Two years ago, I reviewed Corsair's Lapdog, the company's first take on a keyboard-and-mouse lapboard for couch gaming. It was pretty rough around the edges, but the concept had merit. Earlier this year, Corsair revealed its K63 Lapboard, which addressed my complaints with the Lapdog and introduced even more features. You can read Jeff's review of it here.
Corsair having tested the waters, Roccat is now entering the lapboard market with its own Sova gaming lapboard. The Sova takes a somewhat different approach than the lapboards we've seen so far. Unlike Corsair's K63 Lapboard, the Sova has a keyboard built right into the lapboard body.
The Sova itself is made of lightly textured black plastic that feels completely solid. The body doesn't bow or bend under pressure. The plastic construction keeps the weight down, which is important for a lapboard. The Sova never felt uncomfortably hefty during use at just above five pounds.
The black plastic extends to the wrist rest and mouse pad. Thankfully, the plastic is just soft enough to comfortably rest your wrists on without being overly prone to scratches. Wrist rests are a must for lapboards, so I'm glad to see one here. The mousepad, on the other hand, is a bit of a mixed bag. It's definitely plenty big, but plastic is something of an odd choice for the job the Sova needs to do. Gamers going from cloth to hard mouse pads will probably find that mice slide too easily on hard mouse pads, as I did. Consistent mouse feel is important for muscle memory.
Despite that change, I was able to recalibrate my aim for the hard pad more quickly than I expected. The big drawback of a hard mousepad for couch gaming is that your mouse will begin to slide off the pad if you let go of it while the lapboard is resting at an angle. To be fair, though, Jeff says the Corsair K63 Lapboard is no better at keeping a mouse in position if it's not being held. Out-of-control mice may just be a fact of living-room gaming. An adjustable cable holder is positioned at the top of the Sova's mouse pad to keep wired mice from completely sliding off, at least.
One of the problems with Corsair's original Lapdog is its large size. The K63 Lapboard addresses this problem by using a tenkeyless keyboard, but the Sova cuts down on bulk even more by integrating a compact 75% keyboard layout. I'm a fan of 75% layouts, and I think they make even more sense in pure gaming applications like lapboards than they do in keyboards for mixed desktop use. The keyboard functions that don't have their own dedicated keys in the 75% layout can be accessed through a function layer built into the top row. As always, that layer is activated by holding down the function key. This firmware layer also includes media and LED brightness controls, in addition to a few other functions.
The Sova's keycaps are made of the usual ABS plastic, meaning they feel cheap. As always, I'd prefer at least double shot ABS plastic, but I'm a little more forgiving in this case since a lapboard isn't something you'd use as your daily driver. Unfortunately, the keycaps don't have standard Cherry stems, so you can't easily swap them out with your own set.
The keycap stems are designed to fit into housings for rubber dome switches. You can pay an additional $50 for the Sova MK and its Roccat TTC mechanical switches, but my review unit came with rubber domes. The rubber domes in the Sova certainly aren't going to deliver a great typing experience, but that isn't the intended purpose of this board. I wouldn't use rubber domes if I was trying to play at peak performance, but the Sova's membranes feel perfectly adequate for casual couch gaming.
The real problem with rubber domes for gaming isn't the feel of squishing rubber—it's the actuation point of the switch itself. Rubber domes require you to bottom out the keys to activate them, and once you activate a membrane switch, you pretty much have to keep the keycap bottomed out in order to keep the switch activated. This behavior isn't problematic when typing, but it does become troublesome when playing games that require you to hold down keys. If you let off a key just a little bit, it will deactivate.
Just as I found when reviewing Razer's Ornata, I would frequently deactivate keys by accident while casually playing Warframe, but rarely had that problem while immersed in Brutal Doom's intense action. If you plan to relax on the couch and do more than casual gaming with the Sova, you may want to invest in the Sova MK for a more familiar feel.
Roccat claims the Sova has N-key rollover (NKRO), but I was only able to reliably activate four keys simultaneously in AquaKeyTest, not including modifiers. I could activate up to eight keys at once, but only for certain key combinations. NKRO is good to have for peace of mind, but it is overkill. However, merely 4-key rollover is worrisome. I personally never ran into a key activation limitation while using the Sova, but there are games that require four or more keys to be active at once. If you want to use the Sova to play such games, you may be disappointed. I can't speak to whether the Sova MK fixes this potential road block, either.
The bottom of the Sova is cushioned by four cloth covered pads. The Sova comfortably sat in my lap for extended periods without restricting blood flow to my legs, so it gets an A in the comfort department. You'll note that the pads don't cover the entire bottom of the board, meaning that there's potential room for airflow over the tops of one's legs, too. That's an important consideration versus Corsair's K63, which blankets the tops of the user's legs in potentially-sweat-inducing foam. The base of this board is also home to two USB ports and a proprietary wired connector on a pigtail. The USB ports are accompanied by access holes for a channel running through the top of the lapboard. This channel is handy for cable management.
The primary cable begins with a proprietary connector that plugs into the extended pigtail on the lapboard. The pigtail and cable act as a break-away failsafe similar to the one found on the Xbox 360 controller. Two USB connectors can be found at the other end of the cable. The primary connector powers the Sova's keyboard and USB ports, while the second connector provides additional power to the USB ports. I was able to power the keyboard, a mouse, and a headset using only the primary USB connector, but for peripherals that draw more power, Roccat has your back. The cable is just over 13 feet long (4 m), which is plenty to sit a comfortable distance away from a TV with some slack. My only complaint with the cable is that its rubber sheath is a little too inflexible.