The concept of a gaming keyboard is rather abstract. Indeed, what do gamers really want or need from a keyboard? Programmable macro buttons would probably be the first thing that comes to mind, to make it easier for those MMO buffs to chain skills together or FPS player to shoot faster than he can click. Backlit keys have certainly become popular, both for their practical use of gaming in the dark and that flashy aesthetic that fits all but the most discerning of tastes. Portability and durability are a plus, for lugging the peripheral between LAN parties and surviving scrapes with the brutes that attend them (or their pets). Longer, more intense sessions do tend to make your hands sweat -- perhaps if there were a way to cool them off to avoid losing your grip on the keys at an inopportune time? Of course, it has to deliver a pleasurable typing experience, to boot, otherwise there’s no point to the rest of this…
As it happens, ThermalTake has designed a series of gaming keyboards that incorporates every one of the aforementioned features and more, dubbed eSports Challenger. Along with the standard model, there are two premium versions called the Challenger Pro and Challenger Ultimate, which are the subjects of this review. As part of the eSports line of gaming products, these devices were designed specifically with the gamer in mind, and are the first keyboards ever to feature an attached 30mm fan to keep your hand(s) cool and dry. Here’s the feature list:
- Low-profile key design for lighter, more responsive typing
- Silent, removable 30mm fan that can be placed on either side of the keyboard and swivels 360 degrees
- 10 programmable macro buttons, half on each end of the keyboard
- Adjustable backlight with four levels of brightness controlled by toggle key
- 64KB of integrated memory to store multiple profiles of macros and backlighting, on-the-fly switching controlled by another toggle key
- Six multimedia keys (Play/Pause, Stop, Rewind, Fast-forward, Volume up, down)
- 6-foot, braided USB to mini-USB cable with gold-plated connectors that detaches for storage or transport, cable management routing prevents accidental unplugging
- Two on-board USB ports for convenient attachment of mouse or flash drive
- Includes red-colored replacement keys for W, A, S, D, and arrows, plus key-removal tool for easy swapping
- Dummy caps for Windows keys that can be used to prevent accidental minimizing of games
Challenger Pro vs. Ultimate
Though there are huge and numerous differences between the standard eSports Challenger keyboard (not being reviewed here) and the Pro or Ultimate versions, you’ll find much less variance between the latter two. Speaking of the hardware itself, there are only two things that the Ultimate has that Pro does not: on-board headphone jacks and multi-colored, customizable backlighting. It also requires a double USB connection -- meaning two plugs are used on the end of the cable that goes to your computer -- presumably because of a higher power requirement.
What’s in the box?
The eSports Challenger keyboard comes in a black nylon carrying bag with a flap which folds over the top and closes with Velcro. (The Ultimate’s bag is noticeably sturdier and has a handle and interior pockets!) All the other accessories mentioned in the list above are here, too, including the cooling fan, USB cable, replacement keys, key removal tool, and dummy caps, plus the user’s manual, software CD, and warranty card. Conveniently, there is a black velvet cinch bag for storing the cable and a small nylon/Velcro pouch for keeping all those extra keys in one place. When you’re not using the fan, you can tuck it inside a little slot on the back edge of the keyboard.