Razer's New Keyboard Will Probably Get Me Killed

Image: Alex Walker (Kotaku)

I was typing on the Razer Huntsman Elite the other day, when I turned around and noticed a colleague peering over my shoulder. He wasn't looking at my screen, or me per se, but at his phone which he'd propped on the desk — running a decibel metre app.

Funnily enough, the latest in Razer's line of gaudy keyboards — complete with their tactile and clicky switches, which the company says are the most sought after amongst its line so far — wasn't that much louder than my daily driver, the no frills iKBC Cherry MX Red board.

The biggest difference with Razer's latest line of keyboards, which are available now starting from $249 (for the Huntsman) and $339.95 (for the Huntsman Elite), is the inclusion of opto-mechanical switches:

GIF: Kotaku

The advantage with the Huntsman's optical mechanical switches is a beam of light. Traditional mechanical keys register a keypress after a certain actuation point, with different "switches" (brown, black, blue, red, and so on) relaying this back to the user with a tactile bump, and sometimes a clicky sound as well.

But because traditional mechanical switches have to reach a physical point before the key can actually be pressed, there's a disadvantage in terms of speed. We're not talking a great deal — keys on the Huntsman and Huntsman elite actuate after 1.5mm, compared to about 2mm for your standard mechanical keyboard.

Beyond that, and you'll hear more manufacturers make this point as they graduate to optical switches of their own, there's an durability advantage. By actuating via a beam of light, keyboard makers don't have to solder switches directly onto the PCB. Traditional switches can also degrade over time due to the wear and tear of the contact points inside the keys, a problem which is lessened by activating via a beam of light instead.

In practical terms, that means the Huntsman lasts for a lot more keypresses. Razer's quoting 100 million keypresses for the Huntsman, whereas Cherry MX keyboards often have a quoted life cycle of 50 million key presses. (I'm yet to wear out a single mechanical keyboard I've owned, but if you want something to last, it's worth keeping in mind.)

Perhaps more critically — especially for those who pledged off the louder, clicky switches in the past — the opti-mechanical switches means Razer was also able to lower the amount of actuation force required. A typical Cherry MX Black requires 60g of force to actuate, while a keyboard with MX Blue switches needs 50 grams and a MX Cherry Red only requires 45g to actuate.

That's why red and brown switches (the difference being the tactile bump you feel when pressing the keys) are typically marketed towards offices and gamers — not only are they less noisy with the lack of that extra "click", the lower force is easier on the fingers.

The Razer Huntsman, though? Only 45g force required. That's been an absolute misery to everyone seated within a 20 metre radius, as they've had to listen to me for the past week smash out articles with a constant, clicky drum.

The volume dial at the top right acts as a basic volume control, but it can also work inside games for microphone volume and other functions through the Razer Chroma software. It's limited at this stage, however, to basic volume controls. Image: Alex Walker (Kotaku)

So one way of looking at it is, don't even consider the Razer Huntsman for an office environment unless you're in the kind of office where everyone is OK with mechanical keyboards. (The Kotaku offices is one of those, although even they have limits: our head of IT asked the other day if I'd consider a career as a QA tester for keyboard companies.)

But once you take the sound concerns out of the way, it's a great keyboard to type on if you wanted that clicky feel without the resistance. The multi-functional dial is nice, although you'll only get that on the much more expensive Huntsman Elite. It's customisable through Razer Chroma, and there's support for other features once you're logged into Razer Chroma (although using the dial for something like weapon switching, for instance, would be far more impractical than just hitting the mousewheel or number key).

You can't get a tenkeyless version of the Huntsman, sadly. And if you've owned a Blackwidow, you'll know all too well how well Razer keycaps pick up fingerprints. The Huntsman does nothing to fix that problem, and if Razer wants to do any R&D for the next iteration of keyboards, they'd be well served looking into some smudge-resistant keycaps and surfaces.

Both the Huntsman and Huntsman Elite do have on-board profile storage, mind you. The supplied wrist rest (Huntsman Elite only) is also very soft, and draws power from the pogo pins at the bottom of the keyboard. You can control the lighting of both through Razer Chroma, and there's plenty of profiles for various games.

Something worth noting is that the Huntsman and Huntsman Elite don't quite represent the future of mechanical keyboards. One of the advantages of optical mechanical switches is the ability to read multiple inputs from a single switch — in other words, analog input, much like what you'd get on a controller.

The Wooting One is one such keyboard, enabling pressure sensitive inputs rather than the on/off nature of traditional keyboards now. Put simply: imagine playing a driving/racing game with a keyboard, where a light press of a key turned the wheel gradually, instead of 100% to the left or right. Another example is the ability to bind multiple actuation points on a single key, so pressing WASD gently walks your character in an FPS, instead of running at full speed.

Of course, Razer aren't alone in the optical switch game. Manufacturers Bloody have been making keyboards with LK Libra (or Light Strike 3) switches for a while. The travel distance on their B930 mechanical keyboard is only 3mm as well, compared to the Huntsman/Huntsman Elite's 3.5mm. Kailh are another brand that's dabbled in the opto-switch game too, and while the travel distance on their gold/bronze/silver/copper switches match the Huntsman, the actuation point is only 1.1mm compared to the Huntsman's 1.5mm.

I asked Razer in a phone interview whether the optical mechanical switches in the Huntsman and Huntsman Elite would be capable of analog input. They said it wouldn't, and while updates to Razer Chroma and the firmware itself would add extra functionality down the road, a hardware update (read: a second-gen keyboard) would be required.

There's few games that are setup to take advantage of analog keyboard inputs, anyway. For the most part, the benefit of an optical switch is the improved speed and versatility. Optical switches can be more durable as well: beams of light are more water resistant than traditional mechanical switches, after all.

As always, price is going to be the kicker. The Huntsman costs $249 in Australia, while the Huntsman Elite will cost you $339.95. The only other keyboard I remember over the last few years costing over $300 was Cherry's own keyboard - and as nice as that was, I couldn't find a soul who would even contemplate paying over $300 for a mechanical keyboard given what you can get for two-thirds the price.

But I will say, those optical mechanical switches are mighty fine. I could never live long-term with a clicky keyboard — especially in an office setting. On the flipside, Razer's purple switches only require 45g of actuation. The Aorus K9, the other optical mechanical keyboard stocked by major Australian e-tailers right now, needs 55g of actuation.

That's not an inconsiderable amount. The Aorus is $70 cheaper — but then again, I've never bought a keyboard that required more force to type because it was cheaper. So if you're like me, and you want the benefits of an optical keyboard but want the least amount of resistance possible, the Huntsman gives you something to think about.


Comments

    Sorry, I totally zoned out somewhere in the middle of all that.

      Haha.. yeah. I'm actually a big fan of mechanical keyboards so I found it a good read - but I can imagine a bunch of people making the face my wife makes when I start talking about keyboards/mice/monitors etc ;)

      Great article though.

      It will be interesting to see whether the marketing is effective for these. I can see gamers being resistant to this technology - preferring to stick with the tried-and-true analog solutions. I mean, part of what makes mechanical keyboards so cool is that they haven't changed in such a long time.

        As a Engineer and a gamer, the finer details in this article made me feel.... funny in my special place :)

    ...but at his phone which he'd propped on the desk — running a decibel metre app.

    Are you sure your co-worker wasn't acoustically spying on what you were typing? (With some training, programs can work out what is being typed by the sounds of keystrokes alone.)

      It's @haoranun, if he wants to know what I'm doing he'll know!

        Guilty as charged :)

        I sit three metres away from @alexwalker, and it was loud (he averaged 68-75 decibels, in case you were wondering).

    Tell 'em to suck it up and that decibel apps on phones aren't accurate anyway.

      Meh, I was doing it for LOLs.

      I have fat headphones if I actually didn't want to listen to @alexwalker.

      We've got a separate decibel metre tracker in the office (and the two were pretty similar). As Haoran mentioned above, around the 68-75 range.

        Gotta suck it up anyway :) Gotta love them glorious mechanical keyboards sounds!

          mechanical keyboards are the fart can on a Honda Civic of the office world.

    Hang on, I'm a bit confused by this article. Wouldn't an optical beam actuator allow the key to be quieter?!?!?!

    The Razer Huntsman, though? Only 45g force required. That's been an absolute misery to everyone seated within a 20 metre radius, as they've had to listen to me for the past week smash out articles with a constant, clicky drum.

    How does the actuation force make a difference in the noise? Unless its the fact that you're hammering at the keyboard harder than you need to, thereby making the keystrokes louder?

      It means the keys could be quieter.

      But if you type more like a jackhammer rather than a human being (i.e. you're used to applying 60g of force per key), then the weaker springs mean you're hitting the bottom a lot harder than you used to.

      Yes -- but Razer are specifically selling the clicky version of their keys, because that's the best selling switch out of all the ones they make. So those who want quieter offerings (like you'd get with a Cherry MX Red/Brown or equivalent) will have to wait.

        how does it compare with their blackwidow range?
        Off the top of my head the orange and yellow silent switches require 45g of actuation force, and their green-"click sound"- switches requires 60g, so does the one you reviewed replace green switch blackwidow with an improvement on actuation force because of the optical sensors?

          I couldn't physically use the Blackwidow long term; takes too much force. Also, I prefer tenkeyless keyboards anyway -- and the green clicky sound isn't great for an office.

          Sound aside, the typing feel of the new purple switches is actually great. I'd love to see what Razer could do with a non-clicky version, genuinely. But it doesn't replace the green switch blackwidows, although if you were looking at a Razer keyboard I would place the Huntsman at the top of the pecking order.

          And, hey, maybe one day they'll make detachable numpads, or something!

    Wait, $250+? For that price I'd be hoping for a better looking keyboard.

    I'd love to have a mechanical but I'm too used to the MS Natural ergo keyboard to switch to a different shape, and no one makes an ergonomic mechanical keyboard that doesn't also have the aesthetics and functionality of a medieval torture device.

    anyone got a decent suggestion for mechanical feel but more quiet? ive been streaming more lately and its just "CLACK CLACK CLACK CLACK CLACK CLACK" through the mic lol

      I have Cherry Browns in my Das Keyboard and I'd like to think my keyboard isn't particularly obnoxious in the office.

      Cherry Reds are pretty good. Keyboards with Gateron Red switches are also great, too.

      MX Browns with o-rings, quieter than the Dell plastic keyboards, unless you aggro type.

      Thanks for the suggestions :) will definitely check these out in store to see how they type :)

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now