When it comes to PC gaming, it's hard to beat the mouse-and-keyboard combination. The keyboard handles specific commands and movements, while the mouse performs more exacting jobs, such as aiming weapons. The system has been the standard for well over a decade, and its effectiveness really hasn't been beaten yet. Ideazon's Zboard Fang Gamepad isn't the first add-on to attempt an overhaul of the typical PC-gaming input combo, and it's certainly not the worst, either. For a reasonable $30, the Fang attempts to give the typical keyboard layout some more flexibility and a more logical design. On those levels it succeeds, but the Fang could still benefit from a more polished design.
The Fang Gamepad is a bit different from what we generally think of when we say "gamepad." Rather than a two-handed dual-analog device you hold in your hand like a video game controller, the Fang is a customized control pad with keys on it that sits on your desk next to your keyboard. The idea is it will give you easier, one-handed access to special commands and actions when you're playing a game.
The key layout on the Fang is focused around the standard WASD-key design. Six large, red buttons mapped to the Q, W, E, A, S, and D keys sit directly under the fingertips for easy access. Typically, the W and S keys handle forward/backward motion, and the A and D keys handle strafing left and right. The Q and E keys lend themselves to various other commands depending on the game, but many gamers are used to having them there, so it makes sense to extend them to this design as well.
Along with the standard directional movement keys, the Fang has 41 keys in total. By default, the keys are mapped to traditional keyboard commands, with a thumb button functioning as a space bar, the number keys corresponding with the numbers on the keyboard, and a variety of other function and system keys spread around the main red buttons This is surprisingly helpful when you don't want to use the Fang's included software, as most games and programs already use the buttons for various commands.
The keys are comfortable enough, though we wonder if Ideazon couldn't have tweaked the design to help differentiate the keys. They sometimes feel a bit too similar. As it exists now, some of the buttons are concave and others are convex, which helps a bit, but we found that since many of the keys feel the same and sit close together, it was hard to hit individual keys accurately without looking.
Amazingly, the Fang can be used with either hand thanks to its symmetrical design. In a world where almost any "ergonomic" device is aimed solely at right-handed users, this is a surprising and welcome feature. Of course, this layout isn't perfect; regardless of which hand you use. The human pinky finger can only stretch so far, so some of the buttons on the lower and upper edges will be nearly impossible to hit.
The Fang uses Ideazon's Z Engine software to handle keyboard mapping, the same software the company uses in its customizeable Zboard keyboard and the Merc gaming keyboard. The program comes preloaded with a generous selection of game presets, including popular first-person shooters such as Counter-Strike and massively multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft. If those presets aren't to your liking, any key on the Fang can be remapped to a specific keystroke, macro, or game command. Unfortunately, native Macintosh users are predictably left in the lurch; Z Engine only works in Windows.