Somehow we missed Logitech's update to its G15 Keyboard last year. It started showing up in our lab recently with a few high-end gaming PCs that spurred us to give it the full review treatment. We're glad we did. The new model improves on many facets of the original, elevating what was already a pretty good keyboard to Editors' Choice status. We're also happy to report that the online community has embraced the G15's unique, programmable LCD screen, and there's now a wide variety of useful mini apps available for download. All of these features will cost you more than your average keyboard, although real-world prices are lower than Logitech's suggested $99. Especially if you can find it for a good price, we recommend the G15 keyboard as our new favorite for PC gaming.
If you're familiar with the old G15, the new model is instantly recognizable, but it has a much more streamlined design. Instead of the many angles and beveled edges on the original, the new G15 is all smooth curves and flowing lines. The LCD screen no longer folds down on a hinge, but instead rises up gracefully from the top edge, permanently and prominently displayed. Logitech also moved from blue LED key backlighting to orange, and it also extended to the orange glow to the LCD screen. We find the orange easier to read in the dark, especially compared with blue on both the old model and the Razer Lycosa.
The other big physical change is the new model's smaller size. Down from 21.5 inches to 19.5 inches wide, the updated G15 lost a belt size or two at the expense of 12 "G-keys," or programmable hot keys. Now instead of 54 possible custom buttons (among 18 keys in three different modes), you now get only six G-keys and three different modes, for a total of 18 programmable commands. We were more than happy to compromise here, both for the reduced size, and also because we could never come up with 54 separate macros to begin with, let alone remember where they were. We're sure some of you might miss having so much flexibility, and if so, you're better off sticking with the original model.
You can use Logitech's software to program macros for specific games, and you can also use the built-in macro record key to set macros while you're playing. Logitech also lets you map custom scripts to the G-keys, and there's even a script editor built into Logitech's software for those of you handy with the Lua programming language.
Logitech's implementation of its custom hot keys is well done, but as with the original model, the true distinguishing feature of the revised G15 is the GamePanel (aka, the 2.5-inch LCD screen on the keyboard's top edge). Logitech now includes a handful of built-in mini apps for the screen, including those for and , as well as Ventrilo, the popular third-party voice-chat program. You can use the game-specific programs to show character data or other useful information. We found the Ventrilo app particularly handy when we joined a pickup group in World of Warcraft. Because the app displays the name of the person talking on the G15's screen, we didn't have to tab out to check.
In addition to the included, ready-made LCD applications, Logitech's efforts toward encouraging community development have paid off. When we reviewed the original G15 in 2006, it was a year after its release, and at that point there was still only a handful of worthwhile, community-developed apps for the LCD. Now you can find all manner of plug-ins available for free download on the G15 Mods and G15 Forums. This enthusiastic development is likely due to time, and is not a specific feature of the new G15 (and all apps will work with both models, provided you have the updated software). Regardless, we're glad to see the community help the G15 achieve its full potential. We should also add that the G15's LCD is Windows SideShow compatible, although Microsoft's own SideShow downloads page only hosts 22 mini apps. Perhaps SideShow needs an incubation period similar to the G15's software development kit.
A few other features changed on the new G15, but the trimmer dimensions and the new LED color are the major highlights. You still get the much-loved "Windows-killer" key, which disables the Vista key so that you don't accidentally switch out to your desktop mid-game. Logitech did tweak the media control keys surrounding the LCD screen, and instead of a touch-sensitive dial you now get dedicated buttons for track and volume control. We don't mind the change, but you may. The underside of the keyboard also has a series of grooves for routing cables more neatly around your desk. The thick cable of the G15 cable itself was too thick to fit in the grooves, but most mouse and headphone cords should be thin enough. Finally, the keys seem to have a better response than the original G15. They're not quite as crisp as the Razer Tarantula, but they're an improvement from the mushy older version.
We have two issues with the G15, one more serious than the other. The biggest problem is that it has two USB 1.1 ports. That means less throughput than USB 2.0, which you'll notice particularly in data-transfer speeds of large files from USB flash drives and other external storage devices. The other issue, which is less important, is that unlike other illuminated keyboards, Logitech doesn't offer multiple LED color options. We like the orange, and prefer it to the old blue light, as we said, but it wouldn't be that expensive or difficult to add other choices.