- Review Price: £99.99
Unlike gaming mice, we’ve always found the case for gaming keyboards to be rather less clear cut. Gaming mice came about because of a need to get better accuracy and tracking, the benefits of which anyone – not just gamers – can notice straight away. However, in terms of performance, any old keyboard that actually works will get many people by no matter what level they game at. Instead, the evolution of gaming keyboards has been about extra features, like programmable buttons and LCD screens, or better ergonomics. So if you don’t need the extra features and find a normal keyboard reasonably comfortable, you’re left with little reason to buy one. All of which makes the Steel Series 7G a rather intriguing proposition.
This is a premium, performance keyboard that’s meant to provide the utmost in accurate responsiveness and survive a long and hardy life at the hands of over exuberant gamers but it has little in the way of extra features and has no macro programmability. In other words, it’s quite a niche product. Let’s see if it’s something worth investing in.
Available in every colour so long as it’s black, the 7G has an intriguing two part design. The main keyboard section is devoid of any extraneous borders or wrist rest-type extensions and as such it stands very tall, to the extent that you can’t rest your wrists on the table and type comfortably. You instead must constantly hold your hands aloft, which is arguably how you should type anyway to reduce your risk of RSI.
If you do want to use a wrist rest, though, you can of course use your own third party one or use the provided plastic surround that slots on top of the keyboard and incorporates a very large wrist rest – it’s nearly four inches from its edge to the front of the keys. In this regard its actually one of the best wrist rests we’ve ever used as, unlike the token efforts you get on many keyboards, it’s actually long enough to support your wrists. However, it’s only made of the same hard plastic as the rest of the keyboard so doesn’t provide any cushioning. Of course this fits in with the whole hardcore image of the keyboard and it means the surround will last, untarnished for years to come but, when it boils down to it we’d rather have the comfort in the short term – after all, with a modular design, it’s perfectly possible to sell replacement wrist rests should the original get grimy.
Another comfort issue comes from the fact that this has a completely conventional keyboard layout. Having used for the last year or so at work a Microsoft Natural Ergonomic 4000 keyboard, I’ve become used to its more natural wrist position and large spread-out keys. Also, the vast majority of half decent keyboards nowadays are either low profile or slightly curved, or both. So, coming back to a conventional layout and key height feels very cramped and, though I’ve not noticed any marked increase in discomfort (bar the cold weather making my hands cold and stiff) in the week or so that I’ve been using this keyboard, it is a stark reminder of how unnatural the normal keyboard layout is and why I recommend everyone give an ergonomic keyboard a try.
For those of you that sometimes get frustrated that your keyboard becomes dislodged and slides around your desk while in the middle of an intense fire fight, you’ll be glad to hear you should have no such problems with the 7G. This is largely due to four large soft rubber strips that keep a good grip on any dry flat surface the keyboard is resting on but also it helps that the ridiculous over-engineering of the keyboard has led to it weighing an absolute tonne. Okay, so maybe not a tonne but at 1.5Kg, it’s surely the heaviest keyboard on the market.
While the 7G isn’t exactly stacked when it comes to extra features, it does have six multimedia keys that are secondary functions of the F1 – F6 keys. These are activated via the SteelSeries logo key that replaces the left hand Windows key, the removal of which we’re not happy about. While we appreciate that some gamers find it frustrating when you accidentally press the Windows key while gaming and get dumped back onto the desktop, if like us you regularly use Windows key shortucts – in particular using Windows R to open programs and Win D to show the desktop – then its omission is going to prove very frustrating.
Meanwhile, above the numpad are the usual trio of Num, Caps, and Scroll lock indicator lights but for some reason SteelSeries has felt the need to use the brightest white LEDs known to man. While typing off to the side, they’re not too distracting, though entirely excessive, but if you happen to view them straight on you’ll be non-too-far from burning your retinas out and at the very least you’ll have a nice after glow in your vision for a few minutes. We suppose there is some merit in making it really obvious when you’ve activated these buttons – certainly it’s useful that when typing reviews it is really easy to spot when I’ve accidentally hit Caps Lock – but it still seems a little over the top.
On a more positive note, we do like the inclusion of headphone and microphone pass-through ports on the back particularly as the quality from them both is very good with not a hint of noise added to the signal on route; whether that’s helped by all the connections being gold plated is a matter for debate. You also get two USB 2.0 ports, which use their own dedicated cable. This is because, by default, the 7G uses a PS/2 connector for the main keyboard connection though a PS/2 to USB converter is included in the box. Incidentally, SteelSeries makes a big deal of this keyboard’s ability to have every key pressed at the same time when connected via PS/2 and have it register instantly (most other gaming keyboards can only handle seven simultaneous keys before delays are introduced). However, we really can’t think of any situations where this is advantageous but it’s there if you want it. When connected by USB, 10 keys can be pressed simultaneously. All the connections are bundled together in one thick (6mm) braided cable that is a considerable two metres long.
All the keys are easily removed, which makes cleaning simple and could be useful for those people that do like to remove all but the essential keys from their keyboard. Bear in mind, the switch is still exposed so accidental activation is still possible.
So, we come to the most important bit of any keyboard, the key action. Each key uses its own mechanical switch, which in this case are Cherry MX Blacks. The Cherry MX series are widely regarded as among the best keyboard switches available and have a life of 50 million operations. The Black version use a linear, non-clicky action, whereby they’re quite heavily sprung but have no discernible break. Instead the switch activates as the the key only partially depressed – to about half way. This feels a bit odd at first but does make for lightening fast response times and seemingly lead to a noticeable increase in my typing speed – placebo effect though that may be. Certainly going back to various keyboards round the office that use now common, cheap rubber membrane sprung keys and the difference is as clear as day. Those keyboards feel sluggish!
So, to a certain extent this is a case of lesson learned with regards performance keyboards – they certainly work in high typing speed situations. However, we’re still not sure it makes that much of a difference when gaming. While the responsiveness is still noticeable, in our experience those actions that a keyboard performs when gaming aren’t so time critical as those of a mouse. There are a few examples like tricky jump and crouch manoeuvres in FPS games but we didn’t notice a significant improvement in our execution of these when using this keyboard, certainly not enough of one to warrant the huge asking price.
The SteelSeries 7G gaming keyboard is certainly the most responsive and solidly built keyboard we’ve ever used so if you don’t want any gimmicks and feel your current keyboard’s performance is holding you back then it’s certainly worth considering. However, it’s severe lack of features such as programmable macro keys, LCD displays, and shortcut keys combined with its very high asking price means it’s not one we’d recommend for most people.
Score in detail