Although we recently gave five of them away, we’ve been spending the last two weeks working and gaming away on our own Razer BlackWidow 2013 mechanical keyboard. Does it hold up under the pressure? Is it worth upgrading, if you have a 2012 edition? All the answers within.
- Full mechanical keys with 50g actuation force
- Individually backlit keys with 5 levels of lighting
- 1000Hz Ultrapolling / 1ms response time
- Programmable keys with on-the-fly macro recording
- Gaming mode option for deactivation of the Windows key
- 10 customizable software profiles with on-the-fly switching
- 5 additional macro keys
- Gaming optimized key matrix for minimized ghosting
- Multi-Media Controls
- Braided fibre cable
- Audio-Out / Mic-In Jacks
- Approximate Size : 475 mm / 18.70” (Width) x 171 mm / 6.73” (Height) x 30 mm / 1.18” (Depth)
- Approximate Weight: 1500 g / 3.31 lbs
Introduction and construction
As somebody who plays a lot of games, but also spends a lot of time typing, I’ve grown used to the gentle curves and RSI-preventing spacious stylings of the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard. Since ditching this keyboard for a two-week vacation with Razer’s latest mechanical offering however, I quickly noticed one thing upon my return: damn, but my ergonomic keyboard is a laggy piece of trash.
So here’s the deal: the Razer BlackWidow Ultimate 2013 Edition mechanical keyboard may have a long name, but the keyboard itself feels a little cramped. Like most mechanical keyboards, its solid construction costs so much that, presumably, to have any more of it would cause the price to go up to a point at which we humans would shriek and run away. As such it all feels a little compressed, with essentially no palm rest space and not much in the way of room on the sides for anybody who likes to rest there, either.
Keys and switches
Keys themselves are a smidge smaller than what you’d expect, and — although this a strictly personal taste only subject — are written in a bizarre techno-glyph font that means you’ll be looking down to see where you should be (until your muscle memory adjusts to the slightly cramped layout, anyway) and find yourself confused. Is that a T? Or an R? Would it kill you to be less extreme for once, Razer?
The switches themselves work beautifully: with only 50g of force required to actuation on a Cherry MX Blue switch, you can brush across it with ease and, by comparison to my regular fare, requires far less smashing of the fingers to achieve input perfection. The downside of course is that they are loud as hell, louder even than the Gigabyte Osmium we recently reviewed. If you’re the type to make regular phone or Skype calls while typing, get ready for every person you chat to to ask you to shut the hell up. The BlackWidow’s anti-ghosting allows you to press up to 10 keys simultaneously, which is also handy to have.
While the keys are coated in a fingerprint-resistant layer of smudge-repellant, the chassis around them is unfortunately not. If you’re like me and you like to take lunch at your desk, there’s a high chance you’ll end up with smudges across the chassis and be constantly buffing them out.
Backlighting and connections
James noted in his look at the 2012 BlackWidow that the blue backlight caused his eyes to bleed profusely, so it’s great to note that the 2013 Edition seems to have this problem solved. The blue backlight is now green, and the strength of the glow can be adjusted with great granularity in the Synapse profile. The maximum light strength is so strong that you can actually still see it in direct sunlight, and if you’re playing in the dark you’ll probably find your room glowing distinctly green. By default the lights are set to pulse as well, which I personally found intensely distracting and turned off as soon as possible.
The 2013 BlackWidow comes with a strong braided cable containing not only the USB connector, but a secondary USB passthrough, and microphone and keyboard jacks so you can operate the whole thing from your keyboard. Others have reported some poor shielding on these ports, but I didn’t notice any hissing or crackling during my use.
Macros and Synapse
Along the left side of the keyboard are five macro keys, which you can customise in the Synapse Software. It took me a long time to get used to their position, as I realised I’d been subconsciously using the bottom-left Control key as a reference point for knowing where I was on the keyboard — something that immediately activates a macro if you try it on the BlackWidow, here. Still, once you get your brain around this, having the macro keys in such an accessible position makes using them easy and pleasant.
Naturally, using the BlackWidow requires Razer’s Synapse 2.0 software, which has been the subject of some controversy in recent days as it was accused of being a form of hardware DRM. Creation of a Razer account is necessary to get your keyboard up and running which, yes, does mean that your keyboard effectively won’t work until it’s activated over the internet. If you don’t have reliable internet access, do not buy this keyboard. This won’t be a problem for 99.9% of users, especially since you’re using the internet to read this right now, but it needs to be mentioned. Once you’re set up with a Razer account, the BlackWidow will work offline just fine (I checked!) but it does need to be set up first.
Synapse does include some other features beyond light customisation, macro management and controversy generation. Gaming mode allows you to disable Alt + Tab, Alt + F4 and the Windows key individually, this preventing you from not only doing anything that might cause you to rage quit but even stopping you rage-quitting altogether. The other feature of Synapse 2.0 — and the one that people who attend a lot of LAN parties will probably enjoy — is that all of your macros are saved in the cloud. So as long as you have an internet connection, you can retrieve your favourite macros regardless of whose computer you’re on. My only beef with Synapse is that it requires you to restart your computer whenever it updates. What is this, iTunes?
Overall, the BlackWidow 2013 is a solid piece of kit. With no real weaknesses to speak of, the Razer’s only point of contention is that it’s not really different enough over the 2012 model to warrant a re-release (unless you’re allergic to blue backlighting). Greasy users with enormous sasquatch hands like myself may find it cramped and smudgy, but if you do most of your gaming in the dark and you need a durable mechanical keyboard with a reliable response time, it’s hard to fault the BlackWidow — especially since it comes in noticeably cheaper than Gigabyte’s Osmium offering with an almost identical feature set.
- Great feedback and solid construction
- Backlighting is now green instead of eye-watering blue
- USB passthroughs, ports and audio jacks
- On-the-fly macro recording
- Between the blazing lights and the clacking keys, this is basically a small rock concert of a keyboard
- Font used on keys is some bizarre techno-glyph from 2097 A.D.
- Chassis picks up fingerprints like crazy
- Not really any substantial difference from the 2012 model
The Razer BlackWidow retails for around $120 at most stockists.