[Originally posted to my PC Gaming Column at Examiner.com. This is the complete article, just be aware that any hyperlinks in it will jump over to my column.]
The Razer Blackwidow Chroma brings a rainbow of customizable colors to Razer’s Blackwidow keyboard line while retaining the best technology features of its siblings. Excellent performance and Razer’s Synapse software already make the Blackwidow Chroma one of the best mechanical gaming keyboards you can buy. And now it’s also one of the prettiest.
Razer Blackwidow Chroma specifications
- Razer Mechanical Switches with 50g actuation force
- 60 million keystroke life span
- Chroma backlighting with 16.8 million customizable color options
- 10 key roll-over anti-ghosting
- Fully programmable keys with on-the-fly macro recording
- 5 additional dedicated macro keys
- Gaming mode option
- Audio-out/mic-in jacks
- USB pass-through
- 1000Hz Ultrapolling
- Razer Synapse enabled
- Braided fiber cable
- Approximate size: 475mm/18.72” (Width) x 171mm/6.74” (Height) x 39mm/1.54” (Depth)
- Approximate weight: 1500g/3.31lbs
Brief history of the Razer Blackwidow
The first Razer Blackwidow was released in 2010 with Cherry MX Blue switches, blue LED lighting, and a glossy plastic finish. Despite a few minor shortcomings (mainly the glossy finish), it quickly became a personal favorite—and the keyboard that would forever dominate my destiny as a newly turned mechanical keyboard snob. Since 2010 the Blackwidow has received modest product refreshes.
A 2012 Edition returned the keyboard to Razer’s ‘traditional’ green LED lights, and the 2014 Blackwidow replaced the Cherry MX blue switches with Razer’s new gaming-optimized Razer Green mechanical switches. (Razer green switches are noisy (‘clicky’) and feel very similar to Cherry MX Blue switches; however, they basically boast a shorter travel distance for activation and hence improved responsiveness — in theory anyway.)
Enter the Blackwidow Chroma 2014
The 2014 Blackwidow Chroma is virtually identical to the 2014 Blackwidow Ultimate, but now adds the ability to change any key on the keyboard to any color you like, in addition to adding a host of lighting special effects to complement its more colorful nature.
For example, you can opt for spectrum cycling, breathing, or a wave of color to wash from one end of the keyboard to the other. You can customize your own layout and ‘paint’ each and every key whatever color you like. Or you can choose presets based upon game type that turn on only the keys you need for the game the template is based upon.
Is this really necessary? No.
Is it extremely cool? Hell yeah. And more functional than you might think.
As an example of functionality, I used the Chroma’s chameleon-like capabilities to help my PC gaming elite Padawan (i.e. 8 year old son) identify and learn the main keys for a game by changing the color of the W-A-S-D keys to yellow and the surrounding ‘auxiliary keys’ to white (all amid a sea of otherwise green keys).
Out with the blues, in with the greens
The Razer Green switches in the Blackwidow Chroma are just as noisy and just as satisfying as Cherry MX Blue switches. And if you don’t like the noisy keys, a Razer Chroma Stealth version (with quieter Razer Orange switches) is also available.
I can’t really say scientifically that the reduced travel distance/response time promised by the Razer Chroma and its gaming optimized green switches will result in better gaming for you—but it certainly won’t hurt. I can say unscientifically that it seemed to slightly reduce the difficulty and or amount of furious-space-bar-smashing required by the disappointing survival horror game The Evil Within.
Meet the mighty macro manager
Razer’s Synapse 2.0 software is among the best peripheral software available, and its macro capabilities are robust. Like all Razer keyboards you can program any key on the keyboard with a macro. In addition, there are 5 dedicated macro keys along the left-side of the Blackwidow Chroma. Razer’s Macro recorder software is among the best there is, and it will even record mouse actions and keyboard actions into a single macro, which makes the Razer Chroma great for gaming and great for work as well.
For gaming, I mostly use macros to kick of voice emotes in games such as Hi-Rez Studios Smite, or sometimes to rapidly fill build queues in an RTS like StarCraft 2. I’ve also used macros to make work-related tasks faster and more efficient. For example, I created one consisting of a double-click followed by a series of key commands to Select All (CTRL+A), Delete (CTRL+X), Save (CTRL+S), and then Close (ALT+F4) a window, and then used this to vastly reduce the amount of time (and tedium) required of a certain work (and non-gaming) related task. (Gaming keyboard at work FTW!)
Razer Synapse also lets you create macros to be one-time events (one key press=one execution), or set them to fire off until continuously until the key is pressed again. You can record macros with or without timed delays between key presses, and edit existing macros as well—deleting key presses, manually assigning timed delays, etc.
You can also record macros on-the-fly without ever leaving your game or opening the Synapse software (using FN+F9). And you can store all your settings in the cloud, too—so you can always have them available on your devices regardless of location (as long as you have an internet connection, of course). Note that this requires making a Razer ID account.
A few areas for improvement
The only minor deficit for the otherwise superlative Blackwidow is the lack of additional, dedicated keys—for example, it would be nice to have a dedicated button to turn on ‘gaming mode’, or some dedicated media keys like some other keyboards have. The Blackwidow provides these options—it just does it through the FN+F key combination — so it’s a minor complaint at most. (And you always have the option to program macros for various functions of course).
And I can’t say that I wouldn’t mind a few more dedicated macro keys as well. [On a side note, I’d be willing to lose the audio pass-through cables in favor of an additional USB port.]
The Blackwidow Chroma doesn’t come cheaply at $170-$180—but stellar performance, excellent software, and its new colorful personality make the Blackwidow Chroma a solid value, assuming you plan to game with it for years to come. And I can honestly say (as I sit hammering out this review to the sing-song clickity-clack of the Blackwidow Chroma) that the Blackwidow Chroma (and the Blackwidow series in general) is still one my favorite mechanical gaming keyboards of all time.
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