Keyboards have gone full RGB, and there's no going back, or so it seems. Everywhere you look, a veritable rainbow of keyboards showcases a full spectrum, and each charges an extra $30 or $40 for the privilege. What's a gamer who puts functionality before aesthetics to do? Well, for starters, he or she could take a look at the Razer BlackWidow Ultimate 2016 ($110). Although it lacks the Chroma options of its more colorful cousin, the BlackWidow Ultimate is a highly competent, no-nonsense keyboard with a comfortable configuration, helpful software and a reasonable price.
The BlackWidow Ultimate is extremely similar to both its 2015 predecessor and its Chroma variant: It's a full-size keyboard with backlit green keys. However, at 17.6 x 7.5 inches, it's a bit smaller than its two counterparts (18.7 x 6.7 inches), but a bit larger than competing models like the Corsair Strafe (17.6 x 6.7 inches). The reason for its reduced size is that it lacks an extra row of macro keys.
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Personally, I did not miss this extra column of five keys, and found that the BlackWidow Ultimate occupied a very respectable amount of desk space. The design is not conservative, exactly, but it's not excessive, either. There's very little blank space between you and the keys you need. Provided that your co-workers don't mind the noisy keys, you could probably turn off the backlighting and have a perfectly respectable office keyboard.
The BlackWidow Ultimate makes use of Razer Green switches: noisy, resistant mechanical keys that emulate the industry-leading Cherry MX Blues. While the Razer Greens don't feel or sound quite as good as the more expensive and elusive Cherrys, they're a reasonable facsimile, and are worlds more comfortable and satisfying than standard membrane keys.
In my experience, Razer Greens are also quite good for everyday typing. Using Typing-Test.com, I scored 112 words per minute with 1 error (adjusted: 110 WPM) on the BlackWidow Ultimate, compared with my adjusted 104 WPM on my standard Dell office keyboard. The more resistant keys forced me to slow down a bit and be more conscientious about typing. You may get different results, depending on your personal typing style, but it's not likely to slow you down.
The BlackWidow Ultimate runs on the intuitive Razer Synapse 2.0 software, although you'll probably be just fine if you never install it. You can create different profiles and link them to games, as well as record macros. However, with no extra macro keys, there's not much reason to do that; if you need macro keys, you're better off springing for the Chroma model.
One useful feature of the software is the ability to customize the Game Mode, although you can only do so much with it. You can activate a Game Mode on the keyboard, which disables the Windows key by default, ensuring you don't accidentally shut down your game in the middle of a heated match. You can also disable Alt Tab and Alt F4, although you can't add your own keys, as you can in the Logitech Gaming Software.
Although the lights are green, and only green, you have a few options. You can adjust the brightness or choose to keep individual keys lit or dark. You can also play around with a few patterns, such as ripples, waves and responsive illuminations. If you really want to play with fancy lighting effects, you're better off with a BlackWidow Chroma, but the few extra features are a nice touch.
I ran the BlackWidow Ultimate through a standard array of games to test its performance: first-person shooter Titanfall, real-time-strategy game StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void, action/adventure title Batman: Arkham Knight, and massively multiplayer online adventure Star Wars: The Old Republic.
The keyboard performed admirably across the board. The responsive keys helped me get the jump (literally) on my mech pilot opponents in Titanfall; gathering and commanding my futuristic army in Legacy of the Void was equally simple. Batman: Arkham Knight tends to work better with a controller than with a keyboard, but if you don't want to dish out for an extra peripheral, this device is as good a choice as any gaming keyboard.
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I also found the keyboard a fine choice for The Old Republic, but as usual, I encourage hardcore MMO players to check out keyboards with extra macro keys. If you play at a very high level, in which precise and convoluted skill rotations are the order of the day, a few extra keys are probably worth the extra money.
The BlackWidow Ultimate 2016 is not terribly different from the models that preceded it, for better or for worse. The mechanical keys are still pretty good, the design is still fairly attractive and it offers a significant price break over similar RGB models. At the same time, it doesn't do anything new, exciting or better than any competing models.
If keyboards like the BlackWidow Chroma and the Corsair Gaming K70 RGB (both $170) are as good as gaming keyboards get, the BlackWidow Ultimate occupies a respectable second place. It's cheaper than its big brothers, and what it does, it does very well.