Review: Roccat Isku FX gaming keyboard hits all the right notes
At a Glance
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.
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 The Caps-lock key has been replaced by the Easy-shift button, which can paired with a number of keys on the keyboard to activate a secondary input option.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.
You can also create timers, a rather interesting function that I’ve yet to see on other peripherals. Assign a number of seconds to a macro key or trigger it with an Easy Shift Combo, and a comically raspy voice will bellow out “10” when there are ten seconds left, count down from 5, and then shout “Go!” when the timer is up. I’ll admit it’s a bit of a niche function, but if you’re playing a game where important actions happen at regular intervals (I’m thinking League of Legends’ waves of enemies) this could come in handy. I’d really love it if it timers could be built into macros, as being able to trigger an ability in an MMO and having an auditory cue of when said ability was ready for use again would be nifty; actually, can we get some game developers on that issue instead?
These customization options might seem to pale in comparison to what Razer offers — reprogram any key to do whatever you’d like — but I actually like the simplicity. Most of my key-customization happens inside of games anyway, and with a total of five profiles and two potential functions for every key within reach of my hand, there’s already enough modification-overkill built in to sate my needs. Couple this with the backlight’s decent attempt at emulating every color in the spectrum and you will not want for personalization options.
And there are achievements! I’m normally one to scoff at ridiculous extras and achievements for PC peripherals are high up on that list, but Roccat’s R.A.D. system is innocuous and genuinely interesting (to me at least). It tracks the number of times you’ve used the game-centric keys like WASD (that’s four more strokes for me right there!), the macro-keys, and the easy-shift and multimedia keys, and assigns achievements based on…well, I’m not entirely sure, as I’ve only earned one for my first 35,000 WASD strokes, an amount I’ve just about doubled. But I love the idea of quantifying little tidbits like this, and it’s easily ignored if you don’t care. The Isku FX’s driver software is otherwise painless: once I’d configured everything to my liking I largely ignored it (well, besides obsessively checking my key-press statistics).
The Isku FX excels at its primary role: turning key presses into on-screen action or words. And it does so at a fair price, and bundling lots of customization options with software that stays out of your way. I also appreciate the dedicated media keys, which are a significantly better option than futzing around with function-key combinations. I’d still prefer to pay a bit extra for the satisfying crunch and accuracy afforded by a proper mechanical keyboard. But if you don’t care about mechanical keys? Great—the Isku FX will not disappoint.