on July 27, 2011
As a preface, I play StarCraft II, pretty much daily, and was shopping for a Cherry MX Brown mechanical keyboard with N-key rollover on PS/2, preferably with a backlight. Heretofore, I have been playing on a laptop keyboard, which is not actually the worst thing in the world key-action-wise. It's just not very ergonomic.
[Edit: I keep thinking of things I forgot to mention. I wanted the PS/2 N-Key rollover for when I build a PC, probably this winter. For now, I'm on USB, and tested the sub-N-key rollover for USB. I can roll over all of the W, A, S and D keys, and all of them register. Starting at Q, I can add W, E, R, T and Y, and all of them register, but if I add U, it does not. This is actually pretty good from what I hear.]
I have two other keyboards, and I couldn't even tell you what specific board they are other than that one is made by Logitech. They're meh, probably sub-$40 keyboards. They weren't even worth plugging in to use over my laptop keyboard.
This XArmor board is different. It's like everything I could want out of a peripheral: no cheap plastic, no superfluous features or keys to pad its resume. The keys are orgasmic to type on, but you can look up reviews of Cherry MX Brown keys elsewhere. [Edit: I will say this: The key action is so quick that it makes me feel slow. It turns out I'm playing at a faster speed than I was on my laptop, but I just feel slow because I know I could be striking these keys much faster, if I had the hand speed.] It's the rest of this keyboard that makes it worth the $200 I spent.
The first thing I noticed when I pulled it out of the box is that the board is heavy, so it doesn't feel like it's going to bend, snap, or slide around. I keyspam at 300-400 hits/minute, so that's really important. The board also has a grippy/rubbery finish to it that is sort of hard to explain. If you have a laptop, this is probably the same material the laptop's slip-resistant feet are made out of. It just feels more like a finished product than a plastic form. It also has textured grips on the sides (thin rectangular stripes, like modern architecture or something) that make it easier to slide it around when you do want to move it. The wrist rest is the same material, but I'm undecided about its utility for my specific purposes. No matter, it comes separately wrapped, and is easy to remove if you don't like it.
The backlighting, which I wanted so I wouldn't have to play with the light on at 2 in the morning, is surprisingly attractive. I expected a painful blue light between keys and coming through the letters, but it's actually dull on lower settings, and looks almost like a fiber-optic iridescence at its lowest setting. It's really hard to capture this with a cell-phone camera. If you want the blinding blue light, you can get that, too, with two levels in between. I don't care to have the additional functions on the F1-F10 keys lit up as brightly, and they're not. My only complaint about the backlighting is that, on the lowest setting, the "R" key seems to unevenly lit (dim at the bottom). On the second lowest setting, the problem vanishes.
I love the attention to detail. The toggle lights for Caps Lock, Num Lock and Scroll Lock aren't the ugly single bar with a center-LED like every other keyboard I've seen, but brightly lit, beveled rectangular outlines of light. You can see this in one of the photos on Amazon.
If there's any negative for anybody (other than price) to this keyboard, it's going to be the cat-of-nine-tails that is its data and power plugs. Wrapped into one cord (thank God, but an issue if your ports are spread out further than the width of a laptop) are: One PS/2 with USB converter (small, good), one USB to power the accessory ports, one mic cable and one headphone/speaker cable. At any rate, I wanted these features, so I like them there; but if you just wanted the backlit keyboard, and not the accessory ports, the cord could be an issue.
Anyway, I give it 5-stars because I couldn't design a better keyboard in my dreams. It's perfect.