Like many gamers that trace their gaming roots to the late 80s and early 90s, I began my gaming career on the NES, SNES, and Sega Genesis consoles. As I grew up and entered high school, console gaming gave way to PC gaming, a brotherhood of gamers of which I’ve been a part, in one form or another, for the past several years. In all that time, I’ve built and upgraded my gaming rig, including a fairly significant overhaul just recently, but the two pieces of my PC that I’ve never really spent much money on upgrading are the two that are perhaps the most important: the keyboard and mouse.
While I’ve never really liked the feel of most gaming keyboards and mice, or thought that I needed all those features they tout, there’s always a first for trying these things out and seeing what the fuss is all about. As a first time experience with this type of hardware, I could not be more pleasantly surprised by the ROCCAT Isku keyboard (MSRP: $89.99) and Kone[+] mouse (MSRP: $79.99). Each has its own features that make it a worthwhile purchase, but their true strength lies in working in unison.
The ROCCAT Isku keyboard features adjustable key illumination, five gaming profiles (which save all of your key customizations), five macro buttons, 20 programmable keys, and three thumb buttons (three buttons placed at the bottom of the keyboard near where your thumb usually rests). The 20 programmable keys are centered around the commonly used WADS keys and can be set to other individual keys, key combinations, in-game timers to countdown to certain events (e.g., mob respawns), and macros. Switching back and forth between these keys’ standard configuration and their altered one is achieved through what is traditionally the Caps Lock key.
The Isku's Easy-Shift[+] key lets you change the configuration of some of the most frequently used keys in gaming
That particular key has been replaced with ROCCAT’s Easy-Shift[+] key which toggles alternate key configurations for the 20 keys mentioned above, as well as the five macro buttons and three thumb buttons. Looking at a game’s controls and figuring out which actions/features I wanted to be able to access using those 20 programmable keys took a little time to work out and some out-of-game “practicing,” but once I had everything set, using them in-game became a breeze. A quick press of the Easy-Shift[+] key and I was accessing features I usually had to either stretch over to the right-hand side of the keyboard to use, or were just far enough away that it would interrupt/distract me during combat. The thumb buttons helped as well as they could be set to different keystrokes using Easy-Shift and thus gave me an additional six keys to which I didn’t have access before.
Recording macros (in this case, a combination of keystrokes that translate to particular in-game commands/actions) is also a straightforward process. The “Macro Record Live” feature allows you to create macros in-game as you’re playing and assign them immediately to one of the five macro buttons, or they can be recorded outside of the game and assigned to any of the programmable buttons. A voice recording prompts you through the steps to take in order to record your macro, and the system is set up to automatically detect any key lag so if you’re intentionally waiting a few seconds before pressing the next key, the macro replay will do the same.
The colors, children... The colors! ... Really don't do much other than make it look pretty, but still a nice effect
The Kone[+] mouse features a total of 12 buttons (each of which can be set to mouse or keyboard commands, and includes up/down/left/right scrolling on the mouse wheel), a laser sensor that’s accurate to 6000dpi, an adjustable weight system, and five customizable gaming profiles. Once again we see a commonly used button, in this case the left side button that’s commonly used to “go back” while web-browsing, changed to use the Easy-Shift[+] system. Holding this button allows the, now 11, mouse buttons to be used in an alternate configuration, a feature I enjoyed a little bit more than on the Isku , as I find myself using the mouse more than the keyboard when I can. DPI adjustments are handled through the gaming profiles by setting the five available DPI profiles to the exact degree of precision for which you’re looking, and which you can switch between using buttons on the mouse. The weight system is a rather interesting feature. If you feel like your mouse is too light, four five-gram weights are included that can be placed into the bottom of the mouse to give it just a little more heft. One major sticking point to the Kone[+]: it’s designed for right-hand use only and I haven’t seen any left-hand designs available for sale on the game’s site.
As I mentioned before, while both the Isku and Kone[+] have some features that make them worthwhile on their own, it’s through their combined use that they feel like a cohesive unit. This particular keyboard and mouse are able to utilize a ROCCAT feature called “ROCCAT Talk,” a system that allows the Easy-Shift[+] key on either device to work across all devices. In other words, pressing the Easy-Shift[+] key on the Isku keyboard not only allows you to access the alternate programming for its keys, but also the alternate programming for the buttons on the mouse. Co-op is catching on in more places than just gaming, it seems.
There are a lot of options here to customize and get your mouse setup just the way you want
To put all of these features through their paces, I tested the Isku and Kone[+] on three different games: the Diablo 3 Beta, the Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition, and Dawn of War II: Retribution. As any Diablo fan knows, you spend a little over 95% of the game clicking your left (and occasionally right) mouse button. With the Kone[+] mouse, that easily bumps up to about 97%, maybe even 98%. With Diablo 3’s revised talent system, talents are unlocked at certain levels and each shortcut key (i.e., left-mouse click, right-mouse click, and ‘1’, ‘2’, ‘3’, ‘4’ on the keyboard) is assigned certain talent trees. With Easy-Shift, those keyboard shortcuts were just a mouse click away. When playing through the game before the Kone[+], talents that I didn’t use quite as often I typically assigned to any of the keyboard shortcuts because accessing those keys would usually throw me off my flow in the midst of a battle. Now, I could just do press the Easy-Shift button to change the mouse buttons, use the talent, and switch back to the main set of abilities; easy, quick, and intuitive. For the Witcher 2, a little more strategizing went into place with regards to which key/mouse button I’d repurpose to be something else, as well as some trial and error, but once I got a configuration that worked for me, the game really opened up. The same goes for Retribution, where I made good use of the Isku’s macro recorder to create a few unit selection and attack macros.
There’s a saying, quite a few actually, that posit that you don’t know you’re missing something until it’s right there in front of you. That particular saying holds true for me and the Isku/Kone[+]. Having gone for so long with just a standard keyboard and mouse, I had no idea that some of those frustrations I felt at not being quite quick enough to reach a certain key in time, or pressing the wrong key, could be alleviated. In fact, if not for this review, I still wouldn’t know. Now that I do know, however, I can’t imagine going back. The Isku keyboard and Kone[+] mouse are truly outstanding gaming devices that are responsive to commands, easy to use and program, and won’t strain your arms/wrists over prolonged gaming periods. The Kone[+]’s right-hand only design is a bit of a detractor, as is the $170 price tag for the two, but hopefully a left-handed model is on the way – along with a well-timed sale.
+ Over 20 cutomizeable keys on the Isku, and 12 customizeable buttons on the Kone[+]
+ Solid and comfortable design for both devices
+ Easy Macro Recording system for Isku; macros can be assigned to buttons on the Kone[+]
+ Easy-Shift[+] and ROCCAT Talk features allow for easy switching to alternate button configurations
+ Kone[+] extremely responsive on its higher DPI settings
- Kone[+] is right-hand design only
- Price for both devices is steep ($170)
- Scroll wheel on Kone[+] has no option to allow Free Spin
The ROCCAT Isku and Kone[+] keyboards were tested on a Windows 7 64-bit operating system. The manufacturer provided both products for review purposes.