The traditional keyboard has become the modus operandi of the PC gaming world and for the most part it gets the job done admirably. Even in games with complex controls, like F.E.A.R. – where forward, back, strafe left, strafe right, crouch, jump, flashlight, reload and use (the "standards," if you will) are joined with lean right/left, Slow-Mo and others – I have no problem using my keyboard. However, things CAN get cramped; reaching for my flashlight usually results in me crouching (or vice versa) and it can become frustrating. Besides that, F5 is a heck of a reach from WASD central. The Zboard Fang Gamepad attempts to remedy this.
Zboard Fang Gamepad
By taking all the keys we're familiar with and use in most every game, the layout is re-adjusted to put ALL the buttons used throughout the game close together and always within reach of the slightest of stretches. With profiles for over 100 of today's most popular games and the ability to download and install more from their site, the Fang Gamepad it is a very versatile piece of hardware.
The Zboard Fang Gamepad features:
Tactically placed keys: 41 tactically placed keys including four thumb-specific keys and 11 weapon keys surrounding a lethal central butterfly layout.
Ambidextrous: Military training feedback has echoed the sentiments of the gaming community to develop a weapon that is left and right hand compatible.
Compact Design: Compact design provides enhanced portability for mobile gaming.
Simultaneous keystrokes: Allows up to 7 simultaneous keystrokes while employing phantom keystroke elimination capabilities.
Powered by Z Engine™ Technology: Z Engine™ technology gives gamers pre-defined key layouts for over 100 PC game titles.
INITIAL IMPRESSIONS AND INSTALLATION
I've always thought about getting a Zboard, but ever since I began college, I've found that I only really game in spurts. I'll fire up Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne or Half-Life 2 or Oblivion and will get sucked into it for as long as a week or two. But schoolwork or actual work will get in the way and I'll stop playing for a night and suddenly, I don't have the burning desire to play anymore. Buying a keyboard specifically geared toward heavy gaming didn't make a lot of sense.
When I saw this keyboard supplement, however, I was quite intrigued, but skeptical at the same time. I have the Saitek PC Gamer's keyboard which has 9 key programmable add-on pad (which actually can store 27 functions: three per key). Back when I got the keyboard, I picked it out specifically because of that pad. I thought of having something like a Fang and figured that Saitek's gamepad would be the answer to my prayers - keys close together for ease of access and up to 27 different keys via the two "shift" keys.
But it just stored macros and ONLY worked in games. Reading the product description, I though that I could not only replace my WASD layout with the gamepad, but could also have one-touch program-launching capabilities in Windows. No such lunch as it only mapped keystrokes. Since then, I've been somewhat leery of devices like the Fang.
Zboard Fang Gamepad
Installing the Fang gamepad was straightforward. I simply plugged the gamepad into an open USB port and Windows detected the device without having to install any drivers or software. However, the included software still needs to be installed so that the various game profiles can be loaded/used.
The software install was quick although a system restart was necessary to complete the installation. A few minutes later though, I was back up and shooting those nasty venomous black headcrabs in Half-Life 2: Episode 1!
GAMEPLAY AND USAGE
The Half-Life 2 profile worked perfectly EXCEPT for the quick save button. It shows up as being mapped in the Z Engine mod for Half-Life 2, but it never worked. It was mildly annoying that I had to use my actual keyboard to hit F5 and quick save (or hit Escape and save manually). I could have remapped the keys, but that would have been pretty time consuming for just one key not having worked
Speaking of re-mapping the Fang, it's a simple matter of loading the default profile in the Z Engine software, going into the key mapping screen of whatever game you're playing and reassigning the keys to Fang keys.
The Fang is quite comfortable in terms of resting my hand on it and attempting to reach all the keys; I have absolutely no complaints. However, aesthetics don't always make for a comfortable gaming experience. I found I was incredibly uncomfortable playing Half-Life 2, F.E.A.R. and other first person shooters. It's not because the Fang didn't work well or because my hand was cramping, but I just couldn't get used to it. After so many years of being used to the various stretches and full-hand moves that were necessary to access the weapons in slots 7 and onward, I found having everything so close actually being a detriment. I was confused easily and oftentimes what the keys are labeled for is not what they actually do, which added to the confusion.
As an example, the flashlight in Half-Life 2 is programmed for the "lean left" button while the zoom function is the "lean right" button. The jump key was also somewhat confusing. It's in the same place that the space bar is, except it's a small button on the side of the bottom part of the Fang. I kept forgetting and was unable to jump at times. During firefights, all hell would break loose. I found myself to be much more frustrated using the Fang than having to stop occasionally to move my hand completely to access other keys.
Aside from gaming, the Fang can also be used to control Windows Media Player with the seven buttons across the top of the pad . It was a nice feature, but I use Winamp for music and Creative's Entertainment Center for videos (I got that remote for a reason!). However, those looking for a remote but not wanting to deal with the front panel of the Creative X-Fi or Audigy cards, the Fang makes for a nice addition.
My qualms with the Fang aside, it's an excellent product. The layout is fantastic (for righties AND lefties) and for those who can get acclimated to the change of layout. I am absolutely certain the Fang will become a cherished part of your PC. The support for games – with more being added all the time (and easily downloaded from inside the Z Engine software or from the Zboard site), and the added ability to customize the Fang for any game – is outstanding. This is definitely a piece of equipment geared for the hardcore gamer.
I realized while using the Fang that I'm a standard keyboard gamer for life because I don't have the time to devote to gaming for more than an hour or two a night, if that. With more time to devote to gaming, I know I would be able to get into the groove of the Fang and really fall in love with it. But as it is, the limited time I have for gaming has left me too used to my WASD layout and the various stretches required for reaching the higher-numbered guns and quicksaves/quickloads; I'm set in my old ways and can't afford the time necessary to get used to this.
All that whining and wishing for less hectic days being said, my opinion and personal preference for how I game has no bearing on the fact that this is a quality product and should be on the desk of anyone who is able to devote a lot of time for gaming on a consistent basis. If you do and don't already have a Zboard, GET ONE! CrazyPC, who so graciously supplied my review sample (thanks!), has it in stock for less than $34. Hardcore gamers of the world: you have no excuse to not have a Zboard Fang!