Release time: 2015-11-11

My first glance at the unassuming brown kraft box packaging, adorned only by some rather complicated instructions for use, left me immediately underwhelmed – what could the $30 UtechSmart Saturn keyboard possibly have to offer in a competitive world of features, flash, and design?

I was pleasantly surprise to find that, for the price, it is an amazing piece of equipment – rife with useful features, comfortable keys, and a rather impressive color display.

Design & Comfort

I’m afraid it took me a moment to really appreciate the design of the UtechSmart Saturn - even after taking it out of the boring box, I was again underwhelmed by how light and plastic-y the whole thing felt. After being spoiled by the pleasant heft of steel-mounted mechanical keyboards like the Turtle Beach Impact 500 and ThermalTake Poseidon, the Saturn felt more like something I could have dug out of the dusty pile of loaner keyboards we keep in the office. Then I reminded myself that the price difference between the two is over $100, and quickly got over it.

Aside from the light-weight plastic, the keyboard does sport a rather bold look, but nothing that would disqualify it from every-day typing use. The curved bottom of the keyboard provided a nice wrist rest for my small girl-hands, but I don’t know how useful it would be for someone with longer fingers.

The rubber-coated keys had comfortable, easy to adjust to placement. The keys are also nearly silent, which makes it suitable for use in an open-style office, although I must admit that I missed the satisfying audible click of the aforementioned Impact 500 with its Cherry Blue keys.

Speaking of keys, another nitpick here – I really didn’t like the funky old-school Enter key, with the backslash key squeezed in to the left of it. I found this surprisingly annoying, hitting the backslash by mistake more times than I like to admit.

On the other hand, one design element that I found quite exciting – though was not bold enough to test out – are the waterproof drainage holes, making the keyboard less likely to die when I inevitably knock grape soda all over it. I definitely appreciate anything that makes it easier to game and enjoy delicious refreshments at the same time – it is the American way.

Features & Lightshow

In this category, I think the Saturn delivers far more than its minimal price tag would suggest. It won’t do your taxes or make a mean cup of coffee, but it will allow you to operate up to 19 keys simultaneously without conflict, features interchangeable direction keys and “WASD” keys, and 12 media keys to give you quick access to your applications and settings. It’s nothing revolutionary, but all extremely practical. And then, of course, there’s the backlight….

Saturn’s 9-color backlight with marquee capability and adjustable brightness undoubtedly deserves a section of its own. I think UtechSmart would agree, as approximately 90% of the short, 2-page user guide is dedicated to teaching you how to use it. While in many ways this is the keyboard’s most impressive feature, it can also be its most aggravating. It is the equivalent of an over-zealous neighbor’s holiday light display – awe-inspiring mid-November, rage-inducing by the time Christmas actually rolls around.

As I already mentioned, the keyboard comes with a small user guide that attempts to explain how to control the adjustable backlight (also printed on the box). You can toggle between many combinations of colors, “breathing” (pulsing) effects, and speeds of light oscillation. It is controlled through some complex combinations of the FN and “Light” key – which is curiously placed to the left of the space bar and under the shift key, which seems like a terrible spot a key that you don’t want to accidentally hit, destroying your painstakingly set color preferences.

Being a woman of little patience, I quickly gave up on reading the instructions and resorted to tapping furiously at the buttons like I was entering secret codes into the Enigma machine, until my preferred light setting (a modest solid purple) finally appeared several cycles later. Finally, I could get on with my life.

While the backlight itself works great, pulling off some complex feats of color, the controls are overly complicated and leave much to be desired. This is especially problematic because the keyboard defaults to its most maddening breathing pattern every time it restarts, which it does even when your computer is in power-saving mode. If you’re not a fan of the Studio 54 effect, you have to go through the complex dance of finding your preferred color setting each time you use it. I found this incredibly annoying and hopefully something that gets fixed in a newer version.

It bears to mention that the brightness is adjustable with a rather imposing knob in the top center of keyboard. The knob is backlit in blue and this light can’t be turned down or turned off. At first I thought this would be distracting, but it proved to be useful in finding the keyboard in a dark room.

Wrap Up

The Saturn may not be the most impressive keyboard on the market, but if you’re looking for something budget friendly and practical, it is a very strong contender. The design is clean and comfortable, and everything works as intended. Construction is light but sturdy, and while it’s not completely tricked-out in extra buttons, the features that it does have are useful and practical. The backlight controls could use some simplification, and they really should look into having the keyboard memorize your light settings. Otherwise, very strongly recommended.

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