The marketplace for gaming peripherals is one of the most tightly contested of all PC related sectors. When Roccat first arrived we were very impressed with their initial product lines, and they were so well designed straight away that only a few have needed any minor tweaks at all to remain at the top of anyone's shortlist. They quickly became one of the elite band of companies who have established themselves with the Razer and SteelSeries of this world.
So far the only keyboard we've seen from them was the compact Arvo which had some good bits and a few faults. Today's review is of the full-size Isku, which comes with a vast array of features to hopefully add a Keyboard to the shortlist of peripherals that Roccat belongs on.
The main elements of the Roccat Isku are the anti-ghosting keys, ensuring you don't end up with phantom button presses, backlit keys in the gorgeous "Roccat blue", and the multiple Macro options. Of particular interest is how the Isku comes with Roccat Talk, which enables the keyboard to control the mouse functionality, or vice-versa, if you have a Roccat Talk compatible rodent.
24.7cm x 50.9cm
Windows® XP, Windows Vista® 32/64-bit, Windows® 7 32/64-bit
Internet connection (for driver installation)
USB 2.0 port
ROCCAT™ Isku – Illuminated Gaming Keyboard
Isku Driver CD
Quick Install Guide
ROCCAT™ ID Card
With so much real estate available on a keyboard box, Roccat certainly take advantage by showing us the majority of the features available on the Isku. The design matches the rest of the Roccat range being their futuristic Blade Runner-esque font and ice blue colouring.
The Isku itself is a full size keyboard with a built in wrist-rest. There are so many buttons, which we'll cover in a moment, that it takes up a sizeable chunk of your desk space. This certainly isn't something you could use if you're limited in elbow room. It's piano black which is very much the in vogue finish at the moment. We don't mind it on screens and the like, but on a keyboard its natural fingerprint magnet qualities are stretched to breaking point.
The feet raise the Isku just enough to maintain typing comfort. It's always a bit of a shame to see a centrally exiting cable, especially as keyboards are always kept in front of the monitor, but it is flexible enough to be a minor issue.
At the top left we have five LEDs to indicate which of the profiles you're currently using. Next to those is an LED to indicate when you're in record mode, and the Live Record button itself. Just press this, record your macro, and press it again. Although this doesn't give the exacting control we get from the software, it's a nice way to jury rig one up until you're comfortable.
At the top right is the Roccat Talk Logo which we'll cover later, as well as the button to control the lighting itself. There are five levels from off, to quite bright, but none of them are distracting. In a darkened environment with the lighting off its definitely something that touch-typers only should try. But it's worth being in the dark because of how great it looks when lit up.
Below the space bar are the Thumbster keys we first saw and loved on the Arvo. Your thumbs tend to be limited to the spacebar only, so having a few extra customisable keys here is an excellent piece of thinking and perfect for those oft-used shortcuts.
At the top we have yet further customisation options with the media keys. Although these default to functions that are indicated you aren't limited to only using them to adjust the music player of your choice thanks to the powerful customisation software.
Turn On The Blue Light
On the left hand side of the Isku we have five dedicated macro keys within easy reach when your fingers are locked to the WASD. The documentation and driver CD are up to the usual high Roccat standard of providing the required information in a clear manner, as well as maintaining the design theme common to all Roccat products.
There is no doubt that when the Isku is lit up it certainly looks the part. Every key, barring the Media ones, are clearly indicated and lit in the typical Roccat Blue. If you're one of those people who liked everything to match, and I think we all are, then with blue being one of the most popular colours the Isku should see a lot of service.
The [+] on the caps lock is the Roccat Easy Shift, which allows you to have twice the amount of custom assignments without changing profile. The genius feature is that this can, via the Roccat Talk, be used to activate the Easy Shift on your compatible Roccat mouse, such as the Kone +, or if you prefer you can use the Easy Shift assignment on your mouse to shift the keyboard.
Even the Thumbster keys light up, and thankfully the 'Lock' indicators are lit in the same manner as the rest of the keys so they aren't blinding, unlike some we can think of.
There is a huge amount of customisation available with the Isku. One thing it's worth noting is that the Caps Lock key defaults to Easy Shift, rather than Caps Lock. Considering how many buttons the Isku already has it's a surprise to see it hasn't got either a dedicated Easy Shift button, or at least doesn't default to being a keyboard arrangement. The tabs on the software make it clear which part of the Isku you're current adjusting, which is a nice touch given how overwhelming the variations can initially seem.
The Easy Shift being able to double the usefulness of each key can be particularly useful if you're playing something that requires you to move your hand from the WASD+Mouse position for other functions. So you can assign, for example, the number arrows to your WASD and they're only an Easy Shift away.
The ability to disable the Windows Key is always vital. Even with huge amounts of practise it's easy to catch it in the heat of the moment. The illumination controls also include an auto-dim function so you can have the Isku lit up, but if you switch to an all-mouse game, or other input device, you don't have to manually deluminate the keyboard.
As I said before, the Isku uses Roccat Talk to pair up with your Roccat mouse, which gives an extra layer of control and flexibility to your gaming experience. Of course it's not only games that shortcuts can be useful for, as anyone who uses their computer artistically can attest.
As with all good Macro software the Isku comes with a wealth of preconfigured options for the most popular titles. Although your game of choice might not be listed, there are two things to keep note of. Firstly a lot of games have very similar control schemes, so what works in Modern Warfare 2 is likely to work in many other FPS games. Secondly creating macros is very simple. Just press the Live Macro record button and type. You can then delete individual elements too, so if you accidentally catch something else amongst a hugely complex string, you aren't forced to start afresh.
However, because using Live Record also records all the delays and the like of your typing, so if you want more exacting control you can go into the advanced editor and fine tune things within a millisecond of their life. The potential is exhaustive.
When we reviewed the Arvo we found it to be a keyboard with some cool features but not up to the usual Roccat standards due to its compact nature. Thankfully the Isku is everything you could expect, and lots of things that you didn't.
The overwhelming feeling we have after using the Isku for a couple of weeks is how it's almost a Pandoras Box of unlimited power. Many gaming keyboards these days are bristling with macro capabilities, but the inclusion of the some dedicated macro keys, customisable media keys and the Easy Shift really takes the Isku to a new level. In fact with the five profiles, five macro keys and eight media keys and Roccat Easy Shift you've already got 130 possible macros before you look at adjusting the F-Keys or Easy Shift-ing any of the other keys on the keyboard. It's almost overwhelming and we imagine that most people will stick with a few core macros to ensure they don't have to have to have an array of paper listing all the assignments to hand.
However, if there is one thing we adore it is control and customisation, and the Isku has it in spades without forcing you to use all of it or none. The macro editing, much like the rest of the Isku, can be as simple or complex as you desire. With the Live Record button you can just record an email signature or basic combination, yet with the software you can get into incredibly fine detail allowing you to do almost anything you can think of.
One thing worthy of particular highlight is the Roccat Talk functionality. It's the perfect way to reward consumers who are loyal to the Roccat brand by adding yet another layer of control to the user. The majority of us (all?) use our dominant hand for the mouse and our other for the keyboard which means we've generally got more brain power idle with the more simplistic nature of mice generally when compared to the move/crouch/run/jump/grenade/reload functions our other hand has to handle. So being able to use the Easy Shift on the Isku by pressing the button on the mouse is a very cool indicator. Equally if you are, for example, a sniper where rock solid crosshairs are key, then you can use the Easy Shift on the Isku to adjust your mouse. It's all about flexibility and control.
Tying up the rest of the loose ends. The lighting is excellent, every key has a uniform amount of brightness. The keys themselves have a reasonable quality feel to them. They haven't got the short-actuation of a scissor style, but neither the firm quality of a Cherry switch. Instead Roccat have opted for the standard membrane arrangement which is a bit of a disappointment. To some degree we can understand that with so many other features it helps keep the costs low, but when you're paying £70 anyway we're sure that we'd all rather pay an extra 20 or so for the reliability and feel that mechanical switches give.
Another gripe is that the inclusion of the M keys on the left-hand side has meant that your left-hand isn't quite where it expects to be. If you touch type there is a fair period of adaptation otherwise you're always one key further across than where you think you are and fill the page with incomprehensible stuff until you get used to it. Obviously your mileage may vary and if you either look at your fingers, or focus largely upon the gaming aspects, then it's less of a problem. Finally the decision to use piano black on something designed to be touched is baffling at best. If you like your stuff free from fingerprints you'll be polishing after every session.
All in all the Isku is a very capable keyboard that looks great and has more customisation than you could hope to use. The ability to talk to your Roccat mouse is a nice piece of integration. Despite the membrane design and a period of adaptation for heavy typers, you're getting a serious amount of keyboard for your money and it's worthy of the OC3D Silver Award.
Thanks to Roccat for supplying the Isku for review. Discuss in our forums.