|Manufacturer: Wolf King|
|Min OS X: Any Version Requires: USB Port|
Ah, the venerable keyboard. Few mechanical inventions see several centuries of constant development and still resemble their inaugural form as much as the keyboard. Although the first QWERTY typewriter (from which our modern-day keyboards are derived) did not appear until 1874, the origin of the typewriter, like the incandescent light bulb, can be traced back the efforts of a large number of tinkerers and inventors that laid the foundation for the device nearly 200 years earlier. In keeping with tradition, many of today's companies continue to experiment with the keyboard in the hopes of finding its eventual successor. Today, we will be evaluating one such effort: the Wolf King Warrior XXtreme.
Design Philosophy and General OverviewOne of the most looming obstacles hindering a designer that wishes to present an alternative to the conventional 104-key QWERTY typeset is the fact that the protocol has been in place long enough to become the de facto standard. Flexibility is one of the strongest suits of the current layout, and is one of the largest contributing factors to its 133-year-long lifespan. In order for a product like the Warrior XXtreme to hope to replace or simply supplement this tried-and-true workhorse, it either must beat the current design in terms of flexibility, or change tack completely and specialize in an arena for which the conventional keyboard is not well-suited. Wisely, Wolf King has chosen the latter stratagem for dealing with its natural competition, and has produced a rather striking alternative targeted directly at gamers.
Although its circular key arrangement may have been originally intended to help gamers compete more effectively, the Warrior XXtreme's rounded layout and the mercurial key dimensions visibly set it apart from the more formulaic designs of its adversaries. With a 49-key gaming cluster on the left and a 40-key QWERTY array on the right, this design can technically supplant a full-sized keyboard when you fire up your favorite game--an ability that few gamepads offer. Thanks to its svelte measurements, users are afforded a greater measure of freedom to move and rotate the device however they see fit. Once it's in place, Wolf King's clever material choices impress. For starters, the top of the unit is covered by a hardened, glossy plastic that picks up fingerprints as deftly as it allows your fingers to fly between the keys. While it is clearly reminiscent of the glossy black iPods of yore, it does not share their propensity for picking up scratches. Rather than covering the entire Warrior XXtreme with this material, the peripheral of the device has been encased in layer of soft, rubberized plastic that gives the base of your palm something pleasant to rest against as it offers just enough support to keep your wrist stable. While in play, the base of the unit remains sternly planted thanks to four rubber bumpers, and there's a sturdy set of flip-out legs that help make the unit a bit more ergonomic. Lest we forget, Wolf King included a handy set of volume and backlighting buttons in a ring near the top of the unit (a feature that works equally well in Mac OS X and Windows), and a dual-port USB 2.0 hub for peripherals in the rear. The two USB ports were probably intended to drive a small headset and a mouse (product documentation states that each port can supply a maximum of 100 mA of current), which means that users with expensive equipment should take note: certain devices may not function while plugged into the hub because the USB specification provides for up to 500 mA of current. Overall, however, the quality of the Warrior XXtreme's construction is exemplary. Not only is the board solid enough to beat someone senseless with (Given the unconscionable state of cheating in Call of Duty 4 multiplayer, that's not an unlikely situation. --Ed.), the backlighting quality and keystroke response are simply phenomenal. Key consistency, a hitherto neglected subject when keyboards are under discussion, is superb, and the only thing that sours the design is the fact that the developers forgot to etch, rather than print, the key labels (see the image on the next page to understand why that matters).
Key Layout AnalysisThe right-hand portion of the Warrior XXtreme is easy to summarize: cut a conventional keyboard in half, stack the left side on top of the right, and you've got the Warrior's QWERTY array. Although this was intended to be an innovative way to teach users to type with one hand without an extensive learning curve, the attempt fails spectacularly. The QWERTY layout, developed by Christopher Sholes in the 1860s, is a two-handed system that was originally intended as a solution to a mechanical problem with early 19th-century typewriters. It was not, as popular myth suggests, designed to make typing faster or help untrained salesmen peck out the word "TYPEWRITER" quicker. In any event, familiar words ("the"), phrases ("help me!"), and common insults ("your mother... ") are spread out across the Warrior XXtreme in the most unnatural ways imaginable, forcing the user to spend weeks retraining his or her fingers to perform the contortions necessary to type with any fluidity. For most people, the minor gains in productivity are not worth the effort involved--especially now that broadband connections and free VOIP has made text-based chatting old hat. Still, this initial effort on the part of Wolf King is useful for those ancillary controls that users tend to use sporadically. While this is purely speculative, we think that Wolf King could easily create a better one-handed key configuration, given a large sample of chat text and a keyword density search. Considering the removable nature of today's membrane or dome switch keys, if such a project was successful, it could sold as an upgrade or given away to prior customers.