Technology is about making life easier. Why do things manually when you can leverage the hardware to do it for you. That’s the premise behind Elgato’s Stream Deck, which is a programmable hotkey pad whose 15 OLED keys are mapped to virtually any action. It’s a boon for video streamers as it allows easy setup for a wide range of actions. Examples include changing scenes, changing music, and, well, launching a myriad of effects. Avoid playing with the keyboard and mouse, and the cool thing is that each key can also launch several actions.
Having 15 keys is good, but it’s overkill for many. Seeking to tap into the market with more conservative needs, Elgato launched the Stream Deck Mini – a six-button hotkey available for around £80. We’ll take a look.
The Stream Deck Mini (SDM) is literally a scaled down version of its big brother. These 15 keys are replaced by six, which are otherwise identical, so it is possible to create custom key icons, add folders per key, create multiple actions and integrate with all major platforms vapor diffusion. So it’s not fair to think of the SDM as just an external macro switch box.
The way it works is simple. Connect the USB cable to the computer and Windows will install the necessary drivers, then download the SDM software and go.
There are a lot of default hotkeys built into the package, mostly for the streamer. Several common actions for Streamlabs OBS, OBS Studio, Soundboard, Tipeeestream, Twitch, Twitter, XSplit, and YouTube are swiped right and assigned to a key, complete with an instantly recognizable icon. The system is live, so anything moved is instantly replicated on the unit.
For someone unfamiliar with the streaming world, the number of regular shortcuts seems mind-boggling, but there’s nothing Elgato can do about it; it’s an industry problem that so many programs are vying to do the same thing.
Back to the point, extending the usefulness further, if six keys aren’t enough, each key can be configured at the top of a folder, where five other actions are linked to it one level below. The downside is that you lose that key for folder tasks – for example having three folder keys reduces the available amount to just three – so it would make sense for the SDM to have a smaller dedicated folder button on the side.
But arguably the best feature is the multi-action tool capability, which takes one touch, where a single press activates a number of actions in sequence. You can, for example, start a stream and tweet about it, switch scenes, and display ads. For this purpose, nine consecutive actions are available. I use it to launch all my commonly used productivity apps in one fell swoop.
The vast choice of actions and intelligent key mapping provide far more functionality than six ordinary keys would otherwise offer. Take the time to configure it exactly to your preferences, which takes around 30 minutes, and SDM becomes a powerful tool.
Of course, you don’t have to be a streamer for this to make sense. The customizable nature means those who want easy access to frequently used apps can also benefit from it, and it’s a boon for accessing a number of programs used in day-to-day work. It is also useful for mapping keys and actions in games, with realistic icons.
And customizable is the key word (if you’ll excuse the pun) for SDM. The graphic icon of each key can be updated using Key Creator. It’s easy to use, but one wonders why such functionality is on a web page rather than integrated into the software itself? That does not make any sense. Or you can just add your own 72 x 72 pixel graphic.
Unlike its big brother, the SDM has undergone a fundamental redesign as well as unit shrinking. Now measuring 80mm x 60mm x 58mm, it eschews the dual orientation nature of the original – it can be flat or angled via a stand, but this has caused the USB cable to protrude from the top – for a look that’s quite more elegant.
It’s now angled at 45° by default and the keys are clearly readable in any light. The USB cable is now stored at the bottom of the device, which makes more sense, and the whole device is more tidy. There’s a unit-wide rubber pad at the bottom that offers decent contact with any surface, but I found pressing multiple buttons in quick order sometimes caused it to recoil. Considering the size and weight (160g) of the device, I don’t know how Elgato could make it more robust.
The adjustable-brightness keys are excellent, with a satisfying feel with each press, and the gap between them means there’s little chance of accidental pressing.
The Stream Deck Mini, priced at £80, was born out of the understanding that while the original 15-key device is ideal for streaming enthusiasts, a smaller, sleeker and cheaper device opens up the market. Now down to six buttons, with an updated design that’s better in every way, the usefulness of the SDM is extended via multi-action and folder functionality. You don’t have to be a streamer for SDM to make sense, and I use it as a shortcut and multi-action tool in my daily work – it works better than my keyboard’s limited utility.
Much smaller than the original
Conclusion: The £80 Elgato Stream Deck Mini is a great tool for the vast majority of streamers and those looking to boost app productivity.
Solid hardware design
Key Creator should be in software
Elgato Stream Deck Mini
The Elgato Stream Deck Mini is available for purchase from Scan Computers.
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