You wait all year for a super-expensive gaming keyboard with touchscreen controls and then two turn up at once. Following hot on the crazy-priced heels of the Mad Catz STRIKE 7 comes this ultra stylish, ultra techie riposte from peripherals guru Razer.
Like the STRIKE 7 it comes with a touchscreen interface, but aside from that and the £250 price tag, they are almost entirely different takes on the gaming keyboard.
Whereas the Mad Catz look is all rounded-off angles, Meccano-like configurability and stealth-fighter chic, the DeathStalker Ultimate is a matte black slab of stylish gaming goodness. The chopped-off corners stop it being a plain rectangle, but the flat frame and low-profile chiclet keys give it a rather more subtle look than the Mad Catz board.
That said, you’ve still got the multi-coloured LED backlight shining through the keys, and your eye will always be drawn to the touchscreen trackpad that sits where the numpad ought to live.
That trackpad almost manages to justify the DeathStalker Ultimate’s enormous price. The STRIKE 7 had potential (if developers managed to get something interesting out of its resistive touchscreen, which they still haven’t), but the Razer has impressive functionality right out of the box. My Windows installation recognised it as a trackpad even before I installed the Synapse 2.0 software from Razer.
Once the Synapse application is in there, things get even better. There are already various interesting little tools for the 4-inch screen, including YouTube, Twitter and Facebook apps, and a Gmail client. These all load on the touchscreen itself like smartphone apps.
For gamers with a single panel, this extra screen is fantastically useful. You can keep tabs on the social world and watch videos of Colonel Meow without having to leave your game. There’s even a rudimentary web browser that stays separate from your Windows session.
You also have stopwatch and clock functions, but my favourite is the screenshot button. In screenshot mode you can press a button to capture an image, view ones you’ve already shot, and upload them to Facebook – all without exiting a gaming session. These dynamic keys can be configured separately too, allowing you to add icons and program functions yourself.
It’s by no means perfect though, which is a shame given the price. In certain USB ports the screen and buttons had visible artefacts in them, and my PC would occasionally boot without the touchscreen active. But for the most part the DeathStalker works well, and its extras are genuinely useful.
I’m still not a fan of membrane-switch keyboards, but the chiclets are very responsive, if loosely built.
There’s no way I can really talk about the DeathStalker Ultimate in terms of value for money, but it’s a thing of beauty, and if you can spend this sort of cash on a very functional peripheral then this is the top-end keyboard of choice.