Review: Logitech G19

Many types of keyboards are on sale out there, ones with features you just can’t live without and others that aren’t even useful as a paperweight, but what does it take for you to say, “I want that keyboard”? The team over at Logitech seems to know the difference between a run-of-the-mill keyboard and a true must-have, and they show it with their line of G series keyboards. They first started this line with the G15, which had only a small monochrome display that could show your media player information, date and time, information from within games, and so much more.

This was a huge hit with gamers and multimedia users alike, but there were things that needed to be added and changed. Now, fast forward to the G19 with its LCD screen and its $180 price tag. You can only wonder if these new features are a show stopper or have you praising it for an encore. The best way to find out before you buy is for you to keep reading and see for yourself.

System: Intel i7 950, Corsair Dominator 6 GB 1600 XMP, Asus P6X58D Premium, Evga GTX580 FTW Hydro Copper 2 x2 for SLI, Logitech G13 Advanced Gameboard and Logitech G19 Keyboard.
Manufacturer: Logitech
Release Date: May, 2009
MSRP: $199

The hardest thing to do in any business is follow up a hit with another one, especially when its predecessor was so beloved for multiple reasons. The G19’s initial debut made it seem like Logitech wanted this keyboard take the top spot. However, there were many things that kept, and still keeps it, from taking that spot. The price tag is by far the biggest factor to consider: when a decent video card will run $150 to $250—which is usually about a third of someone’s budget for a midrange gaming rig—how can that sort of cost be justified, especially when the G15 was so much cheaper than $180? Logitech has answered that concern with features—and lots of them.

At the time of this writing, more than two years have passed since the G19’s initial release, and many developers have either updated their games to work with the G19 such as Borderlands or launch with it such as Battlefield: Bad Company 2. There hasn’t been much news in regard to what future titles will support the G19’s LCD, but that wasn’t uncommon for the G15, either, so to say that it won’t do well because no one has announced support for it would be premature. Logitech took steps to ensure that what could run on the G15 could run on the G19, which means 3rd party programs like LCDSirReal Panel and past games will work as well.

The software that was used in the review was not the initial shipping software lgps301_x64. I’m using the lgs700_x64 since they were released in December as the latest lgs800_x64 (specifically 8.0.72.0) doesn’t work with my setup for some reason. It has something to do with running the G13 monochrome display and the G19 LCD at the same time. All I can tell you is that Logitech sent the information to QA after I made the initial post on the Logitech’s forums, but there’s been no ETA or other communication from the company since. They also haven’t pulled the drivers, which is troubling because it’s just a problem with their products.

Logitech has made some vast improvements with 700 series software by merging two older products together, and by making macro management easier to setup and manage. I do not have a screenshot of the previous version of the software, and I won’t go into great detail about it. However, this was the process you need to go through with older software: open program, settings, macro manager, create new, name it, make macro, start recording, input what you need, stop recording (change timing if needed), close macro manager, right-click on the button you want, and then select it in the macro list. Compare that to the process in the 700: open program, click the G key at the bottom, click on the piece of paper with the + at the lower left (Create New Command), select what option you want it to be, Function (common apps like email), Keystroke (Single), Multi Key (Macro), Shortcut (uncommon apps like Winamp), or Text block (prewritten text). If you choose Multi Key, just name the new macro, start recording, input what you need, stop recording (change timing if needed), close the manager, and drag the name on the list to the left to what key you want it be, and you’re done. The list on the left gives you an icon of what type it is, and you can double-click on it if you need to change it or the key it’s linked to. Before, you had to go to the macro manager and find it to make changes, but this could be time consuming if you had a large list. There is one annoying thing that happens when click on the G, though: after it has been clicked, it’ll pause the program and all the apps running on your display for as long as a minute, so making changes on the fly becomes impractical during, say, an online game session.

The G19 also brings with it color customization, like the G15 and G15 rev2 had. To make this change, just open up the application in the task bar, choose the light bulb with the different colors behind it, and then choose whatever colors you want. This makes keeping track of macros much easier as well; the M1, M2, and M3 can be set up to have their own individual color, so if you need macros for a game that has multiple factions with different weapons, you can now color code it. It would be nice to change the brightness of the colors, but only the LCD gives you the option to turn that down. The G19 power requirements are much higher then what one USB port can provide, so an external power connection is required for the LCD and the color illumination. This isn’t a problem for me, but it could be for others who don’t have an extra plug or have limited desk space. The external power isn’t required for regular keyboard operation at the cost of looking more dull.

Those who have the G15 already know these keyboards take up quite a bit of room and the G19 is no different. The G19 is a little smaller than the G15 because they removed a column of macro keys. I didn’t like this at all because I found them useful in RTS games to move around the map without having to bring my mouse to the edge so it was much faster. MMO players disliked it as well because that meant less macros they can set up out of game. I got around this loss with the G13 and I now use the joystick on it for my RTS games. It’s also just as the programmable as the G15/G19 since the software is universal. There must have been a lot gamers upset at Logitech, though, because soon Logitech brought back the extra column with their G510 keyboard but went back to the monochrome display.

The G15 had much information to provide, but it was confined to that small monochrome space. By comparison, the G19’s LCD gives everything much more room to breathe. This doesn’t mean everything can be there, but at least you’ll have more information at your finger tips. I could keep talking about this advantage or just show you via examples in Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and Borderlands. I’ll be using my G13 screen to take my pictures because the G15 is in use and the information is exactly the same on both. We’ll start off with Battlefield: Bad Company 2.

As shown above, the G19 provides the player much more information on the LCD screen that the monochrome one could at a glance. This doesn’t mean that the G19 doesn’t have multiple screens with other games, however. In the case of Borderlands, they have four screens, but the G13 only has three. Here are the pictures to show you why.

Gearbox obviously gave the G19 more information to display over the G13, such as the full amount of money you have and not just the $9,999,999 limit in game. The weapon level progression list could’ve been put on alternate screens with the G13, but here, we can see that having it all on one screen is more convenient then having to scroll through a list. The pictures above give you a glimpse into how the LCD can be used to show some interesting pictures or animations, accompanied with valuable information, though games are not the only feature in this package.

Logitech has included a vast assortment of software with their driver package, though we won’t go into detail about all of them. Here is the list of what you’ll see by default: Logitech LCD Clock, Logitech LCD Countdown Timer, Logitech LCD Movie Viewer, Logitech LCD POP3 Monitor, Logitech LCD Picture Viewer, Logitech LCD RSS Reader, Logitech LCD Video Player for YouTube, Logitech LCD Webcam Viewer, Logitech Media Display, G-Series Profile Selector, and Logitech Performance Monitor. The list is extensive and gives you what seems to be great choices. Now let’s see how they measure up.

Changing what program you want displayed is very straight forward. In the reference picture of the G19 (see top image or the first one of the software pictures), you can see a Gear with an orange box. By pressing that, you bring up a list of your running apps. All you have to do then is use the arrow pad to navigate and press OK to select what you want. It couldn’t be simpler.

The Logitech LCD Movie Viewer is just as simple to navigate and select as the app list to choose your movie on your HDD. The biggest drawback with this app is that the codec used to run the display is limited to what Logitech provides. This is no more apparent than with mp4 and mov codecs; the list would not display mov files and I couldn’t run any of my mp4 files. The more widely used formats, such as avi, wmv, and mpeg all work just fine, though. The videos that do run allow for only basic controls, but knowing what they are is a crap shoot because they’re not displayed, so users would need to experiment with the arrow pad, OK, menu, and left arrow. The configuration’s initial setting is to automatically find your default Video folder (even if you moved it like I have) and look at all of your subfolders, giving you access to your library right away. The Menu button will allow you to bring up the configuration window quickly. The other way is to go through the program running in your task bar and press the LCD icon at the bottom. Now that you’re finally there, you find there’s no button for you to press to configure it and double-clicking doesn’t work. What does work is right-clicking on it and selecting configure. These are a lot of steps to set up something that aren’t necessarily obvious from the outset.

The video’s quality is adequate when you factor in size and resolution. Just don’t expect to see that much detail when you get really close. A very annoying situation could present itself with those who have a very large video library; the list becomes incredibly long and takes a fair amount of time to find what you want. It would just be simpler to change your folder to find something in short order or just use your favorite media player.

The Logitech LCD Picture Viewer can be useful but can also get you in trouble if that special someone in the house doesn’t know about your massive porn collection. This may be why the default configuration is only set up to show your pictures in your main Pictures folder and not the subfolders. To get there quickly, you can use the Menu button or go through the program that was previously mentioned, but again, it’s not very convenient. Once in there, you can set up many things such as what directory you want, Include subfolder, Random, Display Interval and Transition type either Random or Specific. It’s all the basics and not a bad thing in the least. The quality is obviously the same; on many of my pictures, the wording is blurred because they’re thumbnail-sized, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t interesting to look at. The arrow pad allows you to go back (left), forward (right), and the OK button will pause or play the images. What’s disconcerting is the inability to bring up the picture in Windows or have it tell you where it is. It’s nice to see it on the screen, but if you want to find it, you have to pause it and hunt it down. They could’ve easily made the up arrow serve this function or used the down arrow display the location. The other problem with this app is that if you set it to random, it isn’t truly random: when I left it running, I could see the same picture a couple of times in an hour—not always the same picture, but always one that I’d seen before.

The Logitech Media Display hasn’t done anything new since the original G15. It just got a face lift and continues to show information from multiple players like Winamp, iTunes, MediaLife, RealPlayer, Sonique, and Window Media Player. The information shows the title, artist, and track time, and it’ll bring up the volume when you go to adjust it with any application or the keyboard itself. The only fault that can be seen is with the volume: when you move it up or down, it quickly disappears and if you aren’t watching it directly, it’ll be gone. It would’ve been nice to be able to change the fade out for that. The display does change to the media information automatically when you open your media player of choice and start playing music. That takes away from having to go to it every time and change it yourself, which could’ve been tedious. The media keys work almost perfectly; the only problem I have with them is when I’m in a game, but that’s the player’s fault, not the keys. I do prefer the placement of the media keys on the G19 over where they were on the G15; they’re quicker to reach, and if I hit a key below them by mistake, it won’t cause a problem in-game, unlike when I would hit one of the F keys. I also prefer the new volume wheel over the circle one as well. It’s much more responsive and doesn’t feel like it’s going to fall off when I use it.

The Logitech Performance Monitor gives enough information about the system, but I would’ve preferred to see more to it. It just displays overall CPU usage when you have more than two cores. On a dual core, it shows each individual core and the RAM usage. This is fine, but being a power user, I would’ve preferred to see all my cores, even if it meant losing the odometer graphic and just going to a scale or something. The network usage in and out, or a total of the two at least, would’ve been nice to see. The G15 lacked these features as well, but until I found the LCD SirReal Panel, I didn’t think it would be possible to have more information at my finger tips.

I’ve mentioned LCD SirReal Panel a few times now because I feel it’s one of the most useful pieces of software out there for the Logitech G series line. The reason I use this is because it’s modular, and anyone can set up this program to display what they want. I first found it when I was looking for something to display my temperatures for my CPUs (AMD 4×4, 2 physical CPUs) and the GPUs (I had SLI 8800 GTX from BFG) for my then-new water cooling desktop. I wanted that information while in game if possible on my G15 because it was my first attempt at water cooling and I wanted to be sure nothing bad happened. As you can see, though, I gained much more than that with this app. Now, if you want to learn more just follow the link with the name and don’t freak out when you see that he’s asking you to pay. It’s only a donation and you do not have to pay to use it if you choose not to; however, keep in mind that a nag box will appear on the left hand side. I’ve included a picture to show how I have this configured to give you an idea of what’s possible.

The main reason I moved away from my G15 was because the paint on the keys started to wear out, making them almost completely see through. They fixed that major problem with the G15 Rev2, and thankfully, that seems to have translated to the G19 as well. After having this keyboard for over a year and a half, I have not run into that problem—I’ve just run into another. When I went to a LAN party, I put my G19 in my bag, and when I pulled it out, I found a small scratch mark on the LCD. I had no idea that screen was so sensitive; the only thing on top of it was my USB head set. I can only conclude that it was the plastic from the headset that did the damage; all my other cables and accessories were under my keyboard. It was very infuriating that I saw no warning about how delicate it was and that they didn’t include any sort of protection for it. To prevent further damage, I picked up some clear packing tape and used an X-Acto knife to cut the excess off. When I moved, I had the same scenario for my bag and keyboard, except nothing was damaged this time thanks to the tape. I just expect certain information to be given out when you pay this much for an item, but Logitech always seems to fall short in this regard.

The worst part of this device is always going to come back to the cost because money is always a sore point for everyone, especially now. The Logitech team has obviously put in a good effort to provide several features with the G19 and has made a fair effort for it to be flexible, but these features bring with it a hefty price tag. The only question is, how much do these features mean to you? Personally, I didn’t want to spend more than $120 to $140, but at the time, I had few options. The G15 rev2 did not appeal to me at all, the original G15 was no longer being manufactured, and eBay wasn’t an option because they wanted $160 for one at the time, leaving the G19 as my best and only option for $20 more.

Now, if I had the G510 available to me when I was shopping around, I probably would’ve purchased that instead. Today, if you were to ask me if I would I trade my G19 for a G510, I would say, “Hell no!” I’ve become accustomed to the many features that have been enhanced with the LCD, especially in games. That cannot be given a value to me. For instance, when you’re in the heat of battle and just need to know your K/D ratio or ping, you run the risk of being killed while looking for it when it’s taking up your whole screen. That’s less likely to happen with a quick glance to a spot on your keyboard when you know it will always be in that same spot.

This keyboard isn’t for everyone, though. It might not even be for most elite gamers. However, once you get used to it, you probably wouldn’t want to go back to a regular keyboard again. The G19 keyboard is worth it if you have the cash, but if you’re in a financial pinch take a look at the G510 or G13 to see if they better fit your needs at a much cheaper price. The final score for this keyboard could’ve been as high as a A, but with so many factors holding this unit back, it’s hard to recommend it to anyone beyond those who can afford it and those who like to have a lot of information at their finger tips.

PROS
* Multicolor
* Macro
* Software
* LCD quality
* Backwards compatible
* Game information enhanced

CONS
* Size
* Price
* Software
* Lack of LCD protection
* External Power for the LCD

FINAL SCORE: B

Disclosure: The writer purchased this keyboard back on February 8, 2010 through Amazon. He was not given the keyboard from Logitech, or any other special items, to review this product. The writer has since learned that Logitech has released a new driver, version lgs801_x64 (8.01.120) and has been told on the company’s forums that it fixes the issue experienced by the writer, but at the time of review, the writer was not aware of the driver’s existence. He has installed them as of September 6, 2011 and has confirmed that his system no longer experiences the issue with the 800 series drivers. The writer reported the problem to Logitech on June 20, 2011.

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About Brandon Mietzner