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Keyboards with Backlit Keys

Keyboards with Backlit Keys
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I looked at four backlit keyboards from one from Ideazon (Merc Stealth), two from Microsoft (Razer Reclusa and Wireless Entertainment Desktop 8000) and one from Saitek (Eclipse II).

In addition to finding the best of the new crop of backlit keyboards, I had hoped to modify the LEDs in at least one of the keyboards for use by a blind friend. That project is still on hold, but here is my take on the keyboards I tested for use by people without visual impairment.

ideazon merc stealth The Ideazon Merc Stealth lit in red

The Merc Stealth is designed as a gaming keyboard, with 34 dedicated gaming keys. There are two USB ports on the keyboard, and the USB cable includes integrated microphone and speaker plugs. That’s for headphones and microphones, as there are also jacks for these on the keyboard. To keep the keyboard to a manageable size, the four inverted “T ” arrow keys, and the group six — the delete, home, etc. keys — are merged with the numeric keyboard. In this modified 104-key layout style, the size of the plus key is now standard instead of oversized. The dedicated gaming keys are off to the left, as is common for other Ideazon gaming keyboards, and the multimedia keys are at the top left.

ideazon merc stealth Ideazon Merc Stealth in daylight. Note the tri-headed cable.

The blue backlight is a deep blue, but the purple backlight is more like a pink. Red is a deep ruby red; it matches or exceeds the red backlight used in the Celestron SkyScout and the telescope hand controller. Fortunately, the color choice does not reset after reboot. This keyboard would also be perfect for late-night observing sessions. Remember, for astronomy observations, the computer screens are covered with red filters, so there is no keyboard light on any laptops.

blue merc stealth Blue Merc Stealth

ideazon merc stealth Ideazon Merc Stealth switched to purple

There are only three levels of brightness adjustment. The keyboard has a very tactile feel, while the Ideazon literature claims the keys are rubberized. The Merc’s keys are not as “smooth” or plastic feeling as the Saitek. Neither do they feel completely like rubber, but they have a very pleasant touch. The action is just a little stiffer than that of the Saitek, but not as stiff as the Microsoft Reclusa. There are two USB ports above the F10 through F12 keys. Beneath the upper part of the keyboard are collapsible stands to increase the keyboard height. The base has long-and -thin sticky non-skid rubber pads on the bottom of the lower keyboard.

I did not verify the claim that there is a simultaneous response from the keystrokes, especially during game play. Ideazon’s Z-engine software lets you map a key command sequence to a single key. Having dedicated keys for commands like “open document” or “run spell check” could be useful for handicapped individuals. More than special purpose keyboards, this gaming keyboard appears to have much more flexibility in that regard. However, my initial purpose was to look at the backlight, and to see if I could swap out something for a much brighter backlight.

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  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , January 2, 2008 9:26 PM
    You might want to add Logitech G15 to the list, which is not only a backlit keyboard, but comes also with superb 3x 18 programmable "G" keys and universal LCD display.
  • 1 Hide
    Spikke , January 2, 2008 9:36 PM
    No Logitech G15? The best keyboard I have ever owned.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , January 2, 2008 10:00 PM
    Any indication of durability of the keys wrt the coatings? These keys are usually made of a transparent plastic that is then coated in black - with the characters masked.

    On my G15, I found that prolonged use has caused the black masking to come off, leaving large "blue" keys that have no recognisable markings left. I bought another since there was no alternative at the time, and had to resort to applying several layers of clear nail-polish before I started using the new keyboard. So far it's working, but I'd love to know how the newer models stand up to heavy use - specially for female users with long nails that will probably wear off the masking even faster
  • 0 Hide
    CaptainNed , January 2, 2008 10:52 PM
    Backlit keyboards? Heresy of the first sort. Model M or death for me.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , January 3, 2008 1:42 AM
    Backlit keyboards review and no G11/G15? Shame on Tom's again.
  • 0 Hide
    Drake718 , January 3, 2008 3:43 AM
    I Use the Eclipse II myself... I liked it so much I bought a 2nd one for my other computer. I had 2 reasons...

    1st, I'm a corporate IT geek and if I get a page in the middle of the night, it's really nice to not need to turn on the lights. The red is the best, no eye strain as I'm half asleep. With a black desktop background and the red light I can fix what ever it is and get back to sleep.

    2nd, Gaming. I love the feel of these keys. I actually looked for a keyboard w/o the L shaped key as it fit's my hand positioning better when gaming. Plus being the aforemention IT geek, I'm so used to having the pipe and backslash sitting above the enter key as I use them often while writing code. Using a keyboard is a lot like driving a car, you get used to where all the butons and switches are and you feel more comfortable. I can switch between my PC's at work and my home machine without mising a beat. I almost brought in a Saitek Eclipse II for work, but they backlite might have been frowned on.
  • 0 Hide
    feraltoad , January 3, 2008 6:17 AM
    My key paint came off on my G15, Logitech sent me a new one no charge! They had something wrong with the paint, it's fixed now. Mine WASD keys were blank, but the new ones show zero wear and I've had the replacement much longer than the original.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , January 3, 2008 12:18 PM
    what about the Deck Legend keyboard?!
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , January 3, 2008 12:35 PM
    BOOOOO! Like most other posters, where is the G15? I owned a Saitek Gamer Keyboard w/commander pad for awhile, but then the veil was lifted when the G15 hit. I play Battlefield 2142 every night and with 18 programmable keys and M1,M2,M3 settings gives you 54 programmable keys. Then there is the mods for the LCD screen that gives you real-time data(i.e. Kills,deaths, ammo count,map, ping, number of players, etc....) Media Center controls, man I could go on and on!!!! I see why you DIDN'T add it, cuz then everyone would read it and be like,"Why did they mention the other 3?" The article would then read,"The uberest backlit keyboard EVEA!" Hell the only way they could improve it is add a can cooler and a toaster oven!! Mod that!!!
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , January 3, 2008 12:49 PM
    We miss the Logitech G11 and G15 and the Razer Lycosa
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , January 3, 2008 1:18 PM
    I agree I have the logitech G15 and I wouldnt trade it for anything in the world.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , January 3, 2008 3:33 PM
    Logitech recently redesigned the G15 -- in a bad way, IMO. Gone are the three sets of 6 programmable G keys and in their place are a total of 6 (three pairs of 2 -- vertically stacked at that!!). The LCD is no longer flip-up, but integrated into the unit itself and appears smaller. Glad I got my old G15!!
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , January 3, 2008 5:29 PM
    Deck keyboards have great, high contrast backlighting with no seepage between keys. The keyboard construction is more industrial but is easy to type on. Deck also encourages keyboard modding.
  • 0 Hide
    dognuts , January 3, 2008 6:00 PM
    I have a G15 and have had the same problem as concerned_user. While I think that omitting the Logitech backlit keyboards from the review is a rather large oversight, I do not think that the G15 is God's gift to the gamer.

    The programmable keys are indeed excellent but the 'erosion' of the black masking is an unforgivable oversight on the part of Logitech. Had they spent any amount of time in R&D proving their product, they would have easily noticed such an obvious problem. I guess that's why they stand behind their G15 keyboards with an embarassing 1 year warranty while every other Logitech keyboard outside the G11 comes with a 3 year warranty. This difference speaks volumes about their own confidence in the 'G' series keyboards.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , January 4, 2008 7:42 AM
    Why isn't the logitech G11 (wich I own) of G15 not in this review. Huge letdown from tom's hardware @ the start of 2008. Best keyboard ever and you guys missed it.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , January 4, 2008 8:24 AM
    I am also working on modifying the backlit led's. I have a Logitech G15 k'board, it has only blue colour available. Human eyes don't seem to respond very well to blue light, the contrast level is much lower than white on black. This should be an easy mod to do for Logitech, access is relatively easy, and the LED's are not special.
  • 0 Hide
    xOrion73x , January 4, 2008 12:16 PM
    Yes, the G15 really should have been featured here, it is built solidly, which is something that I cannot say about Saitek or Ideazon. Mine is the first generation one, so I cannot speak for Rev.2

    I like the idea of the Microsoft/Razer unit, but there's nothing on it that would cause me to replace my G15. The Desktop 8k is just silly... neat, but pretty much pointless for my needs, especially at the price. (Besides, I use a Razer Copperhead, which I would put up against any mouse Microsoft has it's name on, making the 8k sorta redundant)
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , January 4, 2008 12:56 PM
    Shame on you for not including the G15 :(  !
  • 0 Hide
    WitsEnd , January 4, 2008 8:20 PM
    I'm very disappointed that no one has come out with a backlit version of a split keyboard such as the Microsoft Natural 4000. I would love to see a G15 in a split-board configuration!

    Surely there are enough users of this type of keyboard for companies to take a serious look at offering a product like this for us. I will never go back to a standard keyboard again, no matter how many neat features it offers. I simply cannot hold my hands and wrists together so closely in the position required on a standard keyboard.
  • 0 Hide
    originalgadgetguy , January 5, 2008 12:01 AM
    I was looking for keyboards for use by my blind friend, not necessarily for the purpose of gaming. Though the G15 has 3 brightness levels, it only has one color, if I am not mistaken. If I can't yet mod a board for a brighter color, I wanted something that would have very high (insanely) bright contrast. So though the G15 may be great for gamers, I wasn't looking at them in this article for that purpose. (I know, hard to understand).

    I was only looking at two keyboards, and this wasn't intended as a comprehensive review. I added the MS keyboards as a lark at the very end.

    AS far as durability, I have heard of reports of Saitek (I) not II - colors flaking off, but that apparently has been fixed. My Saitek I has been in nearly constant use for nearly two years, (I pound a lot as I don't touch type) and there are very few scratches on the silver. So far, no other keyboard has any paint coming off, but I have only used the Saitek II and Merc for 2 -3 months. I have only had the MS keyboards for a month or so - too new. I have had paint wear off other keyboards, however, so I guess the Saitek I, so far, is impressive. I hope the others are at least as good. And I probably won't use the Reclusa. I did think the action on the Saitek, and esp the Merc was very good.

    Obviously the MS 8000 is not for gaming: the action on this slim keyboard is 1/2 the travel, and the styling is not gamer or heavy typing friendly. It is designed to control media appliances, and work portably. I take that to mean the couch or my lap. But the backlight was the best of the bunch, and has all sorts of portable controls that most other remote/portable keyboards miss. So MS is showing what can be done, if you put your mind and some dollars to it.

    Valid questions about the G15, though. I will see if I can get one to review and hope my editor lets me post an addendum.

    Hope this answers some of your concerns,

    Doug
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