The Saitek Cyborg keyboard lands somewhere squarely between pretty and gaudy. No, this getup is not business appropriate, but it is ironically the most aesthetically customizable keyboard we’ve seen. And still, it doesn’t look like the kind of design you would see on an adult’s desk, unless you adorn your monitor with Voltron toys. Read on to find out why we think this keyboard really needs some TLC in a number of departments.
Features and Design
In the arena of gaming keyboards, the battles are won and lost by only a few factors. How quickly does the keyboard respond to your movements and how accessible are the macro keys? How customizable is the experience to the style of each nit-picky user? But there’s still more to the equation. We all have to get work done every once in a while, so gaming keyboards have the burden of also having to perform well as usable, old, boring text entry devices. We nabbed a Saitek Cyborg Keyboard at their launch, swooning over the customizable backlighting schemes and macro keys, and after a few weeks of regular use we have come to a final appraisal: Why all the hype?
On the surface, the Cyborg Keyboard looks great. The backlighting can be customized to several dozen different colors (though no blue) over the various ‘zones’ of the keyboard. The easy-access macro keys are big and numerous. The keyboard even sports audio and USB plugs. By the looks of it, this should be a winner. After a little regular use we started to see the signs of a cheaply made product.
The oddly angular design of the whole keyboard is one major factor that detracts from the overall look. Perhaps too many hours of watching Gundam anime shaped the designer’s style, but the angles at every corner just waste space and draw attention to how uncomfortable and unnecessarily complicated the whole setup is. And faux-chrome coatings on keys. Really? Is there anyone out there that A) thinks that’s REALLY chrome, and B) ever asked for chrome? I’ve never sat back from a review and thought, “Man, this would just be perfect if they only added chrome keys! No, wait! That’s just excessive. Fake chrome! Now that would be sweet!”
Before we knock this device, let’s give it credit where it is due. The ability to adjust the backlighting over four zones – macro keys, number pad, ‘WASD’ keys, and the rest of the keyboard – is a nice option. Add to that the ability to do that without software, and you’ve earned some additional brownie points. All backlighting is handled by the touch sensitive buttons along the top indicator bar. Control is intuitive, and the level of control is very precise. You can choose intensity and the various hues of color without much trial and error.
There is a little backlit face at the center of the indicator strip that switches the keyboard into “Cyborg Mode”. This deactivates the Windows key and switches the backlighting scheme to another layout that you can customize: One setting for work, one setting for fun. In normal mode, you can only set a single backlight color, and the macro keys get no LED loving (they stay unlit, but usable). The rest of the glossy indicator strip contains the volume level, media playback, the On/Off state of the Windows key, and the previously mentioned backlighting setup keys. All are prone to fingerprints, but at least they are reasonably responsive to presses. Color scheme for the indicator bar cannot be changed.
The backlighting looks great
For convenience, Saitek included a single USB port and audio jacks on the top right edge of the keyboard. This is an excellent idea, though limits the keyboard to right handers. All the cords run within a single cord tubing and break out at the end. The USB port on the keyboard is not split from an internal hub, and is instead just an extension like a port on the back of your PC. In other words, there are two USB cords to plug into your PC – one for the keyboard itself, and one for the USB port on the keyboard. This is bad because that means you lose a port on your computer, which would be used by a mouse anyways, so no big deal. It’s also bad because other gaming keyboards, like the Logitech G series and Steelseries 7G, have built in hubs, which means you only need to use one USB port (though both of these examples use USB 1.1 hubs, and not 2.0).
The audio cables split from the USB cables a little further up the cord in case your sound card is seated in your last PCI slot. The extra length is not enough to reach around a normal sized desktop to the front, where many systems have easy access audio ports, so you’re stuck with using only ports on the same side of the box. Nothing a little extension cable couldn’t fix. There is another, more important, issue to consider. If you do use the audio capabilities of this keyboard, you may have to fiddle around with settings both in Windows and individual games. When plugged into the audio ports of most sound cards (and this happened with our Audigy X-Fi card), the connection is detected as if you plugged in headphones even when no headphones are attached at the other end. Depending on settings, your speakers may mute and the number of audio channels switched to two. So, when you want to play a game using a headset, you will have to switch the default playback port in Windows and possibly set that within the game itself as well. If you decide to leave headphone detection off, you will have to change the number of channels in order to get correct localization of sound.
USB and audio inputs
Other random convenience items include the detachable wrist rest and two sets of adjustable feet for changing the angle of the surface. The feet towards the back of the keyboard have two height levels, while the front are either used of folded up. There are 12 macro buttons, six along each edge, that are controlled by the packaged software. These functions are active whether in game mode or Cyborg Mode, and there is no application detection, so you will need to manually load each profile before launching a game.
The included software is, in a word, cumbersome. The design seems to be centered around a single software suite for all Cyborg line products, but unless you have an all Cyborg setup, you have to wade through options that don’t apply to your device. The interface in general isn’t horrible, but could stand to use some polishing and streamlining. Luckily there is no documentation included on how to program your macros in. No, instead you get a three page booklet on how to install a keyboard written in 17 languages. At this point we are thinking that they actually angled the corners to specifically remind you of all the corners they are cutting, literally.
Setting up macros isn’t terribly difficult, though the nuances are easily missed without downloading the “SST” manual from the Saitek site. Luckily, you probably have no idea what SST even is, since it isn’t mentioned anywhere on the site, the box, or the instructions. If you go to the support section of the Saitek site and look for your specific keyboard, again, no mention of SST. (By the way – SST: Saitek Smart Technology. We enjoy the irony, too.) Also, unlike some other gaming keyboards, like the Logitech G series, there is no way to set macros on the fly. The only saving grace here is that once you figure out how to set up macros, you realize that Saitek does offer an impressive level of control over the finer points. Keystrokes are recorded with millisecond precision and can be ridiculously complicated. Macro buttons can be used alone and in groups.
Now comes the hard part. The Saitek Cyborg isn’t a bad gaming keyboard. It is a horrible keyboard for everyday use. The keys are gummy and have the feel of typing on marshmallows. The space bar, in all its chrome glory, requires a real snap to press all the way, as do any of the larger keys. These problems were present to a lesser extent at the time of purchase, but became unbearably bad over about a week of regular use. The quality of the typing experience alone leaves us unable to recommend this product. Make a good keyboard, and then add the bells and whistles, Saitek. We cannot imagine anyone using this keyboard for productive purposes, and even in gaming, you’re looking at a lot of missed jumps and other commands because of the poor responsiveness. We know there is a push towards making ‘quiet’ keyboards, ones where key presses don’t have the loud clacking of an old IBM mainframe, but there has to be a better way to attain that without the feeling of typing on pillows.
This reviewer purchased the Saitek Cyborg keyboard for personal use at home, and promptly went looking for a new keyboard. It has been shown to a couple dozen people whose expressions ranged from, “Oh God!” (as in, “That’s ridiculous. Only YOU could possibly like that.”) to “Weird”. No one asked where it was purchased or the price – a good indicator that none that saw the Cyborg keyboard were considering purchasing it. If you’re looking for street cred, this will get you none of it.
Saitek has made an attempt to bring a highly customizable gaming keyboard to the gaming masses, and should be commended for that. The Cyborg Keyboard should also be shunned for the cheap quality and ridiculously poor typing experience. We cannot recommend this keyboard until the key press issues and confusing software issues are addressed. Then maybe, just maybe, the silly RoboTech scheme can be overlooked.
• Customizable backlighting schemes
• Plenty of programmable macro keys
• Confusing and unpolished software
• Poor typing experience
• Poor support and documentation