Earlier this month I was treated to a special, up-close look at Razer’s new Huntsman Elite, a gaming keyboard equipped with the company’s new opto-mechanical key switches. The media event at their Irvine, CA office was guarded by a strict NDA that made us wait until June 28th to post anything about it. Thankfully, the embargo has lifted, Huntsman Elite keyboard announced and now we can bring your our full review of this revolutionary product!
When talking about gaming keyboard technology, it all started with variations of membrane-based models. Mechanical keyboards were very expensive at the time and the keys were not responsive enough to make it worth consumer cost. The Cherry MX Black key switch was heavy and simply not suited for gaming. In 2008, the Cherry MX Red switch appeared and opened the doors for practical and responsive mechanical gaming keyboards. Since then, some key switch enhancements have been made but a lot of the new tech went into how companies could make the keyboards more attractive with lighting upgrades such as Razer’s Chroma technology.
Enter: the Razer Opto-mechanical key switch. A Razer creation, the opto-mechanical key switch is powered by infrared beams that are broken when the mechanical switch is resting and solid when the key is depressed. It is quite amazing – there is actually an infrared beam under EVERY key on the PCB. This means faster response times, better roll-over protection, as well as the capability to pair the infrared beam system with several types of mechanical switches down the line – depending on what kind of a keyboarding experience the user desires (Clicky or Quiet).
While the Huntsman Elite is a game changer internally, it also signals a new paradigm for Razer when looking at its externals. Razer keyboards have long had a similar profile and overall style. The Huntsman Elite ushers in a brand new design style that is classy, sleek, and eye-catching. According to the folks at Razer, this new style sets the tone for upcoming products as well, so it should be exciting to see what they bring out. The Huntsman Elite feels very well-built and durable with an aluminum frame hefty weight. It also features a cool, multi-function wheel and other media keys that can be programmed to a variety of functions. By default, the wheel adjusts your sound volume (and pressing the button toggles mute) – it is a very clever control that becomes very easy to rely on.
Something that makes the Hunstman Elite even cooler is the magnetically attached (and removable) padded wrist rest. It’s extremely comfortable and a great addition to the keyboard to enhance gamer usability. However, it’s not just a wrist rest, mind you, this wrist rest is equipped with Razer Chroma lighting and adds to your keyboard lighting once you have attached it. This magnetic docking system could be used for a variety of accessories in the future as it supplies power as well as information. Razer is tight-lipped on all its plans but I could tell they are thinking up some winners. Of course, the Huntsman Elite still is equipped with Razer’s tried and true braided cord. This cord is strong and flexible, and the braiding will definitely hold up better than the rubber insulation of most gaming keyboards. It’s a minor feature of the keyboard, but one that I believe to be of the utmost importance in my peripherals.
In terms of performance, I have gotten to use the Razer Huntsman Elite for several weeks now and I don’t even a little regret making it my primary keyboard. This is an incredible product that has light, clicky, and responsive key switches as well as great lighting. They are the lightest mechanical key switches I have used, which is nice because it allows you to connect that infrared beam quicker than you would be able to with other types of mechanical key switch. FPS, MMORPG, and even MOBA titles are all well-served by the Huntsman Elite – I literally could not find a game that the keyboard didn’t make better (sorry for the double negative). Besides its gaming applications, I found that typing on the Huntsman Elite was a very pleasant experience and I was actually typing a lot faster than normal thanks to the light key presses. I hope Razer can set some Huntsman Elites set up as demo units in various retail outlets as these key switches really need to be used to be believed.
The Razer Huntsman Elite is fully compatible with the Razer Synapse control suite, and the software allows for some excellent Chroma customization, and is fully compatible with other Chroma devices. One of the cool things on display at the Razer office was a Chroma enabled room, which had just about every Chroma device imagined working together to bring a truly impressive display. The Razer Chroma lighting on the Huntsman Elite is strong: It goes all the way around the keyboard and is very bright. Razer Chroma allows you to customize lighting effects based a number of criteria, from in-game cues when playing your favorite game – but it doesn’t stop there. You can even tie Razer Chroma to work as a sort of visual graphic equalizer for your music, pulsing and changing hue with the beat.
Overall, the Razer Huntsman Elite signals a new front-runner in the gaming keyboard market. Take it from me, After you have used the opto-mechanical keys of the Huntsman Elite, you will be hard-pressed to return to other key solutions – whether they be completely mechanical or membrane-based. Also, once would think that the Huntsman Elite would cost an extreme amount, what with the futuristic key switch system. Well, at $199.99, the Huntsman Elite does cost a bit more than most high-end gaming keyboards. However, given the technology, capabilities, and performance of the Elite, I don’t think this is out of the question. Should that price point be a bit out of your reach, Razer is also offering the Huntsman gaming keyboard at $149.99 – which still comes with the new opto-mechnical keys sans some extra chroma lighting, the media keys, and the wrist rest.