Input devices are usually the last thing people think about when they are spec'ing up their new rig. We can spend hours researching the latest data for graphics cards or motherboards, but when it comes to input devices we tend to do one of two things. Either we migrate the hardware we already own across to the new machine, which is what most people tend to do. Or, if we're looking for a little flash and flair we might consider looking at a new mouse.
Keyboards however are given desperately short shrift. Normally we don't bother to update unless it's dead or maybe, just maybe, we can make ourselves purchase something with lots of lights and gadgets. Considering that we probably use a keyboard the same amount you use a mouse and only slightly less than we stare at our monitors, quite why we don't give them the same consideration we give the rest of our purchases is strange. We barely look at them, and yet consider the visuals far more than we worry about how nice they are to type on or how long they will last. Anyone who knows how to touch-type knows how strange it is moving to a different keyboard so one that is built to last would be ideal.
This brings us to today's review.
If you've been patient enough to not skip on a page to get a look at the full item you are probably looking at the picture on the top of this page and wondering how sneaky we are being. After all, this is a gaming keyboard so just to the left of the picture must be a LCD screen or lots of bells and whistles. If you've glanced to the top of the page and seen the price you most definitely must be thinking there is. If you hadn't you have now so we've all caught up.
SteelSeries have taken a very different approach to the 7G Gaming Keyboard in that they haven't concentrated on giving you a ton of buttons you wont use and a bunch of lights that you'll want to turn off, instead they have put all their technology into making the 7G the most robust keyboard possibly on the planet. It does mean that those of you who consider something solely based upon its looks will need to bear with me. Those of us who value quality will be pleasantly surprised.
SteelSeries 7G highlights:
- No-click mechanical professional gaming keyboard
- 18K gold-plated connectors for extremely low latency
- Gaming grade lifetime: 50 million keystrokes
- Endorsed by the worlds best eSports-players
Enough of our pre-amble. Let's have a good look at the SteelSeries 7G.
Sturdy doesn't begin to cover it. Firstly this is an exceptionally large box. Measuring in at 22 inches x 12.5 inches it could double as a table in an emergency. The look is exceptionally professional with a very clean and clear design. That deep charcoal box with a fade logo is used throughout the SteelSeries range and looks as good here as it has on their other products. The enormous 7G leaves nobody in any doubt about which model this is and the Pro Gaming logo beneath emphasises the purpose this is designed for.
Moving to the other side is a clear window that shows a good view of the 7G, something we always like to see here at OC3D. Below the window is the standard list of specifications and details.
Turning the box over gives us a far more complicated look than the front, but nothing unusual for a product of this type. The more detailed information is always on the back, to help those of us who've actually picked the product up. In this case it looks busier than it really is thanks to the use of 10 languages. A nice touch by SteelSeries is to use a product photo that demonstrates the 7G both in its wrist-rest and unadorned states.
On the is a close up of the SteelSeries feature highlights. If you've clicked the picture to view the large version you'll probably already be anticipating some of the detail shots on the next page.
Sliding the external box off we see the level SteelSeries have stretched to make sure the 7G exudes quality throughout. Whereas a lot of companies would be happy with just the internals being as we can see them on the right, SteelSeries have provided an extra level of thick stiff cardboard to protect the keyboard as much as is humanely possible.
Sliding this off, a very easy procedure as the tolerances used as perfect and it neither flaps about nor is harder to remove than ink from your favourite shirt, we see the next layer of protection. Also at this point notice the thickness of the surrounding edge. This is the same quality and thickness as the top sheet we've just removed and so should give you an indication of what your money buys.
Keeping the keyboard secure are to pieces of perfectly designed polystyrene that fit exactly around the keyboard. Whilst some cheaper products use low-density polystyrene that very easily breaks and dents, this is sturdy indeed. It's akin to the density difference between hi-impact foam and a bath-sponge.
With the packaging removed, it's as good a time as any to get a close look at the 7G itself.
Having disposed of our comprehensive packaging the SteelSeries 7G is laid bare. A quick glance shows why the box was so huge, with the wrist rest being a very substantial effort. Often a rest is either so stubby that it doesn't actually help with the positioning of your wrists and so is more of an aesthetic device, or it's so flimsy it is more of a hindrance than a useful aspect of the product.
SteelSeries have circumvented this normally problematic aspect by producing a wrist rest that surrounds the entire keyboard. No longer do you have to choose between simplicity or practicality. It slips over the top of the keyboard with no fastenings needed, and has a gradual enough gradient to improve your typing comfort. Taking the rest of to reveal the 7G in its naked state we see how compact the design is.
Measuring a standard 480 x 250mm it makes great use of the real estate it has by filling every corner with a key. The simplicity of the layout is very pleasing after some of the busier keyboards that we've seen recently. Completely devoid of lights, LCD screens, a plethora of macro buttons, marching bands and it doesn't make the tea. It does type like a dream, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
Turning the keyboard upside down two things are readily apparent. Firstly the excellent "thigh holes" that allow the 7G to be used on your lap comfortably. I'd never thought of these before, but the moment you see them you wonder why every keyboard doesn't come with them. A brilliant addition that genuinely works. Secondly the very large rubber pads on the four corners of the 7G ensure it wont slip. Given the weight of the keyboard you'd have to be a hippopotamus to get it to move anyway, and the really sticky and large pads on the bottom ensure that it definitely wont.
Finally we take a very close-up look at how crisp the lettering is on the keys and how efficiently SteelSeries have utilised the space available.
Opening the bag that appeared conspicuously at the top of the preceding photographs we find a few of the add-ons that SteelSeries provide. Firstly is the ubiquitous manual, this time coming complete with instructions more comprehensive than I've found on some far more complex devices, so kudos to SteelSeries there. It also comes with the key bindings that the go-to gamer of the moment, SK.SpawN uses, should you feel that settings rather than practise are the key to victory. Pun ahoy.
Secondly is the general advertising leaflet, although in keeping with the tangible quality that exudes from every fibre of this keyboard it's not a flimsy piece of photocopied paper. Also provided is a large SteelSeries sticker should you wish to advertise your loyalties. We can also see the PS2 to USB adaptor, should you require it, and the braided cables which are so fabulous they will be looked at below.
On the right is the back left corner of the 7G, with two USB ports and a microphone and headphone jack. Always useful if you've got your own settings on a thumb-drive and your own choice of headset at a LAN, or just like having things to hand at home.
The cables are nothing short of stunning. At just over 6 foot long they are the perfect length to fit round even the largest of case and desk arrangements, whilst never being stretched. All four of the cables, a USB for the ports, a PS2 connector and the two sound cables to re-route the audio and microphone to the rear of the keyboard, are gold-plated and not just barely enough to count as gold-plated on the blurb, but a really quality gold finish that's very difficult to photograph and do justice to. It's unlike anything on a lower-priced model.
That's not even the best part though. Easily the best part is the braiding. The cables are braided with an incredibly dense weave in a really deep black and is as soft as a kittens tummy. Both ends of the braid are finished in great quality too without the "meh it's done" you see on lesser braiding efforts. For a manufacturer to be able to supply such wonderful quality really shows how far the industry has come along.
Just to show that all four cables have been braided to the same exceptional standard, and because a picture paints a thousand words, here is a last look before we test.
Each type of review presents a unique challenge. Some, like the PSU reviews, require incredible amounts of complex data to really demonstrate the usefulness of a product. Others, like GPU or CPU reviews, are some opinion but mainly backed up by data from a battery of standard tests we can all recognise.
Keyboards most definitely don't fit in this category. There is no plethora of tests we can run that produce hard data. We have to rely on you, the reader, putting faith in us to give you the best explanation we can of what it's like in daily use. Because it therefore all comes down to opinion, which to some degree is subjective, to save repetition our thoughts will be both our testing, and our conclusion.
One of the hardest things to get across is the sheer quality of the SteelSeries 7G. If you are the type of person who skips straight to the conclusion then stop right now and go back, because looks do not begin to tell the story.
For something that is marketed as a gaming keyboard, and certainly at this price point, it's quite a surprise to see a complete lack of visible bells and whistles. Most high-end keyboards justify their price with showy lights or screens. Often they have an inordinate amount of macro keys that even the most complex game will never need, and more often than not the user never fully gets value from anyway. Of course in use it quickly is apparent that a keyboard over £100 that has a full colour screen on it will have a lot of its cost sucked up by that screen and the actual keyboard will be fair to middling.
SteelSeries 7G Findings - Looks
SteelSeries have taken the bold, and highly laudable, step of realising that rather give an average keyboard and expensive stuff you wont use, they will spend every penny of the price on the important stuff. The actual keys themselves and the way they provide the signal. Words cannot to justice at all to the quality. It's staggering.
Starting with the looks, there is certainly nothing offensive. For every person who likes the fact your keyboard is shaped like a banana, there will be loads who don't. The 7G goes for a very classy black with white key affair, and even then the lettering on the keys is brilliantly crisp. The Num/Caps and Scroll LEDs that so often are amber or blue are also white, further highlighting the thought that has gone into this.
The keyboard has proper heft to it too. Not the weight you have when you find something has been built down to a budget using cheap and thus heavy materials, but up to a standard. It's solid, rather than heavy. There are no flimsy feet either, the angle is defined by the wedges either side of the lap cut-outs, and is near perfect. It's especially good with the wrist rest which, again, is perfectly formed to fit exactly round the main keyboard in an elegant and simple solution to the RSI threat.
SteelSeries 7G Findings - In Use
The keys themselves are exceptionally nice. As someone who has converted from the old IBM style mechanical keyboard over to more of a flat laptop-style one, merely looking at it got me worried I'd be back to the days of pressing hard per key. Initially that is how I typed on it because if you've got all that travel you have to use it. Not at all. As I said earlier the SteelSeries 7G costs so much because the money has been spent on the innards, rather than flashy stuff, and my word does it show.
Sure the keys look high, but don't be fooled. The actual amount of force needed to activate them is less than on my laptop-style keyboard. You barely need to brush them and your desired key appears. That's not to say it's over sensitive at all, but if you looked at the photos and thought "an old style keyboard with no flair for that money!" you couldn't be more wrong.
The keys are tactile in a way a low-profile keyboard could never hope to be with both great feedback on the key depress and a sprightly return to assist you to moving along to the next one.
SteelSeries 7G Findings - Did You Say Gold Plated?
This is truly where the bulk of your money goes. Every key has 18k Gold-Plated connectors on the no-click switches under the key. Gold-Plated connections always sound good, but usually mean the barest minimum plating that can be applied and still legally be Gold-Plating. Not so here. Considering the incredible depth and quality of the plating on the USB/Audio and PS2 connections, which wont get near the abuse the 50 million keystrokes the 7G is guaranteed to perform, then one can only be left in awe and wonder at the amount inside the case. There must be so much that when the keyboard finally fails in about 100 years time your grandchildren can melt it down and have enough gold for a ring.
So if we can't see them, do we know they work? Definitely. Take a moment to look at the following two screenshots. SteelSeries say EVERY key can be pressed at once. In the following picture, grabbed from PassMark Keyboard Test, my left hand is across the keyboard covering as much as possible (the keys in red are being held down right now) whilst the right-control is held down ready to hit print-screen and take a screen grab of this incredible demonstration.
This is a stunning achievement. Ok most FPS games wont require a large amount of keys at once. But if you're moving diagonally forward, whilst holding crouch and reloading and talking to your team-mates, the ability to do all this at once is very handy and so suddenly the gaming side makes sense.
The second thing the Gold-Plated connectors coupled to the soft-press keys means, is pure speed and zero lag. Within the PassMark KeyboardTest it shows you all sorts of information to help show how low the latency is. So my fingers went at it like epileptic maggots in an attempt to see exactly how fast it could go. The two important numbers are Characters per second (an astounding 50) and Lag Time (and even more shocking 2ms).
So it was accepting 50 keystrokes per second with a 2ms lag. With high-end gaming mice around the 1ms mark and considered an absolute must, how come more people don't find out how slow they keyboard really is and realise that most of those frags weren't because your mouse was slow, but your keyboard was too slow to let you get out the way. Again, whilst you wouldn't initially consider this for gaming, you'd be a fool not to.
SteelSeries 7G Gaming Keyboard Summation
So there is no escaping that price. Initially I thought, probably much like you did, that £105 for a keyboard that was, as far as the eye could see, just a keyboard was steep. Any feelings of that nature disappeared the moment I started typing on it. It's an absolute joy. You get all the tactile feedback you could ever desire and it's sensitive enough that, with practise, you'll be typing faster than you thought possible as your fingers dance across the keys.
Incredibly packaging, brilliant feedback, the highest quality braid we'd seen in recent times if not ever, and internals that will last five times longer than the average keyboard. If you started now and you pressed the same key once a second, every second of every hour of every day, it wouldn't begin to shown signs of fatigue for 20 months. So under normal circumstances it's pretty much a "this is the only keyboard you'll ever need" purchase. Uncompromising in its quest for engineering perfection.
There is an old maxim that you get what you pay for. With the SteelSeries 7G it's nearly a bargain.
It's the absolute Rolls Royce of keyboards and I have no hesitation in awarding it our performance award.
Many thanks to SteelSeries for providing us with today's review sample. Discuss it in our forums.