We were big fans of Logitech’s two-color LCD-equipped G15 gaming keyboard, but we can’t say we find that the addition of a color screen justifies the $200 price tag for the updated G19 model. Yes, it’s neat to put a full-color image or even a video up on the screen while you’re playing a game (imagine watching YouTube clips during a long griffin ride in World of Warcraft, without alt-tabbing out). With time, the G19 user-developed software library might even come to thrive like it did for the G15. But with relatively few color-specific apps available even a few months after its release, we can’t recommend spending more than twice the price of the G15 for the G19’s color screen and a few design tweaks. Until the software comes around, the G19 is mostly a well-designed, expensive novelty for the PC gaming elite.
Setting aside the screen for a moment, the G19 keyboard itself is only slightly more impressive than the most recent version of the G15. The core key design provides the same crisp keystrokes, with the same 12 “G” keys on the left edge. As with the G15, the G19 gives you three different switchable modes, so you end up with 36 effective customizable keys, along with on-the-fly macro recording. Logitech also includes another hallmark of its G-series keyboards, a switch that lets you disable the dedicated “Windows” key, so you don’t accidentally switch to your desktop screen during gameplay with an errant key press.
New to this model (aside from the color LCD) is its capability to recognize five simultaneous key presses. Macro-happy gamers and digital artists, in particular, should appreciate that feature, which opens up a greater level of mastery to run repetitive commands. We’re also glad to see that the G19 now has two powered USB 2.0 jacks. The G15 is stuck with USB 1.1, which is not as fast. Anyone who regularly transfers large amounts of data between a PC and a portable storage device or media player will benefit from that added bandwidth.
Other features include a smart drum-style volume control above the G19’s number pad, on top of which you’ll also find a set of easily accessible media play controls. As before, the G19 ties into iTunes, Windows Media Center, and other media software apps. Last but not least among the new, non-LCD-related highlights is the option to select from 16 million different colors for the backlit keys. You customize the colors through the only-somewhat-intuitive Logitech Profile software, which lets you tie three different colors to the three mode buttons for the programmable “G” keys. We wish it had a dedicated button to scroll through at least a few preset colors, though. We also wish Logitech would consolidate its configuration software into one application. Instead you have to bounce around between the G-series Key Profiler for setting up the G keys, and a separate LCD Manager app for the built-in screen. Which brings us, finally, to the color LCD.
As with the G15, the G19 provides you with a secondary display, ostensibly to minimize the number of times you switch out of a game to the Windows desktop to check the time, your in-box, or get other information. Unlike the G15’s two-tone model, the G19 gets full color output and a larger 320×240 screen size. Logitech includes 11 different applications you can use on the screen of the G19, among them a clock, a system performance monitor, an RSS reader, photo and video players, and an app that lets you play YouTube videos. All of those programs have option screens–accessible through both the LCD Manager software and through a set of screen menu controls on the keyboard itself–that let you change content source folders and make other adjustments.
The G19 also comes with built-in support for 46 PC games, and four different applications, including Ventrilo, the popular third-party voice chat software favored by many PC gamers. “Support” for those various titles means essentially that the screen will display different information, such as character stats and ammunition counts. We haven’t tried every game on the list, many of which are outdated, but we never found the game-specific information that handy during gameplay. We can see a few possibilities that would make the LCD screen more useful, such as giving you an extra inventory screen or showing an in-game map, but we haven’t seen those kinds of features implemented in the handful of titles we’ve tried. We do, however, like the Ventrilo plug-in that lets you know who’s talking, which can be useful if you don’t know everyone in your World of Warcraft guild by voice.
Potentially more exciting is that, as with the G15, Logitech also includes a software development kit for the G19’s LCD. It took a while for the enthusiast community to embrace the G15’s kit, but once it did, all kinds of mini apps became available for public download. We don’t expect the G19’s software library to have blossomed in the three months since the keyboard’s release, but without a critical mass of homemade applications, it’s hard for us to say what kinds of programs might come from the community. You can use some of the homebrewed G15 apps on the G19, but not all of them work on the new color screen. We also can’t help but wonder what effect the G19’s high price will have on the adoption rate among the enthusiast community. If fewer people buy the G19, that will surely affect the amount of collective effort behind any software development.