Hardware Review: Razer BlackWidow Ultimate 2013 Edition Mechanical Keyboard

Razer BlackWidow 2013

By on November 21, 2012 at 8:24 pm

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.

The Specs

  • 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
  • USB-Passthrough
  • 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?

Conclusion

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.

Good:

  • 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

Bad:

  • 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.

22 comments (Leave your own)

I must say, I’m not a fan of the green backlight. I tend to like a blue one, if any.

Though, yeah .. a way to dim the light so it’s a feature on a keyboard and not a zombie attractor would be good.

 

Hrm, interesting. I’m considering a mech keyboard at the moment, wanting one with at least a few macro keys and multimedia controls. This one generally sounds pretty good, but being cramped might bug me a bit coming from a G15.

Why can’t keyboards be a default size! lol

 

It is not cramped. Coming from anyone who uses ergo keyboard (which basically achieves nothing apart from getting used to the new ergo key. and then having to get used to normal key. again.) then yeah it would after using one for a while. If you’ve been using a standard keyboard and you want a mechanical keyboard it’s a pretty good option (also pricey). I own the 2012 Ult. model and I just love the feedback and response. It is largely a personal choice though and if you can find a cheaper option that people rate. go for it. (also, it’s pretty much the same as G15 in the “cramp” camp.

 

My only reservation is the loud typing noise.

wyld:
I must say, I’m not a fan of the green backlight. I tend to like a blue one, if any.

On my Logitech G110 I find the keys way easier to read with the backlight Red than Blue. Razer’s backlights look a lot brighter though.

 
Charlie Sierra

Personally, I’ve had my eye on the Ducky DK9008 Shine II (with Cherry Brown switches) for quite a while. I’ve heard only good things about it, however I’m a bit reluctant to blow ~$150 on a new keyboard when my current G15 still works perfectly after 6 years of FPS induced rage!

 

glarbnaught:
It is not cramped.Coming from anyone who uses ergo keyboard (which basically achieves nothing apart from getting used to the new ergo key. and then having to get used to normal key. again.) then yeah it would after using one for a while.If you’ve been using a standard keyboard and you want a mechanical keyboard it’s a pretty good option (also pricey).I own the 2012 Ult. model and I just love the feedback and response.It is largely a personal choice though and if you can find a cheaper option that people rate.go for it.(also, it’s pretty much the same as G15 in the “cramp” camp.

Well, awesome then, I shall add this to my list of “Should seriously consider buying one of these keyboards sometime”

 

Not a fan of blue switches. Give me browns or reds any day.

(In fact, I actually have two mech keyboards and I take one with red switches into work each night, that’s how awesome it is. 10-keyless FTW)

 

charliesierra,

The Shine II is a brilliant piece of kit, in fact I’m typing on one with cherry brown switches right now! The brown switches are definitely a great alternative to the blues, similar tactile feel without as much of a plastic click (although my friends still bitch and moan about them over skype). I reckon the $150 price tag is worth it, but at the end of the day it’s personal preference.

 

wyld,

I’m the opposite, I really only like green backlights. Blue is too piercing and red is too dull imo.

As for mechanical keyboards I just don’t get them. I used one at a friends place and I was annoyed at using them after only a little while. The noise was an announcing but the feel was the real turnoff. They just felt wrong to me, annoying or hard to the press or something.

 

What keyboard was it? and what switch type?

This incidentally is why there are so many switches model available and why premium mechanical keyboard often offer several models with differing switch types…

each switch type have a different tactile feedback and sound (except some which almost overlap with each others)

so determining WHICH switch is right is not easy, but a very worthy cause because you will never go back once you find it. Doesn’t entirely guarantee flawless performance of course since even if the switch is excellent if the rest of the keyboard build is not as good then it’s also gonna be wasted but chances are if it’s one of the well known mech keyboard manufacturer it’s unlikely to have a bad build.

 

Oh incidentally if you don’t know what switch type it was and your friend didn’t know either you can just pull the key cap off… the switch type is visually identifiably once you see the switch itself.

 

Glasses wearer here, what sort of toggle features does the backlight have?

Sometimes I just can’t play with any lights on near me or it’s blur/headache city.

 

nekosan,

I have the previous model (blue lights) But it has 3 levels of brightness. You can also turn it off completely, or have the back light pulse. Fairly certain the new model would be identical in that regard.

 

Also you don’t need to use Synapse to change the brightness setting, function key + f12 does it also.

 
Village idiot

Be mindful of razer products now. They all seem to bundled with DRM… Err… I mean synapse, which is a horrid piece of software and can go die in a fire. It took me ages to find non synapse driver for my razer naga and the fact that I don’t have to use synapse is the only reason I’m still using that mouse.

 

its the same with logitech sadly villageidiot. that gets bundled with horribly shitty software, for which it is difficult to find a replacement.

 

oh yeah, sorry for double-post, but when exactly was the competition drawn? I followed it with a close, hungry eye, but never saw a thread announcing the winners.

 

zombywolf:
oh yeah, sorry for double-post, but when exactly was the competition drawn? I followed it with a close, hungry eye, but never saw a thread announcing the winners.

On November 12 :)

http://games.on.net/2012/11/the-second-great-razer-giveaway-winners-announcement/

 
Relaxed_Possum

I’ve been using the Blackwidow since the first giveaway (which I’m very grateful for!) and just wanted to add a few comments.

+ Mechanical keys feel great
+ The backlight on the lowest setting is convenient but not horrendous (must be changed in synapse).
+ USB pass-through is useful.
+ Build quality seems pretty good, looks good.

~ Key noise doesn’t bother me too much.
~ I don’t really use macros but they were fun to play around with and work as described.
~/- Brightness settings without synapse only have ~5 steps, the lowest besides off is still too bright for my liking.

- Synapse 2.0 frequently requires me to log in again, doesn’t seem to remember my password reliably, pops up when I turn the computer on, plug in a razer device, unplug a razer device, no obvious settings to easily prevent it from starting with windows, it shouldn’t require a password anyway. Razer update failed about 5 times before it updated successfully.
- Audio pass-through was horrendous on my unit. Listening to music was unbearable as serious crackling was present, ditto for sounds in games.
- Tried using it for typing for work but occasionally the period key would not register. Unbelievably frustrating.

Overall I’m pretty happy with it, I can get by with not using the audio pass-through and overlook some of its other faults but is strongly not recommended for word precessing if the problem with the period key is not isolated to my unit.

My 2c

 

Forget Razer – get a Das Model S – the greatest keyboard evar.

 
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