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Reviewing the Razer Nostromo: A comfortable place to rest your hand

Back in July, I featured a submission on Reader UI of the Week from reader Steppinrazor which featured a dual-peripheral setup of the Razer Naga MMO mouse and the Razer Nostromo. The Razer Nostromo is a peripheral that acts as a keyboard for input commands, with buttons for clicking, a D-pad, a scrollwheel, and much more. In my discussion of Steppinrazor's UI, I made note that I was not privy to the Nostromo, having never had the pleasure of resting my fingers on its keys. Now, however, I've spent considerable time with the Nostromo and can tell you my story. Here is my review of the Razer Nostromo.

The Razer Nostromo features:
  • Ergonomic form factor and tournament-grade layout
  • 16 fully programmable Hyperesponse keys
  • Programmable eight-way directional thumb pad and scroll wheel (can be used as keys)
  • Instantaneous switching between eight key maps
  • Unlimited macro lengths (this is really cool)
  • Storage of up to 20 different game profiles
  • Adjustable soft-touch wrist pad for exceptional comfort
  • Backlit keypad and scroll wheel for total control, even in dark conditions
  • Enhanced Razer configurator software
  • Works with Mac or PC


In my review of the Razer Anansi MMO keyboard, I stated that keyboards annoy the hell out of me mostly because I break them and abuse them. Frankly, it takes a lot of time and energy for me to break my old habits and begin using a new peripheral. The combination of being without a large amount of disposable income and being stubborn means new peripherals are hard to integrate into my gaming lifestyle.

The Razer Nostromo is a redesigned and rebranded peripheral once made by Belkin called the Nostromo SpeedPad n52. That's how I remembered the Nostromo, anyway. After Razer and Belkin partnered up to re-release the peripheral, the old design got a coat of Razer pizazz and paint, some backlighting thrown on, and solid Razer software. Now you've got the Razer Nostromo.

Here are my copy-paste caveats. First, my hands are of average to large size. I am a 6-foot-tall male, human, clean-shaven, green eyes, and I have the full function of both of my hands, favoring the right. These are the physical truths that are present in my reality when I am reviewing this product. If you have any questions for me based on this review or even on features that might not have been discussed, please let me know via email.

As with my other hardware reviews, I use each product for a full week or more before making a final call and putting all of my thoughts together. If I'm going to recommend a product, I need some time with it to get used to the crazy amounts of nuance that accompanies new technology.

The first day

I guess I should get the main conclusion out of the way at the beginning: I liked the Nostromo. The fact that the Nostromo is still sitting on my desk after weeks of having it there is a positive thing. The Nostromo not only wormed its way into my digital life through games but also in other facets as well, as I will explain.

After the box arrived and after unpacking the device, we had a staring contest. The damn thing looked pretty foreign to me but inviting. If you look at the Nostromo, the purpose of the device is instantly understood -- you place your hand where it looks like your hand should go and you have access to keys where keys should be. Simple.

My first day with the Nostromo saw me overthinking the uses and design and basically just getting comfortable with the key layout. The Nostromo has a much easier learning curve than other peripherals like the Razer Anansi keyboard or the Naga, mostly because of how contained and streamlined the keys are on the Nostromo. You never really feel like you can't hit a key or you're missing some sort of understanding about the way the game pad should work. It just does, and it feels right.

Nostromo and WoW

When I finally got the Nostromo ready to roll and loaded up WoW, I had a horrible realization that I was way too stuck in my ways with my warrior and couldn't raid that night with the Nostromo, mostly because I didn't have time to practice. All night, in between pulls or while we had downtime, I was tinkering with my setup and bars to figure out just how to incorporate the Nostromo into my WoW lifestyle. For my warrior, I was just too set in my ways. So I took a different approach -- I started from scratch.

Instead of trying to force the Nostromo into my WoW playing, I decided to start a new character and let the Nostromo grow with me. I wanted the device to become something I associated playing with and break my old habits. Sure enough, this is what made the Nostromo work and fit. I chose to make a warlock, putting pet macros on the 04 and 05 keys on the right side of the Nostromo, as well as my most-used spells and abilities on the bottom row of 11-14 keys. Everything was easy to set up through the included software and worked extremely well. I even made a profile for the Nostromo for the new warlock. Playing from the start with the new game pad was a much easier, more fulfilling experience than trying to shoehorn it in to my high-paced, set-in-my-ways play.

Now, I'm not saying it can't be done. I'm only showing you the dangers of trying to replace one thing with another after years of use and habit formation. My days since working with the Nostromo on an alt have been spent toying and tinkering with my UI and setup to finally bring the entire system over to my warrior because, really, I know it can be done and will be a glorious thing when I do.

Nostromo and everything else

Peripherals that do one thing are not peripherals I like to own. As a consumer, I want to purchase a piece of equipment that will have more uses that just one game. Why have something take up this much space on my desk and not do something other than help me play Warcraft better? I'm paying good money here -- the thing better be good at multiple things. It's the same with keyboards. If a keyboard can't function as my regular, everyday keyboard, why should it be on my desk, even if it works with one of my games?

Before I even tried the Nostromo with World of Warcraft, I set up a profile for it for League of Legends. LoL uses a basic key setup of QWER and the D and F keys to control your character. The rest is all mouse control, for the most part. The Nostromo is easily the best peripheral for League of Legends or the MOBA (or ARTS) genre, period. It's got the exact number of buttons you need, where you need them, infinitely customizable and in reach of everything. Your left hand (if you're a righty) barely moves during League of Legends. I fell in love with the Nostromo after my first game of LoL using it.

The Nostromo has other uses, too. I kept reading about people using their Nostromos for Photoshop and endeavored to figure out how I could make it work for me with Photoshop, too. You can imagine that we do a lot of image resizing around here at WoW Insider, making lots of banner images and whatnot. So, I recorded a bunch of macros for Photoshop onto a Photoshop profile for the Nostromo that will resize images for me. It was that simple.

So in reality, the Nostromo lives on my desk not only because it helps with playing WoW and my other games, but has become a productive member of my technological suite. The Nostromo passed that test swimmingly.

The bottom line

The macro system is phenomenal, and you can make some ridiculous recordings of macros that go off with the touch of a button. The 16 main buttons are all easily accessible and feel comfortable when your hand rests on the device. In fact, my hand feels more comfortable resting on the Nostromo than it does clawed over my keyboard. Combined with a Naga mouse, I can see the potential for the Nostromo and keybinds in WoW to reach astronomical proportions and would recommend that if you're a big keybinder to definitely pair the two. The software is good, profile creation and swapping is easy, and the number of options available for tinkering with settings were adequate for what I required. The only thing I would have wanted, cosmetically, is to be able to change the backlight color to match other Razer products that allow you to do just that.

The bottom line is that the Nostromo is a nice little device that takes what I needed from my keyboard for my games and puts it on a peripheral that sits at a different, better angle than my keyboard, letting me rest my hand in a very comfortable manner. For League of Legends, it changed my gameplay immensely for the better, and the possibilities for World of Warcraft are staggering. I used the Nostromo for a long time before reviewing it because I wanted to make sure. I made sure. I liked it.

If you're a fan of game pads or peripherals like the Nostromo (and you will instantly know this when you look at pictures of it and go "yes" or "no thanks"), you will find uses for it. They will materialize from thin air.

Pros:
  • Easily integrated into your digital life, gaming or otherwise
  • Sturdy feel, easy-to-reach buttons
  • Fully programmable with an amazing macro system
  • A keybinding dynamo when paired with a Razer Naga
Cons:
  • Only lights up one color
  • Thumb button can make you reach a bit to hit
  • D-pad has uses, just not for me
The Razer Nostromo is available for an MSRP of $69.99, but you can find it cheaper on the interwebs, as usual.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Hardware

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