The last keyboard we reviewed from Razer was the laptop style Lycosa, many moons ago. Today we're taking a look at the latest in their line of keyboards, the BlackWidow Ultimate 2013.
It's a full-on mechanical keyboard with macro functionality, backlighting, and all the bells and whistles one would expect to find on a Razer product.
As you would expect to find on a modern gaming keyboard the BlackWidow has 10-key rollover capability, which should be enough as we only have 10 digits. Also because of the macro functionality, including software based ones for more complicated macros as well as on-the-fly recording, then you shouldn't need more than 10 keys at once for even the most difficult tasks.
Unlike many of the mechanical keyboards we've reviewed the BlackWidow comes with Cherry MX Blue switches, which we'll look at on the next page, but these have an audible click when depressed. If you prefer the silent sort a 'Stealth' variant is available, but we're reviewing the vanilla, if such a word can be used, Ultimate Edition.
Keyboard packaging is usually fairly mundane, requiring that it just protects the contents and perhaps highlights the odd feature. The Razer BlackWidow covers so these elements with aplomb, providing a very sturdy piece of packaging with a lot of emphasis on the major selling points of the keyboard. One very cool little feature is the inclusion of a cut-out, allowing you to test out the feel of the keys before purchase. It's the logical step on from the form-fitting plastic covers on mice that let you gauge their size, and we like it a lot.
As with all keyboards the controls very well designed and a little prodding will quickly discover all the features. However, if you prefer to go against the stereotype then a very well-written and clear instruction manual is provided. Connection is via USB, with additional cables for the USB pass-through, and headphone/microphone ports.
The BlackWidow itself is extremely sturdy. As you'd expect from a keyboard in this price bracket there is no flexing or creaking whatsover. The cable is lengthy and braided to a high standard. The BlackWidow has a natural ergonomic slope to the design, but should you desire it at even more of an angle then two feet raise it still higher. The USB and headset connections are round the side where they are easy to find in a darkened gaming hall.
As well as the keyboard lighting up green, which we'll see on the next page, the plate that gives the rigidity to the BlackWidow is also in the lurid shade of green that is Razer's calling card. Beneath the key we see the Cherry MX Blue switch, which is one of the lightest actuation switches in the Cherry range. What makes the blue model different to the usual black and red models we see is the very audible click upon key depression. So not only do you get the nice tactile feel of the mechanical key itself when you are typing, but you get aural confirmation too.
Above the F-Keys we have the usual media keys, modified with the FN key in its standard place, but the F9-F12 ones deserve mention. F9 is for on-the-fly macro recording. F10 puts the BlackWidow in gaming mode, which has a few options available in the software and at default disables the Windows key. F11 and F12 control the lighting from off through to retina burning brightness.
The BlackWidow Ultimate is supported by the Razer Synapse 2.0 software. This is a very sleekly designed piece of kit, with a small footprint and, perhaps most usefully, cloud storage of your settings. There are as many profiles available as you like, with ten being able to be assigned to the keyboard and selected with a combination of the function key and the number row. As well as the lighting being controlled with the F11 and F12 keys, you can set it in the profiles too. We prefer steady lighting here at OC3D, but we know the pulsating effect looks awesome so it would almost be worth having a profile that breathes for those times you're AFK.
The gaming mode we saw on the previous page allows for the disabling of the standard combination that we'd all hate to hit in the heat of battle, namely Alt-Tab, Alt-F4 and the ever-hated Windows key. The macro recorder is simplicity itself to use. Name your macro, hit record, edit to taste. It's nice to see some default delay speeds too, which is always handy for those games that are a little slow on the uptake or actively slow down multiple inputs as an anti-cheat method.
Mapping of the keyboard is very intuitive. Click the key you wish to adjust, a window appears with the available options, and you select from there. It's as idiot-proof as it's ever likely to be. We especially like the fact the 5 dedicated Macro keys on the left hand side can be set for anything at all, including program launching, rather than just limited to macros.
Once you've chosen your macro you have a few playback options. Handy for producing huge quantities of troops in your favourite RTS, or just buying a load-out once in Counter Strike.
With everything set you just apply, and you're ready to rock. Should you ever forget which key is which a handy tooltip helps with reminding you the current assignments for the selected profile.
The trouble with taking photos of things lit up is that everything comes with some LEDs these days and in the darkness needed they shine so very brightly, so ignore the background blue which isn't to do with the BlackWidow. The brightness of the Razer goes from barely there, to really in your face, and everything in-between, so you certainly can tailor it to suit. Even off entirely if the mood takes you.
On the top right are the standard LOCK indicators, as well as the green G for the Gaming mode, and the red M which indicates the on-the-fly macro recording state (here, recording).
The market for mechanical gaming keyboards has exploded recently. It didn't seem that long ago that everyone was trading in their Model M's for something sleek and low-profile. Now the mechanical keyboards are back with a rightful bang, and a whole new generation of users are discovering how good the alternative could be.
Understandably it takes more than a good switch to excite the hearts of the instant-gratification generation, and the Razer BlackWidow Ultimate has plenty of tricks up its sleeve.
Build quality is outstanding. It's a weighty unit and nice and thick, so it will withstand an almighty beating without flexing or wobbling. With the on-the-fly macro recording and five dedicated keys for customisation you can get some decent use out of it without needing to install the Synapse 2.0 software. Although you definitely should. It's a great looking piece of software, that's very easy to use and everything is laid out in a clear and concise manner. It might seem like those qualities are obvious but, as anyone who has dealt with any software at all knows, that isn't always the case.
We've often spoken about the glory that is to be found when typing on Cherry MX switches, and the BlackWidow is no exception. The noise from a mechanical keyboard is what usually puts people off, because they either remember the clicking of the old IBMs, or because it's seeped into the collective consciousness that is what they should sound like. Of course that's not the case at all usually, but with the BlackWidow it is. It's the first keyboard we've seen in some time to be equipped with the Cherry Blue variant, which provide an audible click when depressed. So as well as the slight noise you get from typing generally, there is also a deliberate click to aid in feedback. If this sounds like a deal-breaking issue, the BlackWidow Ultimate Stealth is identical to the model we're reviewing today, but has the Cherry MX Brown switches which don't click.
So it's built like a tank, the software is excellent and the lighting is uniform and bright. Alongside the well-placed headset and USB ports and the reasonable £110 price-tag, there is nothing to stop the Razer from belonging on anyone's shortlist. Whether you want the quiet of the Stealth version, or the tactile feedback of the Ultimate, you'll be pleased with the Razer BlackWidow and it earns our OC3D Gold Award.
Thanks to Razer for supplying the BlackWidow Ultimate 2013 Edition for review. Discuss your thoughts in the OC3D Forums.