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ZBoard Fang Review

Hardware Reviews By Jon Wood on August 03, 2006

Zboard Fang Gaming Keyboard Review

Today, I am reviewing the Fang Gamepad from ZBoard. The functionality is similar to that of their MERC Gaming Keyboard, but built as a peripheral for those of us who don’t want to get rid of our trusty keyboards, but who might still want an enhanced gaming experience.

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The Gamepad itself retails for about $34.99. Just plug it into a USB port, install the software and you’re ready to go. Next up on my to-do list was to decide which games I was going to use to try this thing out. Obviously, I had to try it out with an MMORPG, and for that, I chose EverQuest II. I did want to get a second perspective on the gamepad though, so I thought I’d go with my current favorite in the world of First Person Shooters, Battlefield 2. I’ll give separate Play Quality reviews for each game, as the experience does differ slightly.

Notable Features:

  • The Fang is small. It’s slightly larger than the number pad on a standard keyboard, but it is designed in such a way that it allows for a kind of grip at the bottom that gives you quick access to some side-buttons.
  • The software comes pre-programmed with some default settings for specific games. In terms of MMORPGs, it covers: Guild Wars, World of WarCraft, City of Heroes/Villains, and EverQuest II. It also sports titles from a number of other genres.
  • There’s a stylish little light at the top that lets you know whether or not your gamepad is plugged in.
  • The Fang bills itself as being “ambidextrous”, meaning that it can be easily used by either right or left-handers.

Physical Quality:
One thing that I will happily say about this piece of hardware is that it certainly is durable. Currently, my desk space is at a premium, I’ve got just enough room for a monitor, keyboard and mouse, so, being as naturally clumsy as I am, I knocked this new peripheral onto the hardwood floor a number of times only to find that it still functioned properly, much to my surprise. Not even my 200+ lb frame could do damage to it, as was evidenced early one morning when I sleepily stepped right on top of it after the cat knocked it down in the night. It still worked perfectly.

Not everyone is as clumsy as I am, but if you are, then this little piece of technology might be for you. It certainly isn’t fragile.

Physical Quality score: 5 of 5.

Play Quality (MMORPG):
The real question is whether or not this product lives up to expectations and enhances gameplay. As I said earlier, I tried this gamepad using EverQuest II. I have to say that I was disappointed in my experience with the Fang in playing this game, despite the fact that it actually has default controls for it.

First of all, on my desk, and those of many others, there isn’t a whole lot of room for extras. In order to use the gamepad properly, my keyboard had to be placed in an inappropriate space on my desk that made it very difficult to use. This was a hindrance, because I don’t use voice technology in my gameplay, and typing is the only means of communication that I have with other players.

In-so-far as the actual gameplay, I have to admit that I enjoyed the convenience of having the directional controls so clearly defined. The bigger keys that take the place of WSAD are a little easier on the wrists than staying perched above the keyboard. In fact, this is one of the first times that I’ve played an MMORPG for any length of time without a serious cramp in my left wrist.I also liked the location of the jump button (on the side of the gamepad so that you can easily hit it with your thumb), and the easy access to the number keys cut down on my usual hunt-and-peck approach to using skills and spells.

Still, I think that the fun of an MMORPG was more or less stripped away when my ability to communicate was hindered. If you rely at all on typing to communicate in MMORPGs, I would suggest trying out ZBoard’s MERC Gaming Keyboard, which provides many of the same features and is attached to its own, fully-functional typing tool.

Play Quality (MMORPG) score: 2.5 of 5.

Play Quality (FPS)
As I said earlier, I wanted to give this product a second chance and try it out in a non-MMORPG format. Naturally I chose Battlefield 2, after all, I can’t think of a time that I rely more heavily on my movement keys than in the heat of battle.

Again, the location of the buttons was extremely convenient, and actually expanded the amount of time that I was able to play continuously and comfortably from about an hour at a time to two or three without any wrist pain. That, in my books, is an important feature.

Still, the play quality wasn’t without its flaws. My biggest gripe about my experience was the fact that I had to study the key configuration very carefully. There are, after all, a large number of different keyboard keys that are used in the game, and while my hands are trained to know where they are on the spread of a QWERTY keyboard, I struggled with which key on the Fang would do what I needed it to do. I constantly had to exit the game to check the digital manual for a reminder. Still, with time, I figured it all out, and was able to play comfortably and easily.

In this case, the only thing to speak out against the Fang was the learning curve. In all other ways, I found that it did indeed enhance my game play experience and even improved my in-game scores. Te easy location of the number keys, which in this game allowed me to change weapons more quickly and efficiently, helped me to get those quick kills when I needed them.

Play Quality (FPS) score: 4 of 5.

Conclusion:
I personally found this product to be mediocre as an all-around tool, pretty frustrating as an MMORPG tool and a fair bit of fun when used with a non-typing genre like FPS. It has some cool features (being equally useful to right and left-handers is a bigger deal than it may seem), but the price tag of $34.99 US dollars would not place it at the top of my to-buy list.

Is it useful? Yes, in certain situations.

Is it fun? Yes, if you’re like me and enjoy new toys, it is.

Does it enhance gameplay? Not to the level that I’d like in terms of MMORPGs, but otherwise, it worked pretty well.

Would I buy it? Probably not, but I can be pretty stingy with my money.

Overall score: 3 of 5.


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