The Shift comes in a neatly packed, grey-scale box. The box itself has plenty of pictures and illustrations of the features in multiple languages.
In addition to the keyboard itself, there's also a wrist-rest, a user guide, and a SteelSeries sticker. The SteelSeries logo is embossed in a piano black in the center of the wrist rest.
The rest of the keyboard has a smooth, matte finish on it. The build quality is excellent, it's very sturdy and has a satisfying heft to it. The layout and footprint are similar to other full-featured keyboards, but you'll find it's a bit wider since the media controls are vertical to the left (whereas many have it along the top) and there's a bit of added width for the fold section in between the keyboard and number pads.
The keys have a fine-tuned pressure, and lower travel. This means that more frequently used buttons have lower pressure, and are easier to actuate, and lower travel means quicker and easier button-presses. The reduced travel becomes more apparent in "action-heavy" games such as Starcraft II or other MMOs, and also when typing.
The wrist rest is fairly large, but I find this to be a huge strength. It allows a very comfortable ramp to the keyboard, without it being too highly tapered. It helps me comfortably use it for extended periods of time, and much prefer it than without it there. I like how SteelSeries built the wrist rest into the design. It looks like it belongs there, like it's fully integrated and part of the keyboard, and not a removable option. The wrist rest is something that many find as the Shift's downfall, however, being I use it at around hanging elbow height, perhaps the usage angle is the reason I found it to be more comfortable.
One thing is quickly apparent about the shift...it's deep. It has a fairly high natural angle which I, personally, like, but may not be to everyone's preference. The added depth is also partially the result of having a separate keyset; the keyset rests over large, high quality domes (15 million action rating, far higher than any other standard keyboard), then the electronics are below the domes themselves, creating the need for a little extra depth, although it's mostly for ergonomic purposes.
The uppermost row has function and on-the-fly macro recording options, which is a very nice feature. The upper right side has the two USB ports (one powered), and headphone and microphone jacks built-in, a feature not often seen in a keyboard.
The connectors are gold-plated for the best possible connection, which is a nice detail given the enthusiast gamer this keyboard is targeting. Another nice feature is the adjustable tilt, with two extra levels of tilt available from the normal level with the split feet.
The defining characteristic of the shift is definitely its removable keysets, with the availability for game-specific keysets with special labels and custom graphics. The keysets latch on the right side, and fold up very neatly for storage or transport. A welcome side effect is the ease of cleaning out the keys, although since there are still electronics in the keyset, still not okay to clean with water. You can see how it folds through the space bar split, and how the keyset sits over the domes. Despite being removable, the keysets sit very snugly, and are very sturdy.
The only lighting seen in the Shift is of the SteelSeries logo and branding. It's very pleasant, although it would have been great if this same lighting would have been extended to the rest of the keys, especially given the LAN-gamer marketing, but I also understand the challenges of incorporating that sort of lighting on a removable keyset.
The software is simple to use, giving you multiple profiles to customize. For each profile, you can customize any button on the keyboard, and create a "trigger" for the profile, for example, "game.exe open." There is an almost intimidating and unlimited customization potential, given macro options, and even incorporating macro timing. It's intuitive, simple, and attractive. I think SteelSeries gets props on the software-side, a key aspect in a gaming-grade keyboard. There are also multiple layers, meaning your setup has nearly unlimited fine-tuning potential.