I finally had time to finish the review today, I had the board laying around for a month collecting dust before. I have already posted it in a few other places, but figured it wouldn't hurt to have it up here too since someone had just asked for one earlier.
Razer Black Widow
Normal Edition, Cherry MX Blue, Available at $79,99
When Razer announced their Black Widow most keyboard enthusiasts have been looking at it with a skeptic first impression. The odd choice of Cherry MX Blue switches and no full N-Key rollover seem a bit strange for a keyboard aimed at gamers. In return Razer promised advanced macro functions and various other features aimed at gamers. So what does the Razer Black Widow really offer and how does it hold up against the competition?
The first impression
The Razer Black Widow comes packaged in a huge, shiny box with a little try-out-window around the cursor keys like speaking action figures! While this is definitely a good idea to get people into mechanical keyboards and convince them of the key-feel, you should probably also keep this in mind when buying the keyboard at a retail store. Do not pick the front box.
The Black Widow comes with no additional software or accessories but for a quick-start guide and a few more manuals. The actual drivers and software have to be downloaded from the internet. When unboxing the keyboard the first thing you will notice is that it is really shiny.
The look and the design
If you take a look at Razer's current product lineup, it would seem that Razer likes their products to be sleek and flashy with lots of neon colors and futuristic looks. The Razer Black Widow is no exception. The keyboard features a piano-gloss finish that attracts fingerprints like crazy. If you already own a Das Keyboard, Sony PSP or a Playstation 3 you know what to expect. While it might make sense to have home electronics in a sleek piano finish it seems a rather stupid idea for a keyboard. â€œBling-Bling!â€ might make some things look expensive and worth your money, but for an input device it just doesn't work out. After a few days â€“ or even only a few hours, your keyboard will be entirely covered in dust, fingerprints and various other grease. Cleaning it daily almost seems like a must.
Just like its glossy competitor the Das Keyboard, the Black Widow has the LEDs hidden under semi-transparent plastic. They are entirely invisible when not lit up. Overall there are five different indicator LEDs. Besides the usual Scroll Lock, Numlock and Capslock you have the â€œGaming Modeâ€ and the â€œMacro Modeâ€ LEDs. More on those later.
Another thing that instantly sticks out is the font on the keycaps. The very unusual and futuristic looking font is an eye catcher. If you like it or not is up to personal preference. I am not too fond of it and would have preferred a more â€œtameâ€ font. Pixel-fonts just don't look as good when used at a bigger size than they were intended to be used at.
Quality and construction
Like you would expect from a keyboard in the $100 range the construction on the Razer Black Widow seems pretty good. At 1,4kg it feels heavy and solid when first taking it out of the box. The keycaps seem to be made of POM plastic and feature laser engraved+filled lettering. Like with other keyboards using this technique you can feel the letters on the keycaps. This can be distracting at first, but it also adds some extra texture to the keycaps.
Sadly the stabilizers for the bigger keys (Shift, Enter, Backspace) do not feel quite as solid. Pressing those keys hard enough on one side will make the keycap flex quite a bit. While with normal typing you are unlikely to ever notice this it will definitely be noticed on some hardcore gaming session with hectic key-presses. A Korean tape trick can fix this problem if it really gets too bad.
The Razer Black Widow features a braided fabric cable which measures a length of nearly 3 meters. It is located at the center of the keyboard.
Five solid rubber feet and two expandable feet stop the Black Widow from sliding around your desk. These are the same type of feet as found on the Filco Majestouch series and Steelseries keyboards. With five rubber feet and the massive weight it is nearly impossible to accidentally push the keyboard around the desk.
Tales of Gamers and Typists
Almost everyone will agree that for the task of typing a tactile switch is the best choice. Going with a clicky or non clicky switch mostly depends on your personal preference.
But being a â€œgaming brandâ€ Razer has of course designed the Black Widow as a â€œgaming keyboardâ€ and this is where some people like to disagree. Most gamers will tell you that clicky switches are a no-go for games and that they tend to stick with linear switches. Razer claims otherwise and goes as far as comparing each keystroke to a mouse click:
In the past few weeks there has been a lot of talk about the keyboards used by Korean SC2 pro-gamers. Fruitdealer has been sighted using a clicky ALPS switch keyboard and SlayerS_`BoxeR` has been seen training with a MX Blue board, which might add some weight to Razerâ€™s reasoning for their switch choice.
"The Razer BlackWidowâ€™s distinct tactile feedback upon key actuation simulates the experience and precision of performing a mouse click. Combined with an actuation point of 2mm (halfway through the 4mm full travel distance), you will know exactly when your command has fired so you can rapidly move on to the next key stroke and move in for the quick kill." --Razer Website
In the end it all comes down to the type of game you actually play and your personal preferences. Being a casual gamer, I have no issues playing my games with Cherry MX Blue switches and do not feel hindered by them at all. If you (and your team mates if you play with voice chat) do not mind a clicky switch there should be no reason for most average gamers not to be satisfied with the MX Blue.
N-Key Rollover, Gaming Mode and Macros
The Razer Black Widow does not feature N-Key rollover. This seems odd for a gaming keyboard. Instead it uses a matrix that has been optimized for common game key combinations. I have gone through a list of apparently complex and common FPS game key combinations and the Black Widow passed them all. Limitations of the matrix design are met at the arrow keys. Pressing more than two of any arrows at once is not possible. This is not an issue for most gamers but can be problematic with games such as Stepmania or similar that require up to three or four arrow inputs at once.
Staying with action heavy key mashing lets move on the gaming mode. The Black Widow comes with several built-in multimedia control and volume functions. These can be accessed through the F keys while holding the FN key. Besides the common Volume up/down, play/pause and previous and next track you also get access to the gaming mode with the FN+F12 combination. This will disable both the Windows and Menu-key entirely, so you can not â€œtab outâ€ of the game accidentally. Gaming mode is indicated by a green â€œGâ€ LED. All of these functions work on hardware level and are independent from drivers and your operating system.
Added to the usual standard layout, the Black Widow features 5 additional keys on the left side of the keyboard. Without the Razer Software installed, these do not generate any scan-code and do nothing. They can be freely programmed once the software is installed.
As seen in the video above, programming can be done in seconds and a only takes a few mouse clicks. Every single key on the keyboard can be assigned with a macro or single key. Macros are very flexible and can also include mouse clicks.
Everything can be programmed by either using the software or by directly taking the keyboard into macro-mode with FN+ALT. This works very similar to vintage keyboards such as the Cherry G80-2100 or the Omnikey series, but still needs the drivers installed.
Whats special about the Black Widow here is that the keystrokes and mouse clicks are generated and sent on hardware level and not as virtual keystrokes. This means that macros can even be used on games with anti-cheating systems such as Gameguard, HackShield and PunkBuster which would usually detect and block virtual keystrokes generated by software macros such as AutoHotkey. Despite being generated on hardware level the macros still need the Razer software and drivers installed to work.
The extra keys and the easy to use macros are clearly where Razer can point with the Black Widow. If you play a lot of MMO, RTS or action games you can definitely gain benefits from this.
Overall the Black Widow is a surprisingly decent keyboard for its price. At $79,99 it is currently by far the cheapest available Cherry MX Blue keyboard. If you can live with the glossy look, the lack of proper n-key rollover and the few other quality quirks mentioned in the review you should pick one up. Being a mainstream product it will be much easier to get one compared to other niche keyboards.
If you do not care too much about the gaming functions and are willing to spend a bit more, there are a lot of better and more established mechanical keyboards available on the market. But if you are on a tight budget, there is no reason not to take the Black Widow for what it is: An affordable mechanical keyboard of decent quality and with a questionable design.
Thanks a lot to SirClickAlot of http://www.mrinterface.com for giving me early access to this review sample. It was fun to review this!