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Ideazon Zboard

The Ideazon Zboard features many innovative ideas, all bundled together into one great product. This keyboard is suited for the average user, and features a gaming keyset that is sure to enhance any gamer’s skill.

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Introduction


Using a normal keyboard and mouse to play computer games is no idea from the future.  There are plenty of keys for setting up your own configuration but they are all stationary and cannot be moved around for comfort or usefulness.  Ideazon has listened to the gamers of today and took their thoughts and comments to the drawing board.  Their Zboard features a removable “keyset” that allows you to customize your keyboard for many specific computer games, as well as some very popular application suites.  The Zboard software automatically recognizes what keyset is installed and essentially “reconfigures” itself, making the process seamless.  Read on to see how beneficial this keyboard can be, and if it stands up to a hardcore gamers standards.

Features and Specs


USB Keyboard Base

  • Accepts up to 8 simultaneous key presses giving you increased game response
  • 9 programmable Hot Keys
  • Easy access to multimedia controls
  • Works with all Zboard and Ideazon keysets

Gaming Keyset

  • Compatible with most first-person shooter and action games
  • Domed action keys are designed to give the player more control
  • Easier and faster access to critical game commands

Standard Keyset

  • New possibilities with Microsoft Windows and Internet Explorer
  • Makes browsing easier by providing fast access to frequently used commands
  • Work more efficiently in any standard Microsoft Windows application

Package Contents

  • 1 x USB keyboard base
  • 1 x Standard keyset
  • 1 x Gaming keyset
  • 1 x Snap-on wrist rest
  • 1 x Installation CD
  • 1 x Quick start guide

Limited Edition Keysets

  • Madden NFL
  • Age of Mythology
  • Civilization III
  • Delta Force: Black Hawk Down
  • Empires: Dawn of the Modern World
  • Neverwinter Nights
  • Everquest (Everquest 2 Coming Soon)
  • Doom 3

Detailed Look


Packaging

The retail box for the Zboard is very flashy and is definitely an eye pleaser.  The two front windows are placed above some very high marks from other review sources, and are used to show off the product inside.  The rear of the box gives an overview of the two keysets included in the package, as well as the keyboard base.

 

 

USB Keyboard Base

The base of the Zboard is a little odd looking without a keypad installed.  Rubber buttons protrude from the base which, once a keyset is installed, are depressed by the keys above them.  The feel of the keys on the Zboard is great.  With a keyset installed, the keys are not loud at all and depress with a nice spongy feeling.  No hard clicking keys or light as a feather keys, just good feeling keys that feel sturdy under my hands.

 

Two USB ports provide a place to plug in your removable USB media or mouse, which I found even more handy than the ports on the front of my PC.  The ports support only low voltage devices (up to 100mA) like mice, joysticks, USB media and other similar devices.  Higher voltage hardware like digital cameras and scanners are best left plugged directly into the computer.  The only drawback of the USB ports is their positioning.  These ports are placed on the back of the keyboard and take a little bit of getting used to in order to align your USB devices properly.  One cool thing about the Zboard is that you can swap out the keysets at any time while the device is plugged in, so no having to shutdown and reboot just to customize your gaming experience.

On the bottom of the keyboard are three grip pads to ensure that the keyboard doesn’t go anywhere when you are typing or gaming.  These pads seemed to work great for me, as I had no problems keeping the keyboard in the position I wanted.  Also on the bottom of the keyboard are two feet that may be extended to provide a slightly steeper angle for comfort.  Although these feet do not have any grip on them, they did not hinder the stability of the keyboard.

The seven multimedia control keys at the top left of the keyboard allow for easy control over Windows Media Player.  The functions are all labeled with easy to read symbols for Volume Up/Down, Mute, Next/Previous Track, Stop and Play/Pause.  These keys are hard coded into the keyboard, so reassigning their functions is not an option.  A nice feature for these buttons would be the use of various media players such as Winamp, Quicktime, etc.  Your version of Microsoft Media Player must be at least 6.4 for these buttons to work.

Nine hot keys reside next to the multimedia controls and are able to be programmed to do just about anything you want.  From opening a certain document or executable, to bringing up your favorite web page (Bjorn3D of course), these buttons are very similar to the keys found on many other keyboards from other vendors.  The last key next to the hot keys is the “Z” button.  This button brings up the settings menu for the Zboard software and can be used to quickly show what buttons are assigned to what actions.

Also on the keyboard base are the connection tabs for each individual keyset along with the indicator LEDs for num lock, caps lock, etc.

Closer Look Continued


Standard Keyset

The standard keyset features a traditional 108-key layout, along with a few extra features that come only with the Zboard.  Ideazon states that the standard keyset is designed to optimize the use of Microsoft Windows and Internet Explorer.  I have to agree with them on this statement.

The keyset has a “Bar Lock” button that toggles the Internet bar LED.  When activated the bar lock enables the 12 function keys to be used for shortcuts such as Home, Backward/Forward, Search and others.  These buttons are great for the web surfer who doesn’t want to deal with taking their hands off of the keyboard.  It is important to note that these controls only work for Microsoft Internet Explorer.

Also featured on the standard keyset is a “Pad Lock” button that enables the number pad to perform different functions like: opening the Control Panel in Windows, bringing you to the desktop, minimizing, maximizing, restoring and closing windows, opening up My Computer, and others.  Once again, this adds a great deal of speed when being used in certain desktop applications where using the mouse to do the same task takes up valuable time.  The “Key Tips” button allows users to test and verify what each labeled key does on the standard keyset.

Gaming Keyset

The gaming keyset replaces the left third of the keyboard with a very intuitive gaming area that was definitely designed with the gamer in mind. Six oversized keys replace the traditional “WASDQE” keys in what Ideazon calls a “butterfly” design.  These keys are oversized to provide a broader “platform” for your hand and are sloped slightly to aid in the comfort of your hand.  The keys are also labeled with their respective directions for further clarity.

Surrounding these movement keys are keys labeled with the most common functions used in first-person-shooter games.  Keys for bringing up the game’s console, score and goals, run/walk, crouch are all provided and are placed in the general area they would be on a standard keyboard.  The jump button is a perfectly shaped and placed button as well.

The gaming keyset includes an almost standard keyboard set to the right of the gaming area.  This keyboard is slightly reshaped to fit all of the letters and keys into what is essentially two thirds of a keyboard.  The lettered keys are full size in the gaming keyset that I received.  The other limited edition keysets appear to have smaller keys which would hinder the typing process.

DOOM3 Keyset


With the release of one of the most highly anticpated games in PC history, ideazon realized that a custom keyset for DOOM3 would be an awesome feature to add to the Zboard.  I got my first look at the DOOM3 keyset in person at Quakecon 2004.  I met up with Gregan Dunn,  Business Development Manager of ideazon’s Gaming Division and secured a DOOM3 keyset to add to this review.

 

 

I had become very familiar with the standard key layout that id chose to set as the default for DOOM3.  All of the keys were setup exactly how I would have set them up to accommodate my needs.  When switching over to the DOOM3 keyset on the Zboard, I was a little suprised that they had made such large changes to the default key layout.  The flashlight has been moved from the “F” key to where the “Q” key is located.  Reload was moved from the traditional “R” to a positoin usually taken up by the “E” key.  The movement of the reload function was nice, since on the gaming keyset, it seemed a tad too far away.  A few more keys were also relocated, and are visible in the images below.  All in all, I think the DOOM3 keyset is a good addition, but needs a few tweaks here and there, like the key swaps noted earlier.

 

 

Installation


As any current USB device should, the installation of the Zboard went perfectly.  Ideazon recommends downloading and installing the latest Zboard software from www.zboard.com to ensure that any new features and fixes for the board are installed.  After plugging the Zboard into a compatible USB port, it will function as a standard keyboard.  To take advantage of the added features you must run the downloaded software or install the software from the included CD.  Once the software is installed and you reboot your system, a Key Setup window will pop up and allow you to choose the correct operating system and version of Internet Explorer that is installed. After this step, the keyboard is able recognize what keyset is installed, along with enabling the use of the extra key functions like those on the standard keyset.

To swap between keysets, you must first unlatch the current keyset, then fold it back towards the left side of the keyboard.  Once it is folded into its cube shape, it is then removable and can be replaced with the new keyset.  The new keyset is simply placed at the left side of the base, and then un-folded out across the rest of the base.  Finally, the keyset latch is fastened to secure the keyset in place.

 

 

Software


Setting up the nine hot keys is as simple as finding the executable or document you want to open and assigning it to the correct button.  Accessing the software for setting this up is done by pressing the “Z” button next to the nine hot keys.

Selecting the “Keyset” tab on the settings window will bring up options for allowing the Zboard to load a specific software application when it detects a new keyset in the base.  For instance, when you place Ideazon’s Photoshop keyset into the base, you can have the software start up Photoshop.  Or when the gaming keyset is installed, your favorite first-person-shooter can launch.  You also are able to access the keyset setup area of the software so that you can select your operating system and Internet Explorer version when the standard keyset is installed.  When the gaming keyset is installed, the keyset setup button allows you to select the proper gaming keyset installed to ensure the proper gaming experience that the Zboard was designed to deliver.

 

The “General” tab provides information about the Zboard software, a link to updates, a user guide, as well as other useful information.  You are also able to refresh the Zboard incase it is not responding.

Testing


Each keyset was tested in the way it was designed to be used.  The keysets were also swapped out multiple times during testing without any problems.  This method works great and is very easy to accomplish.  The Zboard is slightly thicker than the Logitech Internet Navigator keyboard, and feels best when used with the included wrist rest.

The standard keyset was used to type this whole review and was very comfortable.  The key placement allows for normal typing and the keyboard worked just like any other keyboard.  The only thing that takes a little bit to get used to is the split spacebar, and even this depends on how each user places their thumbs on the spacebar.  The multimedia keys work just as labeled, but it would be nice if you could use them for third party software.  The nine hot keys provided me quick access to some of my most used applications and were found to be very useful.  These buttons work just like the programmable buttons on my Logitech keyboard, and are a time saver.  Using the function keys for the Internet Bar Lock was not as helpful as I thought it may be.  I use a custom setup for my Internet Explorer commands and found that using my mouse for this is actually faster than using the Internet Bar keys.  This is just a personal preference as these keys may be a savior for some people.  Gaming with the standard keyset installed is just like it would be with a normal keyboard and took no getting used to at all.

I used the gaming keyset to play some of my favorite first-person-shooter games for a few days in a row to get a good feel for the keyset.  I do like the feel of the larger buttons for moving around, but some of the surrounding keys present some problems.  The reload button is a bit far away for my size of hand and I noticed that I kept missing the key at critical times in Far Cry and Soldier of Fortune II.  The reload key is one of the very critical buttons in many games that you do not want to miss.  This can be the determining factor in you fragging someone or them fragging you.  A few of the other keys caused a little bit of frustration for me as well.  I usually use the “C” key for crouching, but the default key for crouch is where the right part of the “Shift” key resides on a normal keyboard.  This feels awkward to me, since I usually use the “Shift” key for walking/running.  The six programmable buttons on the lower part of the gaming area can be configured to your taste, and this made it possible for me to use a better placement for the crouch command.  The jump key is placed where the spacebar would normally reside and is shaped just right for its purpose.  Once I had the keys setup just right for me, it only took a few rounds of online play to get used to the keyset’s layout.  Once accustomed to the keyboard, I was playing just like I did with my regular keyboard.

Conclusion


The Ideazon Zboard is a very innovative product that deserves much praise for executing what some might call crazy.  The ability to customize and configure your keyboard quickly and easily definitely has its benefits in today’s world where one keyboard layout may not cut it.  The standard keyset is well suited for word processing, web surfing and any other task that is handled by a normal keyboard.  The layout of the gaming keyset is a welcome sight to many gamers who are looking for more from their standard keyboard.  With its comfortably shaped keys, USB ports, and quality construction, the Zboard should find it is at home in any gamers system.

Pros

  • High build quality
  • USB connectivity and expansion ports
  • Comfortable
  • Innovative gaming keyset design
  • Great extra features on standard keyset
  • Current game titles have Limited Edition keysets (DOOM3)

Cons

  • Some keys are hard to reach on gaming keyset
  • Typing can be awkward on the gaming keyset

The great construction and execution of such a new idea has earned the Ideazon Zboard a 9 out of 10 and the Bjorn3D Seal of Approval.

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