Glorious, glorious plastic. If it can work for the iPhone then it can work for this, the latest in Mad Catz’ range of Pro Gaming keyboards. Previous models – the jaw-dropping STRIKE7, and the built-like-a-brick STRIKE5 – employed a hefty frame with a matte non-slip coating. The STRIKE3 laughs at such excess. Shiny plastic is all you need. Shiny plastic is the future.
It actually looks rather nice. While the 3 lacks the drawing-room elegance of its siblings, it certainly makes a statement. The keyboard comes in a choice of glossy red, glossy black or glossy white, and it places a massive emphasis on its lustrous finish. It’s car-showroom glossy. Shampoo-advert glossy. Fingerprint-magnet glossy. And, as a side-benefit, the cheaper materials make this the first STRIKE keyboard that’s anything like affordable.
Luckily, the main features are unchanged from those found in the more expensive models. First up are the keys themselves. The STRIKE uses a proprietary membrane that feels something like a Cherry Brown mechanical switch. In practice, this means that it’s reasonably springy. It takes a moderate 60 grammes of pressure to activate each key, but the keystroke is registered within the first few millimetres of travel. The keys are very quiet and offer some resistance throughout their motion, so they need firm pressure if you want to keep them down. The result is a keyboard that’s very precise: unlike more yielding keysets, it’s hard to catch the wrong key by mistake. It works well in games, and you can expect typos and fumbles to become a thing of the past.
The other stand-out feature is the backlighting. We normally avoid hyperbole here at Digitally Downloaded, but it can’t be helped in this case: the effect is AWESOME. Rather than offering per-key lighting, the whole keybed illuminates. Combined with transparent lettering and widely-spaced keys, the effect is an incredible glow around each key. Like the glossy finish, it’s hard to ignore.
Mad Catz’ recently-revamped software is easy to use, and the three programmable modes can each be loaded with customised lighting and macro assignments. It’s here that things fall down slightly. In our tests, we found it impossible to program anything other than the simplest macros. As an example, I wanted to program an attack in Doom 3 BFG: ready a grenade, lob it, then select a different weapon. Unfortunately, the software doesn’t appear to recognise the delays between keypresses, so all commands were fired off to the game simultaneously. I died a little. Another issue lies in the macro keys themselves: the main bank of (slightly wobbly) keys lies some distance from the WASD zone while the secondary bank clusters around the arrow keys. This makes them ideal for left-handers, but tricky for right-handers to use in a pinch. Hopefully, macro functionality will get fixed in an update but, for now, this isn’t a keyboard for macro-lovers.
So, while it falls a little way short of perfect, the STRIKE3 is an excellent choice for gamers who need a quality keyboard with medium-to-firm resistance. It has a well-designed key action, terrific looks, and the best lighting effects of any keyboard on the market. And it’s unashamedly plastic. Plastic is the future.
– Rob P.