The first impression consumers will get when unboxing the Shift is that this is a solid keyboard. It has a decent weight to it, which combined with the rubber feet, keeps it planted firmly on the desk. At 4cm thick, with an almost industrial look it also has a significant presence in front of any system and this large body means the casing has very little flex. It really does feel like it will take a significant amount of punishment over time without issue. The good build quality continues with the use of gold plated sockets/connectors and although the cable is not braided, it is coated in a heavy duty rubber.
The use of a removable board for the keys could have caused the Shift some build issues but the solid frame which sits underneath the keys also has no flex and so when locked tightly in place the Shift keys actually feel more stable and secure than most traditional designs. Removal when moving to a game specific key set is also simple, unclip and one end and the keys just lift off in one unit. Moving from set to set takes seconds and when the new keys are connected an on-screen pop-up tells us the type of board we have installed.
In terms of overall design and layout the Shift scores well, it is an impressive looking product and many of the features present are exactly what we would expect from a high end gaming board. Plenty of action/function buttons, high quality audio pass-through, powered USB and media keys all impress though there is one issue with the latter. It may just be us, but in the office a number of our staff sit with their hands resting on/at the side of the keyboard when at rest and the placement of the media keys does often result in accidental presses. We would have also liked to see the location of the audio ports moved towards the front of the main body, freeing up a little extra cable on our headset and some form of lighting would have been appreciated for those who like to play in low light conditions.
In use the Shift performs well, the key travel distance feels spot on and enables fast typing with the force required to press set well to minimise fatigue during long gaming sessions. 7 key ghosting is a good amount for the majority of players and we experienced no issues with keystrokes not registering, or registering twice. Due to the non-standard layout and addition of extra keys, mainly in the print screen location there is some adjustment required when moving to this board however it only takes a few hours to become accustomed to the Shift. Having said that the break in the space bar still feels a little odd when we hit that area.
Software wise the SteelSeries Engine is an impressive application. Firmware updates are handled quickly and easily and this experience continues on the main interface. Simplicity seems to have been the aim for SteelSeries and it really is a case of selecting the key, selecting the function to assign and then we are done, hugely beneficial when every key can be configured to our needs. The fact that this happens all in one screen and all in an interface which fits the product and brand is also impressive. If there is one tweak which could be made to this aspect it is that the news button should be changed to "help" or "Support" and pointed towards the SteelSeries technical assistance pages. Either that or add a help button.
Looking finally at value, the Shift sits in amongst the majority of high end gaming boards at £75/$90 which seems fair when we take into account the build quality, performance and features. The only aspect which is hard to judge is the value of the extra key-sets. At $25 they can feel a little pricey, especially for those who want more than one but at the same time there is nothing else similar on the market to compare with.
Really top notch build quality, this board will cope with some rough treatment. There is also very little to fault on the design and performance front. The SteelSeries Engine software is one of the best, most simple applications we have used to configure a gaming board.