SteelSeries is a familiar company within the gaming peripheral market, specializing in premium products that emphasize high quality, programmability and flexibility. Quite a few years ago, the company made a splash when it introduced its Zboard series of keyboard; fully replaceable keysets with highly programmable configuration and macros. Today, we bring you the Zboard’s successor, the Shift.
On the face of things, the Shift is near-identical the Zboard, but much of the work is hidden away in hardware tweaks and a new software layer. Silicone rubber domes for longer life, key weight balance, live macro recording, media keys and I/O extensions for audio and USB.
A lot of effort went into the software, too, allowing for easy configuration of profiles and macros. Zboard key sets can even be carried over to the Shift so you won’t need to splash out for more key sets if you decide to upgrade.
For those who are new to the Zboard and Shift system, it’s very hard to overstate the significance of the programmability and flexibility. Nearly every key on the keyboard can be reprogrammed to any other, or be used for an application launch, system function or macro. Caps lock and Win keys keep getting in the way? Disable them. Don’t use the numpad for anything? Set it up as an application launcher or as a bunch of macros for common tasks. The options are bewildering, but rather simple to execute (once you know where everything is).
Before we get down and dirty with the software, let’s go over the hardware, complete with an accumulation of pretty pictures and specifications. (This review was made with UK keysets.)
The keyboard is a rather large, heavy and intimidating setup. With the adjoining palm rest, it can take up a fair bit of desk estate. While not a wide keyboard, it is tall, with the top protruding from the desk a good 2 inches. This extra height does make the inclusion of the palm rest more of a necessity than an optional extra.
A couple of things will strike you as odd; the first being the split space bar. Due to the collapsible nature of the keysets and the traditional length of the space bar, it had to be split to accommodate for the fold. This brings us on to the second quirk; the two vertical slits that allow the keyboard to be folded away into thirds for storage.
The real party trick of the keyboard is its ability to replace the keysets to match the game you are playing; providing quick access to common in-game functions at the touch of a button. With a change in artwork, each key set changes the numpad area of the keyboard, replacing it with pre-programmed macro functions, depending on the nature of the game.
Key sets are held down with a large clip on the right and three hooks on the left. You flip the clip, pull up and fold the keys to the left, pull out and insert new keys. This is an intuitive process and very quick, taking no more than 10 seconds to replace the entire keyset. Complete with the software, the keyboard profile will switch with it too.
With the keys removed though, you get to see the array of silicone domed rods protruding from the actual keyboard. The keys will still function without the keyset in place, so some care will be required else you type some profanity while changing keysets
Along the back of the keyboard are 2 USB connectors, a mic and speaker/headphone pass-through jacks. One of the USB connectors is a dedicated and powered connector, useful for high bandwidth gaming mice or external storage. The resulting cable that comes out of the Shift is suitably thick and over 6 feet long, splitting into each component connector at the end.
Around the edge are a set of permanent keys. These are the standard media control keys down the left, such as volume control, pause/play, skip, etc, and along the top row are a set of 8 application keys which normally default to standard launch keys for things such as Web browser and email client. All of these keys are again programmable. The last 4 keys across the top right are for profile switching and to enable the live macro recorder.
Continue on as we look at the software.