While we’re all spending far more time on our computers – or maybe it’s the same amount of time, just with fewer trips out the front door to break it up – now’s the perfect time to look at upgrading your PC setup. A headset on your noggin and a decent mouse in hand will take you a long way, but they’re all for nought without a good keyboard beneath your other hand’s fingers. Mad Catz, a storied peripheral manufacturer that just keep on kicking, are constantly pushing the envelope with their new gear, and the STRIKE 4 is their latest, RGB-oriented keyboard. Whether you’re going to be typing an essay or hammering foes in League of Legends, this is a loud and likeable piece of kit.
Out of the box, the STRIKE 4 is a pleasingly smart and slim offering. The main body of the keyboard is made of tough, matte black aluminium, with a cool swiping cut-out at the front with the Mad Catz logo and some futuristic looking glyphs. It feels tough and premium, and while it’s a bit showy, it’s managed to ride the line between gamer cred and legitimate office use. Sitting down in front of it each day I’ve found it a perfect match for my Predator monitor, and learned to love its un-fussy footprint.
It does have RGB lighting, though. A gaming keyboard without RGB is almost like one without the WASD keys, so the STRIKE 4 won’t be winning any awards for originality. Still, the 16.8 million colour, Chameleon-branded lighting is a well-implemented version that’ll do everything you could want it to, whether that’s cascading rainbow effects, single solid colours, or per-game specifics, including individual key colouring.
It’s all controlled by Mad Catz’ software, and interestingly their solution is to offer a specialised piece of software that only targets one piece of kit, rather than what most manufacturers do with a single over-arching solution. So, in this instance where I’m reviewing a Mad Catz mouse alongside the STRIKE 4, I have to have two separate pieces of software running.
It’s not a deal breaker by a long shot – I’m sure a lot of gamers have a keyboard, mouse and headset from different brands – but it’s always nice to simplify things into one place. Of course, if it means that the software actually works without any hitches, like it does here, then that’s a price worth paying too. Alongside the lighting, you can set up macros using a basic editor that does the job, albeit with no frills attached.
You can also control the lighting via the Function keys, and different button combinations can switch you from static, to breathing, swirling or twinkling effects. However, that means having either memorised the shortcuts or keeping the instructions close to hand, and once you’re doing that… well, you might as well just have opened the software.
The user experience of the STRIKE 4 itself lives up to the standards we’ve come to expect from Mad Catz in the past year. You’re getting Cherry MX Red switches across the board, and they’re satisfyingly punchy and responsive under finger. There’s the expected click and clack that they provide, but then if you’re looking at this type of keyboard you want sensitivity, not silence. With 2mm of travel, these are basically your industry-standard mechanical switches, and with each key having a 50 million press certification, and N-Key rollover anti-ghosting tech to ensure your inputs are put in exactly as you want, this is a keyboard that’s going to last you a very long time and keep you at the head of the pack while gaming.
The STRIKE 4’s extended functionality is accessed by combining the FN key with the 12 Function buttons, providing you with shortcuts to media controls, as well as one-click access to your email, web browser or calculator. They’re effective enough, though I generally prefer bespoke buttons for my media over dual-function keys. Still, it’s kept the footprint down, which could be especially helpful if you’re working in a smaller space.
The STRIKE 4’s biggest problem is that it’s an incredibly streamlined package. You’re getting the excellent Cherry MX switches, Chameleon RGB lighting, and a smart and restrained aluminium frame, but that’s about it. There’s no wrist support, no USB passthrough, and no dedicated media buttons. Nor is it spill or dust-proof, all of which are features you can see in rival keyboards from Corsair or Razer, which can often be found at or below the Strike 4’s recommended £129.99 price mark.