Build Quality, Layout and FeaturesPicking up the Steelseries 7G feels like opening the door of a fine German automobile. There is a certain heft to it and an unmistakable, but also intangible, sense that it was engineered by people who gave a damn. The product doesn’t have the flash that you’d normally expect from a gaming product, trading gee-whiz features and color schemes for a similar matte black aesthetic. The fields of flat black plastic are broken only by a discrete Steelseries logo placed above the number pad.
The keyboard’s extreme build quality even applies to the keyboard’s cables. Most keyboards ship with small, flimsy cords covered in thin black rubber. The Steelseries 7G, however, comes with a monstrous cord approximately a quarter inch thick that is covered in a thick sheath of what appears to be nylon. The only part of the keyboard that does not feel up to par is the massive plastic wrist rest that is included. In press photos it appears attached, but it in fact is removable and held in place only by the force of gravity. As a result it has the slightly tendency to move while you slide your wrists across it. While this is by no means a major issue, the much higher than normal quality of the keyboard makes the wrist rest feel cheap.
The Das Keyboard Model S doesn’t live up to the standard set by the 7G. Unlike its competitor, the Model S does at least make some attempt at visual flair. The keys are set in matte black plastic but the keyboard’s face has a glossy piano finish. While the gloss does make the product more attractive at a glance, a hard look at the Model S results in disappointment. Fingerprints begin to collect quickly, resulting in a smudged appearance after heavy use. Worse, the keys themselves simply look cheaper than those of the 7G. The plastic used doesn’t appear much different than that found on the typical $10 Dell keyboard. I also noticed that the color of the plastic used for the keys does is not well matched to the finish of the keyboard’s face.
Turning the unit over makes matters worse. The plastic that composes the chassis feels and looks extremely cheap compared to the plastic used on the 7G. It is even possible to see color differentiations in the plastic throughout the unit. This might be acceptable in a toy purchased at a dollar store, but it isn’t something that I’d expect to see from a keyboard that will set you back well over a hundred bucks. The cord, at least, is comparable to the 7G’s. It isn’t covered in a fabric-like material, but it is about a quarter of an inch thick.
Layout and Features
Both the Steelseries 7G and the Das Keyboard Model S use 104-key layouts. However, there are some substantial differences between them.
The 7G’s layout is different in several ways from the typical keyboard. The most immediate is probably the lack of a Windows key on the left side of the Spacebar. Instead there is a “Steelseries key” which has the Steelseries logo and is used, in conjunction with function keys 1 through 6, for media functionality such as increasing or decreasing volume. The 7G also includes an oversized Enter key and, as a result, has an undersized Backspace key. My hands are large enough that I found no problem reaching for the smaller Backspace key, but those with smaller hands may find themselves entering backslashes where they meant to delete characters.
The Das Keyboard, by contrast, is as standard a layout as you can imagine. There are no extra media keys. The Enter key is the typical height and the Backspace key is the typical size. Overall, the layout does feel better for typing. However, the Steelseries key on the 7G can be an advantage for gamers. If you are in a game and you are using a output device that doesn’t have a built-in volume control – like a pair of headphones, for example – you’ll only be able to adjust volume by entering the game’s menu and altering the sound controls if you are using the Model S.
Both the 7G and the Model S have USB hubs. The 7G also throws in a microphone and headphone jack, which can be handy if your tower is not close to your chair or if your headphones have a short cord. I did not detect any reduction in sound quality when using the headphone jack on the 7G.
The USB hub on the 7G has a better location – the rear left hand corner of the keyboard – compared to the Model S, which places the hub on the right side of the keyboard. If you are right handed your mouse is probably positioned directly to the right of your keyboard. Having a USB drive plugged into the Model S will interfere with the use of your mouse.
However, the USB hub on the 7G conforms to USB 1.1, while the hub on the Model S conforms to USB 2.0. To see if there was a real difference between the performance of the hubs I transferred 162 MP3 files, totaling 556MB, to a USB 2.0 drive using the keyboard hub. This transfer took 14 minutes and 6 seconds on the 7G, but only 3 minutes and 54 seconds on the Model S.
That is a drastic difference. The USB hub on the 7G is so slow that I honestly wouldn’t recommend it for use with any storage device. Considering the premium nature of the 7G I am not sure why Steelseries even bothered to include a USB hub with such poor performance.