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Unique, but very difficult to recommend
on December 11, 2010
Logitech's G19, an expensive keyboard with back-lighting, a unique color screen with game and other application support, and plenty of macro keys, is pitched by Logitech as the crème de la crème of keyboards. Is it? Unfortunately, this is not the case. There are numerous shortcomings that prevent the G19 from being a winner.
I owned it for two and a half weeks before returning it to my local Best Buy.
Where does the G19 fall short? Well, other than the screen, it's just designed poorly (materials) compared to the competition.
1. The quality of the mechanism. The keys on the G19 use a rubber dome system for its keys that became popular for being inexpensive - it made free keyboards with the sale of computers go from a major expense to a non-issue. The mechanism made it possible for $5 keyboards to exist. However, this mechanism makes compromises for the price, and thus it becomes an inappropriate choice when put in a board as expensive as the G19. Why?
-Rubber dome keys simply do not last as long as scissor switch, capacitive, or fully mechanical key switches. Logitech claims that the G series keyboards get 20M actuations (keypresses that register with the computer) per key, but this is many times what other industry competitors will list and is unrealistic - there are a LOT of complaints online about key failure just outside of a year on the G19. Interestingly, much cheaper keyboards that Logitech rates with much lower lifetimes (10 million or less) will have 2 or 3 year warranties, yet Logitech only warranties the G19 for a single year. Mechanical keyboards last 50 million or MORE.
-Rubber domes deteriorate before they fail completely. Why does this matter? Well, the domes degrade slightly each time they are used. This means that in order to get enough contact for the controller in the keyboard to recognize that a key is pressed, you must use slightly more force each time. This compounds, and in a few months the board can require 50% or more force than it initially did, worsening with time. This means keys that you use more often will require more force (WASD, anyone), and you'll have to use a significant amount of force on every key to ensure actuation. Mechanical keyswitches are not prone to this, and require the same amount of force until they fail. This amount of force is typically LOWER than rubber dome boards when new- this discrepancy only worsens with age. This means a mechanical keyboard will be much more comfortable to type on for long periods of time, especially as it gets older.
-Rubber dome keyboards introduce inherent limitations to the rollvover- how many keys can be pressed at a single time where every key will be recognized properly by the computer. When on USB, the maximum is limited to 6 (except for the Microsoft Sidewinder X4, which uses a patented approach). This is important to gamers, and the rollover on the G19 is respectable - you have 5 fingers on your left hand and five on the mouse in most cases, and most keys around WASD are well-ghosted (most combos of 6 will work). However, there are combos of 3 keys that do fail (and 4, and 5, and 6), and no combo of 7 or more keys will go through. In contrast, a mechanical keyboard can (and the overwhelming majority in the price range do) have N-Key rollover - ANY combo of keys, including every key on the keyboard, will be recognized over PS/2 (purple connector), and ANY combo of 6 keys will go through on the USB bus (limitation of the USB HID specification for keyboards).
-Rubber domes actuate at the bottom of travel - right before the keycap hits the bottom. Mechanicals actuate at halfway through full travel (2mm of 4mm)- making them MUCH more comfortable to type on for long periods of time, and making your critical moves occur earlier than they would on a rubber dome keyboard. Tactile feedback provides subtle and subconscious confirmation that keypresses went through, and helps to identify that point without looking.
Given all of this, why did Logitech use rubber domes? Price. A rubber dome mechanism costs pennies to implement. A mechanical keyboard represents at least $50 of initial cost to the manufacturer (MINIMUM!) since it requires expensive individual key switches and a large PCB. Other keyboards much cheaper than the G19 implement every feature but the screen, and keyboards that are less money or comparable in price have better quality with mechanical keyswitches.
2) The body, the keycaps, and the backlighting.
a) The body
The Body of the G19 looks neat, but it's a relatively light keyboard with a non-negligible flex, especially around the edges. The keyboard does not feel solid and doesn't use the strongest plastics. Other keyboards in the price range have "heft" that keeps them from moving on the desk, makes them feel like quality products, and do not flex/creak, even around the edges. Designing a solid body requires denser and more expensive plastic and greater quality control...
b) The keycaps
Keycaps are the plastic that covers the mechanism (dome, mechanical switch, etc.) that you hit, and on the G19, they are clear plastic, painted over. This is a cheap approach, and Google images will show you PLENTY of images of G-series keys wearing to the point of illegibility. This process can happen in just a couple of weeks if your skin chemistry is not favorable- indeed, my F and J keys (which have the nubs- they're where you'd rest your fingers where not typing if you type from the home row) had already worn, and the F key had become indistinguishable. This process will be slower for the majority of people, but the point is that other cheaper and similarly priced keyboards with backlighting will use dye-sublimation or two shot molding on their keycaps. Both of these processes are permanent and will not wear after years of use and ABuse. IBM and Cherry Point of Sale keyboards use these methods for that reason, and many modern keyboards (by Razer, Deck, and other competitors) will use them as well. Paint is a non-durable, but cheap method...
The G19 has customizable backlighting. This is a neat feature but requires significant compromise compared to other back-lit keyboards. How is it done?
The G19 uses LEDs of numerous colors throughout the board- a few light up all 100+ keys. Why is this bad?
Well, when you have a few LEDs spread throughout the board, it leads to uneven and relatively dim backlighting. Other keyboards around this price use individual LEDs for every key- leading to vibrant and completely even backlighting throughout the entire keyboard (and most boards are adjustable so you can increase the effect for visibility during the day and decrease it to a level that won't blind you at night).
Having a single LED per key is relatively easy and inexpensive if you already have a large PCB for your entire board, but greatly increases complexity and cost on a board designed more cheaply.
3) The screen
The redeeming feature of the G19 and what makes it so unique! It's the feature that excited me the most, and it truly does set the G19 apart. Is it to a great degree? Unfortunately, no. Logitech leads the pack in game support, but many games have very little useful information- a number just spit information back at you (location, mana, health, etc.) that already appear on your much bigger monitor! Why would you look away from the screen to see the same information (but none of the game) on a much smaller screen?
Additionally, if your desk level and keyboard level are not close enough, you have to look completely away from the monitor to look at the screen. This is the case on many desks...
The feature is also not compatible with other OSes, requires software that can use 100MB or more of resources (that could seriously impact game performance)...not every game supports it...
It's neat, but has significant limitations.
SO WHAT IS THE FINAL CONCLUSION?
If you've read this all, and I haven't swayed you, you're probably very attracted to the screen. And if you truly are completely enamored with the screen, buy it - you'll probably enjoy it if a feature is so desirable to you.
But if my review has raised doubts, it has for a good reason. The screen is a unique feature, but it doesn't justify the rest of the keyboard. If it weren't for the screen, I would have returned this keyboard much sooner - I REALLY wanted to like it. Ultimately, I could not reconcile my issues with the board, and I returned it. The G19 is a $20 keyboard in every fashion except the screen, and, of course, price.
Other competitors with similar features - such as the Razer BlackWidow Ultimate - offer similar features without the expense. The BlackWidow Ultimate offers better antighosting (unfortunately, not NKRO), is much more durable and comfortable to type on due to its excellent Cherry MX switches, offers macros, has a much better built body with no flex, dye sublimated keycaps, and individual LEDs per key for backlighting, audio/usb passthroughs, etc. - it exceeds the G19 by far in every aspect but the screen. Others, such as Deck and Xarmor, offer much better built keyboards with similar features as well.
Give serious, serious thought to buying a G19. If you want a keyboard that has a color screen and not much else, the G19 is really the only game in town. If you want a keyboard that excels at its primary purpose, look elsewhere.