Ideazon Zboard - HotHardware

Ideazon Zboard

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Ideazon Zboard
Interchangeable Keyboard System

Tom Laverriere
December 23rd, 2003

Every once in a while a company will develop an innovation that makes an ordinary piece of hardware exciting.  In the arena of input devices, more specifically, keyboards, there have been many innovations to aid with the ever monotonous task of typing.  Keyboards now come in all different types, sizes, and colors and the latest craze are the wireless keyboards that allow for a more organized, "wire-free" workstation.  But most of these keyboards still function the same as any other, with perhaps a few specialized shortcut keys for commonly used applications added.

Over at the HotHardware labs, there are many applications we use where the keyboard could be just a little more friendly.  This is most noticeable when playing games.  The bottom line is fingers are only so long, and with the complexity of games today, that requires being able to reach many keyboard buttons with one hand since the other hand is usually being occupied by the mouse.  That's not always fun and we can say that it's cost us a few frags over the years when you're reaching for the strafe key and end up hitting something else instead.  A keyboard with all the right controls in a small area would make gaming a whole lot easier, and maybe even more enjoyable.

Well friends, we are here to tell you today that we may have found the answer to our keyboard dilemma.  We're not talking just about gaming applications, we're also talking about productivity applications as well.   How can a keyboard be set up well for a gaming application and a office application at the same time?   The answer is, it can't.  The folks over at Ideazon however, have what might be the best solution.  Today in the HotHardware labs, we have Ideazon's ZBoard interface.  ZBoard?  You're probably picturing a keyboard shaped like "z".  Actually, at first glance, the ZBoard doesn't look any different than your run of the mill keyboard.  But once you tap into all the features this nifty piece of hardware offers, the possibilities seem endless.

Specifications / Features Of Ideazon Zboard
Do you have what it takes?
 

ZBoard with Crossfire Interface

Click Images for Full View

 

Package Contents

Minimum System Requirements

  • Zboard PS/2 base unit (without interface)
  • Wrist rest
  • Installation CD
  • User guide
  • IBM Compatible system (no Macintosh, SGI, etc.)
  • PS/2 port free for keyboard use
  • 500MHz+ CPU
  • 128MB RAM
  • CD-ROM drive
  • Up to 25MB of hard drive space
  • Microsoft Windows 98 SE / 2000 / ME / XP
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer version 5.0 or higher
  • Whatever software application you Zboard Keyset(s) is/are designed for (games, productivity tools, etc.)
  • Zboard Keyset
  • Sound card and speakers for Zboard nice to have for multimedia controls

Above is a picture of the ZBoard base with the Crossfire interface snapped into place.  We'll get into more detail about the "snapped into place" comment a little later.  Just keep that stored away in the back of your mind for now.  We found it to be a little disappointing that the ZBoard base does not ship with an interface to at least get you started.  Let's take a look at the packaging and its contents.

Click Images for Full View

Front of Box

Back of Box

Contents

Bundle

Zboard

Zboard w/ Interface

 
As you can see from the pictures above, the ZBoard ships with a couple of user's manuals to get you started in a hurry, an installation CD, a wrist rest, and the base unit itself.  The picture above with the box open and the ZBoard with an interface snapped in is a little deceiving because this is not what you will find if you were to purchase this product.  Take a look at the middle picture in the bottom row.  That is the ZBoard without any interface snapped in and that is how this product ships to you.  The interfaces that can be snapped in our sold separately from the base unit.  In any event, you get the idea of what the ZBoard looks like without an interface and with one.  What is an interface you ask?  Let's take a look.

 

Click Images for Full View

MOH Interface

MS Office Interface

MS Windows Interface

Crossfire Interface MOH: Controls MOH: Close Up

MS Windows: Close Up

MS Office: Close Up

ZBoard Interface Packaging

Above we have pictures of four different interfaces that can be used with the ZBoard base unit.  As you can see each interface is divided into three sections which allows them to be folded up nicely and put away for easy storage when not in use.  To apply the interface to the ZBoard base unit, you simply start by placing the leftmost section into the leftmost part of the base unit and then push each section down until it's perfectly in place on the ZBoard base unit.  The rightmost section has a clip that you snap down to the base unit to secure the interface from coming off while in use.  It's very simple and makes changing from one interface to another very easy; it only take a matter of seconds.

What we found to be the most interesting was the Medal of Honor interface and the Crossfire interface.  Notice the close up of the controls on the Medal Of Honor interface.  It's a beautiful thing to have all those handy controls in a small area that is easily accessible with just one hand.  As with anything, we found there is a bit of a learning curve when using these controls while playing Medal of Honor.  It's all a matter of what each individual is used to.  It doesn't take long, however, until you're using the interface like a champ.  As far as making us better gamers, that's a matter of taking the time to practice, but if you asked us if the keyboard made it easier to game, we'd have to say yes.

The beauty of the Crossfire interface is that it can be set up to work with many games, not just one, and actually can also be used for Medal of Honor.  You'll notice that the controls on the Crossfire interface are very similar to the controls on the Medal Of Honor interface which make both very effective in gaming environments.  The other feature to notice about the interfaces geared towards gaming, is that they are a bit awkward to type with.  The small round keys can be a bit hard to find and tend to be a problem for the ole fat finger syndrome, but again, that's not the interface's primary function.

We know you're thinking it so we'll get right to it.  How does the ZBoard base unit know which interface is snapped in?  It's in all in the software.  Let's take a look at the installation and software provided with the ZBoard.
 

Setup, Installation & Final Thoughts

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