Ideazon Merc Gaming Keyboard

robgs - 2007-03-16 20:09:58 in Input Devices
Category: Input Devices
Reviewed by: robgs   
Reviewed on: March 22, 2007
Ideazon
Ideazon
Price: 39.99 USD

Introduction:


You may be able to remember the days when computerized gaming was very simplistic.  Most games consisted of a two dimensional maze, a simple character, and a very finite mission objective.  Game play was quite elementary.  The only interface equipment you needed was a four-way directional joystick and a fire button.  Since the development of the 3 dimensional graphics engine and hardware to support it, the game environment has taken on an unprecedented realism.  This interface has had to incorporate much more complex functionality and allow the user lightning fast reaction. Your interface equipment now spells the difference between being on the top of the points standing with bragging rights or ending up in the mediocre middle of the road.  To this end there are a number of manufacturers that continue to try to develop the ultimate gaming controller.  Ideazon is one of those companies.

Ideazon’s year of inception was in 2000, and has its roots in Canada.  It is a smaller specialized company that has carved out its own niche in the world of gaming peripherals.  Ideazon attributes the bulk of its success to the release of the Zboard, a modular gaming keyboard.  They hope to continue along this path with the debut of the Merc Gaming Keyboard, the Fang Gaming Keypad, and the Reaper Gaming Mouse.

Today I will be reviewing the Merc Gaming Keyboard, one of the newest products from Ideazon.  Merc is a QWERTY style keyboard with a twist. It has an integrated, highly programmable game pad.  Together with their “ZEngine” software package, Ideazon claims to have eliminated the learning curve associated with the setup and use of its gaming peripherals.  Let’s continue then, to see how they did in creating the ultimate gaming keyboard.


Closer Look:

The packaging the keyboard came in is pretty typical of a keyboard box, except for a couple of things.  I really liked the fiery color and the artwork on the box, very cool and I’m sure eye catching to typical gamers like myself.  I was worried about the size of the box though, because I didn’t think about how wide this keyboard was and if it would fit on my keyboard drawer.  A fear that was unfounded as you will see.


 

The contents of the package were the keyboard, an installation CD and the Merc quick start guide.



The underside of the keyboard sports 2 fold out brackets to tilt the keyboard, and rubber pads to keep the board in place during intense game play.



I did a side by side comparison with a typical 104 key US English keyboard which shows that the Merc is only about 2.5 inches longer, so I will have no problem finding room for it.

Installation:

 

As there are no additional ports like audio or USB, the physical keyboard installation is simple as pie. Just plug in the USB connector to a spare USB port. The software installation turned out to be a different story though. If you just want the basic driver functions and will never be updating the software, use the install CD. I made the mistake of installing the software from the CD and found that the update feature didn’t work and the functionality was very basic. I went straight to the Ideazon website and downloaded the latest software, uninstalled the old version, and installed the newer version.





You may have noticed with other USB peripherals that you usually leave the item disconnected when you install the driver.  The Merc, however, must be connected before attempting the install.  Reading further on Ideazon’s website, I found that there is a known issue with installing the software with the keyboard disconnected and that they were working on the issue.  It's nice to see that, at the very least, they are on top of it.


Once the new software was installed, I immediately noticed a change.  There were more options in the drop down menus and most of the “mod” files on their website were now available for selection.  Mod files are pre-configured keyboard maps, which I will explain in a little more detail in the next section.

The next thing to do is update the mod files.  I noticed when I was on the Ideazon website that there are a total of 121 mod files and all of them are compatible with the Merc keyboard.  Under the “Tools” menu, select “Check for Ideazon Mod/Device Updates”.  This action opens an update window, and the ZEngine software starts communicating with the Ideazon website to find any updated mod files.




If it finds any updated mod files, they are shown in the list displayed in red or green text.  Red signifies an “outdated” mod and green signifies a “new” mod.  Put a check beside the mods you want to download and select “update”.
 



Action, role playing, and shooter are the three categories that the mod files are sorted by.  The list doesn’t include all games, but has a very broad cross section of very mainstream games as well as some more specialized and obscure flavors.



Now that the software installation is completed, we can move on to the configuration.

Configuration:


Though this keyboard is aimed at the gaming community, it also has many built in features that are useful for everyday computing.  The hot buttons for multimedia functions are pre-configured and come to life with the driver installation.  With three built in hotkeys, for things like Internet Explorer, it makes navigating the system a little easier.  The three main hotkeys labeled I, II, III, are programmed for Internet Explorer and two web pages: “Zboard homepage” and “Zboard zone".  The nice thing is that these keys can be changed to open whatever you like.



There are two ways to configure the three hotkeys on the Merc.  The first way is very simple, just open the file or webpage you want the hotkey to activate and hold it for three seconds.  You should hear an audible beep and you’re done.  The second way is to open the Zengine software, select the tools menu and select “Hot Keys”.




This brings up a window in which you can enter the function or program you want it to activate, or you can browse for it.  Once you’ve typed or selected the window or application, press the “apply” button and that’s it.



The next step is to configure the keyboard to play some of my favorite games.  There are a host of gaming titles to choose from.  Each of the titles has an associated mod file in an ascending menu.  From the menu I double clicked the Half Life 2 default mod file, and immediately the keyboard diagram on the right came to life with color.  The buttons on the gamepad are now configured with controls that are used in the game. 



If you so choose, you can stick with this configuration or tweak it a bit or change it altogether. It is really simple to change the function of any of the buttons or keys.  Click the “Edit Mode” button at the bottom of the window, or just double click the button you want to change and a configuration toolbar appears at the bottom and right of the right hand side view pane.



You can drag and drop from a list of keys on the right hand side of the window or type in a key in the toolbar, give it a name, press “Apply to key” and voila! the key is changed.  Don’t worry if you make a mistake, just press the “Reset Key” and the key is returned to the original default setting. 


Looking over the buttons, I decided to just keep the configuration supplied by Ideazon.   I’ll try it first and then tweak it to what works best for me.  Now the Merc is all configured and should be ready for some action.

Specifications:

 

Testing:

Test Setup:


The game I tested the Merc with is one of my favorite action games, Half Life 2.  As soon as I loaded the game, I noticed the little red indicator light illuminated showing me that the Merc has recognized the game.



Initially, I noticed the feel of the keyboard was a little bit awkward in that I wasn’t used to the 11 degree angle of the gaming pad.  I am sure it is similar to using the Microsoft ergonomic keyboard for the first time.  It took about an hour of gaming to get used to the feel.  Once I got used to it though, I could see how this game pad could really be advantageous, especially in online deathmatch scenarios.

One of the main features of this keyboard is the "butterfly layout" of the main action keys W, A, S, D, Q and E .  These gamepad keys are quite large in comparison to a regular key, which should make a noticeable difference in their use.  I found that, because of the size of these keys, they were more comfortable, but I couldn't feel a really large difference in game play.  It was nice that they are ergonomically laid out, but just like getting used to the regular WASD keys, I had to get used to the butterfly layout too.

Some of the buttons that are close together are shaped either concave or convex for touch recognition which really helped decrease the frequency of hitting the wrong button.  The crouch button is the lowest button on the far left hand side of the gamepad, and I found it to be useless as it was far too difficult to stretch my pinky far enough to use it.  However, you will notice that there are three buttons all located in that same position, so it was quite easy to just remap the crouch button to one that is more comfortably used.



I found the original mod file setup for both games to be pretty good, but ended up setting up keys that more closely reflect what I’m already used to in game play.  Changing the keys was a painless and simple procedure.  Basically, it’s like they said, they’ve removed the learning curve from the setup of their keyboard.  It took a little while to get used to the extra distance that my left hand had to extend in order to use the game pad comfortably.  Other than that, game play for extended periods didn’t have any adverse affects on my fingers or wrists.  I found that because the keys were placed in such ideal locations, I had a quicker response time.  Once I got used to the key positions, I made far less mistakes during intense battle situations.

Conclusion:

I really like the fact that there was some time and thought taken to understand the needs of gamers who spend hours on their computers with the latest game addiction.  At three o'clock in the morning when I'm telling myself, "Just fifteen more minutes!", I don't want to be thinking about how sore my fingers or wrists are.  With its ergonomic shape and thoughtful gamepad key layout, when it comes to comfort, the Merc definitely hits a home run. 

The Install and Setup were very easy and didn’t require an unreasonable amount of knowledge or experience to accomplish.  I didn’t like having to download the latest software before being able to test the full functionality of this keyboard, not to mention the fact that the download was a hefty 64MB. Once everything was ironed out though, the Merc has proven to be an efficient and comfortable gaming keyboard.  The price is very reasonable for the Merc, given that it is reasonably well equipped.   I’m sure the Merc would make a welcome addition to any gamer’s keyboard drawer.


Pros:


Cons: