The year is 1968. Douglas Engelbart, a researcher and engineer at the Augmentation Research Center at SRI, walks on stage at the Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco. During his 90minute demonstration of productivity software for the modern computer, Engelbart uses a threebutton mouse, a QWERTY keyboard and a five-key chorded keyset. Not only was that demo a reflection of many major innovations to take hold in the computer industry over the course of the next 30 years, it was also the first time that a keyset had been used to provide input to a computer.
Given that this is a review of the Razer Orbweaver Chroma, you might be wondering why this knowledge is important.
The Orbweaver is functionally similar to the chorded keyset that Engelbart used all those years ago. While it shares none of the design, it serves the same purpose. The Orbweaver Chroma is an updated version of the 2013 Orbweaver, now featuring per-key RGB backlighting and Razer Green switches made especially for the company by Kailh, a mechanical switch designer based in China.
The overall design hasn’t changed. The Orbweaver has 20 keys within reach of your fingertips, along with an eightway thumb-pad, as well as a pedal designed to be used by your thumb as well. Out of the box, the Orbweaver duplicates functionality of four rows of keys around the WASD area on a traditional keyboard – specifically from tilde to “4”, TAB to “R”, Caps Lock to “F”, and Shift to “V”.
Ergonomically, the Orbweaver Chroma is very comfortable to use. Designed for extended use while gaming or working, the keypad fits into the hand really snugly and has a wrist rest covered with soft-touch rubber. The normal aches I get from gaming on my keyboard mostly go away while using it, so there’s some benefit to those of you with existing signs of RSI or carpal tunnel. The wrist rest and the thumb buttons can be extended outwards for comfort and for larger hand sizes. You can also tilt the palm grip forwards or backwards, although none of these things will help someone with small hands and short fingers.
The key response is really good. The Green mechanical switches have a linear motion with a softer click than Cherry MX Blue switches, and require less force to activate the switch. It’s much quieter than Blue or Brown switches and feels closer to Red in terms of speed, and the key caps are angled nicely to make them easy to find in the dark. They fit quite securely, so a flathead screwdriver is needed to pull them off for cleaning.
There are only two problems I have with the Orbweaver Chroma. The first is keeping it clean – the matte finish on the wrist rest, the thumb area and the palm support all feel very good and suitably expensive, but these areas attract dust and hair. Trying my best not to scratch anything, even the use of a lintless cloth doesn’t help to prevent marks being left on the surface.
The other is how Razer’s drivers behave in certain games. While I can operate the Orbweaver Chroma and my keyboard at the same time in many games like Killing Floor, BioShock Infinite and Civilization: Beyond Earth, others like Grand Theft Auto V will disable input from the Orbweaver Chroma as soon as I use my keyboard. Perhaps an update from Rockstar is required to make this work better, but it’s quite frustrating typing a message to a friend in GTA Online and then having to reinsert the Orbweaver Chroma to get it working again.
That aside, there’s a ton of functionality to be gained using a device like this. With Razer allowing unlimited macros to be stored in your profiles, with an unlimited length, you can program any key combination you want into a macro to save you time while playing games that are complex to manage. Crafting items in DayZ, organising units and assets in Civilization: Beyond Earth and having message templates available for in-game chat are all things that the Orbweaver Chroma allows you to do quickly.
If you’re not a gamer, there’s similarly a lot of functionality for productivity apps. Just as in Engelbart’s demo, you can program Razer Synapse to change key mappings depending on which application you’ve just launched, and there does exist software that turns this device into a chorded keyset for super-fast text entry. Using the directional thumb-pad as a modifier key, one could potentially have eight different functions for a single key.
Razer’s Synapse software has evolved nicely to suit their Chroma products. Changing the lighting is a much easier affair than with previous Razer devices I’ve reviewed, and I like the advanced effects like ripple and wave. The Orbweaver Chroma works just fine without an Internet connection, in case you’re curious.
In the end, while I do recommend the Orbweaver Chroma for anyone looking for a great gaming keypad, it’s still a niche device. There are probably four kinds of people buying this product – the first being the hardcore Razer fans, who might buy this to complement their other Chroma products. The second group are gamers who want something more comfortable than their current keyboard. The third are people interested in this product for productivity purposes, and the fourth are people who own a gaming laptop and want a more portable keyboard replacement.
If you fit into any of these groups, the Razer Orbweaver Chroma might be the product for you.