With the rise and rise of small, powerful PCs like the MSI Vortex G65 that can live beside a TV rather than alongside a computer monitor, PC games are increasingly being played in living rooms — like your console on steroids — rather than at a desk or in a home office. To game from the couch, though, requires a little extra effort, because you're juggling a keyboard and mouse rather than an all-in-one handheld controller. A lapboard like the Roccat Sova makes it easy to sit back on a lounge and type and scroll away with the traditional PC gaming setup that you're familiar with.
What Is It?
I think you'd probably best describe the $299 Roccat Sova as a lapboard — a laptop keyboard tray, not too dissimilar to a Stable Table — that incorporates a tenkeyless keyboard, a large mousepad, and a wrist-rest below each. Unlike the Corsair Lapdog, you can't change the keyboard that sits inside the Sova, although there's a choice of a membrane-based or mechanical keyboard — that's the difference between the Sova and the Sova MK, which isn't currently available in Australia. Built from plastics rather than metal, the Sova's mousepad and wrist-rest are fully interchangeable. And the Sova is big, too, measuring in at 646mm long, 280mm wide and 37mm deep — designed to sit across both your legs, with cushioning underneath to support its 2.35kg weight.
- Polling Rate: 1000Hz, N-key rollover
- Ports: USB 2.0 x 2
- Cable Length: 4m, USB
- Mousepad Size: 275x240mm
- Dimensions: 646x280x37mm, 2.35kg
The Roccat Sova is a USB peripheral, but it's wired, which initially seems weird for a couch-gaming 'board — you'll use two of your PC's front USB ports to connect the Sova's 4m easy break-away cable, which uses a PS/2-style connector terminating near the rear of the keyboard itself that — if someone were to trip across it in front of you, or if you were to accidentally stand up and pull the keyboard upwards — separates quickly and easily from the rest of the cable. And, on the Sova itself, you get two USB ports — one of which can be used for whichever wired or wireless mouse you use on the Sova's integrated mousepad, and one that can be dedicated to a wired or wireless USB headset or any other USB 2.0 device. A clip-on accessory lets you coil up and guide your mouse cable, and a second rail can be used for any other 3D-printed accessory like a smartphone holder.
Underneath the Sova, you'll find four plush, fabric-wrapped foam pads that start at the extreme corners and extend almost to the centre of the lapboard — these sit against your thighs and lap, cushioning the not-insignificant weight of the Sova. In Roccat's promotional video, the Sova lives underneath the couch — and that's actually a perfect home for it. If you're happy to disconnect its quick release and furl up the cord, the Sova is extraordinarily quick to unplug and re-plug into your PC when you decide you want to partake in an extended gaming session; because of that it doesn't need to be the only peripheral connected to your living-room PC, and it'll play perfectly happily with a controller or a media centre remote control connected as well.
What's It Good At?
Keyboards made for desk use are never any good when you take them away from a desk. Balancing a skinny tenkeyless or full-size keyboard on your crossed legs is a big ask, and then you're using your expensive optical gaming mouse on a couch cushion or the lounge itself — all of which translates into an utterly mediocre 10-foot PC gaming experience. The Roccat Sova? It shines when you use it on the couch where it's meant to be used. It's the best lounge-bound gaming experience that I've had, and it's equally at home if you're sitting cross-legged or with your legs out in front of you. The balance that the soft plush pads add make for a remarkably stable gaming surface.
Importantly, that balance means that you can move the Sova slightly off-centre, which is convenient if you're going to be doing slightly more typing than you are mouse-moving. The keys themselves feel great for their membrane backing — not as precise or clicky or tactile as proper mechanical keys, but gratifying to use for an extended period of gaming nonetheless. The mouse surface, too, is smooth without being slick — you can game on it with a high sensitivity mouse without it going flying, and with a surface that picks up minute movements and telegraphs them accurately on-screen. And, of course, you can swap the mousepad out for another accessory if Roccat releases one, or you can fashion your own if you're especially keen.
The dimensions of the Sova — although it seems big on paper, and even when you take it out of the also-pretty-damn-large box — are really just right for gaming use in the real world. The wrist-rest is the right size to accommodate a wrist at any point along the keyboard, the mousepad is big enough for lower sensitivity use without being excessive, and the tenkeyless keyboard still has full-size keys with what feels like a regular distance between each individual keycap; it feels like typing on a normal keyboard and using a mouse on a normal surface, just propped up against your knees and your lap when you're sitting upright on a couch. It feels natural, which is high praise for a keyboard away from a sturdy desk.
What's It Not Good At?
$299 is a lot to pay for any kind of PC peripheral, even when it comes with the 'gaming' tag attached and when the R&D has gone into making it appropriate for a very specific use — like gaming from the couch. You could get yourself a last-generation gaming console and a bunch of games for that kind of money. You could buy a good mechanical keyboard and mouse for a traditional desk setup, or a great gaming headset. That means to make the Roccat Sova a worthwhile purchase, you'll have to really get some extended use out of it — you have to have a PC up and running connected to your big-screen TV, you have to have a lot of games to play, and you have to want to play them with a keyboard and mouse.
That last part is probably the biggest threat to the Sova's existence. A lot of PC games these days are built with controller playback in mind, and that means a significantly cheaper — circa $69 — Xbox One controller might be a more rational choice for the budget gamer, especially if they're predominantly playing console-developed games or racing titles where that kind of analogue joystick input is just as valuable as a keyboard and mouse. Obviously, for FPS, there's no question which is better. Oh, and if you're a left-handed mouse user, you are utterly out of luck with the Sova — there's no way to alter the orientation or position of the keyboard or mousepad, so this is a peripheral for right-handed gamers only.
And, of course, that $299 price tag — if you're not pre-ordering, at least — doesn't come with a bundled gaming mouse, wired or otherwise. The Sova lets you use any mouse you want, and that's really cool, but if you don't have a mouse already then you'll have to add that to the cost of picking up the Sova. That's not the Sova's fault, obviously, but it does mean that the overall package that the Sova is part of becomes slightly less price-competitive against something a little simpler — if less versatile — like an Xbox One controller or even a wired PC gaming controller. The flipside that you can use any mouse you want means that for a seasoned gamer that has a favourite peripheral — I wouldn't play any PC games without my aged, worn but trusty Logitech MX518 — can use it with the Sova without having to figure out any hacky workarounds.
Should You Buy It?
- Excellent design for couch gaming.
- Appropriate mousepad and wrist-rest size.
- Good membrane keyboard feel and layout.
- No mouse included.
- A wireless controller is cheaper.
It's an expensive gadget for a very specific purpose — to use the $299 Roccat Sova to its fullest, you need to be on a couch and you need to be playing a game that needs keyboard and mouse rather than just a controller. Before the lapboard's launch on 31 August, EB Games is bundling a free Roccat Kova gaming mouse worth $109.95 with the $299 Sova. That makes it a lot more appealing as a complete package, and also brings the price down to something that most couchbound gamers might consider reasonable. That's reasonable within the realm of PC gaming, at least; there's no arguing the fact that you could buy a second-hand gaming console for the asking price of this particular peripheral.
But, if you're willing to pay the price, you'll get yourself a gaming keyboard for the couch that will accept any wired or wireless mouse — invaluable for PC gamers that have a particular mouse that they love over any other, like me with my MX518 — and that has an excellent keyboard layout, but more importantly has a large enough wrist-rest for any sitting gamer to easily hold the keyboard securely against their lap. The inclusion of the mouse bungee is surprisingly useful for wired peripherals that might take an accidental trip floorwards (although it's not so handy for wireless), and the overall construction is up to Roccat's usual excellent standard.
It might not be small or light, but for a keyboard that sits on your knees or your lap the Sova is surprisingly comfortable, without feeling excessively plush. It feels right — I'd confidently play a twitch shooter like Doom without worrying about keyboard and mouse going flying, and it's perfectly at home with a marathon session of Overwatch. I'm very much looking forward to giving it another extended play session with No Man's Sky. The fact that I'm looking forward to using it at all — rather than settling down and making do with a controller — is probably the biggest compliment I can give to the Sova; it just works.