just because) and found myself cravenly and ignominiously having retreated from the bloody battlefields Firstpersonwaristan to the sanctity of my Windows desktop. I feel the need to be precise about this subject, more precise than SteelSeries is in their marketing materials. Frankly, at first I was disappointed to hear that there was no Windows key since, to me, this keyboard is a dual-use item and I do use the Windows key. Fortunately, SteelSeries only removed one of the Windows keys. The one on the left of the space bar has been replaced with a function key that allows the use of the volume and multimedia keys that are placed on the F1 through F6 keys. The Windows key on the right side of the keyboard is still there, and lucky for me, that is the one I used anyway.
Which brings up my final point about the SteelSeries 6Gv2: they are making a mistake in marketing this as a purely gaming keyboard. The 6Gv2 is in fact a terrific office keyboard! It fits nicely on my desk, it’s heavy enough to stay where I put it, it’s a pure joy to type with, and it will outlast most of the computers it currently is, and will someday be, attached to. It streets at slightly over $100 which is well within the budget of most offices, and in my experience it is worth every penny for people that spend their entire working day smacking away at a keyboard.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Do you really need a gaming keyboard? I sure didn't think I did, right up until I tried a SteelSeries 6Gv2. Gaming demands aside, the 6Gv2 is a great piece of office equipment. It brings back the days when a keyboard was a robust part of the PC suite, not a cheap, plasticy afterthought.