It's been two days now. The first day was spent floundering around due to user error. I didn't understand that this menu — CUSTOM>SHOOTING—offers control over the MB-D11 battery usage. Furthermore CUSTOM>CONTROLS offers more choices for the role of the AE/AF button. Back button focus wasn't working for me at first. Doh. More user error. This was rectified under the expanded CUSTOM>CONTROLS which shows additional options when the grip is attached.
For a short while I was entertaining thoughts of returning the unit. Having the Vertax buttons working also clarified that the on off switch surrounding shutter release is vital. It has to be on for the grip buttons and multi-selector to be fully functional.
The sole remaining concern is battery usage. With my EN EL 15 in the grip, the battery lost 8% of its charge in 24 hours. Less than 10 images were captured in that time. I was primarily holding the camera/grip and playing with the controls with the power on. The info button advises that the EN EL 15 battery is configured automatically when in the grip. The only other choice is if a battery is also installed in the body. You have to choose which is the default power source.
However, with AA cells installed in the grip, you must match the Custom menu to cell type. Any cell will work fine, but the charge indicators aren't valid unless the camera is set to battery type. This particular brand of grip doesn't offer much hope of power from alkaline cells. In that respect, their charge life prediction is counter to what Nikon's testing. They say that amp/hr ratings are the same for 6 AA cells and one EN EL 15. Somebody please correct me on this if I'm wrong.
The feel of the camera/grip is growing on me. I do have to get used to the strap flopping down in front of the LCD screen and even blocking the viewfinder. But I think I'll get used to that.
If battery charge turns out better than it appears right now, then I would have to say my $85 was well-spent. And I wouldn't be happy paying the additional $70 getting a genuine Nikon grip.