Logitech's G19 gaming keyboard—which borders on ludicrous with its embedded Linux mini-computer and full-blown LCD monitor—is the best one they've made yet, even if it doesn't quite reach its full mind-blowing potential.
Holy Crap, There's a Monitor in My Keyboard
The 320x240 LCD display that hovers over the keyboard is really the G19's raison d'tre. After incarnations of its G15 keyboard with a monochrome display for game stats and system info, it was really the only place left to go, and for the most part, it's a comfy place with silk sheets and free Coke in the minibar. I mean, you can watch YouTube or movies while you frag.
The screen's size and resolution are good, but not exceptional—it's okay for watching short video or YouTube clips with the built-in client, checking the time, scoping your CPU load and anything else you'd be peeping at a glance. The bezel around it is gigantic, so there'd definitely be some space to make it larger.
What makes it impressive is the fact that it's its own mini-computer, so matter how intensive the game you're running is—Left 4 Dead, for instance—you can pop up a YouTube video or your rip of Dawn of the Dead with no slowdown at all, and every applet runs quickly and smoothly. They're all pretty to use and configure as well.
There are a few annoyances with the video software. The YouTube client, for instance, doesn't let you hunt for a specific video, you're stuck browsing through a list of feeds, like top rated and most popular. That said, it's really fast and easy to use. With the video client for your local files (which monitors a single folder), in my experience it played anything ending in .mpg, but when I tried to play .avi videos it said more codecs were needed.
What's frustrating is that so much of the display's potential is still untapped. Logitech so far only provides a handful of applets and "can't comment on unannounced projects/products." It doesn't even do cool things with other Logitech products, like their G35 headset. It is open source, so anyone can develop for it, but we are talking about trying to build a development community around a $200 keyboard. The list of PC games that take advantage of it isn't mindblowing, so you might wanna check if your favorite is on board (mine weren't). So the currently anemic selection of software you can run on it might be a dealbreaker, at least for now.
If you've used a higher end Logitech keyboard before—especially the G11 or G15, you roughly know what you're getting. Logitech's keys are a perfect balance of punchy and squishy and just really feel fantastic—it's why they haven't messed with the formula in a long time. Overall the G19 a solid piece of hardware, though you might expect something less plastic-y and more tank-like for $200, if only so it felt more likely to survive the onslaught of sweaty hands pummeling keys and Cool Ranch Doritos. The wrist rest is unacceptably cheap and crappy, though.
But Logitech adds a lot of value with little (and big) touches. There are a total of 36 possible macros (you can instantly switch between three sets of 12, which are color-coded. There are media controls galore, as you'd expect from Logitech. I really love the heavy spin wheel for volume, which matches up with the one on their G35 headset (more on that soon). You can make your backlight any color of the rainbow you want (or turn it off). And there's a toggle to deactive the Windows key, so you don't accidentally crash your game by popping up the Start menu.
It's got two high-powered USB ports on the back—standard for gaming keyboards. It works pretty well if you're just plugging in a mouse and a USB headset, but what I'd like is some audio jacks, so when I plug in my gaming headphones, I don't have to reach around to the backside of my desktop.
One of the tradeoffs for having dual high-powered USB ports and a mini-computer inside is that you're going to have to free up a space on your power strip for its power brick.
Even with its handful of flaws, it's a fantastic keyboard that builds on what Logitech's been doing well for a long time, and it'll get better as more software is developed for it. But it's also $200, and its headlining feature isn't fully fleshed out yet. I love it, but practically speaking, I'd wait a couple of months for the price to come down and more software to make it more excellent.