sidewinder
gift guide 2010

Review: Microsoft Sidewinder X4 keyboard

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Short version: A competent, but unremarkable keyboard. If you like Microsoft keyboards, spend the extra cash for the fancier and cooler X6.

Features:

  • Anti-ghosting (press as many keys at one time as you like)
  • Six programmable macro keys with switchable profiles
  • Backlit keys
  • Media controls
  • Calculator button!

Pros:

  • Big and solid
  • Anti-ghosting is good to have, even if you don’t notice it

Cons:

  • Media keys launch Windows Media Player
  • Only one color of backlight and two brightness settings
  • No USB ports

Full review:

What we have here is… well, a normal keyboard, basically, with some macro and media keys. The trouble is, if you’re the type of gamer who uses macros a lot, you probably want a little more keyboard than this offers. There are lots of options out there, including the unique and cool Sidewinder X6, which I liked a lot.

Functionality is as you see: some macro keys on the left there, which are useful in all the situations you’d expect, and the configuration thereof works just fine, though it’s extremely spartan. There’s a nice long list of handy commands you might want to use, something which developers often fail to include.

The media keys worked out of the box with Winamp, though irritatingly if Winamp is not open, pressing the Play/Pause button will launch Windows Media Player. You can’t disable that, unfortunately; there’s no option to select another default player. I’m not sure I dig the layout, either.

Doesn’t that seem a little weird to you? I think play should be in between previous and next track, though that may just be me. But why is mute attached to the play controls cluster? Shouldn’t it be over with volume up and down? Not a big deal, obviously, but if you could choose between a keyboard that has them laid out in an intuitive way, and one that didn’t, which would you choose? Right, me too.

Lastly, for a gaming keyboard, it sure doesn’t have any extra connectors, like USB or audio. That’s kind of an important part of a gaming keyboard, and really, I just realized that the X6 has the same problem, as well as a similar media key layout. Well, consider this criticism retroactively applied to that thing as well.

Conclusion

Like so many devices in the crowded “gaming enthusiast hardware” field, the X4 is simply outmatched by the competition, which is too close in price to warrant a downgrade. Microsoft’s own X6, for instance, can even be found for cheaper than the X4, and it certainly offers a cooler feature set. Logitech and Razer also offer compelling alternatives for similar prices. Sorry, X4, but there’s just too much good stuff out there.

Product Page: Sidewinder X4 Keyboard

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