Microsoft Sidewinder X6 Review
Many of you have already heard a little bit about the product that I’ll be reviewing here today – the Microsoft Sidewinder X6 keyboard. Let me first set the scene. It’s late at night; when only gamers, bars, hospitals, and fast food joints are still running. (Does anyone else think these might just be connected?). Unfortunately our heroic narrator isn’t engaged in any of these activities – in fact he is lying in bed, eyes closed, typing away. While the remnants of a particularly nasty cold lingered; and a rasping cough would occasionally break the steady pattering of keys – it was an otherwise quiet, calm evening. What follows below is the result of that late night brain dump, and a firsthand experience of the X6 in action. Before getting into the dialogue, let me just say that this is a keyboard worth buying – after using it extensively for few days, it is without a doubt the best gaming keyboard for those who like to travel frequently, and an awesome keyboard for anyone looking to replace their aging input devices.
From the journals (and ramblings) of Ryan “H2O Rip” Chaply
A few days ago a box arrived in the mail. Although the brown carton appeared plain on the outside, I tore into it with a sense of glee. I already knew the contents, but after months of using only the keyboard on my laptop – I was ready for something that wouldn't force me to be hunched over my laptop. As always, I was skeptical looking at pictures of the product online, after all at first glance it seems slightly awkward and unbalanced. But it would be a mistake to judge a book by its cover, and keyboards are meant to be tested. After all, the quintessential gaming keyboard up to this point, the Logitech G15, isn’t exactly going to win any beauty awards either.
Really, working on the laptop wasn’t a huge problem, but anyone who games a lot with a laptop knows that it just isn’t the most comfortable thing for extended periods of time. I would have brought another keyboard with me for the last few months, but traveling with most of the gaming keyboards these days are next to impossible. Even compared to a 17” laptop they’re simply too tall.
So for the last few months I’ve been doing my gaming with just a laptop keyboard and mouse. From a performance standpoint, I’ve managed to do perfectly fine with the laptop keyboard, but I have noticed a bit of strain on my wrist. There are many things that I like about the laptop keyboard when compared to the external counterparts. First and foremost, the “feel “ of the keys on a laptop are dramatically different than those on a standard device. It’s really a matter of preference, for me there is no need for the large gaps between keys and depth of keyboard press that most people are familiar with. The slightly compressed spacing on most laptops also brings up a point of contention, but with games it actually seems slightly advantageous to move the keys less.
External keyboards offer a host of advantages that the laptop keyboards can’t achieve. Different keyboards each have a different “feel” to the keys, allowing buyers choice and preference. In addition gaming keyboards often offer advanced features such as macro support, disabling the windows key, additional media features, and more.
Analyzing the X6
So what does the X6 bring to the table that made me almost immediately love it? Well there’s the “x” factor (pun intended), and that is the feel of the keys. They feel absolutely wonderful. It’s like a cross between a laptop keyboard and a desktop – with the best parts of both. It’s low profile and quiet like a laptop, but solid and curved like an external. Spacing doesn’t feel quite as cramped as the laptop, but also a bit tighter then a desktop. The entire thing is solid and well made, a necessity for any gamer. There are so many choices! Left...right...detached? Can I string several together and make a keyboard chain?
The keyboard isn’t the most beautiful thing ever, but it doesn’t have to be. On the top of the keyboard there’s a large row of buttons and dials – and they don’t really seem to “fit”. In fact several of them are unique to the keyboard itself. Like the “New” G15, there’s a row of macro keys on the left, and a game mode button. In addition there’s several profile buttons that you can toggle between, which also seem to disable the windows key (handy for those games with keys mapped anywhere near the windows key).
Basic media controls do the job, and in the upper right hand side of the keyboard there are two giant knobs to control backlight and volume. They’re easy to find and adjust in the dark, and satisfyingly solid – but what the heck is up with their size? They’re massive! It seems completely un-necessary – and really is one of two things that I hope Microsoft changes in future versions of the keyboard.
I can see clearly now!
Backlights on keyboards are almost a requirement these days, and the X6 is no exception. In standard Sidewinder fashion, the entire device is midnight black with angry red accents. (in this case, the backlight) The backlight is bright, but not harsh – and the red on black gives an excellent visual style. Unfortunately someone in Redmond decided that the macro keys should be different, and chose a yellow / orange backlight color for that row. The result can only be described as a stylistic snafu, please Redmond – if you’re taking notes, when you’re red and black – don’t throw in a third disharmonious color into the mix.
For those of you who prefer just a straight black keyboard – turn one of the giant knobs (seriously….the look like leftovers from stereo receivers) and the lights dim to off. In a clearly gaming focused keyboard, the wasd keys even have special markings on them, and like the tiny bars one can feel on f and j to help find the home row in the dark, the W has two little bumps on it for those intense gaming sessions where you need to get back in the action without taking your eyes off the screen.
Going to a LAN? This is the keyboard you want – period.
I travel frequently, usually I’ll attend as many events as possible in the gaming world that I can fit into my schedule. Trying to cram a G15 into any backpack is tough at best, impossible in most situations. Taking the thing through the airport and security is possible, but the vertical footprint is about the same as my 22” monitor, and while you CAN transport both, it’s a real pain. The X6 on the other hand is the perfect traveling companion. The entire number pad detaches, and can actually fit on either side of the keyboard. Separated, the keyboard has the same footprint as my laptop (and mousepad) – making it all an easy fit in when traveling. Its stylish, aggressive, and sexy...kind of
The number pad itself (and included handy dandy calculator button) attach to the keyboard magnetically in a manner that will make most nerds go “woah”. The connection is effortless, solid, and just cool. Simply bring the number pad remotely near keyboard connection port and it gets ‘sucked’ into place. Admittedly, I spent about 30 minutes just detaching and reattaching the thing – it’s quite addicting. In the light, in the dark, with your eyes closed, it’s about as effortless as you can get and the backlights pop on a second or two after connecting it. Feel free to leave the number pad at home, you don’t need to take it along with you.
Write this down Microsoft, you’ve got some work yet to do.
There are a few reasons that despite being an incredible gaming keyboard, you might not rush out and buy it right now. If you’re used to an LCD screen on your keyboard – you’ll be losing that moving to the sidewinder. The only reason I actually found myself using the LCD was for instant messaging – but it was nice to have anyway.
The no-skid surface on the bottom of the keyboard is excellent, I haven’t had the thing slide around on me yet. Unfortunately like laptop keyboards, there are no “feet” on the back to raise the angle at all. I haven’t felt the need for them with the design, but I do wonder how the ergonomics change compared to those with feet. Last but not least, the issues I mentioned before really would benefit from a change in any newer versions. Change the size / layout of the volume and brightness dials to reduce their absurd size. Fix the color of the lighting for the programmable keys on the side – the only thing that goes well with black and red (and stays in the sidewinder brand scheme) is: more red!
It’s not perfect, but the Microsoft Sidewinder X6 is easily one of my favorite keyboards to date. There is plenty that can be tweaked with the device, especially for future models – but the core features and functions work flawlessly. It’s a product that can take a good bit of abuse; appearing to have one of the most solid construction designs I’ve seen of any PC peripheral to date.
For me the feel, portability, and features round out an excellent device that I love to bring with me on any travel adventure. I’m very interested to see new revisions of this keyboard in the future, but until then I’ll be using the X6 nonstop, and the color scheme works beautifully with both my laptop and additional peripherals. So even if my clothes don’t match, at least I’ve got the style going with PC hardware.
Black Friday might have passed, but this is a keyboard to put on your holiday gift list.
Rip’s Recommendation: Buy Of course, before you rush out to the store, we’re giving you the chance to win one right here! That’s right, if you missed out on the 6th anniversary contest where we gave away 6 of these hot keyboards – you’ve got one more shot here. It’s easy to enter, simply follow the steps below:
1) Read the review!
2) Take a typing speed test here
3) In the article comments below post what you like BEST and what you like LEAST about this keyboard (from the review)
4) Include your speed test result score in the thread for extra bragging rights. On December 25th a winner will be chosen randomly from the posts in the thread!