We’ve done a lot of peripheral reviews here at XSR, with most recent keyboards being made up with mechanical switches. These were hailed as being the ideal for gamers, but not every manufacturer agrees.
Roccat have sent us their latest keyboard design, the ISKU. It’s a traditionally rubbed dome switch board with backlighting, macro buttons, some thumb keys and Roccat’s famed Easyshift technology. Priced up there with the best of them, does it stand up to some of the great mechanical boards we’ve reviewed recently?
Let’s find out.
- Blue Key Illumination
- 3 Unique Easy-Shift(+) Zones
- 36 Easy-to-Reach Macro Keys
- Macro Live! Recording
- 8 Configurable Media & Hotkeys
- Medium-Height Keys
Full features available here.
Box and Bundle
Traditional high quality Roccat packaging. When you’re spending this much on a product, it makes it feel a bit more worthwhile if it’s boxed up nicely.
The back shows off features including profile indicator LEDs, the Roccat TALK feature, the drivers and a select testimonial from Pro-Gamer Oliver “hossa” Keller.
The only inclusion with the ISKU is this little CD sized wallet.
It contains your persoal Roccat club card – arn’t you cool? – a quick setup guide and a driver CD.
The board itself is certainly styled with gamers in mind. The jagged (but smoothed) edges are all made with heavy duty plastic. The whole thing feels pretty solid, but it’s not as weighty as the mechanical boards I’ve tested in the past. The frame is made up of a matt black plastic, with the keyboard body itself being coated in glossy black.
There’s several Roccat and Isku logos dotted about the board, with an embossed, stencilled one located on the wrist rest.
The rest has a textured surfaced, giving it a bit of grip and elevating your skin from the surface sightly, which should prevent any perspiration buildup from sticking to your hand and wrist.
In a break from classical design, Roccat have placed three buttons under the space bar, within easy reach of your thumb. They’re designed for profile switching on the fly.
The keys are flat as opposed to the sloping you see on some keyboards. They also feature translucent plastic key designation, leaving much of the work up to the back light.
Above the lower F keys there are the P1-5 profile LEDs as well as the record button, with its icon next to it that tells you when its activated for not. This is designed for macro recording.
The rest of the F keys have the media keys jut above them. They include: mute, volume down and up, play/pause, track skip back/forwards, browser open and computer open. These last two seem a little unecessary, but ah well they can be remapped later.
On the right hand side, next to the Roccat TALK logo, there’s an illumination key which controls the backlight brightness (there are 6 different levels, including off), and the illuminated lock keys with Easyshift designator in the centre.
Popping the keys off – which was nice and easy making cleaning a simple process – we can see that the usual rubber dome switches are encased in these little plastic shells. This prevents food and other detritus blocking or damaging the swithces.
The underside features rubber pads in certain places to prevent movement when in operation.
Most of them are found in the corners, with one centre one located under the wrist rest.
In the top corners are little flip-out props which help increase the angle of the ISKU, offering two options for usage.
The software for the Roccat Isku is typical of the company. If you’ve used the Kone or Kova software you’ll be familiar with this sort of layout. The first panel is “Main control” which handles button remapping of the macros, offering you up two functions for everything thanks to Easyshift.
There’s a lot of pre-formatted macros ready for you to map, with lots of popular games to choose from. You can also make your own macros with the built in recorder which features enhanced controls like fine tuning timings between key press and release.
The second tab opens up key and easyshift mapping for the entire left hand side of the keyboard. This seems like overkill, but hey, when it comes to macros, this is Roccat’s forté.
Media keys can also be remapped, as well as the F keys. This is all great, wonderful customisation. Part of me feels though that if you needed to customise things this much, you might just buy a keyboard that came with the options you liked at stock.
Advanced controls gives you access to illumination levels, a dimmer/timeout options, character repeat timers and the ability to disable keys. This is great for those that find themselves accidently hitting the windows key during an important game. There’s also a sound feedback control which isn’t really needed, but it is funny. This was introduced with the Kone + mouse, where changing DPI would have a guy say “x000 DPI”; uneeded, but funny.
The last panel handles driver updates and online support.
Throughout all of the software options you have the choice of 5 seperate profiles. Combined with Easyshift, this gives you more macro options than you should ever need. As with all Roccat software, the layout is detailed but intuitive, with a clean UI.
To test a keyboard, the best way to do so is to use it for an extended period of time, so that’s what I did. Over a few days I tested the Roccat Isku in general typing (this review was written with it), gaming and general usage.
The games I tested the keyboard with were:
- Trackmania Nations Forever
- Serious Sam HD
- Call of Duty Modern Warfare II
- League of Legends
- Frets on Fire (FoFix)
Thoughout testing I played around with the media keys, the macros and Roccat TALK functions.
Thanks to Meroncourt for sending through this keyboard and for the Roccat Kone+ they supplied.
This is a nice keyboard to game on. It’s fast and responsive thanks to the high polling rate – though serious gamers will bemoan the lack of an included PS/2 converter or cable option. The keys feel a little stiffer than those you’d find on a mechanical keyboard, but gaming requires pretty heavy key presses and repeated bashing most of the time, so in this aspect it’s not particularly noticeable. Frets on Fire certainly caused no issues with lag between key press and it appearing on screen.
On paper, this keyboard should be slower than some of the high speed gaming mechanical boards, but in practice, it’s hard to notice much difference.
One quick note on the backlighting, it looks great in operation. The multiple levels give great customisation and the fact that there is no whine like we heard on earlier Roccat boards is excellent.
Media buttons were also simple to use while gaming and they performed their function well.
Macro wise, I certainly enjoyed the ability to customise things as much as I could. Unless you’re a big MMO player, there arn’t that many titles that require a large number of key presses (RTS and similar usually have intuitive keyboard shortcuts mapped out already) so I didn’t find much use for most of them; especially the lower Macro keys M3-5 as they felt a little awkward to reach with my little finger. However, I did get on very well with the thumb keys T 1-3. These felt really really well placed and made for great item slots 1-3 on League of Legends. Space is a key that never gets used, so having my thumb ready for items felt more intuitive than reaching for the usual number keys.
One problem I did have was switchig profiles. Because I didn’t want to use the standard T keys for this, I customised the M 1-3 for the same task. However, the issue is as soon as you switch profile the mapping for the profile switching changes too. This means you have to go back to the original keys unless you change for each and every one. This is a small nit pick I know, but it higlights something about this keyboard; it gives you the ability to change everything, but it also feels like you need to put some serious time into making it what you want. It doesn’t allow for any quick changes, as there are ramifications. It’s like those pro-motherboards that allow for really high CPU core voltages, you can change whatever you want, but you need to consider everything or it can go wrong.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t play around with TALK much. I think it’s an interesting idea and I think it has an application, but just not with the Kone+. I couldn’t find any TALK options in the latest Kone software, meaning that the mouse can’t perform keyboard commands, such as changing illumination or switching profiles. On top of this, the options made available for tweaking the Kone+ include things like changing the DPI; something you can already do with the touch of a button. This function would make sense if you were using a mouse without any added buttons or something without software like the original Kova, but for one with plenty like the Kone+, it just seems redundant.
Moving from a mechanical board to this, I did notice the difference straight away. These keys have to be depressed all the way down. This might seem elementary to those that use this type of keyboard with rubber dome switches all the time, but it’s something to consider if you’re coming from a mechanical background. Typing is noticeable different.
Of course it doesn’t take you long to adjust, but these keys just arn’t as tactile or as solid as you get on a mechanical keyboard. These keys take a full depress to register and it does feel that your typing speed suffers a little. You know what, time for a typing speed test:
Using Speed Test Fast fingers I ran through the typing test full speed and got the following results:
Roccat Isku: 111 correct words, 6 incorrect
Zowie Celeritas: 110 correct word, 10 incorrect
Impessively since the Roccat Isku feels a bit slower to type on and that the keys require that bit further of a press, there doesn’t seem to be much in it. Accuracy is certainly down a little on the Celeritas, and while it might have a slight speed advantage, there really isn’t much to go on. At that sort of speed we’re talking a few characters difference anyway. Only a few percent.
While I would say in conclusion of this section that I prefer to type on the the aforementioned ZOWIE board, with a few days more adjustment I doubt I’d miss it using it that much.
In terms of comfort, the Isku does a good job. The wrist rest is well angled and comfortable to use and thanks to the textured surface there is very little perspiration build up. I do however have to say that I’m not a massive fan of the plastic they’ve used for the keys. They seem to pickup grease/sweat very easily and it wasn’t long before I could feel that I’d been typing on it for a while. This is of course an unfortunate side effect for most PC users, but it usually takes a while. The Isku seemed to succumb quite quickly.
The only other thing I’d like to see changed is a slight extension of the wrist rest. If you’re playing a game like Trackmania that at default uses the arrow keys, you wrist (and my hands are pretty small) extends just beyond the edge of it. It’s not massively annoying or anything, but it’s noticeable.
So to sum things up, is this the best gaming keyboard I’ve ever used? Unfortunately for Roccat I’m going to have to say no. However, that isn’t because this is a bad board by any means, but because PC peripherals are a very personal thing; everyone has their own preferences.
This is an excellent keyboard, but I do feel that it’s a little lost in its intended audience. Many, many of the macro features will be utterly unused by the gaming public at large. This makes it a board that’s great for the obsessive macroers and high end gamers, but less applicable for mid-range gamers (the latter being the much larger market). However, I feel if you’re targeting professionals, you should really be using mechanical switches. I would never pretend to be a good enough gamer to fully appreciate the difference between pressing a rubber dome membranes vs a mechanical switch, but if you’re a pro gamer, those micro seconds could make all the difference. Also, the durability offered by them is claimed to be upwards of 10 times, giving you much more life in a keyboard that you’re spending almost £70 on; especially since this places the Isku in the Mechanical board price bracket.
This is a great gaming board all in all, but you’ll need to be a specific type of gamer to appreciate it fully.
Great key register speed
Top notch for gaming, little difference between this and expensive mechanical variants
Nice to type on, no real drop off in typing speed with membrane switches
T 1-3 keys were a great addition. I’d like to see these on more keyboards
Lights and layout are great, looks futuristic and gamery
Easy shift and macro keys give great customisation
Software is fully featured and clean
Plastic edges protect switches from food and other detritus
No mechanical switches in an expensive board
Roccat TALK feels redundant
Typing a little stiffer than on mechanical
More customisation than anyone will ever need. Perhaps a bit over the top?
Wrist rest could be longer