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It’s tough to set yourself apart as a keyboard—when you get right down to it, most of them are fundamentally the same. The SteelSeries Shift, however, manages to set itself apart in two big ways.
First off—do you remember the Zboard? With the interchangeable keysets for different games? Yeah, the Shift is one of those.
No, don’t stop reading yet. Although the original Zboard had a reputation for being a little on the janky side, SteelSeries has brought its trademark rock-solid construction to the Shift, resulting in a keyboard that’s sturdy and good-looking enough (with the default keyset) that it would take most people a few minutes to realize there’s something out of the ordinary.
With the basic faceplate attached, you can barely tell that the Shift is an interchangeable keyboard.
The second thing that sets the Shift apart is its startlingly robust feature set. Forgetting for a second all the replaceable-faceplate gimmickry, the Shift brings a lot to the table, including 11 hotkey buttons (eight macro buttons times three profile buttons for 24 on-the-fly recordable hotkeys). These buttons are flush with the surface of the keyboard, and have a different feel than the regular keys, making them easier to distinguish—a nice touch. Additionally, every key on the board can be bound to whatever you want using the built-in software, and the board includes two additional function-shifting keys (labeled “bar” and “pad”) that can be combined with all the other keys to produce a simply dizzying number of custom keybinds/macros.
The software includes support for plenty of custom layouts, and comes preloaded with a bunch of game-specific configurations. In one of the more unique features of the Shift, the software also comes with some monitoring functionality, which can provide you with a “heat map”–style map of your key-usage frequency. SteelSeries says it plans to expand this feature with more analytics in the future, but even now it can provide some interesting insight into how you use your keyboard.
The problem with the Shift is simple: The swappable keysets are a gimmick. The game-specific keysets are rarely helpful, and if you want game-specific key bindings you’re better off just getting a high-quality gaming keyboard that lets you customize the keys. The interchangeable nature of the keyboard creates a couple of other problems, like a split-in-two spacebar and less-satisfying dome-style keys, which—while not terrible—aren’t the best. We love the Shift’s features, but there are better-constructed boards for the same price.
Amazing feature set, including huge customization and great software support.
Switchable faceplates require more sacrifices than they’re worth.