By – Mike Bezek
I am a cautious, humble man. I dip my Oreos in my milk gingerly, I always eject my thumb drives before removing them, and I generally avoid flashy personal peripherals. When the MadCatz S.T.R.I.K.E. 5 keyboard arrived at the office, I was instantly assured I was going to take place in a European trance music fueled light show. The MadCatz Cyborg series is quite literal to it’s name: sleek, futuristic design with the capabilities to morph to the users exact preferences. A keyboard that pushes into the pricing range of mid-grade video cards deserves a multi-faceted review, so let’s break down the pros and cons of this luminous juggernaut.
The S.T.R.I.K.E. 5 (hereafter referred to as S5) makes it presence known in the room with the ability to brightly display the full “16 million” color spectrum. Not only do the keys themselves light up, but the grating throughout the board lights up as well. The way the LEDs are assembled, keys give the illusion of floating above the keyboard as the lighting are accurately confluent.
Easily configurable software, which is not provided in the retail box, allows you to assign 3 colors that can be attached to a specific key assignment. While the box claims the S5 is capable of displaying all colors of the spectrum, there are some that simply do not display correctly. Most notably, the color orange resembles an old banana, or a light beige. I tried for a good 15 minutes attempting to find the sweet spot, but to no avail. Similarly, attempting to display yellow yields an off-white.
One of the main features included with the S5 is the modular E.Y.E., which features an OLED screen capable of many functions. The screen is spherical with a rotatable bezel used to make selections while there are four selection buttons situated immediately to the left. While there are numerous options available with the OLED screen, there are only two that are useful: Program Selection and the Clock. There are 4 variations of stopwatches that only saw one use, which was to time my brownies in the oven (They were delicious, by the way). Program Selection is a slightly useful tool provided you memorize your listings and can somehow get it faster than simply clicking a shortcut on your taskbar. While entertaining in the beginning, the novelty of scrolling through icons on your keyboard wears off rather quickly and you will find yourself defaulting to the clock.
The overall look of the keyboard exudes a confident, futuristic presence that looks very formidable in any gaming setup. I appreciate the sharp font used throughout the keyboard, as well as the illumination used in all functional portions of the unit. Although, I am a bit disappointed that the E.Y.E. buttons remain an unconfigurable white color, seeing as being able to unify the board to one color would make it appear much nicer overall. I had previously not utilized a LED keyboard, and I have to say, this unit made me a convert into investing my money into the feature.
The selling point of the keyboard is its modular capability, and assembling this beast to its full potential will easily rule out any extra space you once had. The numpad itself is not attached to the main keyboard and must be added on via screws. In fact, half of the modular design touted by MadCatz is screw-based. While the ability to change the look and feel of the keyboard is a nice feature, it is ultimately bogged down by having to produce an allen key to disassemble the hardware.
The S5 is not for the modest gamers’ infinitesimal desk as this baby needs room to operate. Once fully constructed, expect to move your mousepad a good distance away from its original home. The total length of the board exceeds traditional keyboard lengths by a few inches, which turned my quaint computing area into a quest to consolidate what little space I once had. Another problem I have with this design is that the E.Y.E. is perched up and away (connected by screws) from the keyboard. The supposed convenience of having 9 additional programmable buttons is defeated when you have to take your hand off of the board to reach out and search for the desired button.
Let me start off by touting my two favorite features on this board found via the E.Y.E. The first being the ability to plug your headset directly in the back of the Center, effectively doubling the distance you can be from your computer. Here at TPG, we use Skype for most meetings, and this feature truly is a godsend to people like myself with short headset cable length. The second feature is a very simple one, but greatly appreciated: Windows Key Disabler. Simply press the button, which then glows red indicating it is disabled and you will never again have to deal with the frustration of accidentally minimizing a game while attempting to hit Control.
Ease of use is facilitated by the non-bundled software that must be downloaded via the MadCatz site. This allows you to access a bevy of features to truly customize individual experiences based on which games or programs that are frequently accessed. Via the Profile Editor, there are options to configure the programs displayed in the E.Y.E. OLED, the color of the keyboard in certain modes, assigning commands to the 21 Customizable buttons, and even record mouse movements to assign to a specific key. These macro commands are great for players of MMOs, or even visual editing programs that require constant use of shortcuts to speed up production time. I found myself getting slap-happy with the possibilities in Guild Wars 2 whereas I was forced to use the old WoW macro editor back in the good old days.
MadCatz takes it a step further by allowing users to download keyboard profiles for a wide array of different genres. Virtually every current MMO and FPS you can think of are covered in their impressive spread, which makes the process of getting acclimated to the various capabilities of the S5 even easier. I was surprised to find profiles for Adobe products, which I spend most of my days working on various projects for TPG. It shows great forethought by MadCatz to provide a template to learn from so the technically disinclined can understand the finer functions available to them.
I will come right out the gate and say it: I am not a fan of the overall build quality of the product. Within the first 3 days of using the hardware, I had some keys that began to squeak after regular usage. It is a faint squeak very reminiscent of XBOX 360 controllers’ right trigger whom also suffers from this malady. Although this is something easily remedied with cheap rubber contacts under the main squeaking offenders, I do not find this acceptable in a peripheral that qualifies for one of the most expensive keyboards out there. The E.Y.E., while solid, gives way to anything more than a gentle press due to the leverage is has above the keyboard. If these components were placed closer, and integrated more intuitively to the board, the unit would immediately benefit from feeling more solid.
The fact that screws are used in a design that touts the phrase, “modular” is, as I mentioned before, a bit of a stretch. Using screws in a customizable design is the same as calling a tent modular: only under great mental duress will you accomplish any modification . If there were a slide and lock system in place of being forced to unscrew portions of the unit, I think I would be much more inclined to change up my gaming setup just for the fun of it.
The funny thing about the S5 is that it does have some snap-in components, which confuses me as to why it wasn’t utilized around the entire board. There are two wrist/hand rests that snap into the bottom of the keyboard for more relaxed typing, as well as saving your wrist unnecessary stress during long gaming sessions. They snap in quite easily and are ready to go within a few seconds.
Is It Worth Your Money?
The S5 is the personification of the phrase, ”I do it because I can, not because I need to.” While there are tons of features available for the truly hardcore, most will be hard pressed to find uses for most of the keys available. I will admit that the S5 is by far the coolest keyboard I have used in my PC career. From the futuristic design to the customizable OLED screen, you do get the feeling that you are in a class far above all other keyboards while using it. But in the back of my head, I still find myself asking the question, “Why?” Am I really getting those most out of my money by having 21 individual keys for specific tasks? Do I really need a screen capable of displaying elements I have available on my desktop?
Personally, that answer is no. When the asking price of $199.99 crosses into the realm of mid-grade video cards and high end sound cards, I would be inclined to invest my money into something that will improve my total experience. I find it hard to justify that much money on a keyboard. Maybe with a few more quality of life improvements, the S5 could becomes truly special. But when it comes down to brass tacks, it is still just a keyboard.