Razer Blackwidow Chroma Keyboard

Razer Blackwidow Chroma Keyboard

In a previous post I reviewed the Poseidon-Z keyboard. I loved that keyboard, and thought I would be using it for some time to come. That is, of course, until a spill happened. Unfortunately mechanical keyboards are much more susceptible to spill damage than their membrane counterparts. Membrane keyboards are almost waterproof – they have a giant silicone membrane usually the length of the keyboard, covering the electronics. On the other hand, mechanical keyboards have a unique switch for every key – each of which can break via water damage, or at least get gummed up – affecting the throw of the key. That means, no more delicious clickyness and instead mushiness.

Welp, spills happen. So I was on the market for another clicky keyboard. Since it was urgent, I didn’t have time for waiting on packages. I decided to head down to my Brooklyn MicroCenter and pick up whatever they had available. I ended up bringing home a Razer Black Widow Chroma Keyboard. I decided to splurge for the Chroma keys so I could customize their colors. I’ll share a picture below, but first lets talk about the keyboard.

The clickyness is loud, but more importantly feels great like you’d expect. I got mine with the Razer Green switches, which IIRC are clones of the Cherry MX Blue. Since the Cherry patent expired a couple years ago, the clones are really good these days. It has a standard layout, so I jumped in almost as if nothing changed. It does however, have an extra row of programmable macro keys along the left. I’ve yet to set those up, however. I suspect they’d be more useful for games, but in my daily workflow I haven’t found a use. Then again, I haven’t been looking for one. Maybe I could assign them to some common functions in Blender? 🤔 Hmmmm.

However, there is downside with the keyboard layout for me – the lack of a gap between Caps Lock and the A key.

For example, on the Poseidon-Z, the Caps lock key has a small indentation between itself and the A key:

caps

 

The Black Widow lacks this feature. I almost considered returning it off the bat, but I decided to give it a bit. You see, when the gap is present its much easier to find the home row and the A with your pinky. Sure the F and J have bumps for the home row like all keyboards, but I really like the left side gap. That said, I eventually got used to it, and I rarely find myself hitting caps lock on accident these days. It DOES still happen occasionally though, and I would really like to have another keyboard with the caps-gap.

The chroma key colorization software is … pretty terrible. It has the features I’d want, plus plenty I don’t. For starters it’s “Cloud Software” meaning you have to sign up for a Razer account just to use it – and you always have to be logged in or else your keyboard keys won’t be colored. This is completely pointless and insulting – it’s just for coloring keys on a piece of hardware. NOTHING about that should DEMAND Internet connectivity. Of course, it saves your color profile “in the cloud” so if you switch computers or buy a new computer your settings will be saved. Cool – but I should only have to upload that to the cloud once, when I configure it. 99.9999% the of the time the settings aren’t going to change, so no need for Internet connectivity. Of course, Razer wants you to be signed in so they can track your activity and resell it, but man fuck a hardware driver that requires Internet. OK, to be fair, in the times that my Internet has cut-out the keyboard remembered what colors its supposed to be (how surprising! hardware that works without Internet!!) but still, shady business practices IMO. 🖕🖕🖕🖕 Razer for that shit head decision.

UPDATE: while writing this article I was experimenting with the FN-F9 macro key. I accidentally hit that in some combination with my Windows key. In the Razer Synapse software it showed one Macro I remembered creating, and nothing else. But somehow my Windows key no longer worked. Sure, the keyboard has a gaming mode which disables the Windows key so it doesn’t interrupt your games. But this mode was NOT on. The light on the keyboard wasn’t enabled for gaming mode. The Synapse software showed gaming mode as disabled it, and toggling it didn’t help either anyway. For some reason, my keyboard lost the use of it’s Windows key. Now, I use the Windows key ALL the time. Windows+Left/Right is useful for snapping windows, Windows-Tab is useful for Arranging windows and switching desktops, as well as Control+Windows+Left/Right for advancing between desktops. Not to mention the super useful Windows+R for running things and Windows+L for locking my screen.

After some Googling I found that you can hold FN while plugging the keyboard into your PC to reset the keyboard. This worked, but had several downsides for me. Not to mention, it was REALLY difficult to plug a keyboard into the back of my desktop, under my desk, while holding the FN key on the surface of my desk. Anyway, this caused the Razer Synapse software to log me out, and force an update. The update said it required a computer restart, but I was in no mood for that. I ignored the restart, but now I couldn’t log into Synapse anymore! You see, since I hate cloud software with required logins, I made a throw-away email: fucksynapse@sharklasers.com. Apparently Razer caught on to sharklasers eventually and deleted my account. Welp, now I can’t log-in and recover my keyboard settings. WHICH SHOULDN’T BE CLOUD BASED. I eventually had to make a new gmail just for this shitty program. Luckily the only major settings I had was the colorization which was easy enough to recreate. I had taken a photo recently too, so that helped. When was the last time you forgot the password to your keyboard? Ridiculous. I didn’t notice the Window’s key was broken until after posting this review, so this update was necessary, certainly lowering my opinion of the device. Now back to the rest of the review –

Interestingly, when you lock your screen, the keyboard goes back to it’s default rainbow-color-cycle pattern. You MUST be logged in to see the custom colors. Weird. The keyboard has some custom FN-features which require the FN-key. I’ll mention more later, but two of them are for changing the brightness of the keys. By default keys use the color profiles brightness, but you can adjust the brightness globally across the keyboard with FN-F11 and FN-F12. What’s cool is how semi-smart they keyboard is about brightness adjustment. If your screen is LOCKED, you can tap FN-F11 which turns the brightness down. Because the screen is locked, it will jump to 0% lighting. I use this feature every night – the color changing keyboard is bright enough to be annoying while trying to sleep, so I Windows+L to lock my screen and FN-F11 to turn the lights off in one keystroke. That’s a suuuuper handy feature. Otherwise, if you’re not locked, the FN-F11 and FN-F12 keys adjust the brightness gradually, as they should.

Otherwise, the software lets you pick a unique color for each and every key. It gives you a few built-in animation options, that can either be always running, or responsive to your typing. For instance, you could have some basic color cycles always running. The default is to cycle through the rainbow over time. However, there are a few animation presets that respond to your typing. You could, for instance, have a ripple-like effect emit centered around the keys you’re pressing. I find this one a bit distracting, so I went with the option of having the key temporarily change color before fading back. It’s pretty cool TBH. I have my primary keys set as teal – my favorite color. F-Keys and system keys are purple – teals complement, like the theme of this site. My escape key is white, and backspace is red, naturally. I also made the Macro keys a dark red as not to be distracting. When I push a key, it lights up green – another nice complement for teal. It is really fun typing on it and seeing it change after you push a key. I also love having lit keys, since I often code in the dark. So when I see my favorite colors it’s just a nice thing that makes me happy.

In addition to the brightness adjusting FN-features, the keyboard also uses F1, F2 and F3 with FN to toggle mute or adjust volume respectively. It’s nice to have these as FN features, instead of annoying dedicated buttons like keyboards of the 2000’s. It also uses F5, F6, and F7 with the FN key for your typical back, play/pause, forward transport controls. FN-F9 lets you record a macro and assign it to a key, and finally FN-F10 enables gaming mode, which disables the Start Menu button in windows.

One thing I ought to mention I have been annoyed by but didn’t realize it until my friend brought it up. Maybe it’s the power of suggestion, but I feel like the keys on this keyboard get slippery from finger oil really easily, and it’s hard to clean. Sure, given time any keyboard will get greasy. Even though I often eat at my desk, I make it ritual to NOT touch the keyboard with dirty hands. I love a nice, clean, dry keyboard and food fingers will mess that up quickly. Even snacks, like Frito’s, are disgusting for keyboards. I also don’t want crumbs in my keyboard, which are particularly noticeable on the Back Widow Chroma, because the key lights also illuminate the space under the keys as well. Anyway, I feel like I constantly have to wipe these keys down. I don’t know why, but it seems particularly susceptible to finger grease. BTW, if any keyboard manufacturers are reading this, please put an ON/OFF switches on keyboards so I can wipe them down without spamming keystrokes to my PC! Currently I have to unplug the USB located deep behind my desk, because  even the lock screen can mess up with random key input!

I’ve had this keyboard for quite a while now, so this is a rather late review. But one thing I can say is this keyboard is more durable! I did have another, admittedly drunk, spill incident a few weeks ago. The keyboard stopped working immediately and my heart sank – do I really have to drop $100 or so on ANOTHER mechanical keyboard? Gosh, I’m so irresponsible, how many of these can I destroy? Lol. The next day, I disassembled it, washed the keys while I scrubbed the insides clean with some bleach wipes. I let it all dry, and plugged it back in. It worked! I can’t say the same for my unfortunate Poseidon-Z, but I suspect that every spill is a case-by-case basis and this one wasn’t too severe.

Overall:

I love the individual back lit keys and their animations, but the “cloud” software is a jerk move on Razer’s part. The Razer Green switches feel great, so no complaints there, but the biggest improvement to the typing experience would be adding the gap to the caps lock key.

Since the lighting is a big selling point for this keyboard, and the software nastily requires the cloud I find it hard to recommend this keyboard. Of course, gamers already deep in the Razer peripheral ecosystem probably already have the Razer Synapse software set up and probably wouldn’t care. But I do. So… hard to recommend based on that, and the lack of the caps-gap. Shame, because the colorization is really cool and the green switches are nice.

 

July 19, 2018 at 4:50 am | Technology Reviews

 

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© Greg Miller, 2009-2018
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