who visited this year's E3 convention got the first glimpse at this
handy controller. By the time I heard about the Belkin n50 SpeedPad,
I was drooling at the prospects of leaving my keyboard behind during
intense game play. Although the n50 looks a bit like the SideWinder
Strategic Commander at first glance, it is very different indeed. The
"Nostromo" line is Belkin's first attempt at the game controller
market, and I think they will make quite an impact after seeing their
first few devices. GCC will be reviewing three other Nostromo game devices
as the month continues, so stay tuned!. At the time of this review,
the boxes and manuals that were shipped for review were a little out
of date, and as a result, I have a great announcement for you folks.
Belkin is now offering a Lifetime Warranty on the Nostromo devices.
New packaging and user manuals have been changed to reflect this. Lifetime?
Designed for your left hand, the n50 offers
ten genuine keys, a throttle, and an 8-way directional pad fit for your
thumb. The keys can be effectively tripled by use of a method known
as "shifting", allowing you to use up to 40 keys in your profile
configurations. This unique combination of keyboard and game pad allows
for one heck of a configuration in most games I play, and then some.
The device is very stable on the desktop and does not tend to move during
those intense gaming sessions with Elite Force or Quake. The seven rubber
grips on the bottom provide excellent support in this area, and the
device is rather light. The n50 comes with a standard 6 feet of USB
cabling, so there is little concern about where you can place the device
on your desk before "stretching the cord". Did I mention the
pretty LED lighting? Ooooooooooo!! Red, Green, and Blue!
I am a sucker for cool lights on my desktop, you know.
found that the fit of the n50 was rather well designed for multiple
hand sizes. My hand (medium-sized) fit comfortably on the controller
as did my wife's hand (small-sized). I could see larger people being
more comfortable with a slight adjustment of the hand rest. Belkin states
in the product manual that this hand rest is "adjustable",
I however think "removable" is a more appropriate word, and
they seemed to agree on the outside packaging. Maybe at one point they
had planned to make this rest point movable or on a pivot, I don't know,
but it fits my hand well, and I believe a larger hand size would fit
the n50 well by just removing the rest. With all that said, Belkin designed
this very well, with all hand sizes in mind.
Installation went fairly smooth on my
Win98/ME machines, however the Win2k box did not fare as well at first.
It seems that with installation on Win98/ME you must install the software
first, then plug in the USB part of the controller. In Windows 2000
it was just the opposite, but it took me a few tries to figure this
out. After I did however, it worked on the Win2k machine flawlessly.
Once up and running, the installation had put two programs on my system,
the "Nostromo Loadout Manager", and the "Profile Editor".
We will go into those two programs in a moment.
I tested a variety of games with the device
including Counter-Strike, Quake 3, Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force, Everquest,
Diablo II, Giants: Citizen Kabuto, StarCraft, and Mechwarrior 4. Under
all of these games this device worked great, but some were better then
others in practicality. The learning curve for each game is slightly
different, but overall it is very minimal. You will find that you can
easily and quickly adapt to using this device between all types of games.
First Person Shooter Games (Counter-Strike,
Elite Force, Quake 3, etc.)
FPS gamers are normally used to the standard
keyboard layout for directional control. Once you overcome this small
adjustment, it is quite easy to maneuver in these games. FPS gaming
is probably the highest learning curve you will encounter with the n50,
however, and some of you may enjoy true keyboard play better. I enjoyed
using the pad for these games personally.
Games (Diablo II, Red Alert 2, StarCraft, etc.)
First off, I know Diablo II is not really
a RTS game, it is included here because it fits nicely with the style
of play. The n50 really made life easy for me in Diablo II and StarCraft.
I could easily assign the keys I normally have to look down at my keyboard
for, (Like the inventory and building hotkeys) and hit them with confidence
when I needed them quickly. The "shifting" states of the controller
came in handy for the many hotkeys I assign in StarCraft as it allows
for up to 28 keys to be assigned (See below in "The Bad" section
of this review for more on this shifting and it's drawbacks). Never
once did I miss my keyboard, and I honestly prefer the n50 for these
Sim & RPG Games (Everquest,
Giants, Mechwarrior 4, etc.)
Got one word for you in this area that
sums up my opinion in this area, Yummy! It is this dragon's humble opinion
that this device was made for games like MW4 and Everquest. With all
the various control aspects of these games it can be easy to forget
what hotkey is bound to which keyboard key. Add in the throttle (Especially
handy in MW4!), your choice of mouse/Joystick, and you can throw away
your darn keyboard! Well, ok, don't throw it away, but I never used
it during my review testing in these games. Some of you may know I am
an Everquest geek at heart, but this device really gave me control over
almost every command I have set in the game. Truth be told however,
it has not replaced my preference for Game Commander 2 (Voice commands)
in EQ. For those of you that don't have GC2 though, this is one great
The installed Nostromo software works
not only with your n50 SpeedPad, but also support the n40 and n45 game
pads which GCC will be reviewing in the near future. No need to load
a million different software programs for each Nostromo device you own,
simply click between controllers and get configuring! Reminds me of
something SideWinder started doing with their controllers, but I find
that interface a little clunky once I compared it to Belkin's Nostromo
(Click picture for a larger view)
This Loadout Manager allows you to load
your predefined profiles to each Nostromo device. The software supports
up to five controllers at once, which makes owning multiple Nostromo
devices and loading them with your profiles a breeze. Just set each
controller with a game profile, associate the game launch executable
with a game on your hard drive, and GO!
(Click picture for a larger view)
Nostromo Profile Editor allows you to modify, edit, and create your
own device configurations. On the SpeedPad, you can bind either a single
key, or a macro to any of the keys. You will be allowed to choose up
to 3 different "shift" settings, in addition to the normal
mode of operation, which allows you to create about 28 separate commands
bound to the keys of the controller. In other words, you can bind the
"shift states" to any of the available 10 keys on the pad,
which in turn, eliminates a key that could be used for another command.
Each of the modes of operation can all be programmed in the editor,
and it is very easy to use. The macro function is a tad "young"
at this stage in my mind, and could stand some improvement. This will
come in time I think however.
There are 33 predefined game profiles
which come with the controller, and of course, GCC will be adding some
to our profile
download section soon as well. Some of the latest games are included
in the default profile pack, including Serious Sam, Counter-Strike,
Elite Force, Mechwarrior4, and Deus-Ex. They are very basic profiles
however, I don't think a gamer made them.
Not too much negativity about this device,
but I do have some minor griping to do. As mentioned above, let's look
at the "shift mode" function a bit. One of the major gripes
I had was that in order to use this feature you must bind one of the
keys on the pad to each "shifting mode" (Red, Blue, and Green).
Essentially this means you loose three keys out of the ten if you choose
to use all the shift modes. You can have up to four different controller
settings, or "shift modes". In addition to the normal mode,
you get red, green, and blue modes as well. The bad part here is that
if you want to switch over to your "blue" commands, you have
to utilize one of the keys on the n50 to "switch to blue",
but this does allow you to configure even more keys for commands. Instead
of getting 40 programmable keys, you only get 28 when using all shift
modes, as well as having to know where you assigned these "shift
modes". I would have liked to see a feature similar to the Strategic
Commander here, maybe a shifting switch on part of the controller so
you wouldn't have to take up those precious binding keys. Or perhaps,
a single key bind that could be used to cycle through the four various
modes. Oh well!
Another small gripe I have involves the
hand rest. If you remove it more than a few times (Which of course I
did during my review), it becomes a tad loose and easily comes off the
unit. I think it better to say that it doesn't sit as firmly in place
then when I first pulled it out and began using the device and is easily
removed now. This is not as bad as it may sound, but I am griping anyway,
for it is my duty as a perfectionist. Maybe some snapping tabs or other
locking mechanism would have come in handy when this device was being
developed. My advice to you if you buy this controller is not to remove
this piece unless you truly need to. Overall however, it is a well made
device, unlike my SideWinder Dual Strike controller.
The Final Word
The n30 GameMouse
compliments the n50 SpeedPad nicely.
Belkin's entry into the game controller
market is off to an excellent start with the n50 SpeedPad. Any person
who has been looking for an excuse to bury their keyboard while gaming,
is in for a solid treat with this controller. Well designed, easy to
use, and a welcome addition to the desktop. I was waiting to try this
pad out, and I can honestly say I was not disappointed in the least.
With a lifetime warranty on the SpeedPad, low price, and a name like
Belkin behind it, you can't go wrong.
The SpeedPad is complimented very well
by it's optional companion device, the Nostromo N30 GameMouse, but I
shall save that for another review. You will have the competition eating
from the palm of your hand once you grip the n50 SpeedPad into your
computer setup and get past the very small learning curve. If you find
yourself often struggling with looking at your keyboard, this device
may just be for you.