|Min OS X: Any Version Requires: USB Port|
Over the past few years, Saitek--best known as a provider of peripherals geared toward flight sim and racing enthusiasts--has been making a push on the expanding PC gaming market. Although these forays have usually been greeted with a warm reception, Saitek's Eclipse and Eclipse II keyboards have garnered an overwhelmingly positive response from gamers for their comprehensive feature sets and value-oriented design.
Simplicity: An Under-Appreciated QualityThe Saitek Eclipse, like its larger cousin, the Eclipse II, features a standard 104-key layout that is enhanced by an adjustable backlight, a variable position wrist-rest, and a limited selection of media control keys. While the "flash factor" of this kind of keyboard is relatively low, one of the greatest advantages inherent to adhering to a well-known specification is that it makes the Eclipse one of the easiest to use peripherals that we've ever seen. In our tests with Mac OS X, Windows XP, and Windows Vista, even Vista had no trouble fully recognizing every button on the keyboard without driver support. In a world dominated by hardware and software that constantly requires and endless supply of bug fixes, patches, and firmware updates, the "zero-config" Eclipse hit us like a breath of fresh air. Still, Mac users do not get off completely free: since this is a Windows-specific keyboard, they'll need to swap the "Windows" and "Alt" keys in System Preferences in order to conform to the Macintosh-standard "Option" and "Command" configuration--a process that takes all of ten seconds. On the other hand, MacBook and MacBook Pro owners should be pleased to note that the Eclipse's Scroll Lock and Pause|Break keys (where F14 and F15 keys are on Apple keyboards) will still adjust the brightness of their systems' displays.
Performance and ErgonomicsThe Eclipse has earned a reputation as a slightly spongy keyboard, and while that turns out to be true, it still manages to turn out consistently brisk keystrokes--even when you start hammering it. Key travel is of average length for a desktop keyboard, which turns out to be relatively long, considering the way that the market is trending toward the kind of short-travel scissor and membrane action that was hitherto found only on mobile computers. Moving on, the detachable wrist-rest helps to keep your hands in a comfortable position for those marathon Team Fortress 2 sessions, but when you see the way that the rest mounts to the body of the keyboard, and note the bit of slip in each notch of the variable adjustment, you may start having doubts as to the long-term durability of the device. Also slightly disconcerting is the fact that the wrist-rest is allowed to swing freely when the keyboard is lifted; something that should not particularly ingratiate the Eclipse with users who like to move their keyboard around the desk. Similarly, the rear legs of the keyboard are not immune to folding beneath the keyboard when the Eclipse is purposefully slid back, translating into a small but significant chance that you'll have to flip one of the rear legs back out every couple of days.
Despite these minor infractions, our experience with the Eclipse was very positive when we were actually using it as a gaming keyboard, not an instrument designed to vex Saitek's engineers. As fans of Apple's older polycarbonate keyboards, we found that the Eclipse's set of volume and brightness control keys were immediately intuitive and useful--a rare complement these days. Inexplicably, however, Saitek opted to replace the "normal," full-sized keys that they should have used with a set of small, circular buttons that are hard to press on a whim. What's worse, the buttons are unlighted, meaning that (ironically), the backlight button is the hardest button on the keyboard to find in the dark. Finally, while letter and number keys are clearly legible, keys with relatively complex lettering are difficult to read--"Back space," for example, becomes "Ba spa"--due to the fact that the backlight can't quite fill in all of the details. Still, mediocre backlighting is infinitely preferable to none at all, and for the price, it's difficult to expect a whole lot more out of this keyboard.
Apart from the media control keys, Saitek made several other minor tweaks to the standard 104-key reference design in order to reduce the number of minor mistakes that gamers tend to make while under stress. Most notably, the function keys have been thinned-out to prevent a badly-aimed jab at a number key from triggering unwanted behavior, and the the spacebar has been thickened to present gamers' thumbs with a larger target. The tops of all of the keys have been narrowed very slightly in order to combat unintentional button-mashing, and spacing remains unaltered to avoid annoying touch-typists.
ConclusionBacklight issues aside, the Saitek Eclipse is a rather attractive-looking product, thanks to its flattened "X" shape, integrated wrist rest, and modern color scheme. Performance is above average, and the Eclipse's flawless zero-configuration operation regardless of operating system is an excellent perk. The only criticisms that we can make are entirely due to what we referred to earlier as a "value-oriented design." The limited range of brightness settings, flawed lighting quality, and lack of an integrated USB 2.0 hub suggests a price in the sub-$50 range. Fortunately, as it so happens, you can find an Eclipse for significantly less than that if you do a bit of price comparison shopping online. With that in mind, we heartily recommend the Saitek Eclipse if you're looking for an inexpensive keyboard with a great feature set and don't mind a quirk or two in the bargain.
Pros• Attractive look
• Plug-and-play design
• Nimble, albeit slightly spongy action
• Intuitive media control scheme
Cons• Media control keys are small and unlighted
• Uneven backlighting on complex keys
• No built-in USB hub