[nextpage title=”Introduction”]

The keyboard has stood by the sidelines as every other PC peripheral has undergone a variety of chances over the years. Sure, there are wireless and multimedia keyboards on the market but the basic concept has remained the same since the days of the typewriter. Ideazon has broken the mold with the Zboard, a special keyboard whose keyset can be swapped for a game-specific one. Getting ready to play Doom 3? Change the keyset on your Zboard for a specially designed one for that game and play like a pro.

There are several sets designed for games such as Battlefield 2, Half-Life 2 and Age of Empires III. The Zboard goes beyond traditional typing into being a sophisticated game controller of each one of those. We put it through test playing Battlefield 2, a huge battleground-based first person shooter (FPS) which requires some quick finger action in a traditional keyboard due to a variety of functions performed by a high number of different keys.

Figure 1: The generic FPS ZBoard keyset..

Figure 2: The Battlefield 2 specific ZBoard keyset.

[nextpage title=”The Zboard”]

The presentation in itself is quite impressive. The generic FPS ZBoard keyset is eye-catching. When we saw the Battlefield 2 themed one, we could barely hold the excitement over giving it a trial run: it was time to put our helmet on and unleash our secret weapon over our enemies.

We rushed into installing the device. The ZBoard is a USB keyboard so it clashed with the PS2 mouse we use in our trial PC. That was our first problem but it was easily resolved: we got a USB mouse (a not so good game-wise model though) and went from there.

The ZBoad comes with an installation CD that allows the PC to properly configure the new device and search the Internet for updates for each of the game-specific keysets, be that Battlefield 2 or Age of Empires III, for instance. The Zboard base presents a row of multimedia (play/stop, volume up/down) and functional keys up at the top as well as two USB ports – which, unfortunately, were dead even though we updated the driver. It was a pity not being able to plug our USB mouse directly unto the keyboard.

We first used the traditional QWERTY keyset to test it as a typing device. The keys responded very well but the split space bar required attention. Our thumb usually hit the literal space between both halves of the space bar until we adjusted our typing.

Figure 3: Configuration screen.

[nextpage title=”Changing Keysets”]

Swapping keysets takes about 10 seconds of detection time. The physical installation per say is very easy: snap open the right side lock, fold the keyset, unfold the new one, insert on the left and snap the lock back in place. A connector circuit does the interface between the device and Windows.

Figure 4: Changing keysets.

Figure 5: The right side lock.

Figure 6: The connector circuit.

With the Battlefield 2 keyset ready to go we run the game as we perused its features. The enlarged WASD style buttons form a red cluster to the left so that they are easily identified and used. Other twenty keys were set apart to form shortcuts to several of the game commands like jumping, reloading weapons or calling for backup. The buttons demand some time getting used to especially if you are a veteran FPS player – as we are – but for those who are new to this kind of game the shortcuts are a great help. It takes no time memorizing where’s the key for parachute (is it P? is it 9? is it F9?) since there’s a huge parachute button right where you need it. Sweet.

Figure 7: Battlefield 2 shortcuts.

[nextpage title=”Playing with the ZBoard”]

Well, the experience was not that great. Despite the awkwardness of getting used to the shortcut buttons that we soon mastered, we felt a big lack of precision and a great delay in response time. Having imprecise controls in a FPS game means getting killed. Sometimes our virtual soldier kept on going ahead despite the forward motion button being left alone. Our hero fell from a building while searching for a good sniper spot just because of that. In another occasion, the Enter Vehicle button took so much time to respond that we got shot before getting to the safety of the inside of a tank. Scenes like that took away a lot of the excitement over a well-thought of product, although lacking in precision.

In final analysis, the ZBoard is useful for inexperienced FPS players who feel intimidated over the variety of command keys to put to memory and don’t mind some mediocre results in an online dispute. For the veteran players to which battleground reputation is everything the delay in response time could earn them the peeling potatoes duty in headquarters…

[nextpage title=”Specifications”]

  • Connection: 6-feet long USB cable.
  • Keyboard: Traditional non-ergonomic design.
  • Wristrest: Detachable.
  • Normal keys: 108
  • Function keys: 17
  • USB ports: 2
  • Keyset options (sold separately):
    • Age of Empires III
    • Age of Mythology
    • Battlefield 2
    • Call of Duty 2
    • Civilization III
    • Delta Force: Black Hawk Down
    • Doom 3
    • Empire: Dawn of The Modern World
    • EverQuest
    • EverQuest II
    • LoTR: The Battle for Midle Earth II
    • Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault
    • MoH: Allied Assault
    • Neverwinter Nights
    • World of Warcraft
  • Average price in the USA (ZBoard only)*: USD 44.00
  • Average price in the USA (individual game keyset)*: USD 17.00
  • More information: https://www.zboard.com

* Researched at https://www.shopping.com on the day we published this review

[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]

Strong Points

  • Handsome presentation, especially on the game specific keysets.
  • Easy and ingenious method of swapping keysets.
  • Shortcuts will help novice players to readily find their way in the game.
  • Different gaming styles have their own keysets like FPS (Doom 3) and strategy (Age of Empires III).

Weak Points

  • Split space button on the traditional keyset..
  • USB ports didn’t work in our review.
  • Delay in response time makes for poor gaming.
  • PS2 mouse incompatible with the USB ZBoard.