Each week Matthew Porter contributes The Creamy GUI Center, a column aimed at helping you enhance your WoW experience by offering an in depth guide to addons, macros and other tools we use to play WoW, along with commentary on issues that affect how we all play.
Welcome addon and interface enthusiasts to this week's The Creamy GUI Center. I hope my American readers are having a relaxing and safe Labor Day weekend. Because of all the positive feedback I received on my review of the Logitech G series gaming keyboard, I decided this week to look at another set of hardware accessories. In the coming weeks I'll be featuring more gamepads such as the Belkin Nostromo series, and Wolf King Warrior gamepad, but this week's showcase is the Ideazon Fang Gamepad and Merc Gaming Keyboard. How do they fair and will they be an asset to your WoW game play? Let's find out!
Ideazon makes quite a few gaming keypads and accessories. They are probably most well known for their Z-Board series of foldout keyboards, each branded and customized to a particular game. (IE: You can buy a Z-Board tailored for WoW specifically, or one tailored for another MMO or FPS game.) Ideazon's other line of gamepads, the Fang and Merc gamepads, aren't tailored to a specific game but offer a good multipurpose layout for just about any genre of game. I personally own and used the Fang gamepad so that's what we'll be dwelling on here. However, most of what can be said about the Fang can be carried over to the Merc Keyboard. The Merc is essentially a normal keyboard with a slimmed down version of the Fang built in to it. This might be a better option for some as it takes up slightly less space, and since it's an all in one device your hand has less distance to travel back and forth as you go from typing to the gamepad. The Fang has the benefit of being able to arrange it independently of your keyboard and a few more buttons. I thought it was cool of Ideazon to offer both models, allowing you to choose the gamepad that best fits your play style and desk space. So for the remainder of this review I'll be referring to the Fang gamepad, but a lot of its qualities can be carried over to the Merc keyboard.
The Hardware and Software
The first thing I noticed about the Fang was it was larger than I thought it was going to be. I was then hesitant with my purchase because I have rather small hands. After I got home and opened it up I was relieved to find out the placing of the keys were relatively easy for me to hit, without much stretching. (Although some was still required.) I think the key to the Fang's design was the slightly curved layout of the main keys. This kept each button within a reasonable reach while my hand rested over the "home" position just below the movement keys. The other noticeable detail that helped was how the keys are shaped. While most are circular, they come in a few different sizes, and are either concave a little or convex. These differences built into the keys add another layer to assist you in remembering their placement. After a while, the feel of the keys and muscle memory of your fingers lets you quickly navigate around the gamepad, which of course leads to faster reaction times and better game play. Finally, the placement of the keys is fairly intuitive, with everything placed around the movement keys. And because the layout is symmetrical, it's right or left hand friendly, even down to the thumb buttons on the sides.
The included software is fairly generic and is probably the low point of the package. It does offer pre-configured layouts for a variety of games, including WoW. And the layouts can be attached to a program's executable file so that it switches on the fly when a game is launched. Beyond that you can custom tailor the usual assortment of hot keys and macros to fit your needs. These days though, features such as these are pretty much standard with any quality gamepad, so there's nothing truly exciting or unique to find in the software.
The Fly in the Ointment and Wrap Up
Gamepads like the Fang are a subjective thing, what works for me may not work for you. (Hey that's why I'm reviewing multiple pads right?) It's all about finding the gamepad with the layout, size, and offerings that best fit your hand, desk space, and play style. While the Fang gamepad is full featured, it does have a few quirks you'll have to deal with. First off, the buttons feel a little mushy to me. They don't quite have the spring that a normal keyboard does. Depending on the key and its position relative to your finger, it can sometimes be difficult to know if you pressed it hard enough to register. This wasn't a huge problem as I compensated for the mushiness by adding more force to my keystrokes, but if you're not willing or able to adapt your game play to suit the pad it's an issue to take into consideration before purchase. The other point of contention was the included software. Compatibility was fine on my Vista based PC, but there are no Mac/OSX drivers or software. Sorry Apple fans. The problem with the software was that it was rather slow and clunky. The interface is overwhelming and cluttered making it hard to setup your key bindings, but the templates for individual games did help some. But you need to be careful here, because the templates assume you're using default key bindings. Beyond that, making macros was difficult compared to the earlier reviewed Logitech software, unless you delve into the scripting language Ideazon provides for advanced users. I think really it has to do with Ideazon not being a huge company large enough to devote the resources into making grade A software. I can't fault them for that, as the software does get the job done, but definitely could use some fine tuning and coat of paint.
Despite the mundane software, the hardware is pretty unique in its design. If you prefer a pad that's mostly flat with all the keys accessible from the top the Ideazon Fang and Merc keypads are worth checking out. That about does it for this week. Look forward to a few more hardware reviews in the coming weeks, and an extensive look and analysis of addon and interface enhancements that will be in WOTLK. See you next week!