Razer Orbweaver Hardware Review: Respecting its origins, but is it still relevant?

Razer Orbweaver

By on February 28, 2013 at 10:22 am

The Belkin N50 ‘Nostromo’ Speedpad was a solid piece of innovation and technical engineering. It featured 2 custom rows of gaming keys, a mouse wheel, a directional pad, and a black/silver/orange colour scheme which was striking, if incredibly garish even for the world of 2002. Refine the design and development of the N50 over 10 years and you have Razer’s Orbweaver, a serious piece of tech for gaming enthusiasts that still pays respect to a decade-long lineage. But does it live up to its past, or was it better left as a relic of times gone?

Razer might not have had anything to say in the design of the Nostromo N50, or even its successor the N52, but in 2007 Belkin brought Razer on board to help design a more professional version of the N52 speedpad, the N52te (Tournament Edition). This device — while initially shunned for minor technical differences between its predecessor — had a higher build quality, easier to use buttons, and the iconic ‘black and blue’ colour set still in use by Razer today. It was the N52te that helped solidify Razer as a high-end producer of all things professional gaming, and the repercussions of that dominance are still felt today.

While Razer eventually gained the rights to the Nostromo entirely and developed their own branded version it was launched to compete with the Logitech G13, a similar style of gamepad that suited larger hand sizes better than that released by Razer. It was important to note that since Razer didn’t significantly change the design of the Nostromo from the N52te, gamers in general believed it to lack solid macro support, a design oversight problematic to the N52te.

Not to be deterred, Razer eventually decided they needed a new gamepad to compete with offerings made by several of its competitors. Enter the Orbweaver, a gamepad produced with Razers newer design principles in mind. While not ambidextrous, it offers several improvements in the areas of customisation and comfort, having an alterable hand, thumb and palm rest. The handrest’s angle can be changed for different grips (or left loose to swivel), and the thumb and palm rests can be extended or retracted for different hand sizes and shapes.

The Orbweaver feature set includes 20 programmable keys, a significant improvement over the 14 originally offered by its predecessor. It also does away with the difficult to use scrollwheel, creating a more unified design that is easier to adapt to. Your thumb has access to a space button, a ‘hyperresponse’ thumb button, and a 8-way thumbpad which while easier and more intuitive to use than previous designs, is very easy to knock during frantic gameplay moments.

By far the easiest to notice improvement has to be the addition of mechanical keys. These feel like the same Cherry Blue switches found in Razer’s mechanical keyboards, which is hardly a surprise. They provide excellent response, and while many prefer Cherry Black’s or Brown’s for a keyboard switch preference, the Cherry Blue’s match the sensitivity of the other buttons and thumpad perfectly.

As far as comfort goes, testing the Orbweaver with a small group of friends showed that no matter the hand type people could adjust the device to a natural comfort level, although small fingered friends had difficulty reaching the top left and right keys. Most preferred to leave the handrest in a loose swivel state, allowing it to dynamically change depending on needs, although its general flexibility leads me to worry about long term wear and tear.

The device is designed for heavy duty use, with rubber used prominently for the various rests and keys. This of course means that blemishes from finger oil happens pretty much instantly, and makes the Orbweaver near impossible to clean. Despite the extremely high build quality, Razer chose to leave out the braided cable used by pretty much all of their high end devices, which seems like a step away from their design principles. Perhaps the inside of the cable is non-standard, but there is no obvious external difference.

Of course, the real test is how it feels in game. The mechanical keys make an almost imperceptible difference until you attempt to switch back to any other gamepad, at which point everything else seems sluggish by comparison. The unlimited macro functionality and 8 different keymaps allow for some great build order combinations in StarCraft II and easy skill swapping in Guild Wars 2. CS:GO purchases were quick and simple, and binding item and ability switching in Skyrim was a breeze. With professional gamers in particular, I can see this becoming a regular choice, especially when the cumulative addup of keystroke delays can mean the difference between a victory or defeat.

Razer have a real winner here, but in the world of console controllers being used on PC with unnerving frequency, is it still relevant? The answer is perhaps an unsurprising yes. With the ability to use a mouse alongside, the enhanced response time, and 22 separate keys (58 if you bind two mouse buttons to alt and shift, but keep dedicated movement keys), it is easy to see how such a device could be a hardcore gaming staple for years to come.

Good:

  • Customisable for most hand shapes and sizes
  • Mechanical keys with a satisfying click
  • Solid improvement over past designs
  • Versatile macro management

Bad:

  • Price just shy of a full mechanical keyboard
  • Cable and Handrest could pose long term problems
  • Easy to accidentally hit thumb buttons

The Razer Orbweaver retails for around $120 at many stockistsProduct for this review was supplied by Razer.

16 comments (Leave your own)

The thumbpad is essentially a d-pad correct? Honestly they need to make it an analogue stick. There is one advantage controllers have over kb/mouse for shooters and that’s that controllers have an analogue stick for movement so instead of having to press shift or something to alter your movement speed you can naturally adjust your movement speed on the fly over a number of different speeds just by how far you push the stick.

Do that and i’ll be more than eager to buy one.

 

The analogue stick present on the G13 is a serious advantage over this device. A stick is so much easier for strafing movements in MMOs.

 

Marius:
The analogue stick present on the G13 is a serious advantage over this device. A stick is so much easier for strafing movements in MMOs.

easier than pressing ‘a’ or ‘d’ or equivalents on the keyboard?

 

Yes, because on a normal keyboard or gamepad (like the one reviewed), your thumb isn’t doing anything at all. So by assigning your thumb to strafe, your fingers get to focus on the hotkeys.

It’s just a case of wasted space.

The gamepad reviewed (I can’t keep up with Razor’s ridiculous names :P ) does invite the thumb to press a key switch key, but that’s just overly complicated in practice. I found the G13 so much easier to use than the Nostromo.

 

Thanks for making me aware of the G13. :D

 

The G13′s stick isn’t *quite* what you’re wanting, though. It’s just a stick bound to key presses. I just find it easier for strafing for games where you’d use on/off key presses anyway.

 
Bane Williams

I used to use a G13 fairly exclusively before I got my hands on the Orbweaver, honestly, going back to it is hard. Yes, I prefer the analog thumbstick on the G13 for more relaxed, casual gaming sessions (Skyrim), but anything competitive it falls flat on its face due to the driver delay.

The mechanical keys are what sold me on this device, as well as the sensitive 8way dpad (which I use for radial menus, perfectly). Like a mech keyboard, going back to a membrane feels wrong.

All that said and done, if Logitech release one with mech keys and an updated analog stick that doesn’t have a dead zone and significant driver delay, I will buy it in an instant (and cherry Blacks or Reds for the switches, please)

 

Different things suited for different games then, I guess.

MMOs are pretty relaxed… comfort takes priority for me.

 

Marius:
The analogue stick present on the G13 is a serious advantage over this device. A stick is so much easier for strafing movements in MMOs.

Hrm, I’ve never had a problem with strafing via ESDF (I’m so old school we still spell “school” right…) in MMO’s or FPS for that matter, particularly when you use the thumb for jump. Not knocking the thumbstick as a controller concept at all, but it seems to be to be more of a sidegrade.

I would have thought the thumbstick on this device would lend itself to view movement (eg. looking around in a flight or racing sim) but each to their own.

 
steve_rogers42

Howd it go with Synapse?

A mate of mine won a Belkin N52 online and used it for gaming sessions, i always thought it was a tad clunky, but comfortable once you got used to it.

It would be interesting to see some of the onza/sabertooth tech come across re: analogue sticks

 
Bane Williams

Marius,

Absolutely. I’d definitely prefer the G13 analogue for Guild Wars 2.

steve_rogers42,

Beautifully. Razer have really figured out exactly what they need to throw in with Synapse to get it both intuitive to use and deeply customisable.

This is now a permanent fixture to my gaming peripherals, as opposed to most tech which I have almost no interest in post review. The LED’s are still going strong also, which is something Razer used to have problems with in their mech keyboards.

 

asmodai: Hrm, I’ve never had a problem with strafing via ESDF (I’m so old school we still spell “school” right…) in MMO’s or FPS for that matter, particularly when you use the thumb for jump.Not knocking the thumbstick as a controller concept at all, but it seems to be to be more of a sidegrade.

I would have thought the thumbstick on this device would lend itself to view movement (eg. looking around in a flight or racing sim) but each to their own.

The issue with a gamepad is far less keys than a normal keypad, so if you want absolutely every ability on your bar as in a typical MMO, you have to use all kinds of switch keys. So holding one button down to active a second configuration of keys. Gets kindof annoying.

The strafe thumbstick is good for providing extra “buttons” that you don’t need the main pad for. By using it, + mouse move forward, you remove 4 buttons from the important real estate on the pad.
That way you can keep 1-9 on the center buttons in the pad.

 

As usual the sinister are left out in the cold.

 

ive got the nostromo and i actualy use it for FPS haha, more comfy then a keyboard, im gonna upgrade to this new one as it has alot more keys as i find nostromo is short a few keys for FPS. plus its more customable with the hand rest, for 120 its a decent price IMO.

 

meh, i’ve never seen the point of this kind of device, it’s just worthless shit you don’t need.

 

craw:
As usual the sinister are left out in the cold.

Yup lol. Though Razer *do* have a lefty-mouse. Which I’m using right now.

 
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