Roccat Isku Multicolor Gaming Keyboard

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It was less than a year ago when Legit Reviews took a look at ROCCAT’s original Isku gaming keyboard. Today we’re looking at another Isku keyboard that’s not very different as the only real changes found on the Isku FX are the multicolor backlights and accompanying lighting software. The expected outcome of this is for the Isku and Isku FX to coexist, but it’s a shame really to see the pricing of the two keyboards differ only by $10.

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That puts the Roccat Isku FX (ROC-12-901)at $99.99 shipped and it looks like a better value than the $89.99 shipped Isku (ROC-12-701) considering their similarities. We’re still interested in innovation and so let's take a look at the advertised features that differentiate the Isku and Isku FX.

Roccat Isku FX Multicolor Gaming Keyboard (ROC-12-901) Features:

 

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That last feature really grabbed our attention. One most interesting features of this product is ROCCAT Talk and Talk FX. There’s a bunch of words on the product box and website about “Set Bonus advantages” and “sensory effects” and even a picture that shows the Isku FX and Kone XTD together with their lights synced in purple. This feature was really interesting to me and as a result, I’ve elected to discuss the Isku FX’s lighting in a fair amount of detail beginning with this video demonstrating the lights on the Isku FX and Kone XTD mouse reacting to on-screen actions.

 

 

Hopefully you just watched the video and it managed to get you excited about how the keyboard and mouse react to the game. If you are, then you’ll be disappointed. ROCCAT hasn’t implemented reactive lighting in its driver software – at least not yet. Nevertheless, it’s unfortunate that ROCCAT has heavily promoted a really cool and unique core feature only to not have it included in the final product. I’ll get more into that later, but let’s start looking at the package first and then the keyboard.

Packaging, Features, Technical Specifications, and Contents

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Everything about the Isku FX’s box is big. It’s big for a keyboard box (22x12x1.5 in), it’s got a big picture of the keyboard on the front, and the big bold words scream “look at me!”

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The back of the box outlines some of the Isku FX'a notable features.

Compared to the original Isku, features new to the Isku FX are multicolor LED backlights capable of over 16 million colors and support for ROCCAT Talk FX, a driver feature that allows on-screen actions to be translated into reactive keyboard lighting. All other features are carried over from the original Isku which include Easy Shift [+], up to 36 programmable macro keys, and five profiles.

Features

Technical Specifications

 

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Behind the outer cardstock box is an inner cardboard box where we find the Isku FX packed in an anti-static bag.

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There’s barely anything else besides the Isku FX. The only thing else included is a quick installation guide that reiterates some of the keyboard’s features described on the box, steps for recording macros, steps for using Easy-Shift[+], and installing the Isku FX. No driver CD is included, thus necessitating an internet connection in order to download the keyboard software.

Looking Closer at the Isku FX

For the sake of demonstrating the Isku FX’s wide range of lighting, many photographs the review sample were taken in low-light conditions and controlled camera exposure times. The reality is that the LED backlight is not bright enough to be visible in a well-lit environment such as a room with daylight or a photography studio.

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At 20” x 9.7” x 3.2” (WxLxH), the Isku FX is large for a keyboard as a result of both a large frame surround and built-in palm rest. It’s also quite thin and the Isku FX feels light and hollow when held.

The Isku FX is a membrane keyboard and so it won’t have the same linear force experienced with mechanical switches. However, the Isku FX’s keys feel great to use as they are neither mushy nor stiff and the short keytravel allows quick input.

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Connectivity and power is provided by a single USB cable.

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There are five programmable macro keys to the left of the keyboard. Five blue LEDs above the macros indicate which profile is being used. A “REC” key can be pressed which illuminates a sixth LED indicating a real-time macro recording.

If Sound Feedback is enabled in the Isku FX Driver, then a male voice over the computer’s audio will announce profile changes or when macro recording is turned on.

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Three “thumbster” keys are placed below the space bar and serve as additional programmable macros for the thumb to use. These T1-T3 buttons are backlit only by blue LEDs.

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The F-keys are the only half sized keys on the Isku FX. Towards the top are the media keys which are not backlit and labeled by small media symbols which are difficult to see in the dark. F-keys and media keys can also be reprogrammed and repurposed as macro keys through the driver software.

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Above the Scroll Lock key is a button that rotates the brightness of the Isku FX’s backlight across six different levels. The backlight can also be turned off.

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Turning the Isku FX on its backside shows cable management grooves. Rubber risers are located at each corner for traction on surfaces. Two plastic supports can be flipped out to raise the back of the keyboard an additional 1 cm off flat surfaces.

ROCCAT Software: Isku FX Driver

The Isku FX does not come with a driver CD and must be downloaded from ROCCAT’s Isku FX support webpage. A Linux driver download is available, but I will only look at the Windows version.

Special to the Isku and the Isku FX is “Easy-Shift[+]” which turns the Caps Lock key into a pseudo-Shift Key. Holding down the assigned Easy-Shift[+] key triggers the shifted assignments of all the macros and Easy-Zone keys. Much like how the regular Shift Key capitalizes letters, Easy-Shift[+] toggles user defined macro shifted commands. However, gamers looking to use this feature to turn the Isku FX into a gamepad will be disappointed. Easy-Shift[+] on the keyboard toggles shifted macros when held, but no setting can be made to lock/unlock Easy-Shift[+]. A ROCCAT Kone (+, XTD, and Pure) mouse must be used and configured to lock/unlock Easy-Shift[+] on the Isku FX.

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The Isku FX driver runs in the background on startup and can be accessed from either the Start Menu or the Notification Area next to Window’s toolbar clock.

Those who have seen ROCCAT's drivers for their other products will be familiar with the layout and style of the Isku FX's driver. The driver visual interface is split into tabs for the settings and each of the five profiles. Profiles are stored locally and each game can have its own set of five profiles defined by the user.

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The first settings tab and the one that appears on startup is Main Control. Users may customize the functions of Caps Locks which by default triggers Easy-Shift[+], the five macro keys and their shifted functions, and the three thumbster keys and their shifted functions.

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Profiles can be created, saved, and loaded even for specific programs and games.

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Macros are created using the Macro Manager which can be accessed by a button located beneath the virtual keyboard. Users can record their own macros or select from a list of games with preloaded commands.

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Based on the game titles list, it can be reasonably assumed that ROCCAT hasn’t updated the preprogrammed macros in a very long time.

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The Easy-Zone Control tab permits changes to the Easy-Shift[+] functions of the “Easy-Zone.” Had the Isku FX driver allowed for toggle locked Easy-Shift[+], the Easy-Zone could easily function as a pseudo-gamepad.

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Media keys and F-keys can also have their functions modified. Fine print beneath the virtual keyboard notes that the media keys and F-keys are not usable with Easy-Shift[+].

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The Advanced Control tab controls the IskuFX backlight and Windows keyboard settings. Backlight color, brightness, light breating effect, and idle dimmer are available for changing.

The keyboard settings presented for modification include disabling Windows keys, Tab, and Application key and toggling sound feedback when a setting such as when a  profile is changed. Two more buttons are present, one to reset the Isku FX driver to default and Character Repeat settings.

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The Character Repeat settings popup permits changes to the repeat delay and repeat rate. These settings are mostly almost identical to the settings of the same name found in Window’s keyboard settings.

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The next tab is called R.A.D. and stands for ROCCAT Achievements Display. A list of counters records the lifetime usage of the Isku FX. Trophies can be unlocked, but are absolutely useless aside from bragging rights. The Total Statistics can be reset at any time, but trophies will not be lost.

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The last tab is titled Update/Support and has buttons and links that opens a web browser and redirects to relevant ROCCAT driver download and support webpages.

ROCCAT Software: ROCCAT Talk (feat. Kone XTD Mouse) and Talk FX

ROCCAT TALK (feat. Kone XTD Mouse)

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Like the original Isku, the Isku FX is compatible with ROCCAT’s keyboard-mouse unity software called ROCCAT Talk. ROCCAT Talk is not a true standalone program, but instead extends some functionality of the drivers for each ROCCAT device. For our review of ROCCAT Talk, we used ROCCAT’s Kone XTD gaming mouse alongside the Isku FX.

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ROCCAT Talk allows hardware specific setting hotkeys to be used on the opposite device. For example, the Isku FX’s macro keys can be assigned to trigger specific mouse DPIs. However, the options are limited. There is no hotkey command to rotate through the mouse DPIs, F-keys and media keys can’t be programmed with ROCCAT Talk commands, and Easy-Shift[+] commands are disabled for those keys with assigned Talk functions.

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Usage of ROCCAT Talk on the Kone XTD is even more disappointingly inadequate. Only two buttons – the two right side buttons – can be programmed with ROCCAT Talk commands and there are only two available commands, both used to trigger the Isku FX’s Easy-Shift[+] mode.

If there’s room for more features in the future, I would like to see ROCCAT Talk have the ability to tie together mouse and keyboard profiles and synchronize the multicolor LED lights.

 

Talk FX

Talk FX is a reactive backlight driver extension included in ROCCAT Talk. This is a feature only found on ROCCAT products with multicolor LEDs which currently are the Isku FX keyboard and three mice, the Kone[+], Kone XTD, and Kone Pure. ROCCAT claims that onscreen actions can be expressed with mouse/keyboard color changes and effects. The official Talk FX trailer on YouTube gives examples of the Kone XTD mouse reacting from in-game events such as pulsing blue when mana is low, blinking red when health is critical, and flowing green when poisoned.

 

The worst part is that it’s all too good to be true. Talk FX is half-baked and falls way short of what is advertised. At present, World of Tanks is the only listed game with support for Talk FX sensory effects.

If you watched our video on the first page demonstrating the Isku FX and Kone XTD changing colors in sync to the BioShock Infinite launch trailer, you might be wondering how that was possible after I just said that such a feature doesn’t exist within Talk FX.

I used a modified driver created by YouTube user Maxigeek68 to drive those reactive color changes.  Apparently, ROCCAT has a software development kit for the community to develop Talk FX features and Maxigeek68 created his Ambilight mod as something of a preview for the missing reactive color lights. This mod driver did suffer from some driver instability and our Isku review sample did occasionally lockup in my tests and so be wary of the risks if you are interested in using it for yourself.

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My usage of Ambilight exposed inherent problems with the behavior of the reactive lights from which I speculate are the reasons ROCCAT chose not to implement the sensory light feature into Talk FX. Most scenes in a movie, TV show, or game are a mixture of colors. If you’ve ever played with colors at some point in your life, whether it is with paint or crayons, then you should know that a mixture of colors is gray. Also realize that webpages and documents are not dominated by any one color and most images are color balanced. As such, the reactive lights on our Isku FX keyboard and Kone mouse was almost always white, becoming dimmer or brighter in reaction to the average of light and dark onscreen. An underwater image for example would trigger white lights with only a slight of blue. A scene in a forest would wind up making the light color shift slightly to red and make the “gray” light look brown. There are few instances when one color dominates the entire screen such as a fire that stretches across the whole scene which causes the FX lights to flicker orange.

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Faster reactive light refresh rates demand more processing power as evidenced by a look at Task Manager while the Ambillight mod was running. An Intel Core-i5 desktop processor idly running the mod was at around 35% load. Oftentimes, Windows detected this slow down and started cutting out nonessential processes. Logically, this would mean that the usage of reactive lighting in Talk FX would be restricted to fast modern computers and might have been a good decision on ROCCAT’s part not to integrate this feature. However, I feel cheated to see the Isku FX box advertising reactive lighting as a core attribute without officially included it in the final product.

Using the Isku FX & Conclusion

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Brightly-lit environments overpower the Isku FX's backlight

 

Here’s a bit of insight into the making of this review. The Isku FX was a difficult photograph subject and for the sake of demonstrating the backlight colors without overdoing the number of images, I elected to have the Isku FX’s backlights turned on during most of the photoshoot. This is something most other reviwers don’t do because the result isn’t entirely honest. The reality is that the Isku FX’s backlights aren’t intense enough to shine through the keys in a brightly lit room or under a set of studio lights. By controlling exposure times and ambient lighting, I was able to enhance the appearance of the Isku FX’s illumination in some of the review images. If the colored backlight appears bright and the keyboard looks dark, you can bet that it was photographed in low light.

Then there’s the copious amount of gloss. Aside from of course being fingerprint magnets, so much of the keyboard’s surface was glossy plastic that I had to be extra mindful of reflections in my photographs. Not enough backlight, too much gloss. This brings me to comment on an unfortunate motif going on with this keyboard. There’s a bunch of thing about the Isku FX where there’s too much of something, too little of another, for better and for worse.

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As a gaming keyboard, the ROCCAT Isku FX is great. The keys are neither too soft nor too stiff and the short keytravel along with anti-ghosting, low latency, and a fast polling rate makes the keyboard very responsive. The Isku FX is one of the finest membrane keyboards I have ever used. For $99.99 shipped at Amazon and with a 1 year warranty, the Isku FX is fair competition against other multicolor backlit membrane keyboards such as the Logitech G510s and the Alienware TactX keyboard. However, there’s no denying that $99.99 is expensive for a keyboard and that money can easily snag a basic mechanical switch keyboard which are increasingly popular amongst gamers.

The number of possible macros keys is insane. It’s possible to turn a good part of the left side of the Isku FX into something of a customizable pseudo-gamepad though it would be much easier if that could be done without either holding down the Easy-Shift[+] key or buying a Kone mouse and programming it with an Easy-Shift[+] lock/unlock macro.

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Then there’s ROCCAT Talk and Talk FX. There’s a bunch of words on the product box and website about “Set Bonus advantages” and “sensory effects” and even a picture that shows the Isku FX and Kone XTD together with their lights synced in purple. The reality is that ROCCAT Talk doesn’t do enough. It could do much more to unify the Isku FX and Kone mouse experience and worse yet, there’s almost no “sensory effects” included. I wouldn’t have cared had these driver features not been advertised, but ROCCAT Talk really is too much talk and too little action.

Ultimately, I feel ROCCAT could have done more. The hardware is wonderful, but ROCCAT’s marketing hype has left me wanting so much more out of the software and backlights. If you are the type of gamer interested in a keyboard with lots of macros and good looks to boot, then I would highly recommend the Isku FX. Otherwise, save your money for elsewhere.

 

Legit Bottom Line: ROCCAT’s Isku FX is beautifully made and packed with some very cool and useful macro features making it particularly interesting for MMO gamers. While it is expensive and seemingly less relevant in the face of mechanical keyboards, the Isku FX remains competitive amongst multicolored backlit keyboards. Disappointments are its dim backlights and the lack of promised software features.