Geek Gifts 2008: Belkin Nostromo n52te SpeedPad

After Cracking Open the Belkin Nostromo n52te SpeedPad a couple of weeks ago, Wally Bahny installed the software and plugged it in to see how well it performs.

After Cracking Open the Belkin Nostromo n52te SpeedPad a couple of weeks ago, I installed the software and plugged it in to see how well it performs from a player's perspective.

The Razer software

After a relatively simple install and a reboot, the new Razer software package is ready to use. As you can see in Figure A, Razer shows a graphical depiction of the Nostromo n52te with interactive buttons. There are also larger buttons off to the right and left. The tabs above the graphic control the current keymap, which means that each button can have up to three different settings, depending on the currently selected keymap.

Figure A

Graphical depiction of the n52te
Clicking on either the buttons on the graphic or the buttons to the side brings up a pop up menu of the available mapping options. The software allows you to map a single keyboard key, change the current keymap, simulate mouse buttons, perform common Windows commands, and control Windows Media Player. There is also a pretty powerful Macro editor to create your own custom command strings. Figure B shows the mapping options popup menu.

Figure B

Mapping options
Minimized on the right side of the main window is the Macro Editor. In this pane, there are the usual controls found in most macro editors with some extras including repetition commands and mouse-click simulation. Figure C shows you the pop-out Macro Editor.

Figure C

Macro editor

Also available at the bottom of the main window is the ability to save different keymap profiles and associate those with different applications. The Razer software will automatically upload a different profile to the n52te when an application is loaded that has an associated profile.

The device

After setting up a keymap for your favorite program (World of Warcraft in my case), simply click Apply Changes and the software will update the on-board memory with these settings. This is another new feature in the n52te over its predecessors. Before, you had to install the software and configure a keymap in order to use either a Nostromo n50 or a Nostromo n52. Now, as long as the driver is installed, the n52te can be used on any computer, without reconfiguration. This is especially great for users who gather for LAN parties or other gaming events. There is no need to reprogram your SpeedPad every time you use another computer.

With a specially-formed palm rest, the n52te puts many of the 14 keypad buttons within reach of your four fingers, with a couple on the periphery, depending on hand size and finger length. The thumb area has a D-pad with an optionally removable joystick piece for better control. Within reach below the D-pad is another programmable button and at more of a reach above the D-pad is a small button that can be used for less-common tasks. Also available is a scroll wheel, which is fully programmable.

What I thought

The keypad buttons were all pretty much within reach for me. The bottom row and the scroll button were a bit cramped, but those keys can be reserved for less-used commands. Also, the top pinky finger key was a stretch. I found it easier to reach the bottom key with my finger than the top. With hands smaller than mine, other users might find the bottom row easier to hit and the top row a reach - it all depends on the user. The built in scroll wheel, fully programmable, either gives another control for the mouse wheel or gives essentially three more buttons to run commands. Since my mouse has a wheel, I chose the latter option.

The D-pad/joystick is well placed and comfortable to use. The removable joystick gives a completely different feel that the D-pad. At first, I didn't like the joystick, but after a time, I found it more comfortable than the D-pad. The button above the D-pad is more difficult. It is not at a comfortable angle and is difficult to press - it doesn't always take the keypress. Button 15, below the D-pad, it easy to press and is responsive.

If I had written this Geek Gift Guide two weeks earlier - after only using the Belkin Nostromo n52te for a few days, my feelings would have been different. Up front, it was difficult to change my play style to use buttons in this configuration as opposed to using the standard keyboard. After about a week of regular use, my feelings had changed and I was more comfortable using the n52te instead of the regular keyboard.

The best thing about this device is that there are essentially 27 different buttons and toggles to program for each of three keymaps. That makes for a very versatile device that can be used in nearly any application that does not require a full keyboard. The suggested retail price for the Nostromo n52te SpeedPad is $69.99, but bargain hunters should be able to find it for less.

Geek Gift Score (out of 5)

  • Fun Factor: ****
  • Geek Factor: ****
  • Value: ***
  • Overall Rating: ****