Review: Cyborg 3D USB Gold
Developer: Saitek GmbH
Requirements: Mac with USB
While the market for Macintosh gaming in general has steadily improved since the introduction of Mac OS X three years ago, the market for gaming peripherals seems to be in decline, with more hardware manufacturers dropping support for the Macintosh platform. When looking at joysticks for serious gameplay, one of the few remaining products available is Saitek’s Cyborg 3D USB Gold.
The Cyborg 3D is a 4-axis joystick with features unique among its competitors, the most noticeable of which is its fully adjustable and configurable handgrip. The hand rest has four positions of elevation, and the thumb buttons can tilt and swivel for the most comfortable position for the user. The hand rest can also be flipped to the other side, making this the only currently available joystick on the market for left-handers. The stick has a throttle lever at the back of the base, and very thoughtfully includes a hex head driver to adjust the position of the rests.
The Saitek Cyborg 3D USB Gold
The joystick’s ten buttons are accompanied by one large finger trigger, which while solid is responsive to the touch. Facing you is its pointy cone-shaped 8-way hat switch, common on this type of joystick, with large buttons flanking the hat and a smaller one below it. These buttons are also responsive, but many will find it difficult to find some of the eight positions of the hat. The other six buttons are on the base, four of which act as function keys. These buttons are nearly flush with the base, which makes them a little difficult to locate by touch alone.
Here you can see the “shift” button next to the throttle, and the driver in the hex screw used to adjust the hand rest.
Since the big migration to Mac OS X, the sad truth is that few products from the major joystick manufacturers (Logitech, Microsoft, and Thrustmaster) truly support the Macintosh. The Cyborg 3D joystick is no exception, in that Saitek does not provide any Macintosh driver software. Instead, the joystick falls back upon Apple’s Human Interface Device protocols and InputSprockets. I do not know of any case where a game could not use the Cyborg; plug-and-play worked as expected. However, Saitek does not provide software to configure the buttons and set “macros,” automated series of key presses. Saitek’s Macintosh support site, to its credit, provides links to third-party software that can do this, and offers some of the best solutions available for fixing common joystick problems.
Even after ten months of both Mac and PC gameplay, the Cyborg 3D has proved solid and reliable, without requiring recalibration or maintenance for the most part. There has been no loss of control, nor has motion started to drift (often a result of wear and tear), despite some pretty rough handling. The stick’s one flaw is a slight sticking when making small movements (due to the spring-loaded centering cone device), and the adjustable thumb button head not holding position. Fortunately, the latter can be easily fixed by tightening a loose hex screw (see photo), but it requires a driver smaller than the one provided.
Button head, and the hex screw that may need tightening.
The throttle lever on the back has more friction than one would expect, but it is smooth, and the lever can also be repositioned to the left side. There are keyholes underneath for securely mounting to a base, but you need to supply your own screws and base. With its adjustable nature, this is one of the most comfortable joysticks ever manufactured, with the possible exception of Saitek’s new Cyborg EVO.
With CH Products completely dropping support for the Macintosh, and Thrustmaster and Microsoft heading in the same direction (both barely mention the Macintosh), the main competitors in this market are Saitek and Logitech. While MacAlly and other lesser-known brands offer low-end joysticks, the only serious competition to the Cyborg 3D is Logitech’s Extreme 3D Pro, which retails for $40. The Extreme 3D Pro has a very nice button layout and features a more accessible throttle (for right-handed users, at least), but it lacks the adjustable hand rests found on the Cyborg 3D.
One dry winter day, I touched the Cyborg 3D with a fully electrostatically charged finger. The resulting shock not only made me jump, but also fried half of the stick’s buttons and all Z-axis movement. My PowerBook suffered no ill effects, and I made a quick trip to the store for a replacement unit. While this incident couldn’t be blamed on the stick, I learned my lesson: beware of static electricity!
The Cyborg 3D USB Gold clearly has room for improvement, namely the lack of support software, but for $30 it is a great joystick, narrowly beating Logitech’s Extreme 3D Pro in terms of features. With Saitek’s new Cyborg EVO destined to replace the Cyborg 3D, what may make the latter stick even more appealing is a possible price drop.