April 14, 2014

Review: Razer Blackwidow 2014

Razer has refreshed its Blackwidow keyboard series with a model for the new year, the Razer Blackwidow 2014 Edition (no, it’s different, I swear). It shares the same name as its predecessors and similarly, it uses mechanical switches. Unlike previous models, the new Blackwidow doesn’t use Cherry MX keycaps, which are the go-to choice for manufacturers of mechanical keyboards. Instead, the 2014 Blackwidow uses new Razer designed switches. The 2014 edition (hereon, the Blackwidow) comes in three variants: the standard edition, an ultimate edition, and finally, a tournament edition. The tournament addition opts for a smaller form factor by removing the numpad; the ultimate edition gets backlit keys. All three variants are available with green and orange (silent) key switches. Neither of these are to be mistaken for Cherry MX green or orange switches. Razer provided us with the Blackwidow Ultimate for review.

The keyboard comes in standard Razer packaging identical to the previous versions. There is no clear indication that this is the 2014 edition as they didn’t do much to distinguish it from prior Blackwidows. The only indication that this is the newer model is the circle in the bottom right of the box which indicates that the keyboard uses the new Razer key switches which are new to this year’s edition.

Inside the box you find everything you expect to see from Razer. You get the standard assortment of promotional material as well as guides, a certificate, and most importantly, the stickers.

Alongside the accessories, you find the keyboard itself. When it’s off, the exterior is identical to the previous 3 versions of the Razer Blackwidow. Like they say, “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it”. The keyboard has a matte black finish on it with soft-ish touch plastic which fends away fingerprints, unlike glossy keyboards. On the least-looked-at part of the keyboard, the bottom, we find 5 rubber anti-slip pads distributed around the corners and bottom edge of the keyboard. There are also two additional feet that fold out for additional height which also have a rubber tip on them.

On the right side of the keyboard, we find a USB 2.0 pass-through as well as two 3.5 mm jacks for a headphone and a microphone.

Once the keyboard is plugged in, we find that it shares the same green backlight as last year’s model. The keyboard also has a green metal backplate which helps to even out the green glow, which is already good, as each key has its own LED, with the exception of the spacebar and the FN key. The Blackwidow offers 22 steps of brightness adjustment so there will certainly be a level that is comfortable for you.

As far as multimedia controls go, we find the audio controls (mute, volume up/down), media controls (next, play/pause, back), gaming mode, sleep, macro recording, and keyboard backlight brightness controls. All media control keys share the same key as the F1-12 keys so the function (FN) key will need to be pressed to use them.

Keeping in line with Blackwidow tradition, there are 5 programmable macro keys on the extreme left edge of the keyboard.

Taking a look behind the keys, we find the new Razer key switches which come in a green variant, as well as an orange variant. The green variant is a loud clicky version similar to the Cherry MX Blues and the orange variant is a quieter version similar to the Cherry MX Reds. Although they are quite similar visually and mechanically, they are quite different. Razer’s new switches use the same Costar stabilizers and plus-shaped keycap mounts, so you can mount Cherry MX keycaps on them. As shown in the graph below, the Razer switches have a shorter actuation point. That means means that a shorter distance of key travel is needed to actuate the key, which will reduce the time before you can press the same key again.

Like many other Razer products, the Blackwidow takes advantage of the Razer Synapse 2.0 software. If you already own a Razer product, installation is as simple as plugging in the keyboard and letting Synapse take care of the rest. If not, then Synapse can be downloaded off the Razer website. 

The first tab allows you to customize the keys on your keyboard. You can also set your Blackwidow up so that the profile automatically changes for a specific application. You can also assign macros to any key on the keyboard. 

The second tab allows you the change the backlight’s brightness. You can also set the keyboard to “pulsate”, which fades the lights in and out.. Similarly, lighting can be automatically changed for specific programs.

The last tab refers to the gaming mode available on the keyboard which allows you to disable certain keys on the keyboard such as the Windows key.

The new Razer switches do build upon the complaints from Cherry switches in regards to gaming. There is a noticeable difference while gaming, as the new Blackwidow allows for faster repeated key presses. Razer stays true to its word - the key switches were designed solely with gaming in mind, so typing quality does suffer. The keyboard has a different feel while gaming and typing in comparison to the Cherry key switches, which depending on how you use your keyboard may be in your favour. Razer claims a 10-key rollover which is more than enough considering you only have 10 fingers, two of which are resting on the spacebar, but I found that up to 14 keys can be pressed without an issue. The keyboard is extremely rigid thanks to its metal backplate. As a result, the keyboard doesn’t flex when twisted. It has a solid feel which matches its price and feels like it will last, with Razer quality drastically improving from past lows. During gaming sessions, the keyboard feels good to use but the lack of a wrist rest may cause strain during long periods. I found it easier to not bottom out the keys thanks to the shorter actuation distance, which results in less audible typing. First time mechanical keyboard users may have to get used to the taller keys, larger travel distance, heavier actuation force, and sound, but the Blackwidow is a step up from it’s predecessors and competitors thanks to the new Razer switches. Aside from its learning curve, I have no complaints. I would highly recommend this to gamers who are looking for a new keyboard and do more gaming than typing.

Martin Tam is an editor and the Director of Video Production at [blank]’s Universe. He is also a technology enthusiast that particularly enjoys computers and photography. He enjoys breaking things and sleeping in his spare time.