Razer’s Optical Flagship Keyboard
Razer’s Blackwidow might be the most iconic mechanical gaming keyboard ever made. It’s dominated electronics store displays since it was first introduced and, as a result, few gamers don’t know the Blackwidow by name alone. Understandably, the Blackwidow series has been Razer’s flagship keyboard line since its debut with everything else coming second. All of that changes this week as the company introduces a second flagship keyboard. Today, we’re looking at the Razer Huntsman Elite, a premium keyboard with an exciting set of features and a brand new in-house key switch. But is it worth the ultra-premium $199 price tag? Let’s find out.
- MSRP: $199.99 (Huntsman Elite, reviewed), $149.99 (Huntsman)
- Switch Type: Razer Opto-Mechanical Switch
- Actuation Force: 45g
- Actuation Point: 1.5mm
- Travel Distance: 3.5mm
- Lifespan: 100 million clicks
- Fully programmable keys with on-the-fly macro recording
- 10 key rollover with anti-ghosting
- Gaming mode
- Braided fiber cable
- Aluminum matte black top cover
- 4-sided underglow lighting with 38 customization zones
- Ergonomic wrist rest with 24 underglow lighting customization zones
- Dedicated media controls
- Multi-functional digital dial
- Chroma game integration
Beginning with packaging, Razer continues their long tradition of over-delivering. When you open the box, you’ll find the keyboard well presented with a nice plastic cover to keep it dust free. You also find a letter from Min-Liang Tan, telling you what an amazing buying choice you’ve made and welcoming you to the Cult of Razer. Behind the letter, you’ll find the instruction manual, warranty information, and a sticker sheet with a handful of case badges.
Underneath the keyboard is the included wrist rest which is very similar to what Razer shipped with the Ornata Mecha-Membrane keyboard. It was much loved then and for good reason: it’s one of the best pack-in accessories shipping with gaming keyboards today. The rest is well-padded and topped with a nice leatherette material. The leatherette feels well-made and resistant to wear, though only time will tell.
The wrist rest attaches to the keyboard via magnets and holds in position reasonably well. I was able to move the keyboard around on my desk without it detaching unless I physically picked it up. This is especially important here as there as the wrist rest features a wrap-around lightbar and receives its power from a connection on the bottom keyboard – more on that in a second.
The Huntsman Elite features some significant improvements over the Blackwidow, but it’s most defining is Razer’s new Opto-Mechanical key switch. The switch, pictured above, features the traditional Cherry-style stem, but rather than rely on metal contacts to trigger key presses, it utilizes beams of infrared light firing from one side of the switch to the other.
It works something like this: when the key is raised, the beam is blocked. Pressing the switch shifts the internals downward and opens up a channel for the beam to reach a sensor opposite the switch, triggering a key press. The benefit to this system is that it’s hands-down more responsive. The lack of contact eliminates electrical debounce, making for a cleaner, faster signal. Additionally, because there is no metal-on-metal contact, it should last far longer. In fact, Razer has rated these switches for double the lifespan of a traditional Cherry MX Switch at 100 million presses.
While this is undeniably cool, you probably won’t notice it since it all occurs within millisecond timeframes. The more meaningful changes come in the other qualities of the switch. Opto-Mechanicals are a marriage between the clicky Razer Greens and the rapid Razer Yellows, meaning they have a nice, defined click (louder than Razer Greens or Cherry MX Blues) and actuate at 1.5mm, over the former’s 2.2mm. These switches also actuate at precisely the point you hear the click, allowing you to move onto the next key immediately, not-so-quietly training you to be a better typist.
If you’re wondering why the keyboard looks like it has braces, then you’ve come across the other core improvement: per-key stabilizer bars, like what you’d usually find under the backspace or shift keys. This allows for a consistent keypress no matter where on the cap your fingers happen to land. This is very similar to the stabilizers found on the Bloody Gaming B975 keyboard which we reviewed earlier this year. Though many in the keyboard community are concerned that these bars may begin to squeak over time, our B975 is the same as ever more than 90 days from when we first unboxed it. We’ll have to see how they fare in the long-term.
The keys feel great to type on. They’re loud and snappy, which isn’t great for an office but is perfect to fans of Cherry MX Blues. The only disappointment in the key department is the return of the thin, ABS keycaps. They’re single shot and laser engraved, which is great for lighting, but still lightweight and cheap compared to the rest of the keyboard. Someday, internet, PBT will rule the day, but until then, we have these caps as standard on gaming keyboards.
The other significant improvement we find is in the media keys. Finally, we have dedicated media keys! But that’s the less exciting addition. Instead, we see that our volume wheel is, in fact, a multi-function dial not unlike the Crown on the Logitech Craft.
Using the Synapse 3 customization software, this dial can be programmed to perform any number of functions, including controlling your volume, adjusting mic levels, scrolling web pages, or adjusting zoom in Windows and Office. The center button, up scroll, and down scroll functions can all be rebound like every other key on the keyboard, which makes it incredibly versatile. When I reviewed the Logitech Craft and went hands-on with one of these dials for the first time, I said that it was an incredibly intuitive addition to a keyboard that quickly begins to feel like second nature. I feel the same here with the small caveat that I wish it scrolled without the notched feedback. Poor me.
The multi-function dial works hand-in-hand with Razer Hypershift. While it sounds fancy, it’s a simple, yet powerful, concept. Using a key of your choice, your keyboard can shift into the second layer of custom keymaps for every key. That means by holding ALT, I could shift the dial from volume to mic control and back again by merely releasing the press. That also means that, despite lacking dedicated macro keys, the entire keyboard can now serve that purpose, even stacking layers upon layers. Unlimited keybinds!
On the bottom of the keyboard, we find the connection that delivers power to the wrap-around LEDs on the wrist rest and allows them to sync with your keyboard’s lighting. This could also allow for wireless accessories in the future, though Razer isn’t ready to share anything about that yet.
Up top is a nicely braided cable with a dual USB head. The “Razer” head controls the keyboard and its lighting, the “Port” header controls the wrist rest (or any other accessory that might come in time). Seeing this label, I had to do a double-take and check the back and sides for a USB passthrough port, but there is none. This is purely for that connection, which is a bit of a disappointment, albeit an understandable one.
When everything is connected, the Huntsman Elite becomes one of the most stunning RGB keyboards on the market. The lights in the picture above diminish the underglow effect, but it’s bright and vibrant, seamlessly syncing with the Chroma effects and profiles you might be running.
The keyboard features a total of 168 programmable LED zones, including 24 on the wrist rest alone.
The downside, however, is that you’ll need to download Synapse 3 to unlock more lighting options than the single one that comes loaded out of the box: a tame, slow, color shift. Even the rainbow spectrum pictured above is locked behind a software wall, which means you’ll need to load Synapse 3 and bind your own “switch lighting” key. Once that’s done. However, you can store that binding in one of five onboard or cloud profiles and use them on the go.
Synapse 3 is one of the most intuitive, user-friendly interfaces we’ve come across. Upon loading in, clicking on any key will bring you to this screen to perform all of your remapping and programming. Here you can launch programs, record macros, and even bind mouse events to key presses. By binding a Hypershift key, every key can be rebound a second time with functions located just on that one layer. There is tons of utility here.
Clicking on the lighting tab will you to the above screen where you can choose from a handful of preset effects. We see our usual breaths, waves, and reactive typing options but also a neat fire effect that animates your LEDs like glowing embers.
Pressing the Advanced Effects button allows you to open Chroma Studio where you can program in intricate lighting schemes of your very own. My desktop uses a purple and pink theme (thanks to my weird rose gold colored monitor), and I was quickly able to set the pattern above. By layering effects, I made it, so keys light up white for a time after they’re pressed and each one sends a ripple of color three times across the key space. The lighting zones on the side also shift from purple to pink and vice versa. It looks neat and didn’t require the fiddling of systems like Corsair’s iCUE.
Navigating this area is easy. You can click and drag to select keys or choose a common selection from a dropdown menu, then click the effect you’d like to apply. On the right you can customize a selection of parameters to achieve the effect you see in your mind and get it pretty darn close without a ton of effort. If you’re not game to create your own schemes, however, you can also download profiles created by the community, which is a lot of fun to explore.
That said, the system here is indeed simpler but doesn’t allow for quite the level of creativity as Corsair’s utility. Sometimes a man just wants a 1UP mushroom to scroll across his keys, okay, and I miss it here.
The Huntsman Elite is not only the best keyboard Razer has ever produced, but it’s also one of the best mechanical gaming keyboards on the market today. Having reviewed dozens of them, I don’t say that lightly, but the ease of programming, stylish wrap-around lighting, great-feeling switches, multi-function dial, and new accessory terminal all put the Huntsman Elite over the top. Add in Hypershift, and you have a keyboard that’s up to the challenge for any game you can throw at it and make your entire desk look better while it's at it.
Is it worth $199? That will depend on whether you think any keyboard is worth $199. Compared against the K95 RGB Platinum from Corsair, it’s a close call, but there’s enough here to justify that premium price point the market has settled at. Ironically, the standard Huntsman model, retailing for $149 is a harder sell because it lacks features like the new dial and accessory terminal.
Though Razer assures me the Blackwidow line is here to stay, I’m not sure why anyone would pick it over the Huntsman. In the Battle of the Blackwidow, it’s the hands-down winner in just about every way.
|Review Terms and Disclosure
All Information as of the Date of Publication
|How product was obtained:||The product is on loan from Razer for the purpose of this review.|
|What happens to the product after review:||The product remains the property of Razer but is on extended loan for future testing and product comparisons.|
|Company involvement:||Razer had no control over the content of the review and was not consulted prior to publication.|
|PC Perspective Compensation:||Neither PC Perspective nor any of its staff were paid or compensated in any way by Razer for this review.|
|Advertising Disclosure:||Razer has not purchased advertising at PC Perspective during the past twelve months.|
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|Consulting Disclosure:||Razer is not a current client of Shrout Research for products or services related to this review.|