A little while ago Razer released a keyboard designed for Star Wars : The Old Republic. It had some serious features but because of the specific design it had a very niche audience. We can't have been the only people hoping that the plentiful array of technologies would find its way into a keyboard with a more vanilla design, and so it has with the Razer Deathstalker Ultimate.
However, vanilla is a term that can definitely only be applied to the colour of the keyboard and choice of font for the keys, because everything else about the Deathstalker blurs the lines between keyboard and smart-phone. We always try here at OC3D to write our introduction in a manner that doesn't give away too much of our thoughts on a particular item of hardware. After all a review is a journey of discovery, but there is so much to discover with the Deathstalker that you definitely don't want to sit down with only a few minutes to read this.
So grab your favourite beverage, put the kids outside and send the cat to bed, as the Razer Deathstalker Ultimate is definitely something to which the 'ultimate' moniker can be applied.
No, you haven't read that incorrectly. The Razer Deathstalker comes with a 4" screen that doubles as a trackpad. It's worth stopping here and looking at the top of the review at the price. Now think about how much your iPhone costs because of that big screen. Suddenly the Deathstalker doesn't seem so expensive. But that's only the half of it, so let's take a look shall we.
4.05” touch screen able to run widget apps (800x480 resolution)
Track pad with gesture support
10 dynamic display keys with 80hz response time
Chiclet style key caps
Tri-colour backlit keys
Fully programmable keys with on the fly macro recording
Razer Synapse 2.0 enabled
Dedicated Gaming mode
5 additional macro keys
Anti-ghosting capability for up to 10 simultaneous key presses
Braided fiber cable
Fixed wrist rest
When your keyboard looks this spectacular, you don't need much frippery to attract the passers-by, and the Deathstalker certainly catches the eye. If anything the "tri-colour backlit keys" is doing a disservice to the abilities of it.
As a non-mechanical keyboard the Deathstalker is extremely low profile. The Switchblade part (the screen and touchpad) replace where a standard numeric keypad would be, but there is an app that replicates it so you're not losing it as such. With such a flat keyboard the feet are important for ergonomics and they raise the Deathstalker just enough to be comfortable both for typing and using the touchpad.
Our model is a US layout so a couple of keys aren't where we'd expect them, but we're used to that. On the left hand side are five macro keys which, similar to the Blackwidow. Given the abilities of the Switchblade interface you're more likely to utilise these for those instant macros you need in FPS games or other titles where you can't let go of the mouse.
The touchpad seems fairly benign when you look at it without any power. It's definitely worth the wait though to see it lit up, we promise.
We said at the top how flat the Deathstalker is, and this nearly highlights it. Short-travel keys with no dips or curves. It looks very futuristic. Pictures, as always, never do it justice.
The cable is, as you'd expect from a Razer keyboard, and especially one at this price point, extremely high quality with an outstanding braid job.
The Razer Synapse 2.0 software has quickly established itself as one of the best customisation packages around. Everything is easy to find, clearly labelled and, thanks to the cloud storage, available wherever you happen to be.
Initially the Deathstalker seems like so many other keyboards. Multiple profiles are available, and you can name them and provide a keyboard shortcut for them. The function key modifies the F-keys for media controls and adjustments to the brightness of the lighting. Scratch the surface and it's clear the Deathstalker has everything you could hope to find. As we said on the previous page, calling the lighting "tri-colour" is doing it a disservice. Not only can it be adjusted to one of forty preset colours, but you can also click custom and pick any colour you like, with surprisingly effective results.
As well as adjusting the backlighting with the F-keys you can change it in the Synapse software, and the brightness of the Switchblade UI can be adjusted too.
The excellent gaming mode can be setup here, or on the Switchblade UI with one of the applications. You also have a lot of control over the performance of the trackpad and associated keys.
Speaking of the trackpad you can change what it displays too. By default it's a soft Razer logo but can, as we'll soon show you, be set to display any image you like. The Synapse 2.0 software automatically squishes or stretches it to fit, but of course you're better off using an image in 16:9 to ensure it has a decent aspect ratio.
Reassigning keys, whether the macros, the 10 LCD display ones above the trackpad, or any key you fancy, is a simple procedure. Select the key you wish to change. Pick what you'd like it to do from the drop-down box and you're good to go.
The ten dynamic keys can also include an icon of your choosing to help you remember what each does. The Synapse comes with a selection of ones for some specific programs but they're thankfully generic enough that you could use them for anything. If none of them suit your purpose then any square image can be displayed and we'll show you a couple on the next page.
Finally the macro editor is extremely robust, offering everything you could desire. If you want to create one on the fly then the Switchblade UI includes a macro editor application so you can create them without leaving your game. Unbelievably useful.
We've kept you in suspense long enough, let's see exactly how the Deathstalker Ultimate looks in action.
Lighting and Screen
The laser cutting of the keys is incredibly crisp. By default the Deathstalker is set to the Razer green you'd expect, although as we saw on the previous page you can adjust it to any colour you like.
Yes of course we set it to orange. What other colour did you expect? One thing worth noting throughout the following photographs is that the clarity and crispness of the displays proved exceptionally hard to photograph and we're not the kind of site to resort to using the official images if we can help it. Also the ten customisable keys above the trackpad are designed to be viewed from your standard seating position. They're slightly offset when looking from straight on, which again makes for fun photographing.
Anyway, yes you can set anything as your Switchblade background. Naturally we're just like you, if you can customise something you always write your name on it. Doesn't the OC3D logo look awesome.
It's not a matter of a couple of colours either. The screen is a full-on proper screen, capable of displaying any picture in full colour and detail.
Above the Switchblade screen are the application keys. By default from the top left we have the standard trackpad setting which also changes the ten icons to the ten ones you can customise in the Synapse 2.0 software, numpad replicator which turns the screen to a numeric keypad with all the keys you'd expect, the macro editor which produces something exactly like that you would see in the Synapse software, gaming mode (again with options), internet browser, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Gmail and finally a clock. That's not all though.
Using a multi-touch gesture (three finger swipe to the right) there are some game-specific options. Counter-Strike, Team Fortress 2, BattleField 3, and Star Wars TOR are all supported. There is also a stopwatch for keeping an eye on respawns, and on the far top right we have a screenshot grabber, which not only includes the ability to view the images on the screen, but you can also delete ones you don't want, and generally fiddle about with them.
Remember how we showed you that you can use your own icon for key assigns? Here they are in all their glory. Of course we have to use our OC3D logo for one, but we wont tell you what pressing Scruffy from Futurama does.
For those of us who have spent years looking longingly at the vapourware Optimus Maximus this is the real world version and it's every bit as awesome as you hope it is.
We could spend the next ten pages showing you the various elements of the screen and supplied applications, but hopefully a small selection will demonstrate the capabilities and attention to detail. It's worth noting that the screen functions exactly like any modern smartphone, supporting pinch zoom, rotate, as well as gestures (two fingers to scroll for example). These don't only work on the screen itself but on your main desktop when it's in standard mode.
Starting with the browser it is, rather obviously, a browser. The LCD keys above change to icons familiar to anyone who can read this review, and the browser is fully functional. If you're one of the people who've adopted the 140 character fun that is Twitter, you can use the Twitter app to keep track on current events, or your friends telling you that it's snowing. The supplied App is just like it is on your phone of choice.
If you're one of the billion people who can't go a moment without reading that your friend has just checked into work, or maybe you fancy a sneaky bit of Farmville, then the Deathstalker has got you covered. One of the most impressive default apps has to be the Youtube one. All of the icons change to useful Youtube features, and it's easy to scroll through the list.
Yes, before you wonder how useful that is, you can watch your chosen video on the screen. Super-handy if you want a walkthrough of the bit you're stuck on without having to leave the game.
Speaking of handy the Deathstalker comes equipped with some prebuilt timers for respawns. Every little edge you can get helps.
Speaking of prebuilt applications, here is an example of the BattleField 3 set. Choose your class and the whole Switchblade UI changes to match.
So let's get the elephant in the room dealt with. No, if you're solely after a keyboard for typing and don't plan at all on gaming to the degree you need a spare screen with some cool features, this is too expensive for your needs. But, and this is a big but, you still should take a look at the Deathstalker Ultimate. When it arrived in the OC3D offices we were a little confused as to what exactly the point of such an expensive bit of tech was. Then you use it, and wonder how you survived without it. The Switchblade side of the Deathstalker is the main event, but it still needs to be a keyboard, so let's do that first.
It's rare to find a keyboard that's so flat. Even the average laptop keyboard has a slight curve to the keys but it actually doesn't effect the typing experience. The keys of the Deathstalker have the same feel that you get from the most non-mechanical keyboards but with slightly more of a bounce. The tactile response is somewhere between a scissor arrangement and Cherry Reds. It's lovely to type on and, whilst not as deathly silent as some laptop style keyboards, it's certainly quieter than a mechanical. The lighting is clear and crisp without being overpowering, and it doesn't matter what colour you choose it's uniform throughout the keyboard. The only downside to the pure keyboard experience is that the numpad is missing, and although there is an app that gives a virtual numpad it doesn't support the ALT+xxx symbols. Not a deal-breaker for some, but if you explain bridge contracts ♥♦♣♠ or do heatsink testing requiring a degree symbol ° then it'll be a royal pain.
But the main event has to be the screen and the 10 LCD keys. It's something that could easily go wrong but the quality is ridiculously high. The screens of the 10 customisable LCD keys are slightly offset so that when you're sitting at the keyboard you can see them clearly. Both them, and the screen, are crisp and vibrant. They, like so many things that light up, are hard to photograph and look vastly better in real-life than they do through a lens. The touch element of the screen works flawlessly, being both speedy to display and as responsive as any capacitive touchscreen we're familiar with. Only in three finger multi-touch gestures does it not have the instant precision that it does with two finger or single finger gestures.
The app side is both brilliant and a little frustrating. Brilliant because the included apps work flawlessly, doing exactly what you expect them to with no elements cut out or trimmed. Frustrating just because, as with all new technologies, there isn't much available beyond those that come shipped with the Deathstalker Ultimate. There certainly might be hidden deep in developer forums somewhere, but in terms of Razer approved ones on their website what you see is what you get. However, that being said we can only really think the Deathstalker is missing : a messenger client, which with the closing of MSN there isn't a clear alternative beyond Skype which would require a lot of licensing, and a monitoring system akin to CPUz or AIDA64. Beyond that, as it comes with a browser that supports flash you're not left wanting for much.
So it looks brilliant, it's great to type on, it's incredibly customisable and, let's not kid ourselves, really freaking cool. Yes it might be pricey, but it's not just a keyboard. A Nokia 3310 will make phone calls and send texts without needing to be recharged every two hours, but there is a reason that most of us have smartphones. The screen/touchpad on the Deathstalker is the same resolution and capabilities as, for one example, the HTC Desire HD. Suddenly that price doesn't seem as high. Even with the rather sparse selection of game-specific applications the Razer Deathstalker Ultimate is worthy of our OC3D Performance award. If you love any of those four games (Counter Strike, TF2, Battlefield 3 or SW:TOR) then consider it a gold. Certainly if Razer and their community start producing more apps it will definitely be so.
Thanks to Razer for providing the Deathstalker Ultimate for review. Discuss your thoughts in the OC3D Forums.