The Average Gamer

Fancy Keyboards from Razer

Razer Black Widow Ultimate StealthGaming keyboards are everywhere now, shining their flashy lights and boasting fancy features like extra modifier keys, on-the-fly macro recording and even touchpad display screens. Now I can see why professional gamers might worry about actuation forces and key rollover but does the average gamer really need that? Not so much. I’ve tested a bunch of Razer’s gaming keyboards for normal use to see what those extra bells and whistles do for you.

All Razer keyboards require 2 USB connections. The newer ones are supported by Razer Synapse, a bit of software that saves all your configurations to Razer’s servers so you can use them on any machine. Why your typical gamer would be carting a full-sized keyboard around, I don’t know but it’s more than likely provided for competitive gaming when you’re playing on tournament machines.

Every keyboard I tried had exceptional build quality. They keys were smooth, the cables were braided and the molded plastic felt sturday and durable. So how about their features?

Razer Anansi

The Anansi MMO Keyboard’s unique feature is a set of five modifier keys built into the wrist rest. It does mean you need more space for the keyboard but if you’re seriously playing games that need more modifiers, those keys come in handy for CTRL+SHIFT, CTRL+ALT or any other awkward combinations you wish to assign.

razer-anansi-gallery-1Thanks to the Anansi software, you can set up multiple configuration and set it to automatically switch to a profile when your chosen game is launched, or use the Razer Fn key to switch between them manually. In default mode, you can reassign these keys to launch your favourite programs or just disable them completely.

There are an additional five macro keys down the side of the board and Razer’s software allows you to record your own. You can either automatically spread out the commands or record custom delays between strokes to automate those all-important skill-rotations. There’s also the Gaming Mode, which disables the Windows key – perfect if you find yourself accidentally hitting it when going for the CTRL or ALT keys.

The flat wrist rest doesn’t actually elevate your wrists in a way that would help RSI, so I had I use my own gel wrist rest, meaning that the whole configuration takes up far more space than a standard keyboard. The problem I found was, with or without a supplementary rest, I still had to stretch uncomfortably far to reach the right-most keys, so only two of the five provided any practical benefit.

That aside, the rest of the keyboard quite nice, especially as a full-time writer. The keys provide good response, with firm but yielding pressure. Its backlit keys are perfect for playing in the dark, with the option to cycle through all colours or fix to a specific one. The Anansi doesn’t support Razer Synapse, so you won’t be bringing your profiles across different machines. For one-machine faithfuls, the Anasi program gives you plenty of control. You’ll just need to dig about on the website to find it.

DeathStalker Ultimate

The DeathStalker Ultimate is the fancy, show-off model made distinct from the others by its chiclet/island keys and built-in mouse trackpad in place of the numeric keypad. I’m not a fan of island keys myself but they are perfectly functional and great for a fast response. The trackpad OLED display runs a thing they’re calling the Switchblade UI, which boasts some nice features – Countdown timers for Battlefield 3 and Counter-Strike spawn times are built right into the device and there are game-specific apps for five games:

  • Skyrim
  • Battlefield 3
  • Counter-Strike
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic
  • Team Fortress 2

razer-deathstalker-ultimate-gallery-3aI tried out the Skyrim app. It’s… not that exciting. Sure, it’s lovely to see the custom icons for inventory, maps, favourites and the like glowing right there on your keyboard but it’s just an alternate layout for the normal keys, and a slightly less convenient one at that.

Where it’s easy enough to remap your hotkeys around the WASD cluster, these OLED keys are way over on the right-hand side of the board. You either have to reach your left hand all the way across to, e.g. jump into your favourites and switch to a healing spell, or take your hand off the mouse. Neither is a good idea in the heat of combat.

The non-gaming apps are just as impractical. I can see why the idea of having YouTube or Facebook on a small display in your keyboard sounds good, but in reality, it’s just a tiny, tiny screen. You’d be better off using your phone and I’d rather have a physical numeric keypad. While the rest of the keyboard is perfectly adequate with macro buttons and all that jazz, there’s just nothing here that wouldn’t be better achieved on a different device.

I found the wrist-rest was again too low to alleviate strain and the Deathstalker’s in-built one is far too big to use your own rest. With the Deathstalker Ultimate going for £200+, that’s far too much to ask.

Black Widow Ultimate

As a mechanical keyboard, the Black Widow (pictured at the top of this article) feels rather like it fell out of the early 90s with its giant keys and oh my god, the clatter. This keyboard uses Cherry MX Blue switches, the loudest but also lightest switches typically used in mechanical keyboards. Unless you’re working in a coin-sorting office where jangling and clanking is the norm, I would seriously reconsider getting the Black Widow Ultimate because you will annoy the hell out of anyone nearby. It doesn’t surprise me that Razer followed up with a Stealth edition that boasts Cherry MX Browns. These still provide that tactile keypress feedback but with less sound – much more considerate for your roomies or gaming stream viewers.

Regardless, the ability to record macros on-the-fly with Razer Synapse is still easy and useful, with the five dedicated macro keys available on the left-hand side. You can dim the keyboard when the backlight isn’t needed and, as with the previous Razer models, it comes with the Game mode that disables the Windows Start key and various media play/pause/volume commands accessible with the Razer modifier key. There’s also a built-in USB port as well as microphone and headset jacks.

If you do tend to press loads of buttons at once, the Black Widow supports 10-key rollover. Unlike the previous models, this keyboard’s wrist-rest is minimal at almost 1.5 inches deep, so I can use my own rest quite easily. It’s a nice keyboard and if you’re looking to splash out, I’d recommend you check out the Stealth edition.