We've reviewed a healthy number of peripherals from Logitech, Corsair, SteelSeries, and others, but our coverage of Razer's kit has been pretty slim. Razer is one of the biggest and most respected gaming peripheral companies in the business, and they took umbrage at the fact that they hadn't been featured up to this point. So much so, that they sent along two of their finest keyboards and their brand new gaming keypad.

In a recent roundup I mentioned what I considered to be the one serious flaw of Razer's portfolio: their Synapse 2.0 software. Razer's approach to software isn't uniformly bad; having a unified software suite for their products is good, and being able to synchronize settings to the cloud is a welcome feature. But the Synapse software has two dire shortcomings: it requires a Razer account, meaning you have to log in to the software every time your system boots up, and its update process is onerous at best. It seems like no matter what version of Synapse you download from Razer's servers, it always has to go through a long and drawn out update period, and heaven help you if you plug in any new Razer peripherals. You'll likely have to restart your system after installing them as well. Synapse has a lot of polish, but let me put it another way: if you can update your video card drivers without having to reboot, why should you have to wait so long for updates to install for your keyboard, and then reboot after?

Blackwidow Ultimate
Mechanical Keyboard, $139

Backlit with Razer's trademark green, the Blackwidow Ultimate shows tremendous promise. This is an extremely sturdy, attractive keyboard, with several levels of backlighting adjustment, a USB 2.0 port on the right side, and a harness for headphone and mic pass-through. If nothing else, it proves that Razer can definitely do industrial design right; it's easy to see why Vivek's a fan.

While I prefer having an optional wrist rest, I think the Blackwidow Ultimate's major failing as a gaming keyboard is the use of Cherry MX Blue switches. No amount of macro recording, gaming modes, backlighting, and so on can really change the fact that for the vast majority of users, Cherry MX Blues are one of the worst mechanical switches for gaming. I adore them for typing text, but the amount of actuation force that Blues require makes them poorly suited for any game that might require quick input and especially double tapping. This is something that's going to be a matter of preference for a lot of users, but there's a reason Blue switches are rarefied in gaming keyboards. Under the circumstances, I'm still inclined to stick with my old recommendation of the Corsair K70 and K95.

DeathStalker Ultimate
Switchblade UI Keyboard, $249

My first inclination is to compare the DeathStalker Ultimate to Logitech's flagship G19s keyboard; they both feature color LCD displays with custom user interfaces, and they both make the same fatal mistake. I'm much, much more forgiving of the DeathStalker Ultimate, though; what you're essentially looking at is, at worst, a gaming keyboard with a touchpad built in. Razer's Switchblade UI interface allows for dynamically changing the icons and functions of the ten keys above the display, and in turn also allows you to use the display for different functions. Its default function is to be a touchpad, but you can use it as a web browser, media player, Facebook or Twitter client, calculator...it goes on.

Where I think Logitech's G series UI has Razer beat presently is in third party support; I played with the available Skyrim applet which was fantastic for shortcuts, but doesn't really make use of the touch display except as...a touchpad. It doesn't display any useful information. Additionally, the list of available applets for Switchblade is pretty spare. Razer really needs to step their game up in terms of developer relations.

I'm also really underwhelmed by the keyboard itself. $249 for a membrane keyboard is a very bitter pill to swallow, Switchblade UI or no. People willing to spend $249 on a keyboard are liable to be willing to spend the extra scratch to get one with mechanical switches. Where I do think Razer has a slight edge is that the chiclet keys are very shallow; the DeathStalker Ultimate fares a lot better at the quick taps that the Cherry MX Blue switches hinder the Blackwidow Ulitmate with. If you're strictly gaming with the keyboard, then it definitely gets the job done.

The problem is trying to do just about anything else with it. There's definitely an adjustment period with the DeathStalker Ultimate, but the keys just don't lend themselves to a very enjoyable typing experience. This is like a slightly deeper laptop keyboard. The chiclets make sense for style and matching the Switchblade UI, but they really are lousy for productivity.

Still, Razer gets a lot of points for doing something different. Logitech's G600 MMO mouse was too big and unwieldy for me but found a very happy home with a friend, and I think the DeathStalker Ultimate is another one of those products that just needs to find a good match. I can see this being a borderline ideal keyboard for some users, and it's entirely possible I'm off base with parts of my assessment. I just can't help but feel that Razer, like Logitech with the G19s, is scratching at the surface of producing the ultimate gaming keyboard but not quite willing to make that jump yet.

Gaming Keypad, $69

A product like the Tartarus is difficult to evaluate because it's really very niche. The keyboard and mouse initially existed as ways to control games because, well, they were what happened to be connected to the PC. PC gaming evolved to exploit the advantages of this control scheme, and the peripherals themselves evolved in kind. Keypads like the Tartarus (and its predecessor, the Nostromo) attempt to specialize the keyboard half of the traditional PC gaming setup a bit more, but results are mixed.

Gaming keypads require a heavy adjustment period. I have a friend who swears by his Nostromo and actually has trouble adjusting back to using a conventional keyboard for gaming; I personally have a harder time making the adjustment. If I'm going to invest in the time it takes to adjust to using a new peripheral, it needs to be worth the transition, but something like the Tartarus only gives you more input options if you use the thumbstick and buttons. If you don't, you're actually down keys.

It's comfortable enough in the palm (the palm rest itself is adjustable, capable of sliding on one axis closer to or farther from the keys), and I find the membrane switches a bit more forgivable than on a full keyboard. For some users, the Tartarus will shine. Certain gamers, but I also know that a lot of art students will use a keypad like this in conjunction with a Wacom Cintiq and program it with Photoshop shortcuts. Either user will be very happy with the Tartarus, but it's difficult to recommend. Some users will become true believers, but some, like me, will probably just be happy to stick with their gaming keyboards.

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  • lyeoh - Saturday, August 31, 2013 - link

    Hope the full reviews will have latency tests too... Low latency is important for many games.
  • SkyBill40 - Saturday, August 31, 2013 - link

    All of the devices have 1000hz polling, so I suspect latency to be very, very low to virtually nonexistent.

    I have the previous version of the Black Widow Ultimate and the Nostromo. I also use a Death Adder 3.5g mouse. I love them all and swear by them. A few of my friends feel the same about Logitech and that's understandable seeing as how long LT has been in the game space and the quality products they produce. I guess it all boils down to preference in the end.

    I'm not too keen on the green backlight, but it's not all that surprising seeing as the Razer logo has always been that color. I'm just thankful that all mine are blue lit instead. :)
  • lyeoh - Sunday, September 1, 2013 - link

    Polling is only one factor in latency. There are plenty of other ways a keyboard could still be slower.
  • Flunk - Monday, September 2, 2013 - link

    I have the previous generation Blackwidow too, only Razer peripheral in a house full of Logitech but I swear by it. It's by far the best keyboard I've ever used... for programming. You can game on it too, but typing is where it really shines.
  • nasme - Tuesday, September 3, 2013 - link

    The BlackWidow, and I believe all Razer products with mechanical keys, use the Cherry MX Blue switches. These are widely considered to the be best switches for typing because they have a floating ring rather than a static bumper to actuate the spring. This gives you a nice tactile "bump" when you press the key down and an audible click before the key bottoms out. This is opposed to other boards like the Steelseries 7G and 6G that use MX Black switches, which are linear and don't provide any tactile or audible feedback until the key bottoms out. MX Blacks also have a stiffer spring for higher actuation force. There are actually a lot of different Cherry MX keyswitch colors, and each has its own feel and function.
  • Volnaiskra - Thursday, September 5, 2013 - link

    I use a BlackWidow at work. I like the keyboard, but buying it was a mistake, as the noise from the keys drives my colleagues crazy. They make comments about it all the time. I guess I'll go for something with MX Black switches next time.
  • Leonick - Saturday, August 31, 2013 - link

    Razer seem to be having quite a hard time with the keypad concept as well.
    First they had the Nostromo, I did consider one but in the end there was one big issue with it that stopped me from ever getting one, it's missing a row of keys. There should be a fourth row at the top, above what is supposed to be the forward movement key.

    Their second design, the Orbweaver did add a fourth row, but in the process they also went with mechanical keys and the thing simply became far to expensive for what it is.

    The Tartarus I assume is a way for them to have a cheaper product, it's basically the Nostrum with different backlight, but it's mission that fourth row of keys... Sigh...

    I wonder if we'll ever move past the keyboard for PC gaming, or see them evolve. The mouse is great, no issues there, but for movement the analogue stick of a controller as WASD beat every day of the weak simply due to the on/off state of keyboard buttons.
  • Volnaiskra - Thursday, September 5, 2013 - link

    I dunno. My Orbweaver cost less than my so-called "gaming keyboard" did, yet it provides a distinctly superior gaming experience.

    My advice is to take a risk on the Orbweaver (I agree that 4 rows is a must). You'll probably find that it was worth it. The improvement over a regular keyboard is not earth-shattering, but it's definitely an improvement.
  • HisDivineOrder - Saturday, August 31, 2013 - link

    The sad thing about the Tartarus is that it ignores the fact most gamers would use the 1-5 keys above those keys they have represented on it. If they had included those, then it would actually seem like it had MORE keys available because of the stick (which might as well be a d-pad).

    Because they took the cheap route, the thing is actually worse than a keyboard for keys and so worthless.
  • chizow - Sunday, September 1, 2013 - link

    Exactly, all the Nostromos and the G13 before this did the same thing and never included the 1-5 keys, headscratching really. Razer actually corrected this deal-breaking issue with their Orbweaver but the really mixed reviews combined with high price tag made it too big a risk for something I might not even get used to and use.


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