Logitech G19 Keyboard Review

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Ever since the tragic-looking G11 which I couldn’t even muster the effort to shrug at, Logitech have been soldiering on, taking strictly evolutionary steps in an apparent effort to make a keyboard, the functionality of which could replace your computer entirely.

The G15 was a much sleeker and thoroughly more attractive step in the right direction, ditching the casio-organizer design cues and integrating the LCD firmly into the board itself but it still didn’t have the wow-factor that Logitech have finally achieved with the G19.

The trouble with wow-factor, however, it that it doesn’t do an awful lot to improve your performance in-game.

Don’t get me wrong, though, the Logitech G19 is a simply stunning looking if somewhat plasticy keyboard, the sleek look of which is, ironically, only ruined by the LCD itself. It’s mounted in a somewhat excessively large glossy plastic shell which is in turn mounted upon a plastic bar that’s desperately pretending to be metal. Sadly, the LCD itself looks utterly lost in the vast expanse of glossy plastic bezel, which is completely at odds with the matte finish of the keyboard. I get the distinct impression that an LCD that actually filled all this space would be considerably more impressive and, more importantly, considerably more useful. And if it were touch sensitive? Now that I would pay £140 for! Of course, I’m getting into MIMO/Keyboard hybrid territory here… not that I wouldn’t love such a product far more than the G19 simply because any ordinary desktop application could be dragged to the auxiliary display.

Incidentally, my iPhone is currently being protected by a Dome Skin which gives it a significant amount of adhesion to anything glossy. I figured I could simply circumvent the somewhat feature-deprived LCD in the G19 by sticking my iPhone in its place. Forget a 320×240 RSS reader, with this setup I could read Slashdot whilst gaming full-screen; a handy setup when you spend a lot of time either dead, in flight or mashing the same 3 buttons repeatedly (and have my depressingly small attention span).

I believe that, with a clever horizontal iTouch/iPhone dock, an App/SDK that allowed games to communicate information with it and a significantly lower price tag, a future G-series keyboard could (for iTouch/iPhone owners, anyway) be something truly special. After all, a dock-equipped G-series keyboard is going to have as small a market as an LCD-equipped one. It would also be able to implement audio-out functionality somewhat like the Razer Pro|Type.

Anyway, I’m getting carried away. Let’s move away from what I want the G19 to be, and look at what it actually is.

The tiny LCD in the Logitech G19 Keyboard is apparently powered by an embedded linux computer, or so I’ve read, the specifications of which I’ve been unable to locate. It would appear, however, that all the applets that interface with the G19 are simple binary executables that live and run on your desktop computer. A quick look in Windows Task Manager reveals processes such as LCDMedia, LCDPictureViewer, LCDMovieViewer and more. All of these take up a not-so-finite amount of system resources, with things like LCDYT (the YT I would guess stands for YouTube) taking up around 65.5mb after a day of tinkering. This is closely followed by LCDMon at 43.8mb and LCDMovieViewer at 19mb.

All of these LCD services mount up to a not-insignificant hit on system resources, easily consuming 200mb+ of RAM. Furthermore, unloading these services from the LCD itself does not seem to immediately unload the executables, leaving behind a mess of wasted resources.

Of course, in this day and age you’ll find between 2gb and 4gb of RAM is the absolute minimum and gamers with the cash to blow on the G19 are more than likely to have the latter or more. With plenty of RAM to spare I’m sure you’re not going to be bothered by these applications, but thus far I can find no evidence to substantiate the misinformation that the G19 runs Linux or does any of the processing for its LCD applets whatsoever. I also think that it’s pretty safe to say that, at this price point, there’s little to no chance that the G19 has the grunt to be playing YouTube videos or media files on its lonesome. By all means, correct me if I’m wrong, but all I can see is that LCD Applets run on your desktop computer and simply forward what they want to display to the LCD. Buttons on the G19 then, via its drivers, communicate directly with these Applets to page through videos, access settings and so on.

Moving away from the LCD, which may be the most prominent feature of the G19 but certainly not the most important to many gamers, the G19 is actually quite a well-rounded keyboard. The keys aren’t mushy and have a decidedly firm feedback. Alas, they’re not gold micro-switches the likes of which you’ll find on a SteelSeries i7, but they are as good as a non mechanical keyboard is going to get.

The whole key bed has a variable colour backlight which can be cycled at will through a range of primary colours with a slight variation in hue. There are 3 shift states to the G19, each of which can have its own backlight colour setting. Even if you don’t use the macro buttons, these shift states therefore allow you to quickly and easily switch between your three favourite colours.

To try and encourage the use of Macro buttons, Logitech have placed a “Quick Macro” button right on the G19 itself. This button allows you to quickly select one of the Macro buttons and assign a sequence of key presses to it. Unfortunately the G19 and its software isn’t terribly clever about preserving the timings of your key presses. That is to say, in fact, that it makes no effort to do so whatsoever. If you want more complex Macros you must dig into the desktop software, which is actually surprisingly easy to use, and spend a few minutes programming away.

I’m not a fan of Macro buttons. The only game I play on a desktop PC that I would want Macros for, World of Warcraft, has its own system for macroing commands that you should be macroing. Any attempt to use the G19 to make repetitive actions in MMORPGs more tolerable would be futile.

This leaves the obvious things such as “buy” macros for Counter Strike, but those are also covered in-game (at least they were back when I played) so the savvy gamer will already have their favourite combinations bound to keys.

Overall the Logitech G19 combines a generally good build quality with a great key response, a backlight with more choice than you can shake a pointy stick at and an, unfortunately, rather small and non touchscreen LCD that, now Logitech have given me a taste of frivolous keyboard-embedded colour LCDs, I can’t help but want more from. It’s a shame the keyboard comes with a high price tag and, as of yet, not a lot of colour-enabled applets to really make it shine.

If you’ve got the cash to splash, you can’t go wrong. If you haven’t then you’ll be pleased to know that the G19 will keep those G15 prices low. The G15 can be grabbed for about £70 on Play.com, a massive £53 less than the G19.

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