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disliked the necessity of memorizing hotkeys for various pieces of software,
especially games. Wouldn't it be great if you could just have the keys
marked in some way, so all you'd have to do is look at them to know what
key performs the special function you want for a particular piece of software?
In the past I have seen various solutions to this problem; none of them
very effective: Plastic overlays that didn't fit well and moved around
as you typed, templates that fit around the few gaps on the keyboard that
can only mark certain sets of keys and don't stay put (I can remember
making these myself out of paper), even including new keys with additional
markings on them that replace certain ones on the keyboard. The latter
was the best solution, but it was really only effective for a single software
product, since nobody wants to keep pulling off and replacing many keys
every time they switch programs.
Now Ideazon has come up with what I feel is the perfect solution in their
Zboard line of products. The Zboard custom keyboard system is comprised
of two parts: a universal base that connects to your computer's keyboard
port just like any keyboard, and individually purchasable custom keysets
for various games or applications.
The base looks like a regular keyboard with the area where the keys are
dug out so that all that's left are the switches underneath. The base
also provides several very useful permanent keys. There are 7 keys that
control Windows Media Player (volume up and down, mute, rewind, stop,
play/pause and fast-forward). There are 9 programmable (via the included
software) keys that default to activating the following: 1) Windows Media
Player, 2) My Computer, 3) Calculator, 4) Wordpad, 5) Windows Messenger,
6) Outlook Express, 7) Google Web Search, 8) Your Web Homepage and 9)
Ideazon's Web Page. There is one more non-programmable key that brings
up the Zboard configuration software.
The keysets are individually designed and labelled for use with a particular
software product, such as the Microsoft Windows and Internet Explorer
keyset that came with the base I was given, and the Neverwinter Nights
keyset I was given for this review. Each keyset is the same size as a
regular full-size keyboard, that when removed, folds up in two places
into a compact 6.5 inch wide X 5.25 inch high X 1.875 inch tall package.
As a consequence of this folding ability, the spacebar is actually configured
as two keys right next to each other instead of the regular one key.
Neverwinter Nights keyset I reviewed is lavishly decorated with
Neverwinter Nights artwork all over the face, with artwork around
the keys indicating their NWN functionality. That brings me to my
only complaint with the NWN keyset: Most of the keys on the interface
are the size and shape of small round gamepad buttons with the labelling
not on the keys themselves, but in the spaces between them. Now
this isn't a major consideration when playing a module in single-player
mode, but when you play online, and use the chat interface frequently,
the small keys make for an awkward typing experience.
Now back to the good stuff about this keyset. All the keys in the main
keyboard area that have a special function in NWN are marked with a special
decorative surrounding: a gold ring around the key indicates normal game
functionality, such as "I" for bringing up the inventory screen
or "Tab" for quick inspect, a purplish glow around the key indicates
the key is used with the quick chat menus, whitish spikes around the keys
indicate they are used for the quickbar slots, and red spikes around the
key indicate functionality only available in the DM client.
of the keys with a gold ring or red spikes around it also has a
label indicating exactly what the key will do in NWN, including
bringing up the console, taking a screen capture, bringing up the
spell interface, quick save, bringing up the DM chooser interface,
and bringing up the DM creator interface. The right third of the
NWN keyset (the arrow keys and numeric keypad on a normal keyboard)
is set up and labelled for the camera control functionality (arrow
keys etc.) and the radial menu interface (numeric keypad). In the
camera control area, there are two extra keys: one for toggling
the camera mode, and one is an additional quick inspect (Tab).
The really great thing about this Zboard NWN keyset is that all the keys
are fully labelled. I had to rummage around all over in the NWN instruction
manual and the quick-reference card to find all the information present
on the interface at your fingertips. I hadn't even known that the numeric
keypad was a radial menu interface until I saw it labelled. I then checked
the NWN instruction manual and found that it was actually documented there,
and I just hadn't noticed.
coolest feature of the Zboard NWN keyset is that you can set it
up to automatically run Neverwinter Nights when you insert the interface
into the base! So when I'm ready to play some NWN, all I do is pop
out the Windows/IE keyset I'm using and pop in the NWN keyset. The
Zboard software recognizes that the NWN keyset is present and automatically
starts the game for me. Fantastic! If that isn't something you personally
want, you can disable that functionality easily through the Zboard
settings software (actually it's disabled by default, so you have
to enable it).
Installation and set-up was a breeze. Insert the CD that came with the
keyboard base and it installs the software. Shut down the computer and
install the Zboard base in place of your current keyboard and turn your
computer back on. Simple as that.
Documentation provided with the base and the keysets is clear and concise.
They show exactly how to remove and insert the keysets into the base,
and each keyset comes with a quick reference card that explains all the
keys and special commands (not that you'd need it since the keysets themselves
are clearly labelled).
I can't recommend this Zboard system highly enough (the Windows/IE keyset
is also fantastic, but that wasn't what I was reviewing here). It completely
relieves you from having to rummage through the software documentation
to find out what the hotkeys are; everything you need to know is right
at your fingertips. The only hesitation you should have for purchasing
the Ideazon Zboard Neverwinter Nights keyset is if you plan to use the
chat interface heavily, and you'd find the small keys too difficult to
can buy the reviewed items here:
of the keyboard:
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