on 31 July 2013
First impressions and build:
The G19s shares a form factor with the other keyboards in the G series - traditional QWERTY, F keys, and numpad banks, with the function keys shoved to the left of the keyboard and the controls for the screen, memory profiles, and volume up top. It's made of a variety of heavy plastics: the keys and handrest are a non-slick matte material, while the trim around the edges is a glossy dark blue. The thing feels solid and there's little flex, as you'd expect and hope for at this price range.
The G19s embraces the 'gamer' aesthetic fully, with every key backlit with a completely customisable colour. The LEDs themselves aren't terribly bright, although they're definitely bright enough to be noticeable in a well-lit room and readable in the dark The illumination is slightly uneven on some keys, such as the capslock key. The transparent cutouts for the lettering on the keys is in a futuristic typeface, very much in keeping with the general style of the package. I normally go for more sedate designs - my previous keyboards were a Unicomp mechanical keyboard and a Logitech Wireless Solar, but the G19s is just tasteful enough for me to use it without feeling like a late 90s cyberpunk throwback. Not that there's anything particularly wrong with that, of course.
Looking past the illuminated keys and ballsy design, there's another unusual feature: the screen. It's a tiny 4:3 LED display attached to the top of the keyboard. It can pivot to a limited degree, allowing for slumpers and people with decent posture alike to choose a viewing angle to suit them.
Typing and gaming experience:
The first thing to note is that this, like most keyboards made in the last decade, is a membrane switch. You push the key down, its peg pushes a resistant dome, and when the key bottoms out, you have a keypress. Until I discovered the scissor switches on laptops and mechanical switches on keyboards like the IBM Model M and an increasing number of gaming keyboards, I'd only ever used membrane switches. Nowadays, I prefer to type using the other styles because they feel less 'mushy' and more responsive. The typing action on the G19s is fine - in fact, I think make fewer mistakes using it because I'm slightly more considered in my keypresses than with the scissor switches on my K750s, but it still doesn't feel quite as good. However, for its primary purpose: gaming, I actually prefer the membrane keys to mechanical or scissor. They lack the binary sharpness of mechanical keys (as well as much of the noise!) and have more solidity than the scissor switches. I've got back into Battlefield Bad Company 2 recently and I feel very comfortable using the G19s for it.
Like most hardware nowadays, the G19s doesn't come with an installation CD. Instead, you're directed to a website where you can download the 50mb suite. This is potentially a problem if you somehow lack reliable internet access, but I understand why companies are moving away from physical media. Setup took less than 5 minutes - I installed the software, plugged the keyboard in, and I was ready to go. The software allows you to set up three main profiles which can be accessed with the physical keys in the top left of the board. These profiles govern what the 12 function keys do, the applets for the screen, and the illumination settings. You can also have the software scan your system for games with existing profiles, allowing you to populate the function keys with macros that can be used in game.
So, here we come to one of the major selling points of the G19s - the screen. By default it comes with applets such as an RSS reader, youtube viewer, performance tracker for your system, an analogue clock display, and other media-viewing services. Personally, I'm always after more screen real estate, so if I'm able to offload an RSS reader to the G19s screen so I don't have to have it cluttering my main screens, that's a bonus. The youtube viewer has the ability to playback copied video URLs automatically, which might be useful if you're chatting with someone in game and don't want to alt-tab. There are also certain games that are able to output information to the G19 - ammunition and scores, for instance. The concept is slightly strange, since you have to take your eyes away from your main screen - and the game - in order to peer at the G19. It's more convenient than alt-tabbing, certainly, but I'm not sure I'll be able to make the most of it. Hardcore gamers who are constantly communicating and possibly streaming a feed of their webcam might find it useful as an alternative to switching between windows, however, so I won't entirely dismiss the utility of the screen. I've yet to find any third party applets for it, so I'm looking forward to seeing what people are able to come up with.
I feel that the people who will want the G19s already know why the want it. It's a gamer's keyboard and it has a plethora of game specific features to back that up. I could see the function keys being useful in other fields, such as computer aided design or programming, though. Yes, it lacks en vogue mechanical key switches, yet I don't feel those switches add much to gaming, even if they are better for typing. There aren't many devices like this and it caters for a specific user. If you think you can make the most of the screen and the software, then the G19s may well be for you. Otherwise, there isn't much to differentiate it from the scheaper, screenless keyboards in the G-series range.