Clack-clack-clack: Razer returns the sound to computer keyboards

Keyboards aren’t thought about much, even though it’s one of the most used parts of a computer. Gamers, on the other hand, think about them all the time, so let’s see what life is like using a keyboard made just for the gamer.

In the past few years, we’ve seen the keyboard changed without many realising it. For instance, we’ve cut the cord, reduced the weight, introduced function keys, as almost all desktop keyboards rock keys for multimedia, lighter build, and are now wireless.

But not the Razer Black Widow Ultimate.

No, it seems to laugh in the face of these evolutions, going back to a time when computer keyboards were built to survive the thrashing of your fingers, with a heavy weight, and a cord that keeps you tethered to the machine you’re typing on because we all know that’s going to be faster and more reliable than without.

And while there are customised keys here, there are way more than per normal, with your regular function buttons also mapped to volume, multimedia control, and special gaming modes that make the keys respond more quickly, with extra buttons along the side for mapped macros used in games and apps.

After a few hours with the Black Widow, you may find that the keyboard is a different from what you’re used to.

Maybe we’ve spent too long away from a real keyboard, and maybe the surface area of the individual keys is just too small for our fingers, and maybe it’s that clack, clack, clack sound that we’re not familiar with hearing.

Perhaps we’ve changed, because the Razer Black Widow is a piece of yesteryear that has been modernised for today.

We’ll tackle this one by one, because it’s a very interesting piece of kit, but one that won’t necessarily appeal to all. The target here is obviously gamers, since Razer is a brand making computer peripherals for gamers, though it is beginning to expand on just the gamer market in general.

First we’ll deal with the feeling of a real keyboard, or rather a mechanical keyboard. That’s something most computers users don’t have anymore, with membrane keyboards taking over some time ago.

For instance, the keyboard that comes with a Mac, and the ones made by Logitech, Microsoft, and more or less any and every other company out there uses a membrane switch. It’s a little rubbery piece that needs the key to go down all the way, at least engaging in some contact with the membrane, before the key is registered.

A mechanical keyboard is different, however, relying instead on a switch under the key, providing more responsiveness, which is something gamers rely on. There’s nowhere near as much wait for the key to come in contact with the register mechanism, and it happens as you press the key, not on the way back up from the stroke.

While that might not seem like much, it’s this time — microseconds, basically — that can determine a difference in a video game title, and can even make the typing experience for a writer feel better than say typing on one of the membrane keyboards we’re all so used to using.

These switches have also been rated for as many as 60 million keystrokes, which means the keyboard should take a fair amount of beating. While we’re used to throwing out a keyboard every couple of years, the Razer Black Widow should survive a fair amount more, thanks to how much resistance it throws up.

The surface area of the keys is also a little different, because while the key size is close in size from edge-to-edge, the surface area of each main key is much smaller thanks to the sides of the key travelling down the height. This means that while you’ll be able to pick up typing on the Razer Black Widow just as easily as you will another keyboard, you’ll find that you may not be pressing the right keys until spending several hours with it, as your fingers can get lost in the edges from time to time.

This must have been what it was like before we all took the flat membrane keyboards under our wing, and perhaps we can’t recall those times, or have put them out of our memory.

Once you get used to the mechanical keyboard of the Razer Black Widow, it’s an easy keyboard to use, but it also has one other thing going against it: volume.

At home, this would be fine, but at work, it’s one loud keyboard.

Thanks to the mechanical switches, the keyboard makes the clack-clack-clack sound that film-makers and foley artists rely on for scenes of people typing in a room. It’s a consistent clack-clack-clack sound that won’t go away, and helps the Razer Black Widow to have a personality of its own, while so few keyboards ever have anything like it.

There are also a few macro keys, developed for gamers who want to customise their experience, with special moves and actions able to be set to specific keys, so they can execute them with ease.

Backlighting is also built into the keyboard, which is one of those things we wish all desktop keyboards had.

Yes, it’s a premium item, and unfortunately, the only colour choice you have here is green, which suits Razer’s colour scheme, and will probably be fitting for a gamer that only wants to look down and see the keys in the darkest of rooms, but we were still hoping for a less obvious colour, such as white.

That said, there’s a fair amount of control for this keyboard’s backlight, with the software driver letting you set the backlight from zero all the way to 100, and the function key setting it up for several preset brightness settings, as well as an option to make the keyboard pulsate.

But even with all of this functionality, the keyboard won’t be for everyone. We totally see the value for gamers, especially those that take their multiplayer gaming seriously, with very fast responses needed in those activities when your fingers go down on the WASD keys for moving forward, back, and strafing left and right, but regular old you and me, well you might just want your traditional membrane keyboard, since it’s a little lighter, less expensive, and won’t do the heads in of people around you.

We’ll probably go back to the basic flat membrane keyboards of our Mac and Windows PCs when we’re at work, but if we ever get that gaming weekend or holiday we keep telling ourselves we’re going to have, this is one keyboard we’ll be bringing to the table.