It's hard to argue with the Ideazon Merc Gaming Keyboard's $40 price tag. It's not as responsive as the $99 CNET Editor's Choice-winning Razer Tarantula, and it doesn't even light up like the $99 Logitech G15 or the $60 and $70 (respectively) Saitek Eclipse or Eclipse II. The separate game key cluster isn't all that great, either, since the bunched up key layout impedes accuracy. But for $40, the Merc does deliver some flexible, powerful customization software. We wouldn't recommend it for performance-oriented games, but if all you're interested in is tailoring your keyboard to your favorite titles, the Merc is worth a try.
Imagine Ideazon's Fang Gamepad attached to the side of an otherwise boring keyboard, and you have a pretty good sense of what the Merc is all about. That's actually not a bad idea in concept. Rather than forcing you to hunt and peck your way through a typical QWERTY layout, the idea of the Merc is to isolate an additional set of game keys in more user-friendly design.
As with the Fang, six directional control keys anchor the game controls. Those main buttons are surrounded by various other function keys (such as Jump, Reload, and Run/Walk) preset to those commands. The robust Z Engine software lets you customize the game keys, as well as any other key on the Merc, to perform whatever function you want, from simple single-key commands to more complicated macros you can program yourself. The thorough help file walks you through the less-intuitive steps, and with diligence, you should be able to get the Merc to execute pretty much any command or string of commands that a game will allow. Ideazon also includes a relatively large number of premade key mappings to current PC game titles.
At 21.5 inches wide, we commend Ideazon on cramming the large game pad next to the standard keyboard. That's only an inch and a half wider than the Razer Tarantula. But one of the things we love about the Tarantula is its key spacing. Your fingers rarely mash mistakenly into other keys on Razer's masterpiece. Not so with the Merc. The soft, thick-feeling key response doesn't lend itself to sending your fingers flying over the standard keys. We also don't like the right-side number pad. On many newer keyboards, you'll find separate clusters of cursor keys, the Home, End, and Delete keys, with the number keys isolated in their own familiar pad layout. The Merc mashes all of those keys into one area and doubles up their function, which means that the 8 key is also the Home key, but you have to toggle with the NumLock key to get the proper command. Who wants that extra step?
In the case of the game pad, it's more the key design that makes it difficult to use. We'd expect a nonstandard layout such as this to take some getting used to, but even after you get past the learning curve, the combination of convex and concave round keys are too close together and too similar feeling. They seem to invite mistaken keystrokes.