Wednesday, January 2, 2013

CYBORG MadCatz S.T.R.I.K.E 7 Gaming Keyboard Review

“MadCatz!” The name has been synonymous with gaming for decades.  Yet in that time MadCatz as a brand has become a bit diluted–likely from the multiple different fractures and product line divisions. Under the mighty MadCatz banner we now have Tritton, who has bent the knee to the “Mad-” thrown, adding their audio solutions to bolster the Cat King’s might. What remains of the old Saitek gaming peripherals solutions are also under the command of the mad felines, as are the customizable “Cyborg” arm of game peripherals.

With their newest premium  product, the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 gaming keyboard, MadCatz hopes to restore vigor to the core company brand. The S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 has inherited the same modular/customization theme found in nearly all the Cyborg products, such as the adjustable R.A.T. mice. Yet MadCatz has “… made the internal decision to move away from the Cyborg brand.”  Thus the R.A.T.s have been rebranded “MadCatz” ware and so too is the new S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 gaming keyboard.
It’s a good move! While being massively expensive, the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 is also massively extraordinary. In this intricate and powerful piece of adjustable tech, you get a membrane keyboard that mimics a mechanical rather well. There are 24 programmable macro buttons, full RGB backlighting on the keys (w/ 16million colors to adjust), height-adjustable left palm rest with thumb wheel/rudder and programmable thumb button. You also get interchangeable WASD keys and arrow keys, dedicated media keys (mute, vol +/-, mic-mute) a 2-port USB hub and an instant 2-yr warranty. But we all know for which side the bread is buttered and we will be fondling that patented V.E.N.O.M. touch screen panel in just a bit. Firstly…

The look and design of the MadCatz is unique and not for everyone. It looks like a toy to some and a transformable jet fighter to others. It’s a bit gaudy and extravagant, but a definite head-turner in all the right ways. The S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 is a showy contrast to Razer’s sleek no-frills design on their competing Deathstalker touch screen keyboard. Where the Deathstalker looks ready to dance, the MadCatz is poised with claws drawn, ready for battle.

The rugged readiness comes from its modular DNA. You can detach the Numpad and arrow keys, along with three wrist rest sections. Even the V.E.N.O.M. panel slips off and can be moved onto the numbpad for a single gaming unit similar to the Razer Nostromo–but with a touch screen. No matter what school of game kung fu you claim, the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 is ready.

But are you ready for a touch screen in your keyboard pie?! The “catz” think you areMadCatz is using a resistive touch screen, where Razer is using a capacitive touch screen display on their Deathstalker keyboard, to which comparisons will inevitably be drawn. But don’t worry. The experience is light years beyond what you may remember from commanding a resistive touch screen while working at McDonalds in your early years.  The screen resolution is sharp and is very responsive to the touch. I also like the positioning of the V.E.N.O.M. panel. It’s located up away from the keys, facing the user for easy reading and access. The Deathstalker touch screen is doubling as a trackpad. So it’s placement is understandable but unfortunate.
The V.E.N.O.M panel also comes with a small arsenal of applications. The promise of more on the march, is good. But currently, there are very few useful application. Out of the box you get additional media buttons on the touch screen for play, pause and track skipping. You can time game activities, cool-downs and other time-sensitive game events with the built-in timer or the stopwatch. There is a journal that makes jotting things like crafting ingredients, DayZ grid references and coordinates…super easy. Just Tap the Journal icon and begin typing.

You can create a separate series of macros using the V.E.N.O.M panel’s Macro app. Use it to create 12 on-screen macros for a total of 24 programmable macro buttons. You MMO and RPG wizkids can program across 3-different profiles for a dizzying 72 possible functions and commands. I’ve definitely made great use of many, but nowhere near all 72 possible. But the overwhelming versatility is liberating.
There is a great integrated Teamspeak application on the V.E.N.O.M. panel. You can use it to join channels, see who’s in a channel, who’s speaking and so forth. When it works, it’s hard to live without. But it’s a bit buggy right now. Sometimes you need to restart the “madcomm.exe” process in the Task Manager for it to work. You also need to check your TS plugins. But let’s hope this will all be addressed with subsequent updates. Ultimately, the TS integration is easily the most intelligent use of either touch screen.

It’s highly notable, neither the Deathstalker nor the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 offer hardware monitoring applications or video capture integration to their touch screens.  Both companies have stated their understanding for gamer’s desire of such. But why this was not the first stop on either roadmap is baffling and a colossal missstep–if only presently. Razer is no stranger to working with other companies. Many companies already offer free hardware monitoring software. Partnering with companies like EVGA, MSI, ASUS, FRAPS, Playclaw or the like could be greatly beneficial in this.
MadCatz does provide a fabulously intuitive programming software – Smart Technology. With this you can program those 72 possible commands and macros with surprising ease (you can also record macros right on the touch screen). In 15sec I had mapped the thumb wheel on the wrist rest to function as a mouse wheel. In that same time I recorded a macro for TeamSpeak push-to-talk with the wrist rest’s programmable button. You can also use ST to set program shortcuts right on the V.E.N.O.M. panel–up to 12 on a give screen/profile. You get used to this lazy-man’s way of launching apps, embarrassingly quickly. I love it! The Smart Techology programming software is considerably powerful. You can really fine tune macros with time gaps, mouse functions…even set it to accommodate button presses and button releases as separate actions.
The MadCatz S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 gaming keyboard is a marvel  no doubt. But is it worth 3(!) of your hard-earned c-notes? Not at this stage. Sure I enjoy typing on the near-mechanical keys. They are soft to the touch and do not require the key to bottom out for recognition. They are also quieter than mechanical keys. The layout of the board is a tad gaudy but it comes together comfortably. The wheel and programmable button on the wrist rest adds a ton of functionality and new intuitive ways to game. The modular design is one of a kind. Some keyboards let you remove the Numpad. But none can be broken down and reconfigured is this many ways. The Nostromo-like configuration may be enough for some gamers who choose to use a separate keyboard for general use. Regardless, the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 is versatile and ready to accommodate. Sadly that exorbitant cost and the lack of useful touch screen applications (no hardware monitoring is astonishing) make is rough to recommend. I say wait until the price comes down and the number of smart V.E.N.O.M. panel applications go up.
Editor Rating:
Very Good
Bottom Line: The MadCatz S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 gaming keyboard is a wonder in more ways than one. There is a lot to salivate over. TS integration is super smart. The programmable software is intuitive. Comfort options come in spades with the modular design. But  the main event is the V.E.N.O.M touch screen panel. Hopefully more useful apps will come down the alley for this cat.
  • Touch screen UI is powerful
  • Near mechanical design is a delight
  • Dedicated media keys
  • Intelligent built-in TeamSpeak integration
  • Customizable modular layout
  • Touch screen poorly used
  • No hardware monitoring software
  • $300(!)
  • Some bugs in the software

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