If you want a premium keyboard from the most recognizable gaming brand on the market, the Razer BlackWidow has always been the way to go. And this year's Razer BlackWidow Elite ($170) is the best the keyboard has ever been.
The BlackWidow Elite corrects a lot of small annoyances from other Razer keyboards. You'll find discrete media controls, a no-frills wrist rest and pass-throughs for both USB and 3.5 mm audio. You won't find extra (and usually underused) macro keys making the keyboard big and unwieldy, or deeply recessed keycaps that hide the gorgeous backlighting.
While the BlackWidow Elite isn't perfect, due to a few oddities in the software and cable management, it's pretty darn close. Razer gearheads in the market for a new keyboard need not hesitate; the BlackWidow Elite is what the whole line has been building toward for years.
If you're familiar with Razer's recent Huntsman Elite keyboard, you've already seen the BlackWidow Elite’s basic design. The plain black plastic chassis is nothing special, but the elegant, elevated keycaps reflect subtle backlighting back onto the keyboard's surface.
Off on the left side, you've got a USB pass-through and a 3.5 mm audio cable pass-through. In the upper right, you’ll find discrete media controls, with aesthetically pleasing circular buttons, and a ridged dial that you can use to control either the volume or the lighting levels. It's an attractive package all around.
At 17.5 x 6.5 inches (without the wrist rest, which adds about 3.5 inches), the BlackWidow Elite isn't the smallest full-size keyboard out there, but you should have no trouble fitting it on a standard desk. Some users may miss the row of dedicated macro keys, but it's easy enough to reprogram the top row of Function buttons to the same effect.
One major difference between the BlackWidow Elite and the Huntsman Elite is that the BlackWidow comes with a standard wrist rest instead of the overdesigned model with integrated LED lighting. Not only does this look a little less silly, but more important, it frees up a USB slot for pass-through. The wrist rest is comfortable, durable and magnetic, but it's easy to eschew if desk space is at a premium.
The BlackWidow Elite has a cable-management system, which lets you thread the braided power cable through either the right or left side of the peripheral. However, in my experience, it didn't stay put that well, especially when I needed to move the keyboard around. Expect to struggle with this a bit before it finally stays put.
If the design upgrade weren’t enough, the BlackWidow Elite also revamps Razer's proprietary key switches. You'll still have a choice between three different styles: loud, tactile Greens; quiet, tactile Oranges; and quiet, linear Yellows. But the switches have a totally new appearance. Instead of little, stand-alone crosses, the crosses are now much larger, and almost completely surrounded by a plastic circle.
In theory, the new design is much more responsive and comfortable. In practice, I didn’t notice too much difference, either for gaming or typing. But I can say this much: The new switches look a lot more durable. Because of their increased size and better casing, these new switches could last quite a long time. If you have a keycap puller at your disposal, they're definitely worth a look. (Just don't blame me if you try this at Best Buy and get some dirty looks from the clerks.)
When it comes to typing, the BlackWidow Elite acquitted itself well, allowing me to type at 111 words per minute with eight errors on TypingTest.com. On my standard Logitech G613, I scored 116 words per minute with four errors, but considering that I'd spent only a few days with the BlackWidow, I don't consider this an insurmountable difference.
Some of the BlackWidow Elite's best features are baked right into its physical design. USB pass-through is fairly common in premium keyboards, but the audio pass-through is a novel touch, and I had perfect clarity testing it with both gaming and non-gaming headphones.
I touched on the lighting before, but it's hard to describe just how pretty the keyboard looks when it's fully lit up. You can program an attractive rainbow wave, a solid color, or anything in-between. You can match lighting profiles with individual games — and Razer has even preprogrammed a number of games with complex lighting profiles. Overwatch, for example, changes your keyboard's color scheme, depending on which character you select.
It's hard to describe just how pretty the keyboard looks when it's fully lit up.
One thing I noticed about the lighting scheme was that there's no longer a default option for a rainbow ripple effect. If you've never seen it in action, it's a gorgeous option. Whenever you depress a key, a rainbow of colors will "ripple" out across the rest of the keyboard. Typing a single sentence can be an explosion of colors, and having used the option on my regular keyboard for months, I've yet to get tired of it.
You can, of course, program a ripple effect in the Chroma section of the Razer software, but it’s a bit of a pain. Programming Chroma effects is a deep and complex process, complete with Photoshop-esque layers and more color, timing and intensity options than you’d expect. On the one hand, it’s amazing that Razer gives you the same tools its own developers use; on the other hand, it also means there's no middle ground between "limited presets" and "build effects yourself from scratch."”
The rest of the Razer Synapse 3 software works well enough, most of the time. You can reprogram certain keys, create macros, link games with customized profiles, toggle Game Mode options (to disable certain keys during gameplay) and so forth.
The only problem is that I encountered some major stability issues with the program. On two separate installations, the Synapse software crashed and spontaneously uninstalled itself when I tried to adjust certain settings. I didn't encounter this bug on every system, but I was able to replicate it when Razer asked me to investigate the matter further. Razer is investigating the issue, but be aware that if you install Synapse 3, it may not play nicely with your system.
The BlackWidow Elite works beautifully with a variety of game genres. I put it through its paces with Overwatch, StarCraft: Remastered, World of Warcraft and Pathfinder: Kingmaker, and found that the keyboard was accurate, precise and responsive in every case. Shielding teammates from incoming fire as D.Va felt just as effortless as creating an adventurer to journey through the realms of Golarion.
Shielding teammates from incoming fire as D.Va felt just as effortless as creating an adventurer to journey through the realms of Golarion.
In World of Warcraft, I saw how having a row of macro keys could have come in handy, but again, you can reprogram the Function keys for this purpose. Hard-core MMO fans may want to think twice about the BlackWidow Elite, but if you play at a more casual level — or stick to other genres — there's nothing here to hold you back.
The BlackWidow Elite may be the best keyboard Razer has ever produced. It's gorgeous, functional and priced competitively. Every bell and whistle serves a worthwhile function, without ever detracting from the device's core functionality. It's a perfect companion for both everyday productivity and hard-core gaming.
I still think that the Corsair K70 RGB Mk.2 has a few slight edges over the BlackWidow Elite, and the Roccan Vulcan 120 Aimo came out of nowhere to be one of the most exciting keyboards on the market this year. But if you're thinking about those other two gadgets, the BlackWidow Elite deserves your consideration, too. I'm sure Razer will continue to refine its design in the next year or two, but it's hard to see how it could come up with a better machine.