With its mice and keyboards, Razer tends to refine rather than redesign. The BlackWidow X Chroma ($160) is a perfect example of this strategy in action, as it's essentially just the BlackWidow Chroma keyboard, but with a redesigned metallic faceplate. The keyboard's strengths are still present: decent mechanical switches, great software and solid performance. Its unique design can get in the way of typing, though, and while it knocks $10 off the asking price, the X doesn't add much beyond aesthetics.
If you're familiar with the BlackWidow line of keyboards, the X is simply a variation on it. Like the standard BlackWidow line, the X comes in your choice of full-size, tenkeyless or full-size plus a row of macro keys. (We reviewed the full-size model, no macro keys.) Where it differs from the more traditional peripheral is in its face plate.
While BlackWidow keyboards have, up until now, used a plastic plate that hid the lower half of the keycaps, the X takes a much more stripped-down approach. The faceplate is made of metal, with an extremely low profile. You can see every keycap and the root of the switch underneath, like row upon row of shark teeth. It's a cool look that's not too aggressive or obnoxious. The BlackWidow X Chroma has a very industrial, art deco feel to it, and I'll take a distinctive design over a boring one any day.
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In terms of size and weight, it's the same as the regular BlackWidow Chroma: 17.6 x 7.5 inches and about 3 pounds. As full-size keyboards go, it's neither huge nor compact. Like other Razer keyboards, it has no built-in wrist rest, which helps save space, but doesn't offer much wrist support.
Like other BlackWidow keyboards, the X Chroma gives you a choice between clackety Razer Green and quiet Razer Orange switches. We reviewed the Green model, and found the keys pleasantly responsive and noisy, as always. They don't quite measure up to industry-standard Cherry MX switches, but Razer does have some promising news on that front. Within the next few months, Razer will start to offer BlackWidow keyboards with Cherry MX Blue switches. If you dig the BlackWidow's general design but wish it had slightly better keys, you'll just need to hold off for a bit.
While the BlackWidow X Chroma is impressive from a design perspective, its distinctive style can be a double-edged sword. The deeper keycaps mean there's more of a gulf between keys. The metal faceplate means that the keyboard sits heavily on a desk, and often feels cold to the touch.
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Typing is not as comfortable as I'm accustomed to, and it showed. On a standard Dell office keyboard, I scored an adjusted 113 words per minute, while on the Razer BlackWidow X Chroma, I scored 108, even after a few attempts to help me adjust. While the keys were incredibly responsive, it also seemed a little easier to hit an adjacent key by accident, since the faceplate was too deep to stop my finger from accidentally tapping two keys.
Given some time with the BlackWidow X, I'm sure I could adjust to its quirks. But for experienced touch typists, prepare for a few hurdles thrown your way.
The BlackWidow X Chroma eschews the USB pass-through from the standard BlackWidow models, but beyond that, it has everything you'd expect from a full-size keyboard. The Ultimate variation has five extra macro keys, while the Tournament edition is tenkeyless. Beyond that, there's full RGB illumination, at least in the Chroma version — other variations possess just one color, or no lighting at all.
Speaking for the Chroma, at least, the backlighting is beautiful. Razer's Chroma devices offer 16.8 million colors, and they look particularly rich without the plastic faceplate to get in the way. The metal plate reflects the colors and gives them a deep, vibrant appearance. Changing them, and adding fun effects like rainbow waves and rotating colors, is also quite simple using the Razer Synapse 2.0 software.
The Razer Synapse 2.0 has consistently been one of the best gaming peripheral software packages on the market, and it's still riding high. The program makes it very easy to program macros, change lighting or reprogram any one of the keys to any keyboard or mouse function you desire. You can also create unique profiles for each game (great for changing colors on a game-by-game basis), or activate and deactivate a "game mode" to disable Alt-Tab and other interruptions.
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The software is both competent and comprehensive, and if you buy a Chroma model, you're sure to encounter some gorgeous illumination, too.
I put the BlackWidow X Chroma through its paces with Star Wars: Battlefront, StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void, Rise of the Tomb Raider and Star Wars: The Old Republic. The performance was fantastic across the board, as I've come to expect from Razer products.
As an all-purpose keyboard, the BlackWidow X Chroma didn't favor any particular genre. (Those who purchase the Ultimate might have a bit of an easier time with massively multiplayer online games, thanks to the extra macro keys.) Guiding Lara Croft up a perilous mountain was just as much fun as gunning down Snowtroopers or exploring an abandoned Protoss temple. No matter what I did, the keys were responsive and easy to reach.
Given that Razer's mechanical switches are both durable and comfortable, it's hard to think of a gaming genre that wouldn't benefit from them. The BlackWidow X Chroma is about on a par with any other mechanical gaming keyboard, but miles and miles ahead of a membrane model.
The BlackWidow X Chroma is one of the coolest-looking keyboards I've reviewed. It's also intuitive and a little cheaper than its standard counterpart, but what you gain in savings, you may lose in typing proficiency. I found that the low-profile metal design impeded my typing, and didn't feel as comfortable as the admittedly less attractive plastic plate. Still, it's hard to argue with responsive switches, gorgeous backlighting and fantastic performance. The BlackWidow X Chroma is worth a gander from any PC gamer looking for a new keyboard, but bear in mind that it's an optional variant, not an evolutionary step.