Keyboards are great for typing, but when it comes to gaming, there’s one fact that’s hard to ignore: Even the best gaming keyboard is made to be a keyboard first, and a gaming device second. Unlike the sculpted ergonomics of gaming mice and gamepads, the keyboard wasn’t made with gamers in mind. Gaming keypads like the Razer Nostromo, however, put all of your keyboard controls into a purpose-built gaming device, placing all of your commands at your fingertips, and offering a level of comfort and control standard keyboards can’t match. Sure, you may not be able to write a novel with it, or even a tweet, but it will definitely give you an edge in competition.
Design and Features
The Nostromo was designed with two primary goals: First, to put all of your gaming commands literally at your fingertips, in a device with more customizability than a keyboard. Second, it was designed to offer superior comfort. Anyone who has played a PC game for more than an hour has wanted something with more support, and more flexibility in positioning. Because the Nostromo gameboard is a smaller, separate device, it can be positioned at an angle, shifted around the desk, and has a molded wrist rest that eliminates nearly all of the strain experienced at a regular keyboard.
The Nostromo measures 2.3 by 7.2 by 6.3 inches (HWD) with three distinct parts: A molded wrist rest, a keypad that sets under the fingers, and a few thumb controls. The Nostromo has 16 buttons total: 14 finger buttons, 2 thumb buttons, index finger scroll wheel, and a 8-way thumb joystick. The 8-way thumb joystick has a wide flat head, making it more of a raised thumbpad, considerably larger than the peg-like design seen on the Logitech G13 Advanced Gameboard. Below the raised thumbpad is an easy to recognize D-pad design.
The Nostromo is made from glossy black plastic, with a rubberized soft-touch coat on the wrist rest and blue LED backlight glowing behind the keys and through the semi-translucent scroll wheel. The keys are all programmable, but by default, the Nostromo puts WASD controls right where they should be, along with all of the other surrounding keys, Space and Alt mapped to the two thumb buttons.
The two thumb buttons—one above and one below the joystick—are quite well positioned, but the lower button, which is mapped to the space bar by default, requires significant amount of travel to register. While it’s something you can get used to, it will likely slow you down. Both the Logitech G13 and the Razer Orbweaver utilize light-click buttons that eliminate this problem.
The Nostromo, with its numerous keys and functions, is too complex to be a simple plug-and-play device, so you’ll need to install Razer’s Nostromo Configurator software. The Nostromo pre-dates Razer Synapse 2.0, so even if you have other Razer devices, you’ll still need to install this. Once in the dashboard, the Nostromo’s many keys and functions can all be programmed, with four different custom keymaps you can set and cycle through.
But while the buttons can be customized through the dashboard, there’s little adjustment available to the device itself. The ergonomic design, carefully placed keys, and thumb-friendly joystick are positioned such that the average hand will find it comfortable, but smaller or larger hands will not. The molded palmrest is, in fact, adjustable, but comes with its own issues.
The two-position palmrest would be a welcome feature—if it worked properly. The palmrest can indeed be adjusted, but the process, which involves pulling off the palmrest, legitimately feels like you’re trying to break it. What’s even worse, the piece has to be pulled in a specific direction to come off, making it that much easier to break if you’re pulling it at the wrong angle.
I tested the Nostromo using one of the most keyboard intensive games I know, Mirror’s Edge. It may be a few years old, but the nature of the gameplay is such that an intuitive layout is essential. Whether I was running, shimmying, jumping, or vaulting, the controls proved more intuitive than standard keyboard inputs, and the layout of the programmable buttons was quite comfortable.
Often, when using a regular keyboard, you can get hung up trying to reach Alt and Shift keys. The thoughtful design of the Nostromo removed these difficulties, even as I performed complicated combinations, like a wall run cross jump. The thumb button, however, is set a bit too far back, hitting my thumb slightly behind the first knuckle. This, combined with the button action issues mentioned earlier, were the only significant problems I had while using the Nostromo.
The Razer Nostromo is a solid gaming keypad, easily offering a more comfortable and more customizable alternative to traditional gaming keyboards, even when compared to top performaers, like the Editors’ Choice Corsair Vengeance K90. While the overall product is quite good, and will improve in-game control with very little learning curve, it’s not without its faults. Compared to the Logitech G13, the Nostromo has a fairly limited selection of controls, while Razer’s newer gameboard, the Orbweaver, improves on almost every aspect of the Nostromo. Despite this, it’s still a great product, and definitely one we can recommend to anyone that wants to step up their game.
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Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc