Today we’re looking at the Razer Blackwidow Tournament Edition mechanical keyboard. This model has a Tenkeyless layout, which has two main benefits – it has a much smaller desktop footprint, and it is cheaper than full sized mechanical keyboards. The Blackwidow Tournament runs for about $80, which is a very good price for a mechanical keyboard with full Cherry MX switches. You do give up the numpad though, so if you perform a lot of data entry, you may want to opt for a full sized model.
If you’ve spent any amount of time on a PC related discussion site or forum, you have probably heard many times how great mechanical keyboards are compared to typical rubber dome membrane keyboards most people use. While this isn’t automatically true, as every user may have their own preference, there are plenty of reasons to choose a mechanical keyboard over a cheap squishy rubber dome keyboard.
The main advantage, in my opinion, is durability. I can’t count how many keyboards I’ve gone through over the years; no matter what brand I get, rubber dome keyboards that are under $50 or so always seem to fail after a year or so. The last one was a Logitech that had a left CTRL key that would stick most of the time it was used, and could not be fixed. As you can imagine, this was very troublesome during gaming sessions. Even without sticky keys, you have the issue of keys becoming ‘loose’ or more squishy over time, as the rubber material breaks down with use.
Another huge advantage is variety. There are plenty of mechanical options available, each providing its own unique feel. Some are marketed as gaming keyboards, some as typist keyboards, and some as ‘hybrids’. In my opinion, none of that really matters. All that matters is which one is the most comfortable for YOU to use. We won’t get into all the different variants of mechanical switch types here; for that, you can check out this great forum post on Overclock.net.
As for the Blackwidow Tournament, it uses Cherry MX Blue switches, which give it a tactile switch with a ‘clicky’ sound that is intended to simulate the buckling spring keyboards used back in the day, like the infamous IBM Model M.
This makes it quite a noisy keyboard during heavy typing sessions, and may take a while for you (or more likely, those around you) to get used to. You may actually find that you end up typing differently over time, as the tactile keys do not need to be bottomed out to register a press. They will still ‘click’, you just won’t get that heavy ‘clack’ that follows. Really, you have to try each switch type yourself to develop your own preferences. For reference, here is a quick video showing what the Blackwidow Tournament sounds like when typing:
If that sounds too loud for you, you might need to look into something that uses Cherry MX Brown switches. You may also consider linear switches, which are often marketed as gaming solutions. These actually sometimes end up sounding just as noisy, since typists usually have to bottom out each key press despite activation occurring half way.
I will mention that MX Blue keys have an issue that may arise during gaming sessions, due to the fact that the deactivation point is higher than the activation point. I ran into this issue during certain gaming sessions, where I would attempt to strafe lightly while walking in a game, with quick keypresses. Sometimes the key would stay activated, since I wasn’t lifting off the key completely making these quick movements. Because you would not normally do this while typing, but would while gaming, this may make the MX Blues unsuitable for gaming. At least, this was the case for me. This is however, personal preference, so we can move on to the keyboard itself.
Backlit keyboards are all the rage these days, but the Blackwidow Tournament has just one extra light – a Razer logo in the middle of the keyboard. The brightness can be adjusted within a range of 100 from the function keys in increments of 5, or from the Razer software in increments of 1. It can, of course, be turned off completely.
The Blackwidow Tournament uses ABS molded key caps, which are not as durable as PBT keycaps, and have a sort of cheap “hollow” plasticky feel to them. While the normal sized keys are fine, the larger keys are not particularly stable; the Enter key and shift keys will wobble and rotate if pushed at an angle.
As far as surface feel, again it’s up to personal preference, but there’s not much to write home about here. The surface of the keys aren’t very textured at all, and the situation will only get worse with age. Because of their construction type, it is likely that they will develop a ‘shine’ over time – especially the most commonly used keys. This will be most noticeable on the spacebar, since it’s a huge button that typically only gets pressed at the same spot regularly.
As you can tell from the video above, they are solid enough once placed on the Cherry MX switches, but have this sort of high pitched hollow click-clack sound if you are a hard typist.
The Blackwidow Tournament’s font set will be divisive to say the least, especially among typography enthusiasts. I think it looks great, but I am not one to have to look at my keys to see what letter I am pressing. For me, they are essentially there for decoration, so the simple “gamer” font works for me.
As a font itself though, it is a horrible design, with the R looking like a rotated L, not to mention the fact that both it and the M key are lower case for no good reason. There are other keys with random lower and upper case letters, like the “ShIFT” keys, the “CTrL” key, and enTer. Also, the number keys are printed with the numbers on top, and the shift-symbols at the bottom. The whole thing is weird, but if you don’t scrutinize it too much, the overall visual effect is still cool. Along with the thick beveled design of the casing, it looks like it would belong on a sci-fi movie set. A made-for-TV sci-fi movie perhaps, but still.
The Blackwidow Tournament features several media keys, which are paired up with F-keys and used with a Fn key that is on the right side of the space bar. A Fn lock would have been nice. I also would have preferred the media keys to be on the right side, along with the Fn keys, to allow single handed use while adjusting volume or skipping songs. The Razer specific settings would be used much less, so should be on the other side.
The Blackwidow Tournament comes with a removable USB cable (with a braided cable of course, and gold plated connectors) that uses a standard USB-mini plug. There is no protection on this port however, and it seems like it would be really easy to damage it if the cable was pulled hard while plugged in.
The bottom of the Blackwidow Tournament is very stable (the keyboard itself is extremely sturdy and heavy) and features large rubber pads that will resist slipping off after time. If you ever had a keyboard with little round pads that slipped off and got lost, you probably know what I’m talking about. Even the flip-up arms are coated in rubber, ensuring stable placement during heavy use.
And now we get to the part that really dampens the overall experience of using the Blackwidow Tournament – the software.
Razer Synapse Required?
The Blackwidow Tournament uses Razer’s conglomerated device software, Synapse. It is the same software package that works with their other products such as their mice and even their free surround sound virtualization software. No keyboard should require drivers to work, and the Blackwidow Tournament apparently doesn’t either. Except when it comes to my personal PC, for some reason. When I first plugged the Blackwidow Tournament into my system for long-term testing, nothing worked other than the logo LED. Rebooting didn’t help, so I installed the Synapse software. This required another reboot to install.
Upon rebooting, I was greeted with a login screen. Apparently, you can’t start Synapse without first registering and logging in. The problem with this is that the keyboard still wasn’t working. So I had to get an old keyboard, plug it in, log in, allow the drivers to finish installing, and reboot. AGAIN.
From then on, whenever I unplugged the Blackwidow Tournament, I couldn’t use it again unless the system was rebooted. You can still “go offline” within the software, but you can’t get into the software for the first time, unless you register and account and log in.
I have tried plugging this keyboard into fresher installs of Windows, and it has worked without drivers. But for whatever reason, that is not the case with my system.
As for the software itself, it is fairly full-featured. Many of these features are limited on this particular model, since the Blackwidow Tournament lacks some features that other Razer Blackwidow keyboards have. It should be noted that the Blackwidow Tournament only supports USB; PS/2 adapters can not be used. If you’re concerned about low key rollover, don’t be – it supports 14 key rollover with the drivers installed. This should be plenty enough to faceroll in WoW.
The Key Assignment screen allows you to set many different functions to any given key. This is also where you apply your macros within the software. Since the Blackwidow Tournament has few keys to spare, you will end up losing some functionality if you decide to replace some keys’ default settings. There’s always the Windows Key I guess
Macros can be recorded from within the software, or by using the function key on the keyboard itself. The Blackwidow Tournament’s macro functionality is fairly robust, allowing it to record pretty long macros, and edit them after they are recorded. Again, you’ll need to give up a key or two in order to be able to use them.
The Razer Blackwidow Tournament Edition is based on a solid design, with a heavy base, Cherry MX Blue switches, and looks fantastic in my opinion. It’s not without its glaring weaknesses however, most notably the software that requires a login and two reboots before it can be used. It is also let down somewhat by its cheap feeling key caps with poor surface textures and poor stabilization for the larger keys.
As a Tenkeyless keyboard, it is marketed as a more ‘basic’ option than most gaming keyboards out there. There are no backlit keys aside from the main four, only a logo . There are no extra buttons that you can assign macros to – full macro support is there, but you have to replace a key’s existing function to use them. There are no USB hubs, no audio ports, etc. It’s just a basic mechanical keyboard, which may be exactly what you want.
If you are in the market for a TKL keyboard with Cherry MX Blue switches, there are several options worth considering. If the price is right, the Blackwidow Tournament may just be it.
We hope to look at a wide array of mechanical keyboards for your reading pleasure. If you have any suggestions, please let us know in the comments below.