It's the void the Steam controller was supposed to fill, but failed. How do you play traditional PC games requiring a mouse and keyboard on a couch, without having to sacrifice comfort or precision?
The latest answer from Corsair is to sacrifice neither. The Lapdog is marketed as a "gaming control center", although it's really better thought of as a stable table for gaming. And while that's a great idea in theory, the reality is far less pleasant.
What Is It?
Corsair's official marketing describes the Lapdog as a "gaming control center". That just means it's a tray that holds a full-size keyboard and hard mouse pad, with additional USB ports for your mouse, phone, tablet or whatever else that needs charging.
With the help of a provided allen key, the Lapdog can house any Corsair K65 or K70 keyboard. You can use any wired USB mouse you like, and there's enough room within the upper housing to loop the cables for both the keyboard and the mouse.
The Lapdog connects to your PC via a 5 metre USB 3.0 breakout cable, with a small extension for a 12V DC adapter. It's not necessary to plug the adapter in to power up the keyboard, but the additional USB ports won't work otherwise, which is a bit of a bummer.
As an entire unit, it basically comes in two parts. The first part is the aluminium shell, while the second is a concave memory foam lap cushion. The cushion extends across your legs, although you're naturally encouraged to spread your legs so the mousepad and keyboard both have a stable base. The two parts connect via a series of magnets, slightly smaller than the size of a watch battery.
The Lapdog itself doesn't come with a keyboard or mouse, but for the purposes of review Corsair shipped us a K65 and K70 LUX RGB model each. They're good keyboards, although the installation process for each differs slightly. (And if you want to see my thoughts on the K70 LUX RGB specifically, here's a review.)
There are 4 USB 3.0 ports: two located underneath the mousepad, and two external ports to the right of the mousepad. The K65 and K70 LUX RGB keyboards we received also have a USB 2.0 port in the front, although the layout of the cables makes that port largely inaccessible.
What's It Good At?
The aluminium shell is the same material used for Corsair's keyboards, and it's solid. Real solid. It's a feeling that's more suited to a desk than against your wrists when you're sitting on a couch. But it doesn't feel cheap, and more importantly it's not especially heavy. The entire unit weighs 2.63kg, but you can reduce that a little by not using the concave foam rest.
It's not immediately obvious, but perhaps the best aspect of the Lapdog is the two internal USB ports. It means you only never need to have the one breakout cord and the male and female ends for the power cable.
That won't placate people searching for a true wireless solution. But sticking to wires means that you never need to be concerned about input lag from the mouse and keyboard, and that means -- provided you're comfortable -- you can play the most demanding of PC games without fault.
And, with a few caveats, that's what I was able to do. I can't comfortably sit on my couch and play Overwatch with a Steam controller, nor can I attain the same precision by using a gamepad. But I was able to effectively play at my usual standard with the Corsair Lapdog, and that deserves a commendation.
Playing more precise twitch shooters like Counter-Strike or Unreal Tournament, however, presented a different challenge entirely. And that's where we get into the issues.
What's It Not Good At?
The main marketing pitch for the Corsair Lapdog is no compromises. Whatever you would do on a desk with your regular mouse and keyboard, the Lapdog makes possible on the couch. And to an extent, it does -- but certainly not without compromise.
For one, low sensitivity gamers -- such as myself -- will become substantially frustrated. The Lapdog's mousepad has an elevated aluminium ridge on the right hand side, which presumably holds it together. But while it feels good and looks secure, it also means you're liable to slam your mouse into a hard piece of aluminium every time you swipe right -- and given what most mice are made of, I can't see the Lapdog coming off second best.
The Lapdog's magnets are also an issue. Because I often play games at low sensitivities, it means I'm prone to flicking my mouse around with a good deal of force. And it doesn't take a great deal of force to push the aluminium shell off the foam rest, which immediately breaks the flow of your gaming session. On top of that, the adhesive connecting them to the memory foam wore off quite quickly. After a week's use, only four of the original six magnets have remained in place.
The lack of a wrist rest is a real oversight too. The Lapdog's sharp, rectangular angles are more suited for a desk than sitting on a couch. And the fixed positioning of the mouse pad and the keyboard meant that I found myself much more cramped than I would have ordinarily been.
Fatigue can be a bit of an issue too. It's more natural to have your legs spread while using the Lapdog, because that way you have one knee under each side keeping the whole unit stable. But it's not a normal position to sit, and I found myself yearning for a stretch more often than I otherwise would. Sitting up straight in a chair, or just sitting lotus on the couch with a controller, is far more comfy over a longer session.
And I'm worried about the level of comfort for the mouse as well. Using a hard surface introduces far more wear and tear on the mouse feet than a cloth or softer surface otherwise would, but my real concern is the slight rubbing of the mouse cord against the hard edges of the aluminium shell and the mouse pad. The lack of rounded edges means it's highly possible -- especially for mice with braided cords -- that you'll see some level of fraying over time.
Should You Buy It?
I haven't mentioned the price up until now, and that's for a very good reason. For many, the Lapdog is a solution to a problem a lot of gamers don't have. If they're playing on the couch, they do so because it's more comfortable -- and with the fatigue, weak magnetism and problems for low sensitivity gaming -- that's something I never was. But the Lapdog is also a much more effective solution than the Steam controller, or a gamepad, if you're looking to play FPS or RTS games -- provided you already have the K65 or K70 keyboards from Corsair.
But is $160 too much?
I think it's fair, particularly in comparison to the international $US119 MSRP. But my issues aren't with the price, but the fact that the Lapdog fails its core mission statement. Zero compromises -- that's the main selling point. But all I found myself doing was compromising, whether it be my config or my physical comfort. And can you imagine how comfortable the Lapdog will be in summer, with a couple of inches on foam absorbing the sweat from a 35c degree day? That's not factoring in the raised position of your wrist, the fatigue generated through the weight on your legs or the annoyance of hitting the aluminium ridges around the mouse pad.
I like the principle behind what Corsair are doing. The Steam controller might be pretty cheap, but it's not an effective -- or simple -- replacement for a mouse and keyboard setup on the couch. The best alternative is an actual mouse and keyboard. I hope Corsair keeps trying: there's some great ideas, like the internalisation of the cords and a powered USB 3.0 hub, but not enough to justify buying.