Over the past month I have gotten very used to the much smaller Corsair K60 keyboard that is my new go-to piece on my desktop, but reviewing all the variations of keyboards I get to see, I don't ever get fully comfortable with a product before another one is there to take its place and my abuse as I type out a few reviews on them and get into some sort of gaming action any free time I have left available to me.
The replacement this time is the other half of the ROCCAT Talk interconnectivity I wanted to get to try out when I reviewed the Kone[+], but had yet to open the box to its partner in crime, or gaming as it may be.
Let me explain something about ROCCAT. They seem to be one of those companies that seem pretty far and few between that actually look at products from an outside of the box perspective. Unlike some products I have seen that are essentially a rebrand with enough added on components and features that make it a standalone sort of product. ROCCAT isn't offering you mechanical switches and there aren't flashy bits of metal on it to just look and feel good, ROCCAT takes the approach of how can I make this as user friendly as possible, jam pack it with features and offer a different perspective on what "normal" peripherals should offer the end users.
That in mind, when buying from a company like this, you should expect not only a really great product to use as a plug and play ready device, but once the software is incorporated, hold on to your hat, as the amount of options contained within may just blow your mind!
Not only do I now get to use my mouse and keyboard together for the EasyShift[+] functionality, I get to write in the dark against because the Isku keyboard we are looking at today is a fully illuminated gaming keyboard. I will say up front that not only was ROCCAT looking outside the box on the way the keyboard functioned, they also took styling to a new geometric realm with the angles and overall shape and design of this keyboard. So, it isn't like they just crammed a bunch of cool tricks onto a usual rectangular keyboard, with the Isku it is something that is going to be a love it or hate it on first sight kind of design.
Even so, I think you should give it a chance because in the time I have had using this keyboard, it has not only been illuminated and comfortable to use, it makes most of my tasks for day to day living at the PC all within a click or two without even having to touch the mouse. Stick around; I think you are going to like the way ROCCAT thinks!
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
Since we know the Isku is based on rubber dome switches there isn't much more to say we all know what they are and how they feel. What we need to cover is what else the Isku delivers. First of all, it's in the title of this keyboard and that is the illumination from blue LEDs that can be set in six levels of brightness and has a "sleep" mode for the lighting as well. Just like the mice we have seen from them, the Isku offers its own EasyShift[+] key to take command of twenty-five keys in the layout for multiple functionality with the press of a single key. Along with profiles, macro capabilities and multimedia keys there are profile buttons you use with your thumbs, the Macro Live key for on the fly recording and since I already have the Kone[+] on my desk, I can now play around with the ROCCAT Talk connectivity that allows both easy shift keys to work for each device while still working as separate units at the same time.
The Isku is a larger keyboard than most. Made of plastic with a black key layout of the 122 keys on the board, the angular design surrounds things in a way that makes sense as it separates the sections and incorporates a wrist wrest into the front of the board because they know your arm is going to be there for hours, maybe even days as you level up or finish that quest. This 24.7cm by 50.9cm keyboard is pretty light for its size and the back has rubber pads to keep it in place with adjustable legs for a more ergonomic angle of use if that is what you prefer.
I haven't even touched on the software really, I mean I made some mentions to what parts are, but I didn't explain anything fully. Suffice to say that ROCCAT has every angle of the Isku covered when it comes to the question "what else can a keyboard do?" and the answer from them was pretty much anything your heart desires! There are the more mundane controls like character repeat settings, the amount of light for each of the five programmable profiles and if you want the audio playback for changes made to the profiles and such. On the flip side of that coin, there are over twenty-five keys that you can set up to do anything you want, as long as you take the time to run through the software and set up the macros, use them for system functions or a full list of pre-installed programs and their various controls already given to you. You just need to set the button to use and hit apply and enjoy your effort in the control settings as daily computing gets much easier because of it.
At this point it comes down to what all of these features and getting an illuminated keyboard is going to cost. Actual locations to find one currently are quite slim for the picking, but I was still able to find the Isku for what I think is a reasonable price considering all you get with the keyboard. Comparing apples to apples I have only the Logitech G105 with its Call of Duty uniform on it that was priced at $59.99 when I looked at it. Thinking back that board really doesn't compare as it was one of those dressed up and had the usual parts with nothing extra, but the lighting. For the $89.99 at Amazon.com, the $30 separation is well justified in what the Isku delivers, especially to hardcore gamers or the ones who just love macros and being able to have the latest and greatest in customizable keyboard development.
Packaging and Contents
The Isku Illuminated gaming keyboard ships in a cardboard box that is matte in its finish with the keyboard in full view with the sections of keys marked as to their functions. On the left you see five features listed in the bold blue stripes. The top of the right side shows another six features ROCCAT is most proud of.
Both of the longer thin sides of the outer packaging don't offer much in the way of information. One side has a tiny image of the keyboard and both sides share this logo in blue and the naming in chrome-like lettering. There is also a sticker to denote the layout of the keyboard inside.
The back of the box is where you are about to get educated about the Isku and all of its features and optional functionality. They start off with the profile switching and move into the driver system right away on the left with the discussion on the EasyShift[+] and what keys are programmable to this feature on the right.
Across the middle is a list of 12 features worthy of taking up real-estate on this already crowded panel. For the package contents, system requirements and the tech specs, please refer to the right side. For those that don't speak English, the features are again listed in nine languages.
Once the outer packaging was pulled off, I found the keyboard inside of a nondescript black box that when opened I find the Isku ships inside of an anti-static bag. While most companies don't even consider this, ROCCAT is sending a pretty advance piece of tech to you, so no need to take chances with something silly like static discharge to damage it before you even get to plug it in. Just more of that outside of the box thinking I have been telling you about.
ROCCAT Isku Illuminated Gaming Keyboard
Now you can see where the angular comment came from in my description. As I mentioned it sort of moves your eyes around to most of the keyboards features just as far as the sub-sections or groupings as the brutish angles seem to caress each section.
At the top on the left side there are the five profile indicators LEDs so you know at a glance what profile you are running currently. When you press the macro record button seen to the right, the indicator to its left will light to let you know it is time to perform the operations to set that macro to a key on the Isku.
For those of you who aren't into a ton of macros, ROCCAT has assigned a few for you on the left denoted as M1 through M5. These can also be reset to do something else, but is your go-to basic five for easier command of the PC.
The multimedia keys do not light up, but to make up for it, it comes with the basics of play, pause, mute and all that jazz, but offers up a home page key and a "computer" key to work bring up that folder in Windows.
Under the space bar, they figured your thumb can't be making you jump all the time, so they added three buttons here that by default will change though the various profiles with T1 and T3 while T2 brings up the software. In the software these three can also be set to do whatever you think they are suited best for.
The LED brightness switch is a bit out of focus while much more visible is the logo for the ROCCAT Talk feature I have been discussing so much lately. Under the logo is a section that will illuminate to denote the pressing of the EasyShift[+]/CAPS Lock key and the number and scroll locks as well.
Even under the keyboard they were thinking about their users and offering the coolest of what is available. Inside of the six rubber pads of various sizes and the rubber padded, flip out feet in the back, there are multiple trails designed to run your mouse through to keep the desktop area clutter free for gaming with less distractions.
As with just about all keyboard, the back feet that flip out offer a more ergonomically angle surface to keep long term injury at bay and offers half an inch of rise to the back of the Isku.
Just like what we saw with the Kone[+], the Isku comes with two meters of plastic coated USB cable with a contoured and marked connection on the end, again making it easy to find on the I/O of the motherboard.
There are five PCBs here controlling things with a few tiny connections to remove the USB cable and a power supply wire on the left. I was going to go deeper into the tear down, but I thought it best not to damage it before I got to use it, so at this point I threw in the towel.
Just plugging in the keyboard brings the Isku into its illuminated form with blue LED lighting most of the keys. You can go ahead and use it as-is, but for full functionality you need to install the software from the disc, or better yet, go to ROCCAT and make sure you have the latest drivers and firmware.
Paperwork and Accessories
As we seen with the mouse, the Isku keyboard also ships the paperwork and ID card in the folder with the ROCCAT logo on the front of it.
Inside of this folder you will located the driver disc with extra "ROCCAT Stuff" includes. You also get the ID card that gets you access to more cool stuff as well as registering the keyboard. Then there is the quick installation guide that answers most questions about programmability and optional functionality.
Sort of a quick reference guide as you get used to the Isku, this side of the guide offers all of the default settings for the keys that are able to be bound, how to program a marco on the fly and a six step set of basic instructions.
On the back ROCCAT starts off with the feet in the back, moves into aesthetics and finishes with ROCCAT Talk on the left. In the middle you get congratulated on your purchase and have the EasyShift[+], Macro Live! and discusses how "comfy" and easy the Isku is to use. Under the image of the Isku there are the specs, requirements, dimensions and tech specs all listed and easy to find.
ROCCAT Isku Software
After going directly to ROCCAT and getting the latest software from the site downloaded, as I started to install the software, it took a break from the typical straight forward install and it was as if it scanned the firmware of the Isku and detected it needed an upgrade as well. Once I had both taken care of the control panel will open at the Main Control Page. Here you get the basic functionality of the M-keys and what they are set to do default with the EasyShift[+] button. On the right there is an image of the keyboard with the keys in question highlighted to show which keys are shown on the left. If you want to jump right into the macro manager, here is where you do that as well.
Easyzone Control offers you the ability to repurpose the highlighted keys on the right to do twenty other things with these keys. They can be basic things like assigning a timer, a shortcut, or a quick launch and also perform any macro you see fit to set to each of the keys with the use of the EasyShift[+] being pressed first and them any one of the keys to get the job done that you set it to.
Since just about every other key can be reset, why not show off the multimedia default settings and offer drop down boxes to set them to whatever you see fit as well. This goes for the F1 through F12 keys, too! Just to keep everyone up to speed, that is forty-eight total keys not including the EasyShift[+]. With the ROCCAT Talk, I can technically set the one on the keyboard to anything I want too, because the one on my mouse can activate the feature in the keyboard.
Advanced Control covers the character repeat settings with a test bar to see if the results are to your liking before you close the control panel. I love the Enable/Disable keys section; this allows you to deactivate keys that will take you out of a game at the worst possible moment. For each of the profiles you can set an individual brightness so you don't have to even touch the button on the top of the Isku. There is even a little feature that when not active for a period of time, the LED brightness will dim or even shut off completely. There is a voice that will come over the speakers when you change profiles, depress the marco record button and the like. If it bothers you, you do have the option to disable it.
The last tab across the top allows you to click on a button to take you directly to the page to start downloading the latest driver for the Isku keyboard. As for the online support button, when it's pressed, you are delivered to the support section of their site. If you are having trouble with either option, or just need to do so, there is an email request link in both sections to get any questions answered you may have.
And just to give you some sort of concept of the built in potential to the Isku keyboard. When deciding to set one of the keys, this is just the list of the programs and games that are already prepped and ready to be used. Once you find what you want to use, there are also preset command lists that will show up once you hover over it, some of which have well over fifty commands listed to use.
I can't say it hasn't been tough to get used to, nor can I say it didn't take me some time to get just one profile set up just the way I wanted it. What I can say is once you have things set the way you want for the basics and you decide to get into the key mapping for the EasyShift[+] function, things really are different when it comes to all aspects of using my PC. To use Teamspeak I hit the EasyShift[+] and the T key and then boom its up. I have my media keys which I am lost without and honestly the keyboard almost makes the use of a mouse to navigate the PC almost a thing of the past for my daily grind. I can't say the mouse doesn't have its place because once in the game, or fine tuning images, you need something to be able to get around with.
I know the perspective of American's from an American is that we are all fat and lazy and I hate to say it, but the Isku makes it really easy to have your hand on a bag of chips or drinking a beverage as you multitask with the other using the capabilities of the software to make doing things a breeze. On top of that I get all of this software love, almost fifty keys to set to anything your mind can come up with, backlit keys and a cool voice to announce when I accidentally changed a setting that is about to end my kill streak if I don't reset what I need to have on.
I really thought it would be odd going from mechanical keys back to something with rubber dome switches, but it's almost a reunion for me to something I have always known and used for so many years. The design isn't out of the realm of reasonable to be on any desk and even with its aggressive shape, it still makes sense in the way it is done. When you get to using it for what it has to offer, you really sit and wonder why it took so long for something like this product to come along. I mean to say that we have had G-keys and M-keys for years, but why not have the ability to do more and customize things to the end of the world and back? If it is going to make my time at the PC quicker and easier and still be able to do everything we expect from a standard keyboard, I am all for it and ROCCAT brought on the options with a vengeance. It is going to be quite some time before I see a keyboard that is more original and offers what the ROCCAT Isku brings to the masses.
While the Isku illuminated gaming keyboard is going to cost you a touch more than the basic kit will cost, there is nothing I have seen personally that can even step up to try to make the claim that they offer more that what ROCCAT packed in here. For the pricing of around $80 I can't see why you would pass up the opportunity to own this masterpiece of a gaming keyboard. For those basic gamers, there is every basic thing you need and some, for those who are macro crazy, or just like setting all your applications to launch and the touch of two keys, the Isku is not the keyboard that will leave you wanting in any way.
I really think the team at ROCCAT outdid themselves with this Isku and I can't wait to see what they come up with next!