[Originally posted to my PC gaming column at Examiner.com]
Razer’s Orbweaver mechanical speedpad gives us yet another reason not to keep both hands on the keyboard.
The Orbweaver is Razer’s high-end, next generation speedpad—a richly featured and more expensive alternative to Razer’s Nostromo speedpad. I really liked Razer’s Nostromo when I first reviewed it, and happily used it for a quite a while for some of my games.
But then along came mechanical keyboards. In time the Nostromo’s non-mechanical keys lost their luster. My fingers were no longer satisfied and yearned for the superior tactile response of another Razer product—the Razer BlackWidow Ultimatemechanical keyboards.
But now there’s the Razer Orbweaver. Compared to the Nostromo, the Orbweaver sports more keys, mechanical switches, and the ability to adjust its physical configuration to accommodate different hand sizes.
The Orbweaver has 20 fully mechanical keys backed by Cherry MX Blue switches—the same as those used in the Razer BlackWidow Ultimate. Out of the box, the keys basically mimic the common gaming cluster keys on your keyboard (Number keys 1-4, TAB through R, CAPSLK through F, and SHIFT through C).
The thumb bar acts as your space bar, and the thumb button is assigned to the ALT key by default. Last (but not least), in between the thumb bar and the ALT button there’s an 8-directional thumbstick.
The default configuration should work well enough for most games, but naturally you can change it. Like other Razer products, every key on the Orbweaver is programmable and supports macros; hence it’s easy to create a setup that suits virtually any game. In addition, you can have up to 8 different keymaps per profile—probably total overkill for most games, but high-end PC gaming peripherals are all about overkill.
The thumbstick has two modes: a 4-directional stick or an 8-directional one. By default the 8-directional mode is assigned to different keymaps.
And if there’s any complaint I have about the Orbweaver, it’s only that the 8-directional thumbstick is pretty hard to use accurately. I found it much easier to use it in 4-directional mode and assign each direction to a function, such as switching weapons in Strike Suit Zero, or frequently used voice emotes in my favorite go-to online FPS Tribes: Ascend.
The Orbweaver also has some physical configuration options. You can raise and lower the palm rest slightly, as well as slide it forward or backwards to accommodate different hand sizes.
The Orbweaver takes a little getting used to. Within the first 15-20 minutes of use, my hand actually started hurt a little, presumably because the Orbweaver forces you to extend your fingers out more than you do gaming on a standard keyboard. I started to think this would kill the Orbweaver for me. Even adjusting the Orbweavers physical configuration didn’t seem to help much.
I started to think this would kill the Orbweaver for me, but I stuck it out. And after that initial adjustment period of 20 minutes or so, I noticed the discomfort in my hand subsided—and I haven’t felt any since.
Do you need one?
To be honest, the short answer is probably no. There’s not a whole lot that the Orbweaver can do that a good high-end gaming keyboard can’t do equally well—and the Orbweaver costs about the same as a high-end mechanical gaming keyboard ($130).
That said, I can honestly say I still love the thing. And it can make some games better by providing a better control experience. This was certainly the case with the previously mentioned Strike Suit Zero because assigning the weapon-switch functions to the thumbstick (up and down) was easier than using the default keys on the keyboard.
The Orbweaver does this by getting your thumb into the game more. On a standard keyboard, your thumb is usually relegated to spacebar duty and little else. On the Orbweaver however, your thumb can manage the spacebar and a whole range of controls—whatever you decide to assign to the thumb button (ALT by default) and the thumbstick, which can hold as many as 4 or 8 commands (but as I said, 4 are easier to use).
And after getting used to the Orbweaver I found myself starting to prefer using it over my keyboard. It’s not perfect for every game, but it’s well suited to any game that largely keeps to the standard ‘gaming cluster’ (and you can program it for just about any other game that doesn’t).
The Razer Orbweaver is hands-down an outstanding gaming companion in any capacity. It may not come cheaply, but you wouldn’t regret owning one.
NOTE: According to my contact at Razer, the Nostromo is alive and well too as a less expensive alternative to the Orbweaver. “That’s good,” I told him, “because it’s always good to have a choice between awesome and suck.” (I kid—I still love you too Nostromo.)
Razer Orbweaver technical specifications (courtesy of Razer)
- Full mechanical keys with 50g actuation force
- 20 fully programmable keys
- Programmable 8-way directional thumb-pad
- Adjustable hand , thumb, and palm-rests modules for maximum comfort
- Instantaneous switching between 8 key maps
- Unlimited macro lengths
- Stores unlimited game profiles
- Backlit keypad for total control even in dark conditions
- Synapse 2.0 enabled
- Approximate size: 55 mm / 2.17” (Depth) x 154 mm / 6.06” (Width) x 202 mm / 7.95” (Height)
- Approximate Weight: 300 g / 0.66 lbs
Orbweaver actually has 1 LESS key than the Nostromo/N52 series, as the AWESOME scrollwheel on the N series is 3 buttons in one, and can be fluidly used, as well (can target select a lot faster w/it than click-click-click of a button).
OW thumbpad d/n have the N series’ s DPad “+” shape (does anyone use the horrible raised stick on the N series? Think everyone pulls it to use the DPad), so it does not as easily tell your thumb which direction you are pressing if you have low tactile sensitivity (as I do).
I suspect that the OW’s mechanical keys will not survive being forcibly slammed into the edge of a cabinet when players RAAAGE. I can verify that the N52/Nostromos membrane keys survive such (even tho a circuit board is still underneath) and being thrown HARD across rooms into solid objects. N series looks cheap, but is tough as nails.
OW adjustable thumbpad STILL has not addressed reach issues for SMALLER hands. Stick can only be moved FURTHER away from the rest of the pad, not closer. Folks w/bigger hands were not complaining . .
OW is $50 more. . And goes clickety clack when used. Heard there is stealth version, but IDK how that holds up. C?N find if it costs same, either.
That said, w/respect to “do you need one?”, the N’s and OW both have on major advantage over keyboards: the thumbpad. using 1 “stick” for directionals instead of 2 fingers to hit directional buttons is both more efficient, and more intuitive. If you have massively good hand/eye coordination, you may think there is no difference,but most folks do find it much easier.
EDIT: Actually, the OW does still have 2 more buttons than Nostromo. I had been in an argument w/someone over this a while back and had forgotten my original point from that arguement when I wrote this: the OW is not lower on buttons, just not as far ahead as everyone likes to think, as most folks seem to ignore the scrollwheel. My error.