[Originally posted to my PC gaming column at Examiner.com. Note: Most/all of the link embeds in this article will go to Examiner.com]
The Mad Catz S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 keyboard hit the streets with a fancy touchscreen, loads of features and a shocking price tag. So is the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 all glitz and glamour, or is this crazy gaming keyboard actually useful enough to warrant its high sticker price?
Assembly & Installation
The S.T.R.I.K.E 7 keyboard comes in a sizable keyboard box shorter than a typical keyboard box and about 3-4 times as tall. Inside, the S.T.R.I.K.E 7 keyboard pieces rest in two trays, and a third box at the bottom holds the S.T.R.I.K.E 7’s V.E.N.O.M. touchscreen, the ‘action bar’, and an accessory box containing a hex wrench, screws, extra rubber-topped key caps, a key cap puller, and several cables.
The S.T.R.I.K.E 7 consists of 7 main pieces, which can be put together in a variety of ways. The main parts are:
- The main keyboard
- The auxiliary keyboard ( number pad, arrow keys etc.), which includes 5 additional programmable keys (C1-C5) located around the arrow key cluster
- The V.E.N.O.M. touch screen with integrated media control buttons and mode switching buttons
- The 4-button action bar
- 1 (left-hand) palm rest, which includes an auxiliary horizontal scroll wheel and extra thumb button
- 2 wrist rests
Assembly requires some screws and an Allen wrench (all included, of course), and some careful manipulation—I had a little concern about the plastic connectors that connect the wrist rests to the keyboard, because if you’re not careful they would be easy to break.
It takes about 30 minutes to assemble everything—assuming you don’t spend too much time basking in the precious ‘new gear’ moment. Once everything is assembled, it’s just a matter of connecting the S.T.R.I.K.E 7 to your PC with the USB cable, plugging in its AC adapter, and installing the drivers. Then you can start learning how to use your new gaming superpowers.
The S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 keyboard (but not the keys) is coated in soft rubber with some aluminum accents on the wrist rests.
Like Mad Catz PC gaming mice, the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 is physically configurable. The recommended configuration puts the V.E.N.O.M. touchscreen and Action Bar in easy reach of your left hand—and based upon my play time with the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 this is the best place for them (they are within easy to reach).
The S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 also includes 1 (left-hand) palm rest and 2 wrist rests. The palm rest includes a horizontal a scroll wheel and an extra programmable thumb button—also well-paced and within easy reach. The wrist rests are also extendable so you can adjust their length from the keyboard.
The auxiliary keyboard can break away from the main keyboard so you can, if you’re so inclined, place it on your left instead of your right—arguably a more useful place from a gaming standpoint. Or you can dispense with the auxiliary key cluster entirely in favor of a smaller desktop footprint. The ‘Page Up/Down’ and related keys are still available on the main keyboard through the use of the FN key.
Yet another configuration option allows you to effectively reduce the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 to a powerful and impressive speedpad by combining the auxiliary key cluster with the palm rest, Action Bar, and the touchscreen.
From a physical design standpoint, I have to commend Mad Catz on their overall attention to usability, which definitely shows on the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7.
Features—and more features. And then some more features.
Like any high-end PC gaming peripheral, the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 is ultimately about flexibility. To that end, the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 has a laundry list of features that is almost embarrassing to enumerate—at least to a non-gamer. Here’s the quick and dirty break down:
The obvious star of the show is the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7’s V.E.N.O.M. touchscreen, which has numerous built-in utilities: a Team Speak app, a clock, media controls, a stopwatch, a windows-key disabler, and an app to change the keyboard’s LED color. The touchscreen also has large, dedicated, physical buttons around to adjust the volume, mute your microphone, or switch between any of 3 different modes (each of which can store its own preferences, macros, etc.).
More interesting (and more useful for gaming) are the touchscreen’s Program Launcher, the Macro screen, and (to a lesser degree) the Journal. The Journal is a simple text entry tool you can use to take and read notes directly on the touchscreen. It’s basically your own personal quest log, and essentially a high-tech replacement for ancient gaming technology we called ‘graph paper’ back in the day.
The customizable Program Launcher, which you configure through the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 software on your PC, lets you assign frequently used games or applications to touchscreen buttons. You can assign up to a total of 36 programs to touch screen buttons—12 buttons for each of the keyboard’s 3 modes. One limitation of the Program Launcher buttons worth noting is that you have to link them directly to an application executable—which means you can’t assign shortcut icons for Steam games to their own touchscreen launch icons.
Where’s the override?
Of course, the most important gaming-related feature of the V.E.N.O.M. touchscreen is the Macro Button screen, which provides 12 fully programmable touchscreen buttons (36 in total across all 3 modes).
Bear in mind this is in addition to S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 ‘s physical, macro-capable buttons: 4 Action Bar buttons, 5 keys (C1-C5) around the arrow key cluster, and the horizontal scroll wheel and thumb button located on the left palm rest. My math skills are limited thanks to a cheap state college Liberal Arts education, but I think that adds up to about a billionty potential macros.
Macros and extra keys must be programmed and configured through the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 software, which is also where you can assign custom icons for touchscreen macro buttons.
A few minor bumps in the road
Programming macros is fairly straightforward. The S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 supports macros consisting of keystrokes and certain mouse functions. However, the current version of the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 software doesn’t make it easy to edit time delays between keystrokes.
For example, I wanted to create some touch screen buttons I could use to issue multiple voice emotes used in Tribes: Ascend. My goal was to chain together V-S-A-B (“I’ll attack the enemy base!”) and V-D-G (“Defend our generator!”) so I could inform my team that I was leaving the generator so I could go on offense.
Unfortunately, when I use the macro Tribes displays both commands on screen, but only plays the voice emote for the second command. There wasn’t enough time between the first set of keystrokes and the second for both emotes to be played.
It’s not a huge issue, but the current iteration of the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 software makes it difficult to specify a time in between single, specific keystrokes. The option is buried and difficult to find through the existing UI, and the documentation at this point is little help. The option to even adjust or change timing isn’t obvious; you have to right-click in the macro record space, and then select “Quantize Time” (Eh, what?) or Set Delay. Quantize Time specifies a global delay for all actions in the macro; Set Delay is supposed to allow you you to put delays on specific keystrokes.
The bottom line here is that Mad Catz shines in physical engineering, but the software programmers could use some lessons in usability and UI (user interface).
Another UI-related issue I encountered occurred when I tried to import a .JPEG or .PNG file to use as a custom icon for one of my macros. The process failed, and the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 only returned a completely uninformative error message that amounts to “it didn’t work” (Thanks, Sherlock). It’s not a show stopper issue and the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 software includes a decent selection of pre-made icons—but it’s still a rough spot that could use attention.
Despite these mostly minor quibbles—which should be fixable through software and/or firmware updates, I can’t deny that I still got quickly attached to the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 and the V.E.N.O.M. touchscreen. This is largely because the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 is so nicely laid out and puts everything (and then some) within easy reach. I’m still figuring out ways to use and abuse it for all my games—and I got so attached to the V.E.N.O.M. that when the Razer Deathstalker arrived for review, I figured “why not see what I can do with both?” (You can see a picture of these shenanigans here.)
Performance & Final Thoughts
After 3-4 of using the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 in games such as Tribes: Ascend, Borderlands 2, Torchlight II and others, I can definitely say that I definitely enjoy using it, and I’ve been able to make good use of its many features.
Beyond the macros, apps, and bling, it’s really the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7’s physical layout that I like. I don’t care how many macro buttons and fancy extras a peripheral has; if I can’t reach them quickly and easily they may as well not be there. And even though I prefer mechanical keyboards, this side of mechanical keys the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 feels pretty good under the finger tips. I didn’t encounter any ‘ghosting’ or dropped keystrokes (nor did I expect to), and the squeaky space bar I encountered shortly after the ‘unboxing’ worked itself out fairly quickly.
There is certainly still room for improvement in the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 software. I would welcome more useful touchscreen apps (Twitter, Facebook, Email, etc.) and a more intuitive UI. However, Mad Catz has informed me that there are big plans in the roadmap for the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7—so I think improvements and enhancements will be forthcoming.
But overall the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 still offers a wealth of useful, powerful, and flexible options—and perhaps most importantly, it puts them within easy reach of your fingertips. And if your fingertips can’t reach something, you can probably move it.
Unfortunately, you can’t reach any of it unless the price is equally within your reach. But if you’re lucky enough to be able to afford the S.T.R.I.K.E. 7’s hefty $300 price tag, I don’t think you’ll regret the purchase. It’s a beast.