- Review Date: 02/23/11
- Bottom line:
The SteelSeries Shift keyboard is a good choice for the multi-genre gamer, but you may find that your wrists may suffer in the long term.
Good software interface. On the fly macro-editing functionality. Audio and USB 2.0 ports. Swappable keyset.
Uncomfortable palm rest. Quick-keys are oddly placed. Not backlit.
When a computer peripheral company touts a keyboard as "gaming-grade," it's the software and additional features that distinguishes it from, say, a keyboard you'd use for your office PC. The SteelSeries Shift ($89.99 direct) packages bonus features like a swappable keyboard that will appeal to the multi-genre gamer, but setbacks in ergonomics and quick-key placement may hold it back from the big leagues.
The Shift is has a simple black matte plastic frame, unlike most gaming-grade keyboards that try to stand out with bold designs like the Razer Anansi ($99.99 direct, 4 stars) or with boisterous colors as seen in the Gigabyte Aivia K8100 (stay tuned for our review). However, the Shift will make a statement purely in terms of its size. At 1.6 by 19.3 by 9.5-inches (HWD), it takes up a generous amount of desk space, compared with the Anansi's smaller footprint (7.5 by 20 by 0.86 inches). At 3.14 pounds, the Shift will likely remain desk-bound rather than being toted to LAN party keyboard.
The Shift is a full-size wired USB keyboard. Its keys are in the traditional style, compared to the Apple Wireless Keyboard's ($79 direct, 4 stars) chiclet-style keys. There's also a numeric keypad to the right for added macro programming and number-crunching. I enjoyed the typing experience on the Shift; the keys were soft and a little too mushy for my tastes. I had issues with the palm rest: The SteelSeries logo was centered right where my right wrist would rest as I typed. After a while, it became a nuisance, with my wrist rubbing up against it repeatedly whenever I used the keyboard. The Shift's palm rest didn't make for a great ergonomic experience either. My wrists would sit slightly bent when typing, and eventually tire after a half hour working in a Word document or playing a bit of Fallout: New Vegas. Detaching the palm rest made it even worse; my hands were forced to bend at the wrist even further.
On the left side of the keyboard is a column of media buttons for pausing/ playing, skipping, rewinding, and muting music and movies. Along the top, above the function keys, sits a row of designated quick-keys that you can program in the macro editor. Their position is a little awkward, as they aren't in an easy-to-reach location—they seem separate from the entire typing experience. You can re-purpose any key on the keyboard, so this issue is easily remedied. There's a conveniently placed quick macro-recording key above the function buttons, so in case you don't want to go into the designated software to program it in. Extensive macro editing will especially help MMO and fighting genre enthusiasts, as well as professional gamers who want perfect their game through pre-programmed strategies.
The SteelSeries' Engine software is simple enough to use: There's a virtual layout of the keyboard with a designated "Profile" column on one side of the interface and macro editor on the other. You can have a number of different profiles on the Shift and under each profile you can program any key to your specific needs. Within the SteelSeries Engine is a "Stats" button where you can record your keystrokes to see what buttons you use most frequently. The program maps out the virtual keyboard based on a color scale indicating the frequency of which keys are used.
There's a healthy helping of ports (yes, you read that right, ports) on the Shift, including audio-in and -out, as well as two USB 2.0 ports. It helps take the strain out of plugging and unplugging your headphone from your desktop.
SteelSeries has also made it possible for users to physically remove the keyboard from the Shift frame to swap it out with other keypads you can buy from SteelSeries. This standard keyset can be switched out with an MMO ($25) and Cataclysm Gaming Keyset ($25).
The SteelSeries Shift offers a plethora of features for a good mid-range price, at least for a gaming keyboard. Unfortunately, the flaw in the Shift is ultimately in the design. An ergonomic palm rest is an important aspect of any keyboard and in this one has fallen short. Secondly, the quick-keys should have been better placed, because their usefulness is somewhat diminished by their inconvenient location. The Gigabyte K8100, on the other hand, will provide you with similar software features and a full-size keyboard with better wrist support—all for $10 less.