Legend on a Budget
The new version of a legendary mechanical keyboard
In the world of gaming peripherals, there are few pieces of gear more well-known than the Razer BlackWidow mechanical keyboard. Since the launch of the original in 2010, it’s haunted department stores and professional eSports tournaments alike. As part of their 2019 product launch, Razer has refreshed this classic, stripping it down to the essentials to put it within the grasp of gamers on a budget. At $119, it enters the market at a crowded price point. Is a “core” Blackwidow do enough to stand out from the competition in 2019? Join us as we find out.
"Since its inception, the Razer BlackWidow name has been synonymous not just with precision but also the tactile and clicky feel of its switches that gamers love. We’ve fine-tuned our mechanical switches to unlock the highest level of gaming performance yet with the latest edition of the Razer Green Mechanical Switch. Game on with total clicky satisfaction and Razer Chroma lighting with the new Razer BlackWidow."
- Razer Green Mechanical Switches designed for gaming
- 80 million keystroke lifespan
- Razer Chroma™ customizable backlighting with 16.8 million color options
- Hybrid On-Board Memory and Cloud Storage – up to 5 profiles
- Razer Synapse 3 enabled
- Cable routing
- N-key roll-over anti-ghosting
- Fully programmable keys with on-the-fly macro recording
- Gaming mode option
- 1000 Hz Ultrapolling
- Instant Trigger Technology
Pricing and Availability: $119.99, Amazon.com
Packaging and Contents
As always, we start with packaging. Razer products are nothing if not eye-catching. I really like the new presentation style that Razer has adopted, particularly with the window to try out the Razer Green switches. The pearlescent finish on the “BlackWidow” text is also a nice touch.
Around the back, we find out feature call-outs. The keyboard features the aforementioned clicky Razer Green switches, rated for 80-million keystrokes each, n-key rollover, full programmability in key functions and per-key backlighting, and enough on-board storage to maintain up to five profiles for use between different PCs. There’s also cloud storage which allows you to save and download unlimited profiles anywhere you can access Razer’s Synapse software.
Inside the box, we find the keyboard well-packaged and held aloft, fit between two pieces of specially cut foam. This is a nice touch, as it creates an air barrier to protect your keyboard should anything damage the box in shipping. The braided USB cable is hidden under a cardboard insert.
Here we can see the full package. We have the keyboard itself, the usual welcome letter from Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan, and a multi-language user manual. There’s no included wrist rest or even a keycap puller, should you want to take a closer look at those Razer switches. It’s a sparse package, but for a budget-conscious package it feels fair.
Taking a closer look at the keyboard, the first thing to notice is that Razer is playing it safe with its design. It’s a standard 104-key mechanical keyboard with media controls tied to the secondary layer along the function row. I do wish they’re included a volume roller but secondary media functions have never overly bothered me.
The only real from a normal 104-key layout comes with the indicator lights and the Razer branding appearing over the number pad. The branding is glossy but still rather subtle with it’s black on black design. The indicator lights are larger than normal and expanded to include a Game Mode and Macro Recording indicators.
I really like how the heel of the board angles down to prevent any hard edges from pressing into your wrist. There’s also an illuminated Razer logo here that follows your key lighting and can be customized inside Synapse.
The keyboard is also quite heavy, something that isn’t immediately clear when first discovering its plastic case. Compared to my MK850 I also have on my desk, it’s easily the weightier of the two and, though Razer doesn’t specify a weight, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it come in around 1300kg.
The keyboard is built with a nice natural angle. It does sit a bit flat for me, so I use the higher level of tilt provided by the feet. The difference between the two stages is very slight, so it doesn’t a huge difference between both, but it’s a feature keyboard enthusiasts tend to appreciate, so it’s nice to see the option included here.
Looking a bit closer at the keys themselves, I like the font Razer has gone with. It’s not the large, edgy font we often see on gaming keyboards. Instead, they’ve gone with something more tasteful and grown up.
The keycaps are standard gaming fare and the same as Razer has on all of their modern keyboards: 1mm thick, spray-painted ABS. The legends have been laser etched to allow the light to shine through but secondary legends have been pad printed and won’t be as durable as the primary legends. In the future, I would love to see Razer over toward doubleshot-injection keycaps which are more durable still.
Underneath the caps are Razer’s clicky Green switches. These switches add reinforcing walls around the stem to add extra stability under the keys and cut down on wobble.
It’s very similar to the popular BOX design currently in use by Kailh and for good reason: it works. The larger keys also use Costar wire stabilizers and Razer has gone so far as to lubricate the points where they attach to the switch to make them feel stable and rattle-free. This is a great touch as the majority of the more than four dozen gaming keyboards I’ve reviewed completely ignore key rattle on these switches.
The keys all click satisfyingly, which is great for writing and gaming both. Do be aware, though, that this keyboard is loud enough to cut right through into your stream, so if you’re live on a mic, you should plan on using a noise gate or having listeners deal with the clack.
One of the most defining features of the Blackwidow is that it eschews throws out the “floating-key” design popular among RGB keyboards and instead hides the switches behind a plastic top plate. That isn’t to say the RGB doesn’t shine. The plate underneath the keys is a nice reflective white, which works well to create a nice bed of colored light, almost like your keys are sitting atop a colored pool.
When it comes to RGB lighting, it’s just enough. There’s no fancy acrylic strip along the edges nor is it exceptionally bright. I would actually have liked it to be a bit brighter as it’s notably dimmer compared to something like Cooler Master’s MK850. In low light, it still looks quite good and reinforces my belief that white mats under the keys are the way to go if you’re releasing an RGB keyboard that’s not floating key or focusing on light isolation.
The Blackwidow also features built-in game integration which automatically changes your lighting based on what’s happening in the game. In Fortnite, for example, your keyboard will change based on the time of day and go purple when you’re in the storm. In Overwatch, the lighting will change based on your character. Playing Mercy and Lucio, for instance, cause the lighting to change based on whether you’re healing/damaging or healing/speedboosting. When your ultimate is ready, blue waves ripple out from your Ult button. It’s really pretty cool.
The challenge here is that these games need to be officially supported to have any effect at all. Unfortunately for me, most of the games I tend to play don’t yet have Chroma support and since this integration is nothing new for Razer Chroma keyboards, I really don’t expect it to come to any of my older games anytime soon. Newer games may see integrations, though.
Software and Usage Impressions
Synapse 3 is where you’ll be doing all of your key programming and lighting customization. It’s a powerful suite and we’ve gone over it several times before, so we’ll only go over the big points here. If you’d like to know more, check out the full breakdown in our review of the Razer Huntsman Elite from October of last year.
When it comes to keyboard programming, Synapse is one of the most simultaneously user friendly and powerful suites on the market today. You can remap and key, record macros, or set the keyboard to trigger advanced commands like like program launches, opening web pages, or triggering keyboard shortcuts. The power of the suite really comes into play once HyperShift is factored in.
HyperShift is Razer parlance for command layering simply by holding a key. When the HyperShift key is held, the entire keyset changes to and can trigger secondary functions. For example, I set my HyperShift layer to open PCPer, my email, and Feedly just by pressing Shift+1, 2, and 3. You could easily use this in games to keep your abilities within reach of the WASD cluster, so you won’t have to take your fingers from the movement keys. It could also be used to give you quick access to out-of-game commands, like sending out a quick Twitch emote.
When it comes to lighting customization, you have a wide array of preset effects for users who want to “set it and forget it,” including your usual rainbow wave, breathes, reactive typing, as well as a few neat ones like a screen sampler or the fire effect. You can sync your lighting effects between devices with a quick toggle and customize them for color and, in some cases, speed and direction. Going into the advanced tab gives you much more control, allowing you to layer effects and customize a much wider array of parameters. There’s a brief tutorial to get you started, and you can program a neat custom layout pretty fast, but you should still plan on spending some time here to really learn the ins and outs.
The keyboard feels good to use. I’m a fan of clicky switches, so I enjoyed the extra key noise. The slight ramp up in pressure before hitting the “click” helped me cut down on typos too. In games, I found the keys to be very responsive and experienced no key chatter whatsoever. The keyboard also features Instant Trigger Technology which purports to get rid of debounce delay by sending commands instantaneously to your system. I’m not sure about this since my plebeian reflexes aren’t fast enough to tell the difference in single milliseconds of delay, but it’s a feature pro-level players will appreciate nonetheless.
It’s not all glitter and gold, though. This is a keyboard that relies on its software. Oh, it will work if you plug it in, but will lose virtual all of its key features. On the fly macro recording simply won’t work without Synapse installed, for example. Is that really on-the-fly? You’re also stuck with a single color shifting effect when running without software. You can turn brightness up and down but when Cooler Master can pack nearly twenty preset effects into their boards completely software free, it’s enough to make you wonder why things are so limited.
Actually downloading the software isn’t enough, either. You’ll also need to make an account and agree to a EULA with everything that entails. By this point, I’m used to it, but it all feels like a bit much for basic functionality like swapping to a different lighting scheme or firing off a quick macro.
The complete Razer desktop experience (image via Razer)
Looking at their early 2019 line-up, it’s clear that Razer is working to make sure gamers on a budget don’t get left behind. For $119, you get a full-size keyboard with a ton of functionality… assuming you have Synapse installed. HyperShift turns the whole keyboard into an on-the-fly macro pad and opens up a lot of doors into what’s possible. Exploring that added functionality is also quite easy thanks to Synapse 3’s user friendly interface. On the most basic level, it also feels really nice to use.
Still, the $100-125 mechanical keyboard market is a crowded one and the Blackwidow feels unnecessarily limited by its dependency on Synapse. Admittedly, you can store five profiles on-board. Likewise, there’s a good chance that most users considering this keyboard are already in the Razer ecosystem. Looking at the masses of keyboards I own, however, the Blackwidow is one of the very few that makes you log in at least once to even change your backlight. If you don’t mind that, this is a solid gaming keyboard.