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Manufacturer: Belkin
Min OS X: Any Version    Requires: USB Port

Nostromo n50 SpeedPad
January 23, 2003 | Greg Gant

Click to enlarge
The best way to describe the Nostromo n50 Speedpad is an unusual combination of keyboard and gamepad designed for first and third person shooters. It is one of the few gamepads made specifically to compliment a mouse.

The n50 feels much more natural than a keyboard. The pad is shaped so that the user's left palm rests gently upon the base, and naturally places the user's thumb on the d-pad. Belkin also recognizes one size doesn't fit all. The n50's palm rest can be removed for smaller hands as well.

Belkin recently posted Mac OS X and 9.x drivers for the n50 on their website. Instead of a preference pane in the System Preferences, a separate configuration utility is used to customize driver functionality.

The n50 uses a classic approach with profiles for each game named "targets". Configuring the n50 is a simple and familiar process. First you select the game or application you wish to use the n50 with. Then you assign the key commands to the gamepad. From that point on, the n50 will automatically load the proper settings for the application in the foreground. This means you can bounce between multiple apps and the n50 will always function as you have configured it. The configuration utility also allows you to import other profiles when creating new profiles, which can be time saver if an app uses similar keys.

An interesting and unique feature of the n50 are its four shift states: no state, red, blue, and green. At the top left corner of the gamepad, a LED light of a corresponding color indicates whichever state is active. Shift states function much like a modifier key, so different commands can be attached to a single button. For example, in games that use multiple character classes, each of which have different abilities, you can have the commands of each character stored in a different state. My only complaint was that there is no button to toggle the states, so that I could assign a single button to cycle through all the states. Instead a different button must be assigned to switch to a different state.

No Learning Curve?
Belkin proudly boasts that the n50 requires almost no learning curve. Being a born skeptic, I was naturally doubtful of their claims. I quickly configured the drivers and decided to give MacSoft's Max Payne a go. I was amazed at how natural the n50 felt. I hardly had to think about using the d-pad to move my character and switching weapons was no longer a chore. I often found myself fumbling between weapons when using a keyboard, but after learning the new key layout for the weapons, I suddenly had all the weaponry at my fingertips.

After experimenting with Max Payne, I tried out Quake III. Quake III doesn't have as many key commands as Max Payne but the n50 was still a welcomed addition. It took me a few sessions to counterbalance my d-pad movement skills with my keyboard dexterity. For those who prefer to use keys for movement, the n50 can be configured to use the keypad as well. Personally, I prefer using the d-pad to the n50's keypad for "steering the ship". The d-pad feels natural, possibly because I've been conditioned by years of console gaming, all of which have a d-pad which is manipulated by the left hand.


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