We've been a fan of Saitek's gaming peripherals for years, particularly their line of illuminated keyboards. The company is certainly no one-trick pony, however: veteran gamers will also know that the company makes a complete line of gaming and AV products, from mice to audio systems to joysticks and command pads.
Recently, Saitek sent us a complete suite of gaming peripherals that we immediately dubbed the "gamer's desktop": a Pro Gamer's Command Unit, a PC Gaming Mouse and, perhaps most importantly, the newly-released Eclipse II illuminated keyboard. MyGamer wasted no time in installing the peripherals and we're happy to bring back these reviews.
Saitek PC Gaming Mouse
MyGamer Hardware Score: 8.0/10
The PC Gaming Mouse is an attractive 1600 dpi mouse featuring on-the-fly sensitivity swapping, programmable side buttons, low-friction Teflon feet and a rubberized scroll wheel. The PC gaming Mouse, like all of the products in the suite, is illuminated with blue LEDs.
Interestingly, the device still employs a LED mouse engine, as opposed to the invisible laser engine that many competing products have moved to. This has not affected the device's performance, however, and we found that the mouse performed perfectly on every mousing surface we put it on.
The mouse is comfortable in the hand even after hours-long gaming sessions and the programmable side buttons are easy to reach and use (something not all mice we've tested can claim). The PC Gaming Mouse uses the same profile software as all of their other products (for more info, see our Pro Gamer's Command Unit review below), which makes the task of assigning commands or even key stroke combos to a button fairly easy.
Even more importantly, the dpi-switch "turbo" button is easy to get to, even in the heat of a spirited FPS session, and we had no problems finding or using it even in the most frantic firefight.
For $30, the Saitek PC Gaming mouse is an economical yet solid choice, and will compliment any blue-themed gaming desktop.
Pros: Looks and performs great. Programmable buttons. Logical, easy-to-use button layout. Mouse works fine on standard Windows drivers, or the included profile software can be added for increased customizability.
Cons: Customized button layouts are saved via profile software and not within the unit itself, meaning that if you travel, you'd better have your installation CD and profiles backed up.
Saitek Pro Gamer's Command Unit
MyGamer hardware Score: 7.5/.10
Hardware manufacturers have, for years, been looking for the "holy grail" of gaming peripherals: a simple device that offers players the extreme flexibility of a keyboard in a smaller, more ergonomic package. This is particularly desirable for the growing ranks of laptop gamers – players that might be hindered by their portable PC's smaller keyboard. Devices like the Wolf Claw gaming keyboard have approached this challenge with small "mini keyboards" that remove the most often used keys and put them on a separate pad.
The Saitek Pro Gamer's Command Unit, however, takes the more "old school" approach first made famous by units such as the Nostromo game pad, giving players a group of numbered keys in a fingertip-accessible array, married to an ergonomic wrist rest. The Command Unit then goes a step further, adding in oversized thumb buttons and a tiny thumb stick.
The Command Unit is illuminated from under the keys with colored LEDs, and uses the same "laser cut" technology employed in the original Eclipse keyboard, which allows the red, blue or green LED light to actually shine through the silver keys.
All of the Command Unit's functionality is controlled by the included profile software, which proved to be both the Unit's strongest and weakest points. On the plus-side, the profile software allows the user to assign virtually any command to a key, whether it be a simple individual key press, a combination of keys or even a macro. On the negative side, this means that a player will spend a great deal of time building their profiles when they get a new game and then and tweaking that setup until they arrive at the best layout.
Pre-built profiles are available on Saitek's web site, but even with this convenience, users will likely have to print out small "cheat sheets" to remind them which keys are assigned to which functions ("key #1 is crouch, #2 is jump", etc.). When we tested the unit, it took us the better part of a week to really start to get comfortable with the layout, but, just like with a keyboard, as we began to use the same keys for the same functions across games, the learning curve finally began to flatten.
Pros: Looks wicked-cool sitting on the desktop, yet is small enough to toss into a laptop bag for travel. 48 assignable keys in 3 groups means that you should have plenty of buttons for any game. Programming software allows for multi-key combos and macros to be assigned to a single key press. Ergonomic design helps minimize discomfort, even after long gaming sessions.
Cons: Numbered button layout is just different enough from a keyboard's lettered setup that the learning curve for new games can be a bit steep. There are still no tactile indicators molded into any of the keys that allow a player to find the four keys most often assigned to movement commands in a FPS (a pet peeve of this reviewer). In Saitek's defense, the design of the Pro Gamer's Command unit is obviously intended to keep the user's wrist in a certain position, making finger placement consistent, but I still occasionally misplaced my fingers on the keys. One day a gaming pad manufacturer will mold in subtle ridges in the four center keys (much like the "home" keys that a touch-typist uses to align their hands on a standard keyboard), but that day isn't today.
Saitek Eclipse II Illuminated Keyboard
MyGamer hardware Score: 8.3/10
We liked most of the features on last year's Eclipse, particularly the keyboard's smooth-as-silk key action and its innovative lighting design. We had to take away a few review points from the first-generation Eclipse, though, mainly because of the keyboard's lack of external USB connections and the keyboard's silver-painted keys (monitor glare made the keys difficult to read in a dark room, even with the laser-cut keys allowing the LED backlighting to illuminate the letters).
With the Eclipse II, Saitek seems to have taken some of these comments to heart, improving on some of the things we commented on while retaining the product's core solidity and tactile feel. There's still room for improvement, but the Eclipse II has, once again, managed to push aside all of the other peripherals we use for keyboarding (for the moment, at least).
So, what did Saitek improve with the Eclipse II? Well, for one, the laser-cut keys have been made black, and use a manufacturing process that makes the keys' lettering white in bright light while retaining their ability to allow the LED backlighting to shine up through the key in the dark, eliminating the glare that so bothered us the last time around. Saitek has also added in a set of red LEDs to the Eclipse's usual blue, which allows the user to, at the touch of a button, change the lighting from blue to red and then to purple. A round dimmer knob is also set into the upper surface of the board, allowing a user to adjust the brightness of the lighting as they see fit.
The solid-feeling, almost-silent key action we loved in the original Eclipse has been retained, which is, in our opinion, the unit's best selling point – even after weeks of banging on the board, the keys still remain as smooth and quiet as the day we unboxed it. Saitek has also added a set of media control buttons (volume control, next/last track, play, pause, etc.), increasing the new version's functionality. The keys are set into an attractive black and silver case with a beefy, matching wrist rest, giving the unit a sleek, futuristic appearance that's equally appropriate on a home or office desktop.
Unfortunately, the Eclipse II still lacks a set of external USB ports, so users looking for a convenient place to plug in their digital cameras or thumb drives are out of luck. Seeing as how the inclusion of USB connections is almost a standard feature on all of the recent gamer-grade peripherals, the omission of the ports is a bit disappointing.
The Eclipse II may lack the wealth of programmable features found in, say, a Logitech gaming keyboard, but it makes up for that lack, for the most part, in the quality of the components used and the solid engineering that integrates them into a coherent and well-functioning whole. Plus, it looks fantastic – at once flashy and conservative. That, in our books, is one heck of a trick.
Pros: Great looks and rock-solid performance – the Eclipse series still has some of the smoothest key action we've ever had the pleasure to experience. Under-key LED backlighting illuminates in red, blue or purple, shining through black, laser-cut keys that are clearly visible in a variety of lighting situations. Big, rubber feet keep the keyboard where you place it, even in the heat of gaming. 3-position height adjustment setting.
Cons: No real programmability as far as hotkeys or macro buttons – what you see is what you get. Still no USB ports. For $70, we find ourselves wanting a bit more functionality, no matter how lovely the illumination engineering is.