January was a packed month for new PC products, setting out 2017’s stall nicely with a host of brand new processors, motherboards, streamers and new monitor technology too. The launch of Intel’s new Kaby Lake platform was arguably the biggest event, but equally the first Quantum Dot gaming monitor and Nvidia-updated Shield streaming device made it a happy new year indeed.
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Switch - Cherry MX RGB | Anti-ghosting - N-key | Controls - Integrated
The ROG Claymore is probably exactly what you’d expect from Asus’ Republic of Gamers stable of products. It’s solidly built, technically proficient, feature-rich, LED strewn and oh so expensive.
As is de rigueur for gaming gear now the Claymore is RGB’d up to the hilt, but it’s also capable of linking up with all your other ROG products (motherboard, GPU, mouse) so you can synchronise all their multi-hued LEDs too. Y’know, for when all the important stuff in your life is taken care of and you can devote a healthy chunk of time to the ultra-extraneous.
Making the most of that ROG link though are the software connections which will plumb the board into your motherboard. This allows you to instigate one touch overclocking, booting or even clearing the CMOS when everything’s gone pear-shaped, and all accessed via the keyboard itself.
The real big thing for the Claymore though is its detachable numpad, that's what Asus are shouting about in terms of its 'world's first' status. You can switch from full-size to svelte tournament-ready gaming board by simply unhooking the extra key block. It hooks together using the board's rigid metal frame, with the data connection springloaded to make contact. Interestingly Asus have also designed the Claymore so you can have the numpad on either side of main board.
Because it’s been created to be easy to slot in and remove, however, the fit is off puttingly wobbly. It doesn’t affect the actual connection at all, but the somewhat loose fit doesn’t really make it like $250 worth of keyboard when 20% of it is flapping about.
It’s also a bit of a shame that the only discrete controls are on the numpad - one solid analogue volume wheel. That’s great, but the rest of the controls are integrated, requiring the familiar, unwelcome Fn key digital gymnastics. And if you go for the Core edition (cheaper, but eschews the numpad) you don’t get any discrete controls at all.
Detachable numpad and ROG sync aside the Claymore is otherwise a pretty standard mechanical switch board, rocking the ubiquitous Cherry MX RGB switches. It’s responsive, robust and as relatively understated as an RGB keyboard can be, but that price is astoundingly high. You would have to be a very loyal, engaged ROG customer indeed to want to spend this much cash on a motherboard-compatible keyboard. Everyone else is going to be better served from picking up a cheaper, but eqally robust Corsair board.
Output: 150W | Drivers: 5 | Subwoofer: Yes | Hi Res Audio: Up to 24-bit 96kHz
Thankfully Creative have seen the light and are now calling the Katana a gaming soundbar rather than continuing to go with the under monitor audio system phrase it was trying to coin at the IFA show in Berlin last year. And it’s very much deserving of the name because the Sound BlasterX Katana makes for an excellent soundbar indeed.
It’s made up of a single, 24-inch long, audio blade to sit beneath your monitor/TV and a passive subwoofer to be hidden elsewhere. In total there are five discrete drivers: a pair of 2.5-inch mid-range drivers angling upwards, two 1.3-inch tweeters pointing out into the room and a single 5.25-inch driver in the subwoofer giving you the heavy bass response. There are three separate amps driving them, delivering impressively balanced, detailed audio whether you’re gaming, listening to high-definition music or watching a movie.
It’s a seriously versatile bit of kit too, allowing for optical digital inputs as well as standard 3.5mm auxiliary, Bluetooth or USB connections. It’s that last USB link which provides both the virtual 7.1 surround for gaming (it can essentially operate as a USB soundcard) and access to 24-bit 96kHz high-res audio playback.
Then there are the lights. Underneath the front of the Katana is a row of RGB LEDs offering some impressive street-racer-a-like downlighting. You can even select different profiles for the lighting too, from rainbow strobing to a Knight Rider sweep. And I can’t help but find it utterly charming. Normally I’d have such in-your-face LEDs turned off immediately, especially to avoid any under-screen distractions for the eyes, but I’ve left them going. I don’t even really know why, though they are kinda soothing, especially in a darkened home theatre environment…
The rest of the Katana design is equally impressive too. It’s solidly built and the upfiring mid-tone drivers give a much broader soundscape than I would’ve expected. At $300 it is on the upper end of the soundbar price spectrum, but considering the aural power and detail the Katana offers, as well as the overall versatility on display, all makes it well worth a listen.
Connection - Wired | Programmable buttons - Six | Weight - 205g
Aww bless. Look, it wants to be an Xbox Elite gamepad. How sweet, how ambitious. I know there are some DualShock devotees out there who would beg to differ (I might concede your point on the analogue sticks) but I’m of the opinion the Xbox Elite is the finest PC gaming joypad money can buy. So anything that tries to imitate it is going to have a real struggle on its hands.
But the Speedlink Quinox actually does surprisingly well as a customisable gamepad. It’s the added four paddle switches on the underside of the Quinox which makes me think of the Elite, they’re all configurable to be used aping any other button on the pad, as are the two extra shoulder buttons either side of the detachable USB cable. Though those are rather awkward to access so I’m not sure if I'd ever really use those in-game.
Through a simple on-board programming feature (navigated via the OLED display on the front) you can also configure the extra buttons as individual macros, allowing you to perform multi-press actions using a single press. The Quinox will hold two profiles each for different button configurations and two for macro setups. The customisation doesn’t stop there, you can also adjust the sensitivity of the analogue sticks on the fly via the two jog switches on the front.
The Quinox then is a surprisingly feature-rich joypad, but it’s always going to struggle up against the might of Microsoft’s peripherals. The extra configurability is laudable, but you can see the quality of manufacturing falls short of the Xbox pads. There are some sharp edges on my review sample which makes switching over to even just the cheaper standard Xbox One controller feel like slipping into a comfy old chair, one that’s been molded to your buttocks over many a year. Though if you're looking for a multi-button, configurable controller, but can't stretch to the expensive Elite, the Quinox is still a decent wired gamepad.
Type - Membrane | Switch - Logitech Mem-Dome | Anti-ghosting - 13-key
Going from the high-priced lunacy of the ROG Claymore to the Logitech G213 Prodigy is like going from the ridiculous to the… well, not sublime, but pretty damned good. The Prodigy range is Logitech’s attack on the more budget end of the gaming peripheral market. They’ve also created the G403 Prodigy wireless mouse, a quality little rodent sharing much of its internal make up with the awesome G900 Chaos Spectrum.
The G213 keyboard has been designed to be simple, but to still tick all the boxes a PC gamer on a bit of a budget might be after. I say ‘a bit of a budget’ because at $70 the Prodigy is still not a cheap gaming board. But it’s solid, responsive and looks good, in a stripped back kinda way.
What it isn’t though is a mechanical switch board. Down at this end of the market you’ll struggle to find a full-scale keyboard with the clacky mechanical switches I’ve grown to love, but that doesn’t mean you’re not going to get a host of gaming features. The Logitech Mech-Dome switches have been designed to offer a similar feel to their Romer G mechanical variants thanks to their extended travel and rapid actuation. And they’re really good to use too; they feel a touch more dead than their Romer G counterparts and more spongy than you’d experience from a Cherry MX, but are a million times (approx.) better than a standard membrane switch.
I’m also a big fan of keyboards, pricey or bargainous, which offer discrete controls for your media. We may be gamers but we still listen to Tidal and Spotify, right? And sometimes you’ve just gotta skip that errant Babymetal track that’s somehow found its way into your playlist as quickly as possible and a discrete skip button is a lot quicker to jab at.
There may be a little too much flex if you press down on the middle back of F keys, and it’s still maybe a little too pricey for a membrane gaming board, but the G213 is a great option for those not willing to spend hundreds on a pricier keyboard or for who simply can’t stand mechanical switches.
Connection - Wired | Cable - 5m active extension | Hub - 4-port USB 3.0
I think I can feel my already-considerable-waistline expanding as I sit here, pinned to my sofa by the Couchmaster Cycon. This is a gaming peripheral designed for those to whom movement is a waste of energy if it’s not from the wrist down. It’s a sofa desktop designed to allow you to use a keyboard and mouse from the comfort of your couch without having to balance them precariously on a knee or - hiss - use a joypad.
I'll admit though I did wait for my wife to go to bed before putting the Cycon together. I didn’t feel that even in the ten-year length of our relationship I wanted her to see me like that, not quite fitting into the Couchmaster. I’m a rather tubby bitch so the padded cushions had to be spread a little further than normal to accommodate my girth.
But enough about me and my own chubby insecurities. The Couchmaster Cycon’s main feature is the plastic tray which stretches across the cushions (which have a rough underside to stop from slipping off the sofa) and can hide away the unsightly cables from your keyboard and mouse combo inside. It acts as a 4-port USB 3.0 hub and connects via an active (to stop any lag creeping in) 5m cable to the machine you have plumbed into your TV.
Obviously the Couchmaster is a rather niche product, one whose only real purpose is for gamers with large TVs and a living room PC / streaming box that absolutely have to use a mouse and keyboard. And in that regard it works admirably. I maybe wasn’t expecting to have to do so much screwdriving and messing with sticky-back velcro, but it gets your cables out of the way and ensures you have as robust a connection to your PC as possible from a sofa. But you’ve certainly got to pay for the privilege, and pay big essentially just for a hollow plastic tray, a USB hub and some cushions.
And then you’ve still got to explain to your friends/significant others what exactly that weird looking thing stuffed down behind your sofa is. There's nothing in the instruction pamphlet about how to do that...
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