Zboard Merc Keyboard
The Merc Gaming Keyboard is another new product from Ideazon, the same people that make the Zboard which I reviewed earlier this year. Building on the Zboard’s success, Ideazon have analyzed the shortcomings of its previous design and built a whole new design which still relies on the ZEngine software.
As PC gamers around the world can attest, the excitement of being the first to get you hands on the latest and most advanced PC game is easily dampened by the cumbersome and lengthy process of learning how best to play the game.
- Print and memorize the manual
- Learn keyboard shortcuts
- Change keyboard layouts
- Do whatever it takes to win
For Oren Kramer, a flight attendant and an avid gamer, the proverbial light came on while learning to master the basic commands of StarCraft, an intense real-time strategy game. Oren wanted to start strategizing immediately, but couldn’t do it without knowing the commands required to play. Even in the middle of play, he’d be to referring back to the manual figuring out how to switch commands or determine which moves would optimize his performance.
So he asked himself, what if there was a simpler way for new users to get into the game? What if gamers could focus more on strategy instead of memorizing key commands? What if a keyboard could allow gamers to execute complex manoeuvres requiring a combination of movements with just a single keystroke? From these simple thoughts emerged the promise of the Zboard, a revolutionary interchangeable keyboard for gaming.
MERC Gaming Keyboard is a premium hybrid keyboard that features an integrated game pad powered by ZEngine Technology. MERC’s innovative form and key profiles were engineered with the gamer in mind. The ergonomic gaming design was fuelled by years of research, plus feedback gathered during hundreds of thousands of hours of gaming action. MERC was developed for gamers to meet the exploding demand for high-performance gaming peripherals.
– MERC’s dedicated gaming terrain combines 34 gaming keys, a deadly central “butterfly” layout, three thumb keys and 11 weapon keys.
– Sleek ergonomic game pad tilts 11 degrees to match natural wrist position while providing hours of comfortable gaming.
– Core game commands are labelled for quick access, including run, walk, jump, crouch and reload.
– MERC features multimedia keys and programmable hot keys.
– Phantom-keys elimination capabilities delivers up to 7 simultaneous keystrokes.
I received the Merc gaming keyboard in the full retail packaging, which consists of a colourful, eye-catching sleeve which goes over a brown corrugated box which hides the keyboard.
As usual, on the back are all the stats of the keyboard and everything that it can do… in every language under the sun.
Once opened, the box reveals the Merc itself, a manual and an installation CD.
The first thing that you notice is the side panel for the butterfly buttons. This part of the keyboard is dedicated to gaming, and has been extensively tested and ergonomically designed.
Another thing that is quite obvious is the extra length of the keyboard. Its slightly longer than a standard keyboard which means that it won’t fit into a small area. The typing keys are slightly smaller and are compacted to try and make the board an acceptable length. The arrow keys have been merged in with the number pad, which is slightly odd.
The Insert, Home, Page Up block has also be removed, and merged into the number pad keys. This means that when the Num Lock is off, you can use the Insert, Home etc. keys. Also, you can use the shortcut keys pioneered with the Zboard allowing you to copy, paste, minimise, maximise and other useful shortcuts in Windows. With Num Lock on, the number pad operates normally.
The gaming part of the keyboard has a moulded base to it, giving you greater wrist support and a more comfortable area to game. The whole gaming key section is also at a slight angle from the rest of the board, which makes sense as your arms don’t connect with your keyboard at right angles. This again makes gaming a little more comfortable
The gaming keys all have different shapes and colours depending on their function. For example the numbered buttons, running from 1 to 11, are coloured black and are concave. There are bigger buttons which are flat topped, and are rectangular. The smaller circular buttons are domed. Each of the different shapes make it easier to learn the different layout of the board and means you can game quickly with your new Merc gaming keyboard. All of them are incredibly tactile which makes gaming that little bit better.
The QWERTY typing keys are coloured grey along with the backspace, tab and the arrow keys. All the other keys, including F and J are coloured black. Why the F and J keys are black seems a little odd; on most keyboards they have a little projection to help touch-typers, however if your touch typing then your not looking at the keys…
The Merc cont.
Running along the top left of the keyboard, following the silver detail, are the multimedia keys. There are also three other keys, with roman numerals on the; these can be programmed to do anything that you want on your PC, like open your browser or open notepad. The familiar ‘Z’ button takes you to the Z engine configuration page which actually becomes quite useful if you play a variety of different games.
The board uses the standard film button method for the keys and I took apart the keyboard to show this (Don’t do this with your Merc as it will void the warranty).
Here we can see the Merc’s silicon brain which is no bigger than a standard keyboards interface chip.
To test the keyboard, I played a few games of FEAR, Unreal 2004 and World of Warcraft. I also wrote this review on the board to see how it faired in a typing test.
To get the correct key layout, you can use presets made by Ideazon called MOD files. These are pre designed key layouts for your favourite games. Once you have chosen the correct MOD file for your game, the action LED pings on once the game is started showing you that the new keyboard layout is active. Of course, you can always just have the standard layout and map the keys by the normal method in-game. More MOD files for the latest games are available from the Zboard site.
The Z engine software also allows different skins to be used, providing you with 4 which adds a little more customisation to the board. You can also set up the hotkeys from in the program , or you can use the ‘quick-set’ method where you open the program that you want the hotkey to open and hold down the hotkey. The Z engine software will then automatically set the shortcut up for you.
Whilst gaming, I found that the layout was confusing and took some time to get used to. However, once this short learning period had passed the Merc seemed like an extension of my hand and even if my playing skill didn’t improve, the game seemed more fun and it was more comfortable to play.
I personally find laptop-style keys more responsive and fun to type on than the standard keyboard style buttons. As a result I wouldn’t choose the Merc over my Enermax Aurora for typing. However, the keyboard did do the job, but I didn’t like the dull thud each time a key was pressed. The typing area is too cramped for extending typing sessions and doesn’t ‘feel’ right. It must be noted that this keyboard isn’t designed to win any typing awards; in fact it’s a major bonus to have a standard layout keyboard with the butterfly keys.
It should be noted, although not a major consideration for myself, that the Merc does not have a USB hub built in and neither does it have audio out ports.
The build quality of the board is high and I can’t see myself breaking it, even after an extended period of button mashing in Unreal.
If you’re an avid gaming fan and don’t type reams of text then this keyboard is definitely for you. With its intuitive butterfly keys and standard QWERTY layout it will fulfil your gaming and, some, of your typing needs.
|Excellent game playing buttons||Not the best to type on|
|Handy shortcut keys||Squashed keys|
|Styling to fit the keyboards niche||No USB/audio ports|