For years, I've told people that if they want a great productivity keyboard, they should invest in a mechanical gaming keyboard – and, at last, it seems like Razer agrees with me.
The Razer BlackWidow Lite ($90) is a tenkeyless mechanical keyboard that aims to split the difference between a gaming accessory and a productivity peripheral. While it bears the hallmark Razer design and functionality, it's eschewed just about anything that would make a gaming keyboard look out of place in an office environment, like RGB lighting or extra rows of macro keys.
Instead, users get a clean, comfortable keyboard that's equally well-suited to typing up articles or gunning down foes. On the down side, the keys are a little cramped, a numpad could have come in handy and it really could have used a wrist rest. But for the most part, the BlackWidow Lite is a welcome addition to Razer's lineup and one of the best mechanical keyboards on the market, either for gamers who need to get some work done or touch typists who don't object to the occasional round of Overwatch.
If you're familiar with this year's version of the Razer BlackWidow (and you should be; it's very good), the Lite keeps a lot of its most recognizable features. You get the plain black chassis, the elevated keycaps and Razer's homegrown mechanical key switches. However, the tenkeyless BlackWidow Lite eschews a few good things from its full-size cousins, too.
First off, you don't get a numpad. This may not sound like it's worth mentioning for a tenkeyless keyboard, but Razer has positioned the Lite as a productivity device, and numpads are amazingly useful in that department.
I come from a retail background, and numpads are absolutely unparalleled for crunching numbers, even now that I've spent almost a decade in journalism. Unless I'm typing a long string of words, the numpad enter button is the one that I usually reach for. I can't count the number of times I reached over on the BlackWidow Lite and hit the right-arrow button instead.
The Lite's small size also means you don't get discrete media keys, which are a huge boon for office users who often like to (or need to) have music available at the touch of a button. Again, there was no way to fit these buttons into a tenkeyless model, which makes me wonder once again why the Lite insisted on the smaller profile. Keeping the price under $100 is undoubtedly attractive, but tenkeyless models tend to appeal to gamers more than productivity users for a reason.
Finally, the Lite doesn't come with a wrist rest. Having gotten used to the plush wrist rest from the BlackWidow Elite, I was surprised by just how much I missed it on the Lite. Productivity users are generally touch typists, which means they need to rest their wrists somewhere.
Like other tenkeyless Razer models, the Lite has a detachable cable, which is a spectacularly good idea for easy transportation. But it doesn't have a carrying case, so users will have to provide their own.
The BlackWidow Lite employs Razer's proprietary Orange switches, which are tactile and relatively quiet, much like Cherry MX Browns. Thanks to a recent redesign, they're a little less stiff and more responsive than before. I personally don't like them as much as Cherries, but they're comfortable, durable switches that are miles ahead of simple membrane models.
One interesting thing about the BlackWidow Lite is that it comes with a keycap puller and a bag full of O-rings, which are little orange rubber bands that decrease volume and make keycaps spring back a little faster. In theory, this is a nice touch for folks who don't mind doing a little extra legwork, but it really is no fun to apply almost 90 tiny O-rings, one painstaking keycap at a time. On the other hand, the keys squeak if you don't, and that gets obnoxious fast.
The keys are also a little more cramped than I'm used to. On TypingTest.com, I scored 117 words per minute with three errors on the Lite. That's not bad, except I was able to type 133 wpm with only one error on my usual Logitech G613 keyboard. The keys on the Lite felt very close together, and I often hit adjacent buttons, or accidentally tapped two keys simultaneously.
Like all other modern Razer keyboards, the BlackWidow Lite runs on the Razer Synapse software. I've had both good and bad experiences with this program, depending on the hardware, so it's difficult to make any sweeping judgments about it. I will say that when it works, it works well, but it's not always the most stable of programs.
However, I didn't encounter any problems with the BlackWidow Lite. You can use Synapse to set up profiles, adjust the backlighting (a handsome white that you can turn off easily if you prefer) and even reprogram every key if you're so inclined. You probably won't need to use Synapse for much, but it's nice to have the option, especially since reprogramming keys can help make up for the tenkeyless design.
Since the BlackWidow Lite is a hybrid productivity/gaming model, I judged it based on how well it handled both tasks.
In terms of raw typing, the BlackWidow Lite acquitted itself well, and its unobtrusive appearance and subtle backlighting were perfect for an office environment.
Productivity was the harder of the two to judge; after all, any functional keyboard will get you through a day at the office. I can say, at least, that the BlackWidow Lite was considerably more comfortable and responsive than a membrane model, but it lacked a few key features from the full-size gaming keyboards I usually use at work.
I missed the media bar a lot more than I thought I would, and I couldn't believe how often I felt myself reaching for the numpad. But in terms of raw typing, the BlackWidow Lite acquitted itself well, and its unobtrusive appearance and subtle backlighting were perfect for an office environment.
Whether I was switching between Ashe's special abilities or ordering my Zerg soldiers to take down a horde of Terrans, the BlackWidow Lite parsed my commands quickly and correctly.
The device's gaming performance was what I'd come to expect from a Razer peripheral: responsive, accurate and precise. I tested the device with Overwatch, StarCraft: Remastered and Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales, and it proved a helpful accessory all around. Whether I was switching between Ashe's special abilities or ordering my Zerg soldiers to take down a horde of Terrans, the BlackWidow Lite parsed my commands quickly and correctly.
My recommendation for office workers who want a keyboard upgrade remains the same as before: get a full-size gaming keyboard. But if that's not possible due to price or space constraints, the BlackWidow Lite is a proficient second choice. From squeaky keys to sparse extras, the peripheral has enough annoyances to prevent it from getting a glowing recommendation, but it earns a polite one easily enough. The BlackWidow Lite is easy on the eyes, the fingers and the wallet.
If you prefer a full-size option, you can often find a Logitech G610 for around $100, and the $10 price difference is well worth it if you would rather have a numpad. Otherwise, tenkeyless fans who want to split the difference between work and play should find that the BlackWidow Lite gets the job done nicely.