There was a time when my de facto response for "which gaming keyboard should I buy" would've been something Razer-flavored--likely the Razer BlackWidow Ultimate ($140). Keyboard recommendations are serious business: You'll spend all of your work and play time hammering away at these slabs of plastic, and Razer's mechanical wares are solid, capable devices with excellent customization options--in spite of onerous software.
Roccat's Isku FX gives me pause. It's a bit cheaper than most gaming keyboards at $90, and offers loads of programmable keys and on-the-fly macro recording. But the Isku FX's keys aren't mechanical, which accounts for the disparity in price. That's unfortunate--I'm a sucker for the clackity-clack of a cluster of Cherry MX Blue switches, and going back to comparatively soft membrane keys felt wrong, somehow.
I got over it. The Isku FX's keys are comfortably sized and evenly spaced, so I had no trouble settling right in to work and play. The keys are backlit, and you can toggle the brightness and disable the annoying pulsing effect through Roccat's software. Yes, you will need to install driver software; the keyboard will work out of the box, but you'll need to head to Roccat's website and grab a relatively small 20MB package to tweak the keyboard's settings.
You can customize the color and lighting patterns of the keys by tweaking the driver software.
The keyboard's layout is fairly standard, though there are a few extras scattered about. Five macro keys run along the left side of the keyboard, joined by three thumb-keys nested under the spacebar, and the macro-recording key, dedicated media keys, and a backlight toggle button planted at the top of the keyboard. The Caps-lock key has been replaced by the Easy-shift button, which can paired with a number of keys on the keyboard to activate a secondary input option.
Only a subset of the Isku FX's keys are programmable: the function row, media keys, the aforementioned macro and thumb keys, and that section of keys surrounding WASD that Roccat as dubbed the "easy-zone." You can assign a secondary function to your macro keys and the keys in the easy-zone, activated whenever you press the easy-shift button. Your "Q" key will always be the letter Q, but pressing easy-shift and Q in tandem will toggle whatever additional functionality you've assigned through Roccat's software. This can be as simple as calling up another key or key combination (Q becomes Alt + J), or calling up a pre-recorded macro.
Only a few of the keys are programmable, and you can activate their preprogrammed functions by holding down the easy-shift key on the left in conjunction with each key.
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