Razer BlackWidow Chroma Review

Razer BlackWidow Chroma Review

Manufacturer: Razer
UK price (as reviewed):
£149.99 (inc VAT)
US price (as reviewed): $169.95 (ex Tax)

When Razer’s BlackWidow Chroma was announced at Gamescom 2014, the obvious competition and target was Corsair Gaming’s K70 RGB. It was a keyboard that had been promised by Corsair long ago, and shown off many times since, but it never ended up being delivered until late September, despite Corsair having exclusivity on the Cherry MX RGB switches for all of 2015 (though we imagine it has enough orders placed to keep them effectively exclusive for the foreseeable future). Regardless, both keyboards are here now (and Logitech has also released the similar Orion Spark since), so we have an obvious point of comparison.

Razer BlackWidow Chroma Review
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For starters, the Chroma is both wider (470mm compared to 438mm) and deeper (182mm versus 163mm) than the K70 RGB, although with its textured palm rest applied the K70 RGB is obviously deeper. There is no real support for wrists or palms on the BlackWidow Chroma.

The Chroma also has a more traditional keyboard design than the K70 RGB, with keys embedded into a plastic shell. Razer’s plastic fascia does have a nice matt black look and smooth finish and it doesn’t pick up marks or scratches too easily either, but it can’t compete with the brushed aluminium of its primary competitor. We have few complaints about the Chroma’s build quality, as it’s weighty and solid. However, there is some flex to the its body if you apply force, which isn’t true at all of the K70 RGB. Nevertheless, for everyday use the Chroma is easily up to the task.

The num, scroll and caps lock symbols all shine faintly through the plastic covering in the top right of the board, as do the logos that indicate when gaming mode and live macro recording are active. There’s also a small glossy black plastic section along the bottom, through which the Razer logo shines.

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A thick, braided fibre cable emerges out of the back, where it is attached very securely. One area where the Chroma has the K70 RGB beat is on pass-through ports – Corsair Gaming’s board has none, while here we find both headphone and microphone jacks and a USB 2 port. It’s a shame Razer didn’t opt for USB 3 instead here, but all three connections are easily accessible on the right side.

Flipping the board over reveals a series of small rubber strips around the edges, giving the Chroma good grip even on smooth surfaces. Even when playing games with deliberate fervour we didn’t feel the keyboard slipping. There are also two hind legs if you prefer playing or typing at a sharper angle, and these have rubber coated tips as well.

Razer BlackWidow Chroma Review
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Although the Chroma offers full key reprogramming (more on this over the page), it also includes five dedicated macro keys along the left hand side, which contribute to the Chroma’s extra width. These are useful in case you don’t want to reprogram any default keys, but you’ll need a little while to adjust to them being there. Your hand naturally reaches for the edges of the keyboard, so we often found ourselves hitting M4 or M5 instead of Shift or Ctrl, for example.

Razer BlackWidow Chroma Review Razer BlackWidow Chroma Review
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Razer’s flagship also includes extra functionality by way of its function or FN key. Using this with F1-F3 controls system volume; F5-F7 are media keys; F9 and F10 activate on-the-fly macro recording and gaming mode respectively, and F11 and F12 are used to decrease or increase the LED brightness. You can also use the FN key with the pause/break key to put your PC to sleep. We do prefer the K70 RGB’s low-profile, dedicated media keys (especially the metal volume wheel), but it’s still good to see the functionality included.

Razer BlackWidow Chroma Review
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The BlackWidow has a standard 1,000Hz polling rate and claims up to 10-key anti-ghosting. With some Twister-style finger manoeuvring, we put this to the test and found it held up (in fact, often more than 10 keys would register without issue), so unless you’re using one finger to press more than one key at a time or you like to get your toes involved you should be fine, even if you heavily remap your keys. Many will still see the K70 RGB’s N-KRO as being a big advantage but there is practically very little difference.

Razer BlackWidow Chroma Review
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The backlighting is very bright at full brightness, distractingly so. Thankfully, it’s easy to turn this down with the FN and F11/F12 keys, and there is finer granularity in the brightness levels than on Corsair’s keyboard too. The internal plate that the keys rest on is white and reflective, with the result being that whatever colour you’ll have a nice glow in the spaces between the keys. However, we should note that as with other backlit mechanical keyboards, only the top parts of the keys are lit, with secondary symbols receiving no LED love. The FN key also has no LED behind it.

Performance

Razer uses what it calls simply Razer Mechanical Switches as its switch of choice in the BlackWidow Chroma. These are available as green (tactile and clicky), as used here, and orange (tactile and silent), as used in the BlackWidow Chroma Stealth.

As you can see in the picture, the switches with their cross-shaped plunger look identical to Cherry MX switches, and there’s good reason for this. The OEM of the switches is Chinese manufacturer Kailh, as confirmed by the small logo just beneath Razer’s on each of the switch housings, and Kailh’s switches are designed to be copies of those produced by Cherry. One advantage for keyboard fans is that the switches here are compatible with Cherry keycaps, which we confirmed by swapping over some keys from the K70 RGB. However, Kailh has a reputation, be it justified or not, for producing lower quality, less reliable and more inconsistent switches.

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Razer is evidently looking to do away with that reputation. Its website makes no mention of Kailh, just an unnamed ‘third party’, and it ensures users that its own quality assurance experts oversee production. It also claims that its switches are actually improvements over the comparable Cherry MX ones, which in this case is the blue ones. Firstly, Razer says its switches are rated for a lifetime of 60 million clicks compared to 50 million with Cherry MX ones (don’t worry, our work experience flunky is putting this to the test right now). Secondly, while both are rated with actuation forces of 50cN, Razer’s switches are designed to have a higher actuation point by 0.3mm (1.9mm compared to 2.2mm) for quicker activation and double taps (since it’s also closer to the reset point).

Razer BlackWidow Chroma Review Razer BlackWidow Chroma Review - Performance
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As you would quickly discover were you to join us for a match of Battlefield 4, we are not pro-gamers, so our fingers are not as fine-tuned to keyboard switch differences as theirs are likely to be. Nevertheless, we do spend a lot of time typing with many different keyboards, but were unable to tell Razer’s switches apart from regular Cherry MX Blues in any real way when it came to actuation. Neither one felt quicker in games or typing, and neither was easier than the other to perform double or multi-taps on.

Where we did feel a difference was in the reset point, which felt slightly sluggish and stickier on the Razer switches than on a keyboard using the Cherry MX switches, where it felt smoother and cleaner to move through the whole key action. It’s a subtle difference, but one we found to be consistent across the keys. Some may prefer the more obvious reset point when it comes to riding the activation point, in that it’s easier to keep the key from resetting, but clicky switches aren’t really recommended for this, and it would be very hard to perfect.

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In the end then, the experience here is one very close to but not the same as or superior to Cherry MX ones. However, we don’t want to give the impression that typing or gaming on the BlackWidow Chroma is unpleasant, as this is far from the truth. We think that anyone who generally likes a clicky switch will still be satisfied with what’s on offer.

As you’d expect from the use of clicky switches, the BlackWidow Chroma is a loud keyboard, especially if you’re heavy handed. It’s likely to annoy co-workers or family members in the same room as you, as it’s definitely not subtle, nor is it designed to be. Still, we found the space bar and backspace key to be particularly loud. These are keys that most people tend to bottom out, and they’re also big keys. They make a substantial thud both when bottoming out and resetting, and the sound seems to echo and reverberate through the space in beneath the keycaps as well – it can be very distracting.

Software

Razer Synapse 2.0 is Razer’s unified configuration software for all its modern devices. It actually requires an Internet connection to use, as the initial set-up requires the creation and verification of an account. Razer has taken flak for this and we can see why, but we can’t say we’re wholly against it either – if you’re spending £150 on a gaming keyboard, you’re likely to have internet access.

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Once you’ve logged in once, you can switch to offline mode and your customisations will be stored locally. However, the point is that you can back up your profiles straight to the cloud, so you can access and use them from anywhere (with a working, non-firewalled Internet connection) even on a different keyboard to your own. You cannot save even one profile directly to the keyboard, however, as there’s no on-board memory, which we think is a shame.

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Thankfully, the software itself is both powerful in what it offers and intuitive in how it offers it to you. Under the keyboard tab, the profile selection and editing area is universal across the sub-tabs, and it’s easy to set shortcuts (FN plus a number key) to profiles and link them to programs too. All keys except the Windows key, FN key and FN functions can be customised. Simply hover over a key to see its current function, and click it to change it. You can make a key do almost anything, from keyboard/mouse functions, to macros, program launching, Windows shortcuts and more.

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Basic lighting effects (which you can get a feel for using this interactive website) can be controlled easily, or you can launch the more complex Chroma Configurator. This takes some getting used to, but within ten minutes or so you’ll have a feel for it, and can easily edit the RGB lighting to you heart’s content. If there’s an effect you have in mind, chances are the Chroma can do it – you can apply background and foreground (i.e. when pressed) patterns to individual keys, pre-selected groups (e.g. WASD, arrows) or user-made groups, and there are even some presets for popular games like LoL and DotA 2.

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Macros are easy to record both on-the-fly and within the editor. You can record delays and mouse clicks, but not scrolls or mouse movements as you can on Corsair’s software, and editing mistakes is a breeze as well. There’s also a Stats tab to enable data tracking for heat maps and so on, if you’re into that.

Synapse 2.0 isn’t without issues – we do have our reservations about needing the internet and lacking any onboard memory, but this is also a sign of the times. Corsair’s software is even more powerful, particularly with macros and key functions, but the learning curve is much steeper.

Razer BlackWidow Chroma Review Razer BlackWidow Chroma Review - Software and Conclusion
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Conclusion

At £150, the Chroma is one of the most premium keyboards available, up there with the K70 RGB and NovaTouch TKL. It has lots of positives – robust build quality, a decent typing experience and a powerful and intuitive software suite to go with it. However, we still don’t think it does quite enough to justify this price tag – we’ve seen it for £130, but even this feels slightly too high. No matter how much Razer tries to disguise it, it’s still using mechanical switches that are cheaper to produce than Cherry MX ones. The point isn’t even whether they’re better or worse than what they try to contend with, especially as this is largely subjective anyway.

High quality switches are the primary reason mechanical keyboards are so expensive (see the NovaTouch TKL, for example), so if you’re using ones that are cheaper to produce, these savings should be passed onto the consumer unless there’s good reason not to. Corsair Gaming’s K70 RGB is in the same price bracket, yet it has true Cherry MX switches, a high quality aluminium faceplate, detachable palm rest and just as many if not more customisation options for lighting and key functions. If you love the Chroma’s design, have the cash to spare and want an easier job fine-tuning it, then it’s the keyboard for you, but otherwise we recommend Corsair’s offering if you must have a mechanical RGB keyboard.

SOURCE:http://www.bit-tech.net/hardware/peripherals/2015/01/08/razer-blackwidow-chroma-review/1