Review: Razer BlackWidow Ultimate Mechanical Keyboard

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Short version: This new mechanical keyboard from Razer is clicky and attractive, but some layout and design choices irk me, and this thing ain’t cheap.

Features:

  • Specially-designed mechanical keys with low-pressure actuation
  • 5 additional macro keys, 5 backlight brightness settings
  • Gaming mode and on-the-fly macro recording
  • USB, microphone and headphone ports
  • MSRP: $130 (Ultimate), $80 (no backlight or ports)

Pros:

  • Solid to type on
  • Clicky sound for those of you who like that kind of thing
  • Ports and media keys work no problem

Cons:

  • F-key clusters too close together
  • Key labels can be confusing
  • Macro lovers may want more

Full review:

I was excited for the new mechanical keyboard from Razer; my two favorite keyboards of the last few years are the SteelSeries 7G and Razer Lycosa, and I figured this one couldn’t help but put the two together. As it turns out, it’s not quite the monster I thought it’d be, but it’s a solid and good-looking keyboard anyway. I’m using Razer’s product shots since mine (except for the above one) didn’t turn out very well.

The keyboard itself is a nice wedge of glossy plastic, and the main layout change you’ll notice is the five macro keys on the left side. As I often have occasion to say, I’m not a big macro guy, but I appreciate them nonetheless. From the side, it’s apparent that the keys have a shallow arc to them, as opposed to the flat layout of keyboards like the Sidewinder X4. The 7G also has a slight curve, but this is more pronounced (and not visible in the pictures, for some reason). It seems to put the top two rows of keys slightly closer to your fingers — not a bad thing, but worth mentioning.

The famous clicking noise of mechanical keyboards is prominent here. I find that different keys have different timbres you can actually pick out: the space bar is lower, the backspace key louder, and the number keys have a different sound than the letters. I’m not crazy – it’s actually just a function of the angle you press the key at and the shape of the key itself. At any rate, the sound is nice and slightly varied. But those looking for a quiet keyboard should move on.

I found the labeling on the keys distracting. Razer uses a sort of squared-off typeface for the key caps, and while readability isn’t really a problem (I think we all know where the letters are by now), they have opted to put the shift characters on the bottom instead of on the top, something that bugs me, though it more looks wrong to me than causes much of an effect. It does make me second guess myself occasionally.

There is a blue backlight behind the whole thing, or rather behind the keys individually, and the lighting options are off, dim, bright, really bright, and pulse. I found pulse just incredibly distracting, and the brightest setting far too much so. I would have preferred something like the WASD lighting from the Lycosa, or a customizable zone-lighting system. Why can’t I light up just WASD and the numbers? Or the numpad and macro keys?

I also found the location of the “function” button, which allows access to the media and mode keys, to be troublesome. Most of the mode buttons are for hitting with the right hand, yet the key to activate them is also a right-hand key. You can thumb-index it for the gaming, brightness, and sleep function buttons, but it’s extremely awkward to pinky-thumb it for the media keys. If the function and Windows keys switched places (the 7G has this), you could hit the function key easily with your left pinky and then easily reach any of the functions with your right hand. As it is, you have to think about it, take your hand off the thing, cross over, and worry about whether you’re going to hit the context button by mistake. Take my advice, Razer: switch these two and never look back.

And another thing! The F-keys are way too close together. There’s an inch-long gap between F1 and ESC that could have been used to make the three F-key clusters (1-4, 5-8, 9-12) more distinct. As it is, it looks almost like a mistake on the keyboard the way they’re spaced. If you don’t look, it’s hard to tell whether you’re hitting F4 or F5.

The USB and audio ports are on the right, which is of course where most people’s mice are as well. Wouldn’t you want the cables protruding from the other side? That might be more a matter of taste. At any rate, they work fine, though of course the USB isn’t high-speed. Plenty useful for wireless accessories and thumbdrives.

Conclusion

As I wrote this, I felt more and more that this particular keyboard is a “don’t buy” at the moment. There are too many other good keyboards on the market, and even if you were to opt for the significantly lower-priced basic Black Widow (no backlight, no ports), I still don’t feel you’re getting their best. I still prefer the aging but sleek Lycosa over this, and the 7G is both more tastefully designed and better laid out. It’s not a bad keyboard, but in the face of truly excellent competition, I just can’t recommend the BlackWidow.

Product page: Black Widow Ultimate / Black Widow

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