We go deep with Razer's 2012 product range.
By James Pinnell on July 23, 2012 at 3:57 pm
I’ve been a massive fan of Razer hardware since I bit the bullet and dumped my long standing Logitech laser mouse for something a little more gaming orientated. While the Logitech was certainly handy for both general use and gaming, its abysmal tracking speed and inability to handle both mouse buttons pressed “together” made it pretty damn rubbish for any sort of shooter. So I went out and purchased the most basic, no frills of the Razer range I could find (at the time, it was the Abyssus). I never looked back.
So when Razer asked me, your resident MMO masochist, if I wanted to see how their new hardware held up against my trusty old boys – the Abyssus and the ever popular Logitech G15, I was initially skeptical. How would, or even could, a mouse with more buttons or a keyboard with more weight and pretty lights change how I played my games? But I’m always up for a challenge, so I accepted the delivery and unboxed what can only be described as a plethora of toys many of you would probably sell your little sister for.
Each mouse and keyboard set have various specialities – the Naga 2012 (mouse) and Anansi (keyboard) are specifically designed for use with MMOs, while the Blackwidow is a heavy “traditional” mechanical keyboard that has brought back more memories of my early IBM days than anything else. The Naga Hex is tricked out for MOBA and Action RPG games while the SWTOR set is pretty much self explanatory. As a result, I’ve reviewed the equipment in groups; The Naga and Anansi have been put through their paces with The Secret World, GW2 and EVE Online, The Naga Hex enjoyed some League of Legends and Diablo 3, while the Black Widow took everything on, being the clicky beast that it is.
Please also be aware that this is the first time I have used any iteration of this equipment, so these reviews will be based on what’s in front of me, rather than comparisons to earlier editions.
The Naga 2012
You can tell almost immediately that there has been a lot of thought and careful design going into the Naga, as every single element of the mouse has careful curves drawn into it, the weight is evenly balanced on all sides and the button placement is mapped to the flexible muscle points in the hand. Taking it out of the box, straight away I noticed that the cable is wrapped in a tangle-free cloth enclosure and also includes a number of replacement finger rests. I tried them all and found the default with a wider, deeper nook to hold both your fourth finger and pinkie to be the most comfortable, but I assume this would be down to personal preference.
The palm area is covered in a hard, textured non slip plastic, while the remainder is a slick, glossy piano black finish. Like most Razer equipment, it’s exceptionally well built, very solid and clean with no hard edges. There is enough weight to keep it down on the mat when you need it to stay there, and slim Teflon squares keep a smooth flow over your desk or pad. Unlike other models, the Naga does not have DPI and HZ controls on the base of the mouse. All controls over these modes, along with macros, backlights and other options are handled by the (downloadable) Synapse drivers.
Two middle buttons sit just behind a free-moving scroll wheel placed midway down the bridge of your middle finger. On the far left is the Naga’s claim to fame – a set of 12 small backlit buttons that can be utilised in three different ways; the first, as a replacement for the number set above qwerty, the second (via a switch underneath the mouse) as a replacement for the numpad, and the third, via the cloud-based Synapse system, for macros or any other keyboard command.
It feels good in your hand, the curves of the mouse fit perfectly around your fingers, allowing them to rest comfortably and eliminates a lot of the long-term fatigue from those gaming sessions (especially in MMOs) that go for hours. I find that things like DPI and HZ don’t tend to matter too much within an MMO, since quick movement isn’t as important, but tracking is great and accuracy is top notch. The mouse never snags, jumps or forgets its place on the screen – it’s almost impossible to move it by accident.
But it’s the thumb buttons on the side that I just adore, and honestly, will find it difficult to play without from now on. The placement is great, response time is instant; in newer MMOs like TSW and GW2 that require constant movement alongside skill casting, its a godsend to have fingers available for movement. Suddenly, making accurate attacks alongside timed dodges or strafing becomes a reality, rather than suffering the fumble between WASD and the number sets. The only complaint is that if you need to use more than 6 buttons, it can take a bit of muscle memory training before you’re playing without sneaking a peak.
The Naga Hex
The MOBA-based sibling of the 2012 flagship is the aptly named Naga Hex, a mouse with roughly the the same hardware profile, but with a few key differences. Firstly, the Hex has been designed primarily for MOBA (DOTA2, LoL, HoN), as has been modified from the base to extenuate the requirements for high frequency actions. Taking it out of the box, I notice that the textured palm rest has been moved from the centre of the mouse to the sides, providing grip for the thumb and “loose* fingers, rather than the crux of your hand. I actually prefer this design for any sort of gaming (including the MMO), since your hand seems to keep its shape when it’s planted on both sides.
In the space of the 12 buttons on the 2012 are 6, larger, buttons taking up the same amount of space in an oval format. It’s a good placement, as the larger sizes of the buttons provide a solid, easily located click, while the smaller number make it less likely you will cast the wrong ability. Testing it out during a few games of LoL and DOTA2, like the experiences with the 2012, allowed a free hand for other keyboard keyboard commands and it only took about 20 minutes to get used to using a mouse for all commands.
Razer claim that each button on the Hex can take up to 250 clicks per minute, which is a statement that I am hopelessly under-skilled to substantiate. But what I did find was that the buttons responded with nil lag, and very little resistance. In comparison, there was a more satisfying amount of feedback than with the vanilla 2012′s buttons, but that could also be due to the size and design of the others.
Both mice are truly brilliant efforts in design and attention to detail. Everything from the curved structure, weight and build quality, to the number, placement and size of the thumb buttons do all the box and promotional material (that can be tested, of course) claim. I used both mice, on alternate days, for a week and half, putting them through the paces of almost every genre, from TF2 to Civ 5. In all situations they performed admirably, but their key strengths were obviously highlighted during traditional MMOs and MOBAs that utilise numbered keys in some situation or another.
Mind you, a bit of clever mapping made even a game of EVE Online a little easier to bear, but that was thanks to some creative mapping of keyboard hotkeys to some of the buttons on the 2012.
The BlackWidow Ultimate
Razer have a knack for creating abstract names to describe their products, naming the large majority of them after venomous snakes. In most cases, it’s just a little bit of fun hyperbole, but in the case of the aptly named BlackWidow, they took things to heart. This beast is just that, a big bulky hefty brute of a keyboard, a nostalgic hark back to the days of those fantastic IBM keyboards that never, ever, broke and provided some of the most reliable input to date.
As you may have guessed, it’s a mechanical model, which provides an independent analog switch on each key, rather than a rubber dome over a membrane that detects movement via electrical response. This automatically reduces much of the response time as opposed to a standard keyboard, that relies on a secondary response from the membrane.
Razer’s taken this (admittedly ancient) concept and essentially translated it across to gaming by adding the ability to create on the fly macros, a “gaming mode” (ie. disabling the Windows key) five macro keys and some of the standard colorful backlighting you generally expect from modern gaming hardware. Feature wise, there isn’t really anything super impressive about the BlackWidow that you can’t get from anywhere else; there’s no LCD screen, no adaptive tactile keys or any of the classy bells and whistles.
But what makes this keyboard special is in its ability to make you smile again. Typing on this thing is incredibly loud, as each tap of the key not only provides that heavily satisfying ”CLICK”, but it also jolts back this tiny little bit of tactile feedback, so you *know* the action has been well and truly received by your game of choice. Razer touts a complicated proprietary system of ”actuation point and Ultrapolling technology” that reduces each key’s input response time to an impressive single millisecond (from about 4) and only 2 millimeters before your keypress is actually registered.
I put the keyboard through some Battlefield 3, TF2 and MW3 to see if there was a difference, and sadly, the jury is still out. While I did notice that movement response was a little faster, I did find key depression a slightly harder to complete, since the keys are a tiny little bit heavier and smaller, and the space between them a little bit closer. Interestingly, the placement of the F1 keys has been moved marginally to the right, making it easier to hit F-keys if needed since they are now directly above WASD.
But after a little bit of training, things improved. Standard keyboards have very little feedback and sometimes can misfire, but mechanical keypresses are almost always guaranteed to register. While I’m usually of the opinion that a good mouse is obviously more beneficial to the outcome of a match than a keyboard, the fact remains that a *very* heavy keyboard with analog keys is probably your best bet to reliability if you are worried about this happening to you.
What I did find hideous, however, was the choice of blue as the LED of choice for the BlackWidow. Personally, blue LEDs are an affront to my eyes, and cause them to bleed profusely if I’m required to stare at them for hours on end. While I was able to reduce the strength and existence of them in Synapse, turning them off removed *all* backlights from the keyboard, which makes things difficult if you play in the dark or low light and occasionally like to see what you’re doing. Stick to green or red next time guys.
I love the BlackWidow, but I love it because of all of the things that probably don’t really make much of a difference to your game. It’s simply a gorgeous salute to some of the keyboard us old dogs used back in the early days of Doom and Quake, and since I plugged it in I’ve found it almost impossible to stop using. Whether it has made much of a difference to my performance, however, is yet to be seen.
Compared to the retina-destroying blue backlight of the BlackAdder, the almost soothing multi-colour light show that is the Anansi felt close to cleansing. I never knew that Razer found such enjoyment in creating interesting LED dynamics with their hardware, since the extent of the backlight on my original mouse was limited to a highlighted logo. So it’s interesting that the soft mood lighting, one that contrasted well to the “transition ceiling ambience” (not kidding, that’s how they described it) that I experienced on a Virgin Australia flight a few years ago, tends to be a metaphor for the device as a whole – light, airy and, well, just a little bit different.
Like the Naga, the Anansi has been designed with MMOs in mind, complete with the standard set of 5 macro buttons on the far left, on the fly recording and a completely customisable keyset. But what makes things extra special are the 7 “quick thumb” buttons that sit just below the space bar, in complete symmetry of the main keyboard’s width. The buttons are easy to access, and don’t require much pressure to hit, although they are roughly half the thickness of a normal key.
The placement is intriguing, as I originally figured I would hit them accidentally as I started mapping some actions for testing, but after some standard typing and WASD’ing I found that the sunken nature of the area in which the keys sit prevents that from occurring. It’s clever, and it (especially in collaboration with the Naga) allows for almost complete removal of the need for the awkward number key reach. Thumb movement while navigating with WASD is comfortable, although it might take some training and clever mapping to make full use of all 7 keys.
Outside of this feature, what you have sitting in front of you is a pretty standard gaming keyboard. Like the BlackAdder, there’s no LCD screens or other (largely irrelevant really) guff to distract you while you’re concentrating on the screen. The build is largely soft, comfortable, moulded plastic with a bit of gloss around the outside for good measure. It sits a little lower than the Adder too, with all of the keys sitting level and over a standard membrane mechanism. Everything is largely where you expect to be as well, with no funky right alignment or F-key changes to surprise you here.
Nothing on the Anansi is really offensive, nor is it particularily special. If I was going to recommend it as a purchase, it would only be to die-hard MMO players and as a companion to the Naga 2012. Together, they make up a very strong piece of kit that provides noticeable advantage to players who are keen to reduce fatigue in their hands, increase their skill casting speed and agility, or just play more comfortably. Sure, it’s a little bit lazy but it’s also a hell of a lot of fun being able to run circles around your opponents as they struggle to switch between movement and attack.
The SWTOR Keyboard and Mouse
Got some cash to burn? Not just a Star Wars obsessive, but a Star Wars: The Old Republic subscriber to boot? Well, you’re in luck my dear friend, because the last package Razer dropped on my doorstep contained probably the most visually impressive set of devices yet. The SWTOR keyboard and mouse aren’t sold together, nor are they necessarily designed to work exclusively together, but it’s essentially the gaming equivalent of matching your socks. The cement-grey shaded, sharp-edged duo can also be accompanied by a similarly shaped chunky mousepad and a headset, for the truly extraordinarily dedicated chap or chapette.
But once you’ve settled after the inevitable geek out occurs as a soft gold backlight creeps through the cleverly designed cracks and keys, you might notice that the keyboard doesn’t feel especially solid. Unlike the other Razer equipment I’ve reviewed in this feature, the plastic base, on the surface at least, feels quite thin and flimsy. Putting slight pressure on the edges and joins will noticeably flex and bend the base, which would have been difficult on the Anansi and next to impossible on the rugged BlackAdder. I’m unsure why Razer went with such soft plastic here, especially for the cost. Meanwhile, the LED back light options include over 16 million colours here, so you can go all red and feed your inner Sith.
The main array features Macbook-style perfectly squared and marginally raised keys, which sits comfortably under your fingers, although they can be a little slippery at times due to their sheer flatness. I personally prefer keys with slight indentations to cup your finger, but it didn’t take too long to get used to it. That said, it’s obvious that these feed more into the aesthetic than anything relating to performance, although Razer claim the “shorter distance” reduces latency in key response, but I feel that’s a bit of an ambitious claim. As usual, there are the standard five macro keys, live recording and a fully customisable profile system available within Synapse.
The big ticket item on the board is obviously the set of tactile adaptive keys, and the great big LCD touchscreen sitting pretty on the lower right hand side. It’s a pretty impressive display, high res, colourful, bright and multitouch. But disappointment sets in quickly when you realise that it’s really not as intuitive and clever as it originally seems. When one might be perusing the promotional materials for this device, assumptions would be made that this keyboard in fact interfaces directly with SWTOR, as Logitech’s G15 would, detecting its presence on boot and reworking it to suit the game. This is not the case – the game does not know the keyboard, nor does the keyboard know the game (or the mouse for that matter) from a bar of soap.
The touchscreen is in fact an auxiliary monitor, powered by the Synapse drivers that feed information to it from your PC. The apps shortcuts automatically appear on the adaptive keys all of the time, and include a basic web browser, a calculator, a clock, and access to YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. The keys can also be manually mapped to macros, other software shortcuts or keybinds for particular skills, which can then be manually mapped to particular icons which are included with Synapse. Unfortunately, the keyboard does not keep up with your in-game settings nor can it be configured in-game either. This is a huge disappointment, and while it doesn’t lock the keyboard to one game entirely, it does end up feeling quite redundant.
On the positive side, having access to these apps without leaving the game is great – you can easily keep up with social networks, check out YouTube (with some lag) if you encounter downtime, or simply convert the pad to numlock keys if you’re a lefty. But that brings me to my second glaring issue with this keyboard, and it’s a doozy – the LCD is on the wrong side. If you use the mouse right-handed like most people, you won’t be letting go of your mouse to use your skill bar, and even if you moved the keyboard across so it was within range of your left hand, you wouldn’t have access to WASD anyway.
This leads me to the mouse, which for all the slight design changes made to match its look to the rest of the SWTOR set, it’s basically a wireless version of the Naga 2012, right down to the 12 buttons on the side and the two in the middle. As a result, it feels good, solid and heavy, although the light plastic has also migrated across making it feel a bit slippery at times. The wireless works flawlessly with zero noticeable lag, to the point where it performs just as well as the wired Naga, making it a preferred option if you have issues with cable management on your desk. The charging dock is tiny, very cool and quite funky, right down to the power light that flickers as the device charges.
As an added bonus, you can even pop out the decal on the bottom right of the mouse to match your particular alliance, if you’re feeling especially geeky. I know I was. All in all, I can’t help but feel a little let down with the keyboard. For the price, it feels like Razer have oversold the collusion between this device and the game, especially since the manual setup is not made clear without looking inside the (PDF) setup guide, and the game’s lack of software interaction with either the keyboard or Synapse. Its build quality, while sound, doesn’t keep up with the other products reviewed, but it’s hard to deny the sheer coolness of the LCD panel, ultimate usefulness aside.
Almost all of Razer’s “premium” kit, from keyboards, to mice, headsets and even their gaming laptop, utilise the Synapse driver software suite (the only device in this review that wasn’t supported at time of print was the Anansi). Similar to AMD’s Radeon or nVidia’s Geforce driver sets, the suite is a cloud-supported all-in-one driver, firmware and configuration package. Once installed, you create an account with Razer that then maps to all of your installed hardware, keeping everything updated and, most intelligently, saving your key mapping profiles to the cloud. So if you’re one to take your own gear around to different systems or loathe having to re-configure everything post Windows refresh, it’s quite handy.
There are options to change sensitivity across various axis, back light brightness and colour, detailed mapping and keypad configuration options, the ability to record new macros, options to change mouse button direction and actions (for lefties), or even the ability to disable particular buttons or keys. It’s simple, clean and effective – if you happen to be offline when you make a change, Synapse will simply hold everything in local memory until you get back online to sync. Even though it requires a login, being offline does not block access to that config (if you are at a LAN for example).
It’s a pleasant change from Logitech’s messy set of various services, apps and updaters that aren’t all that user friendly to use and configure. For just my G15, there are three different apps running, one for my LCD, another for my key mapping and another monitoring for updates. Comparatively, Synapse doesn’t even need to run if there’s nothing to change or update; one assumes it just uploads your settings to your device or the registry and conserves resources for things that matter, like gaming.
Razer have done well here, and I was especially impressed with the build quality, performance, features and aesthetics of every one of the products I used. Synapse provides deep customisation and key mapping facilities, and adding new devices is a snap, especially if you are transitioning to a new model.
Just be aware that each device has both limitations and strengths that may contrast with how you like to game, but I would be surprised if any purchase ended up in disappointment.