The Gadget: Microsoft's SideWinder X6, their first ever bona fide SideWinder gaming keyboard, designed especially for Sith Lords with red adjustable backlighting, a pisston of macros and a hot swappable number/macro keypad.
The Price: $80 The Verdict: A really fabulous effort. Since coming back from the dead, Microsoft's SideWinder has been making some bold, unique design choices with its gaming hardware—and we're not just talking about the obvious Darth Vader overtones that we seriously dig—they've been toying with conventional ergonomic designs and layouts. I love that they're trying to do something genuinely new—the switchable keypad in the X6, the steel vertical thumb buttons on the first (new) Sidewinder mouse. The problem is that some of the conventions they buck impact usability occasionally—the vertical thumb buttons on the Sidewinder mice, for instance, is a cramped, inferior setup to the standard horizontal layout. The X6 has a couple of similar issues—the space bar is longer than on most keyboards, running from the tip of the X key all the way to the question mark, so when reaching for right Alt, I'd smack the space bar eight times out of 10, even after a week with the keyboard. The other major issue, versus other gaming keyboards, is that it doesn't have built-in USB or audio ports, like ones from Razer, SteelSeries or Logitech (though it doesn't have audio), for easy swapping of mice, headsets or other peripherals. I still like this keyboard a lot—the punchiness of the keys is perfect, and has a very Logitech-y feel to it, actually. Dial controls for volume and backlighting are vastly superior to stupid buttons, and add to the "this fully armed and operational battle station" vibe. The removable keyboard is held in place with surprising strength by the magnets, so you won't worry about it coming apart in the middle of a frantic fragfest. And macros, macros, macros—there are lots of them, although I'm more of an FPS gamer, so they're less important to me—thought that might change when Starcraft 2 hits. Eighty bucks puts it at the same price as Logitech's G15 and Razer's Lycosa (to which it's the most similar in style/build quality), but it's not better than either of those. Spring for this one if you're trying to complete your SideWinder set, need a ridiculous number of macros, or having a detachable keypad would be the bee's knees for you. Since this is only their first effort, I am pretty excited to see what they do next with the feedback on the X6. [Microsoft]