The Microsoft Sidewinder X4 is a gaming keyboard that looks just like a standard office keyboard.
The only giveaway that it is actually meant for virtual treasure hunters and monster slayers are the macro keys located at its left side.
You can programme up to 18 macros with the keyboard, as you can switch between three different banks of the six macro keys. It is easy to create the macros. Simply press the record key followed by the keys you want to press then record again when you are done. Macros are great for games like Starcraft 2, where you can programme your units to build a building or pump out Marauders with just a single key press instead of two or three.
Despite the unremarkable design of the X4, it shares the top-notch tactile feel as its two-year-old cousin X6, which gives excellent response when gaming and makes simple typing a real pleasure.
Unfortunately, the X4 is clearly a dumbed-down version of the X6. Missing are the removable keypad with magnets that can fit to either the left or right side of the keyboard, a larger palm rest, volume and backlight dial knobs, a dedicated Game Explorer button and Cruise mode which can keep a key held down. There are also fewer programmable macros - 18 compared to the previous 90.
While the X6 had a smooth palm rest, the X4 makes use of an anti-slip material but it is much too narrow for me. I like to rest my entire wrist on my keyboard but the rest for the X4 stops short where my palms are. You now get keys for volume and keyboard backlight control, a lot less cool than dial knobs, especially when you can set only three levels of brightness for the backlight.
The big feature of the X4 is the anti-ghosting capability that is touted to let you press up to 26 keys at the same time, though I have never played a game that requires me to press more than four to five keys simultaneously.
For a few keys, this keyboard worked without a hitch. The X4 also has adjustable feet, like most keyboards, where in the past, it was ergonomically flat. I personally like my keyboards flat but there are obviously many others who prefer them propped up slightly.
At $89.90, the X4 is a budget version of the outstanding X6 (which now costs $119) which shares the same top-notch tactile keys but the X4 lacks the bells and whistles that made its predecessor my favourite keyboard in 2008.
The X4 gets the job done, but is missing the extras that made the X6 truly great.
This story was first published in The Straits Times Digital Life.
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