Review: Déck Legend Illuminated Keyboard
December 22, 2006, Brad Berson
Déck is a division of TG3 Electronics, a manufacturer of custom keyboards.
Quick opinion: After paying $159 plus shipping and handling - a price difference nearly double that of the nearest competing product - I really, really want to love this keyboard. Unfortunately, I can only like it.
I had been looking for a top-quality illuminated keyboard for two years now. Compact and slim-line laptop -like illuminated keyboards are a dime a dozen but I needed a REAL keyboard. A normal -looking keyboard with full-travel keys. The choices were limited even further by my need for a PS2 port because of my "legacy" Compaq -branded Apex 8-port KVM switch, and the need for a conservative, traditional shape because the keyboard had to fit into an ergonomic keyboard tray that is part of my modular office furniture.
I tried the Saitek's Eclipse when it came out but the feel was mediocre, the funky design doesn't sit properly in a keyboard tray, and key-top wear was a problem. Saitek recently came out with the Eclipse II which solved many practical problems, added an option to change lighting colors and made the shape a little less funky, but made no improvements to key-switch feel, left durability still questionable, still lights unevenly, and I could not get it to work with a standard USB-PS2 adapter. Logitech has the G15 and the G11 but even the less glitzy G11 is a bit too large for my keyboard tray.
I really wanted to try and use the Eclipse II anyway, but the special signal converter required would have cost me at least $80 so back to the drawing board I went.
While I was Googling for information on those converters however, I somehow stumbled upon Déck Keyboards. I can't believe that in the hours and hours I have spent searching the Internet for illuminated or luminescent keyboards over the last year I never found Déck, only to discover them last week while searching for only vaguely related information! So I ordered the Déck Legend "Ice", equipped with blue LEDs, in a PS2 version. The Legend is a standard full-size, 105 key, conservative -format, heavy duty keyboard that uses Cherry's key-switches and individual long-life LEDs under each high-durability keycap. And if I ever decide to join the 21st century and replace my old KVM switch with something more current, the Legend can be converted to USB in just a few minutes with basic soldering skills.
The keyboard arrived in a box that does not look much more substantial than the boxes used by Dell, etc. to package the keyboards included with their computer systems, that is normally inside a larger box for a system unit. Two thin pieces of bubble packing over the keyboard help protect the keyboard's keys in transit. Given the generally indifferent treatment that many parcels are subjected to in transit, I'm not too thrilled with the meager packaging that my $13 "S&H" paid for. The keyboard seemed slightly tweaked right out of the box and rocked a little on a flat glass surface. By the second day of ownership the keyboard did settle back to flat again.
Déck included an extra novelty keycap with a skull and crossbones display, but they only include their nifty keycap removal tool if you order a full keycap replacement kit. I'm not quite sure what I would do with that spare keycap, but I'm a boring old fart. I'm sure my teenage nephew would have some ideas. Pending some creative spark, it will assume a place in my parts bin along with my collection of "Esc" keys (don't ask).
Since most people buy a keyboard like this for the lighting, let's get on with that. Make no mistake, this keyboard is BRIGHTLY lit. In the first side-by-side picture here (2s @ F5.6 ISO 400), the brightest setting on the Saitek Eclipse II (left) is not quite as bright as the dimmest setting of the Déck Legend (right). The Saitek keyboard's side accent lighting seems brighter than its key-tops, although that is partially an artifact of the exposure and the fact that the keytops are relatively small light sources. The second side-by-side picture shows the Legend turned up to full brightness in the same darkened room. I don't think the photograph can correctly portray the difference in luminosity between these two keyboards. In a room with dim or no lighting the Legend can be almost blinding. The lighting is so bright that at full tilt the Legend stood up brilliantly to a 300W halogen lamp in a sun-filled room with a #180 bounce flash, as shown in the picture here with the Legend tucked into my keyboard tray. Frankly I can't see any reason to ever change the brightness from the dimmest setting unless you wish to dazzle your guests, or perhaps blind a burglar long enough to get on the offensive.
Lighting on the Legend is fairly uniform. The space bar is lit by two dots. I think another two or three dots would be nice, if not a stripe like the Saitek's. Keys with shifted functions are lit so that their main function is more brightly lit than their secondary function. Keys like PgUp and PgDn , or wordy keys like ENTER and BACKSPACE are not fully lit. The backslash seems to disappear a bit. This is not a complaint however. The uneven lighting on these few keys does not hamper usability at all, in any lighting condition. The keyboard's bold white on black lettering is also very readable in dim to normal lighting conditions without the illumination turned on.
Brightness is controlled by the FN key, which is an extra key immediately to the right of the space bar. This is the Legend's only departure from the standard keyboard format and users who utilize the right Alt key will find this quite annoying. The result is that the Ctrl keys are also not quite as wide as they would be on most keyboards, but I have not yet found this to be a problem. Pressing the FN-Up and -Dn key combinations adjusts the brightness up and down, and even off. You can also directly set the brightness level using FN-1 through FN-7 (or FN-0 for off). Using FN-CapsLock toggles the setting of the CapsLock, NumLock and ScrollLock indicators to dim along with the rest of the keyboard, or to be uniformly bright. I prefer the latter, personally. I also very much like the way the indicator lights are perfectly camouflaged when off, masked nicely by the tasteful deep chrome on flat black Déck logo in the upper right hand corner of the keyboard.
While the illumination on the Déck Legend is exemplary, and I'm delighted that it works beautifully with my trusty old KVM switch, and it sits neatly and firmly in my keyboard tray, and it's a very solid, substantial keyboard with apparently great build quality and the promise of terrific durability, other more mundane aspects of the keyboard seem to fall somewhat short of my expectations.
I'm not sure why TG3 chose to make the space bar sit lower than the rest of the keys. It's only about 1mm lower, but it feels strange and I just don't see the point in it.
I am also very surprised that the key rows are not dished at all. Nearly every keyboard I have, except for an old Sun keyboard and the Saitek, dishes the rows of keys so that the home row (ASDF ... HJKL) sits the lowest, and the key-top surfaces are angled slightly to compensate for the angle at which your fingers tend to hit the keys. Not so the Legend, whose flatly aligned keys seem to contrast oddly to the stylish, contoured profile of the keyboard. The result is an odd (though not terribly noticeable) gap as seen here from a side view, and ergonomics that are simply sub-standard compared to most of the full-size keyboards sold today and over the past two decades.
The Legend keyboard uses an unusual typeface that some people are not thrilled about, but I find nothing wrong with it. It distinguishes the keyboard even more and does not hamper readability or usability. The key-tops have a good feel to them and are not slippery, although on the numeric keypad + and Enter keys you can feel a little bit of a surface hump between the lit portion of the key and the rest of the key-top.
The key-switches employed on the Legend have a smooth, mechanical sort of feel to them, and the keys hit bottom with a quiet click. The keyboard is not quiet, but it's not nearly an IBM M5 either. Unfortunately the keys have absolutely no tactile feedback at all. There's no snap or click or pressure release or anything to let your fingers know that a character was typed. Just a smooth press with a progressive and unobtrusive spring resistance, a firm bottom, no bounce at all, and an equally smooth release. While the key feel is good, the lack of feedback is disconcerting. The F and J keys have the usual feelers on them for touch typists, and they are slightly more obvious than those on most other keyboards.
Déck's Legend keyboards are FCC Part 15 compliant, are available in four versions with green, red, blue or gold LED lighting and can be had with Mac and PC key configurations. They are sold in both PS2 and USB configurations and the USB configuration utilizes a standard HID compliant interface. Nowhere on keyboard nor in the one-page User's Manual can I find any indication of where the Legend was manufactured. For this much money I'm hoping for Wisconsin but TG3 does maintain offshore manufacturing relationships. Déck offers a one year warranty and much to the joy of the pimp-rig and over-clocking crowds, does not discourage tinkering. You have to read their warranty to believe it. Déck maintains discussion forums on their web site and the forums are full of information about changing and mixing LED colors, altering the cases, customizing keycaps and performing other modifications.
Bargain hunters will be disappointed by the limited availability of Déck products. You can order directly from Déck's web site and a couple of specialty e-tailers only. Déck offers a 30-day money-back satisfaction guarantee on their keyboards. I'm probably not going to test that.