Razer Nostromo Gaming Keypad Review

Posted Apr 7, 2011
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Razer is one of the foremost companies when it comes to quality gaming peripherals for personal computers. From headsets to keyboards, speakers to sound cards, chances are if you ever encounter a gamer he or she will probably have at least one Razer peripheral in their gaming arsenal, if not more. Razer’s moto is “for gamers by gamers” and with a deadly line up of mice like the Deathadder and quality headphones like the Pirhanas so far they have succeeded in upholding their claim. Today however we have something different from Razer; their first ever gaming pad called Razer Nostromo.

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The name “nostromo” might strike a chord amongst veteran gamers. Yes, this is indeed a collaboration between Razer and Belkin to release a revamped version of the original Belkin Nostromo N52. What Razer hopes to do with the Nostromo is to provide gamers with an alternate to a standard keyboard. While your average keyboard is used for a wide variety of things, the Nostromo is strictly for gamers, and hence being a part of Razer’s “elite” series of hardware. Lets have a look at the specifications:

  • Ergonomic form factor and tournament-grade layout
  • 16 fully programmable Hyperesponse keys
  • Programmable 8-way directional thumb pad and scroll wheel
  • Instantaneous switching between 8 key maps
  • Unlimited macro lengths
  • Stores up to 20 different game profiles
  • Adjustable soft-touch wrist pad for exceptional comfort
  • Backlit keypad and scroll wheel for total control even in dark conditions
  • Enhanced Razer configurator software
  • Approximate dimensions in mm: 184(L) x 160(W) x 59(H)
  • Approximate weight: 250g

Packaging and Design

Unpacking a Razer product has always been somewhat of a special experience. This is because of the time Razer spends on the design and overall look of the box.

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The gamepad comes securely packed in a box made of cardboard material.

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You can easily have a look at the gamepad without having to tear anything apart by opening a “door” thats held together by magnets. The front is dominated by a big picture of the product with some of its special features.

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On the back is some more information given in a host of different languages. Comes bundled with the product are your usual Razer goodies which include a product leaflet, a sticker and a quick start guide. I did not find any installation CD included.

The basic layout of the Nostromo has not gone under any major changes compared to the original Belkin. It is now completely painted black. The rest pad is made of soft rubber material which helps in better grip compared to plastic. The keys numbered 1 to 14 are also made of soft rubber material and are blue back lit.

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On the side is a scroll wheel, a small button and a D-Pad beneath it. The scroll wheel also doubles as a button just like in regular mice and has a nice feel to it. The D-Pad was also pretty easy to use though it’s made of plastic which gets pretty slippery after extended gaming sessions. After making the keys and the scroll wheel of soft rubber, I would have wanted Razer to do the same to the D-Pad as well.

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Beneath the D-Pad is another key numbered 15 which by default works as a space bar. Beneath this key are three lights which change according to the keys profile selected through the software control center.

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The underside features several rubber feet for better grip and a small on/off switch for the back light.
When switched on, the blue back light looks very attractive especially in darker environments. The intensity can be changed via software, although a hardware button for it would have been much preferable. The main chassis is made of glossy plastic which at first looks very nice, but will eventually fall victim to finger prints.

Software

Any piece of hardware is dependent on its software to be reliable, stable and offer enough features to make full use of it. Fortunately for the Nostromo, Razer has done just that and have provided a software that allows deep customization options.

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The first tab is called ‘assign buttons’ and it does just that. Using a drop down menu you can assign each button a standard keyboard key, or set it to perform a macro function.

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The second tab is called ‘manage profiles’ and here you can save different profiles for different games.

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The third tab is used to program macro keys. This allows you to assign different combinations of keystrokes to one key. You can also customize the delay between different keystrokes. These macros can be imported or exported in case you require your macros on another computer.

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The fourth tab allows adjustment of the back light using a slider bar.

Performance

Razer markets the Nostromo towards all gamers be it MMORPG fans or FPS fans. To test it I tried a few FPS games like Crysis 2 and old school multiplayer games like Quake 3 Arena. The experience was not that pleasant. While the Nostromo feels comfortable in your hands, there are some design faults that seriously hinders performance. The Nostromo has no row of keys above the WASD cluster and since all FPS games by default use that numerical row for weapons switching, I constantly found myself hitting empty space where a numerical row would have been just like in a regular keyboard. Crysis 2 only allows two to three weapons in single player so I use a mouse scroll wheel for that, but for Quake 3 this was a deal breaker where you can carry nearly 8 weapons. The scroll wheel on the Nostromo for this is nearly useless too since it’s located way too near the WASD cluster.

For driving games like Dirt 2 it was a bit better since I didn’t really feel the need for any other keys besides the WASD cluster. Put in Need For Speed Hot Pursuit and you run into problems again. NFSHP is a bit more complicated than Dirt 2. There are nearly six different power ups in that game and not nearly enough comfortably space keys on the Nostromo that can be assigned those functions. Even in driving games that had no problems with the Nostromo, I didn’t feel any advantage using a 70$ gamepad over a 5$ keyboard. If anything, it was slightly inconvenient.

The saving grace for this I suppose would be MMORPGs which can greatly benefit from macro keys. Whether you want to spend 70$ for that is up to you.

Conclusion

I’m having a really hard time figuring out the exact purpose of the Nostromo. Razer targets it towards all genre of PC gamers but to keep size in check Razer had to make a few compromises. FPS lovers will miss the top numerical row over the WASD cluster and will find no use for the D-Pad. However MMORPG lovers will probably feel this product was made for them. Coupled with a Razer Naga the combination will offer you enough macro keys and will probably eliminate the use of a standard keyboard for many. However if you own a gaming keyboard like the Logitech G19 or the G510 or Razer’s excellent Blackwidow you will be hard pressed to find the Nostromo a substantial improvement as a gaming product. Yes it does offer more macro keys with a host of other features, but to justify a 70$ price over an already existing ~100$ keyboard is hard. Gamers with standard keyboards who don’t want a full blown gaming keyboard will probably find the Nostromo suitable for casual gaming.

Logitech G13 is a direct competitor for the Nostromo and because it was made from the ground up rather than a revision, it offers some key advantages over the Nostromo. The built in LCD is extremely useful to have a quick glance at vital stats in game. It also makes on the fly Macro switching possible which I believe right now is quite confusing on the Nostromo for a first timer. The absence of any on board memory also hampers mobile gaming. You will need to carry your saved profiles in a portable disk in order to use them at another computer.

With such a killer line up of gaming keyboards and mice, I don’t think Razer intends the Nostromo to be a best seller. For a first product of its kind in their inventory, it’s a commendable effort. With minor software adjustments like macro assignments and a few physical changes it can be a much better product, but that’s a story for another time. The Nostromo will find its place amongst a niche category of gamers who prefer something portable and more customisable than a standard keyboard; and with Razer’s signature styling and killer looks the Nostromo might just be the product for them.

Pros

  • Looks good
  • Useful for gamers on the go

Cons

  • No onboard memory
  • Macro assigning is confusing
  • Button layout not convenient for FPS games
  • No on the fly macro recording
  • Logitech G13 offers better features
  • Too expensive

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