Belkin Nostromo n50 SpeedPad

On the Belkin website you’ll find a description of the Nostromo n50 SpeedPad that reads:

The n50 SpeedPad is the first gaming device of its kind, a completely new gaming tool that transcends conventional categories such as game pads, joysticks, etc. The SpeedPad can best be described as a combination keyboard and game pad. The 10 keys on the n50 act as keys on a keyboard with the advantage of being easily accessible and intuitively configured. The n50 also has an eight-way directional pad, much like the d-pad on a standard game pad. It’s an innovative, multipurpose tool that will lift your gaming experience to a whole new level.

And while there is some debate as to whether this is in fact the ‘first’ device of it’s kind the decription is pretty much on the money with the rest of the description. The Nostromo Speedpad is a well designed gaming tool that can help improve your gaming if you are suited to such a device.


[fig 1: click for larger image]
First Impressions:

Put simply the n50 puts all of the controls that you can imagine at the finger tips of your left hand. It sports a mini, 10 key, keyboard [fig 2], a GamePad style, Thumb pad [fig 3] and a ‘Throttle’ or ‘Scroll Wheel [fig 4] all of which are configureable beyond the capabilities of the excellent ‘Game pad companion‘ now that Belkin have seen fit to release official drivers for the Mac OS.


[fig 2]

[fig 3]

[fig 4]
The unit is very well designed and, when placeed on a desk, feels very solid. Depending on the size of your hands you may (or may not) need to remove the ‘palm rest’ that, when lifted away allows users with a smaller hand reach all of the n50’s contorls with ease,

As soon as you place your hand on the unit you can tell that this is more than just a keyboard replacment – If you use your keyboard’s ‘arrow’ keys when playing games (as I do) then you’ll know that while the advantage of not being able to accidetly hti the wrong key while in a frackar is over shadowed by the fact that it’s harder to reach additional keys (assigned for weapons, issuing orders, activating devices or any other myriad or in game uses) of if you’re the kind of player who uses the WASD keys (or some other combination) you’ll know that the opposite is true, it’s easy to get ‘lost’ in amongst all those key (or atleast that’s what happens to this idiot!). The n50 ‘centers’ your fingers over two rows of 5 keys (as seen in fig 2) – with the 03, 07, 08 and 09 keys replacing the keyboard’s arrow keys or the WASD keys. Another small addition which helps you ‘loacte’ your fingers on the keys is simple but effective: The 08 key (which replaces the ‘down arrow’ or ‘S’ key) has a small moulded ridge on it which allows you to ‘register’ all of your fingers back to their correct keys istantly.

The n50’s design also places your thumb neatly and comfortably over the ‘Thumb pad’ and while the pad (as a pad) may not be of that much use in a FPS stlye game it’s uses (much like the Throttle) are endless for flight simulators.

Installation:

1: The unit doesn’t require external power or put too much of a drain on the system to require it to be plugged directly into a ‘powered port’ so a free USB port on your keyboard or a hub will serve just fine for the n50. Once that’s done it’s a simple matter of installing the drivers:

2: Download the drivers.


[fig 5]
3: When downloaded and decompressed the drivers are packaged in a .dmg, mount the image by double clicking on it. You’ll be presented with the installer and Uninstaller for the units drivers [fig 5] – Double click the installer icon to begin the actual driver installation.
4: The installation process is a standard pkg install, you will be asked for your password, asked to read and agree to an agreement, asked to select the destination drive (containing your system) for the install and, once complete, you will be asked to restart your machine.
5: After your system restarts locate the ‘Nostromo Control’ application (pictured right), found in your default ‘Applications’ folder. Double click on the application’s icon to begin configuration of the units controls.
Configuration:


[fig 6]

This process is very much up to the individual as different gamers play different games and usually have very specialzed and personal setting. So in thsi section I’ll briefly cover the basics of how to configure the controls and leave the rest up to you!

Click on [fig 6] to see a larger (numbered) view of the controller application interface. The numbers on the larger image will corripond with the following points:

1: These are the area’s where you are able to select which key is to be allocated what function . You can make your choice in three ways. You can click the graphic depiction of the corrisponding key, you can tap the key on the actual n50 or you can select the key that you whish to assign from the drop down menu at the bottom left of the application’s interface.

2: Once you have chosen the key you can chose the type of funtion you wish that key to perform, your options are vast and range from a standard keystroke (or key clone) to opening a file (which could include running an apple script!). If your choice requires you to nominate a key then move to point 3.

3: To allocate a keystroke or a key to ‘clone’ in this field by clicking it (the field) with your mouse pointer and then tapping the key you wish to clone.

4: Here you select the key”s frequency – you can set the key to ‘stay pressed’ or to repeat at various intervals as long as it remains pressed

5: You can select the ‘shift state’ that you are working in – the n50 has four ‘shift states’ – ‘No shift’, ‘Red shift’, ‘Green shift’ and ‘Blue shift’ – these ‘shift states’ act much like any modifyer key – however you can toggle these states and set up whole confiureations within these states. Great for games like ‘Return to castle Wolfenstein’ (or the like) in which you can play as different ‘types’ of soldiers – medic’s, Technicians, etc – each of which has slightly different functions within the game and therefore require slightly different controls.

With a bit of tinkering these ‘shift states’ will allowe you to configure up to 56 functions.

6: The ‘Target’ drop down menu allows you to select specific applications to create ‘profiles’ for. Meaning that you can create a specific configurations for specific games. When you create a new ‘set’ you will be prompted to locate the application (game) that you want that configuration to be associated with.

So is it any good?

Well, I’m not the best gamer in the world.. I blame that on an old LAN injury. But I have to say that the Nostromo n50 SpeedPad does improve my playing. I’ve used it for a while now (with GamePad Companion and now with the official drivers) and I now that I’m used to it I am a better player when I’m using it. However if you are out there playing the role of cannon fodder constantly don’t expect that a device like the n50 will help you win the next pro-gaming tournament!

Score:

Construction – 7/10
Design – 8/10
Usefullness – 7/10

Links:
Belkin
GamePad Companion

Elroy