The most ridiculously named keyboard of all time
Today I’m going to tell you all about my keyboard… the Razer Blackwidow Tournament Edition Chroma Stealth, or the ol’ RBWTECS as I like to call it. First of all, let’s unpack that ridiculous name into something that actual humans can understand. Then, we’ll count how many times I’ve gotten cross with this keyboard over two years of ownership, and why it still sits in the centre of my desk to this day.
Break it down, double time
Razer. It’s a name that carries a lot of weight in gaming circles, and not always for the right reasons. Despite (or perhaps because) of the company’s popularity, hardcore mechanical keyboard fans turn their noses up at Razer products, citing poor quality control and inaccurate marketing as reasons to choose alternatives. These complaints have merit, but you have to concede that Razer has done a lot to make mechanical keebs mainstream, which I’d argue is a Good Thing.
Blackwidow. Blackwidow is the title that Razer’s mechanical keyboards have been given since the very first model in 2010, and goes along with their long-running “snakes, spiders and other things you don’t want to find in your boots” naming scheme. Incidentally, that first model had some issues — its shiny black finish was easily fingerprinted and you couldn’t press down any six keys and have them all register correctly — a concept called 6-key rollover. The OG Blackwidow was also massive, leading to our second point…
Tournament Edition. TE just means that the number pad has been lopped off — what most other keyboard aficionados call ‘tenkeyless’. That’s a little annoying for doing your taxes, but it means you have a precious few extra inches to waggle your mouse around — great for when you’re using a small desk or sharing space at a LAN party. Given the brick-like heft of most mechanical keyboards, it also makes a noticeable difference to weight and portability.
Chroma. Arr. Gee. Bee. Nowadays you get RGB lighting on headsets, RAM, SSDs and basically anything else that can be plugged into a gamer’s computer, but back in the heady days of 2015 having a multichromatic keyboard was actually something you could excitedly tell your friends about without their eyes glazing over. As well as changing the colour of each key, you could also unleash a mesmerising rainbow wave, unleash a cascade of photons with rapid typing or just set it to cycle through all 16.8 million colours when you wanted to be a show-off. Razer certainly weren’t the first to make an RGB keyboard, but they did well to combine powerful LEDs, carefully inscribed keycaps and understandable software. Razer’s popularity also meant that they could nicely ask game devs to actually support their keyboards with custom lighting layouts. I was always pleasantly surprised to see these when booting up a new game, like Overwatch or Tomb Raider.
Stealth. This part is all about the switches inside, the proper gubbins that make mechanical keyboards equal parts exciting and expensive. Razer used clicky and tactile mechanical switches in their first keyboards, which were great for typing but produced a hecking lot of noise — not ideal if you’re in a shared space or streaming to your adoring fans on Twitch. That lead Razer to offer tactile but non-clicky switches for their Stealth keyboards, while also reducing the travel distance by a fraction of a millimetre. The Razer folks make a big deal of the time savings of these 100 saved microns on their switches page, but I’m just happy to have a slightly quieter keyboard that still feels great to type or game on. C’est la marketing.
So there you have it — the ancient secrets of the RBWTECS, revealed. But what about my actual keyboard, though? What aggravation have I found beneath these colourful clicky keys?
My actual keyboard, though
The first time I was properly cross at my keyboard came just a few months after buying it. You see, the RBWTECS is a keyboard with a removable USB cable, and according to people in the know, these types of keyboards actually fail more often than those with fixed cables. Basically, the Mini USB port tends to get pried off the circuit board inside, and it can happen even with normal use if the keyboard hasn’t been well designed. So it was with my RBWTECS, which just didn’t turn on with my computer one day. That left me without my New Favourite Thing for the best part of a month: aggravating, and not the last time I would have second thoughts.
Normally, the best part about having a mechanical keyboard is that you can swap out the keycaps for a different set, usually for only the cost of an entirely new keyboard. (Best part? I meant most dangerous part.) You can get keycaps in new layouts (learn DVORAK!), different colours (pastel rainbow!) or even made from fancier materials (PBT!) Since buying the RBWTECS, I’ve swapped the keycaps three times to make it look cooler and feel better to type on — and each time, I’ve regretted choosing a keyboard that doesn’t use a standard layout.
See, the modifier keys in the bottom right from Alt to Ctrl go big / little / little / big, compared to basically every other keyboard which go medium / medium / medium / medium. That means any replacement keycaps for Ctrl and Alt are too small, and the two keys between them are too big, so I have to just jam in whatever keys will fit. It looks messy, and it also reveals how many crumbs have snuck their way inside over the months since I last cleaned out my keyboard. I’m always happy to show off my keyboard’s new look, but these weirdo keys do my head in.
Wrapping it all up
Ultimately, I quite like the RBWTECS. I like its silly name, its fun Chroma lighting, its small size and its quietish mechanical switches. I wish it had a completely standard layout, and I’m still annoyed that it died on me for no obvious reason, but yet I haven’t replaced it despite trying dozens of other mechanical keyboards in my job as a Keyboard Reviewing Man. That’s not the most glowing recommendation, but it’s got to count for something, right?