Let me start by saying that I am a very picky person when it comes to keyboards (check my review of Azio Levetron Mech4) and a slightly nerdish person when it comes to computers. Add to that a fact that I spend at least 10 hours each day by the computer, 90% of that time using keyboard, and you can figure out that a fully programmable keyboard with a screen and a joystick is something that will grab my attention. Hello, Logitech G13!
As wise people say, you only get to make the first impression once. G13 certainly delivers - the device is mostly matte black, with some glossy black finish around the screen. You can almost instantly tell this is a Logitech device, even without looking for a logo (which is placed at the bottom of the hand rest. The key pad itself is nicely waved - the hand rests comfortably and all the 25 keys are within reasonable distance. What is more important, four keys (that in most games will correspond to WSAD or arrows) are marked for easier recognition without looking at them.
The first (and perhaps the only) disappointment comes when one presses a key - sadly, these are not mechanical switches.
Ease of use
As I said, the device is shaped so that one can easily rest their hand on it without risking any damage to the precious equipment (price tag is around 100€). Myself having hands rather bigger than smaller, I am very happy with the size of the keys and G13 itself. The keypad is heavy enough to not move with my hand and it features a rubber feet for extra surface grip. It probably works great on a wooden desk - though in my setup the keypad is locked on top of an open drawer, and naturally it does not move at all.
The only thing I could complain about are the profile switching keys, located above the top row of the programmable keys. Those have a lower profile and to reach them without accidentally pressing one of the assignable keys I have to lift my hand slightly. I am pretty sure this is by design, but I do not buy it. Left side of the device seems a better spot for profile switching - they would be available without moving the hand too much.
The joystick is available under the thumb, but its precision is far from ideal - although it is a full joystick, not an 8-way pad. I think a trackball would be a better choice, but then again I am a huge fan of trackballs. Anyway, the best use for the joystick I found so far is to assign it to scrolling in all four directions. There are three buttons around - two near the joystick and one available by pressing the stick). The bottom one seems to be out of reach, unless you press it with a joint on the thumb - which takes some time to get used to.
G13 features a mono screen, with some limited resolution. Its colour is identical to the key highlight. This was a bit disappointing in 2015 when I got the device, but few year prior I guess it was ok. And G13 is a device with a long history ;) Anyway, all software compatible with Logitech GamePanel technology can and will display some useful information, usually not available on the main screen. I am pretty sure this comes in handy, although I have yet to run such a game (you guessed correctly: I do not have enough time for gaming). However, foobar2000 (the music player) has a plugin that utilises the screen and shows current track info.
There are four keys under the pad that are part of the screen, and can be used to switch display mode if the currently running applet supports them.
The keypad comes with a bunch of so-called applets that run on the screen. There is an applet switch button (sadly, without a highlight) if you get bored with what is currently displayed. The best thing, though, is that it is fully programmable (yes, including the four screen keys). GamePanel API is available in the web, and writing custom software for it is not that hard.
Logitech Gaming Software is quite an easy software to use. It features profiles (a bunch of predefined ones for some of the top games) that can be tied to a number of executables - and the device will switch the profile by itself. One can assign almost any action to any of the 25 keys (22 + 3 near the joystick), and have those in 3 groups within a single profile. By doing simple math it gives an impressive number of 75 actions available with one key press (plus an extra press for switching groups). Each group within the profile can have its custom colour - a neat feature, I have to say.
One interesting feature of the driver is its ability to produce heat maps - one can analyse which key got pressed how many times and, possibly, rearrange the bindings according to that knowledge.
And one more thing, it is possible to store 4 profiles on the device itself, which makes using it with another computer totally painless.
The one significant drawback I have found so far is the inability of the driver to print the layout in a readable form. What gets produced is a table with 25 entries, not resembling the device at all. Hence, one has to use the community to print their own template and fill it by hand. Shame on you, Logitech!
I have used G13 for a more than 5 years now and - I am not ashamed to admit that - I can no longer imagine my daily work without it. Since I spend most of my work time developing software, I have assigned the most commonly used commands to the G-keys - and it works like a charm. I never remember the key bindings anyway - but I somehow remember where they are on the G13. And if not, I have a layout printed nearby. This thing alone had improved my productivity by quite a lot. And if the joystick was replaced with a trackball, I would probably not use my main trackball at all while coding.
I noticed that it takes time to get used to the fact that one can automate certain things with this additional keypad. This, combined with the fact that my main keyboard already features 10 easily accessible macros, is the main obstacle in using G13 more widely.
As for games, I have greatly enjoyed Trine and Cities: Skylines with G13, although for both games I had to create dedicated profiles. My plan is to try G13 with a more serious game, but my initial experience is good. And what is more important, I have a strong feeling it will stay good even after long gaming sessions.
- 22 + 3 programmable, easily accessible keys - three times
- real joystick
- ergonomic shape, suitable for big palms
- API available
- increases productivity, not only in games
- not mechanical
- the joystick is not that precise
- the bottom joystick button is very hard to use
- no way to print the layout from the driver
Bonus: Why not Razer Orbweaver?
It was a tough choice between Logitech and Razer. The Orbweaver is mechanical, has highlight for individual keys, and can be physically adjusted to fit your hand - impressive. So, why did I choose against it? First, the profiles are stored in the cloud and require me to have a Razer account (I need to have internet connection to use a piece of hardware? thanks, but no, thanks). Second, there is no screen that can be programmed. Third, the joystick there is an 8-way pad. Finally, the availability. All shops in my area offered a total of one G13 and zero Orbweavers. But hey, I am very happy to accept one for reviewing! :)
Bonus: Why not CoolerMaster ControlPad?
At the time of buying my G13 there were only two available models. Since then the ControlPad has become available. It so happens that I own one and perhaps some day I will write a review of it. Currently, it sits disconnected and waits for its chance.