Looking like a cut-down keyboard stuck together with a D-pad from a console controller, it’s design and function is not going to immediately have peripheral manufacturers quaking in their boots…but it should.
Let me explain…
Installation (on XP) is a breeze –as soon as you plug the n50 into a USB port, it’s recognised as a new input device and can be used (albeit in a basic fashion) even without installing the bundled controller management software. The fun really starts when you install this software (the Nostromo Array and the Loadout Manager) and start setting up your controls for your favourite games.
The Array software allows for single or multiple keystrokes and macros (including time delays and/or repeats) to be assigned to each button, plus the directions on the D-pad (including the diagonals). This means that if you wanted a single keystroke on the n50 to enable you to switch to a specified weapon, fire it, switch to another weapon and then send a pre-programmed message to your team mates then it is theoretically possible –you just need to set it up. All your most used key-commands can be assigned to easy-to-reach keys to suit your needs and playing style.
The Loadout manager allows you to manually set which profile you wish to use as you might have a different set-up for each game you play, or it can automatically handle assignation of profiles when you start a particular game.
So far, I’ve covered the bread in this particular gaming sandwich, now comes the filling –the pad itself…From the picture you will just about see 10 keys, a D-pad and a throttle wheel -what you won’t see is the three-stage LED indicator. One key can be programmed to ‘shift’ all of the keys to one of three new states (Red, Green and Blue) –allowing for one input to have up to four possible preset outcomes, i.e. a key could use an item in it’s normal state, but could call in an air-strike in it’s Red state, save your progress in it’s Blue state or quit the game in it’s Green state. For the average FPS player, it’ll probably be too much, but with the growing complexity of many single and multi-player titles, gamers will probably use at least one or two shift states.
In use, I’ve found the n50 to be pretty sturdy –it doesn’t slip around on the tabletop and, due to the [detachable] palm rest, it’s far more comfortable to use than a cramped keyboard. In-game, with my favourite controls mapped the way I want them (D-pad for strafing and horizontal movement) and the mouse for looking and turning, it’s been an invaluable aid in improving my skills in both on and off-line gaming. The only function that I haven’t used is that of the throttle wheel –it’s not sprung, so you can’t really use it as a ‘proper’ throttle, and is a little redundant unless you fancy using it for item or weapon switching.
And it’s not just for gaming! I now use the n50 to control DVD playback and Media Player 9 -along with a few other programmes- and I would not be without it.
Final verdict: An unsung classic, the n50 would be cheap at twice the price.
In use the SpeedPad is good. It takes a little while to wean yourself away from the traditional wsad setup, and you miss having a row of keys "down" from asd for crouch and other functions. The shifting is handled well, with clear LEDs to remind you what mode you are in if you get confused but overall I think the gamepad needs to have three if not four rows of the main five keys instead of two. It could also do with a dedicated Shift key, or maybe a notched slider affair (Something like the mode switch on an X45?) because once you start assigning shift functions you are eating into the available controls.
I have set the Gamepad up for Planetside, and it works well 90% of the time. The trouble only starts if I need to do something like change ammo type while holding the crouch key - unless they are in the same shift range then it is impossible. Of course you are going to want crouch in your standard mode, and you are unlikely to need change ammo type so much as to put it in the same mode. OK, you can use the crouch toggle (oops another key used in the main range) or repeat the crouch key in the second shift range - but then you are still using up valuable keys, of which you only have 10 under your fingers.
Overall this thing is good, especially if you have large hands and tend to mush keys on a standard keyboard, but it is not perfect and for more complex games which need lots of controls immediately accessible then it can be a bit restricted.
I use the kit on Windows XP, fully patched.