Anansi is an important character in West African culture. He’s a trickster and appears as a spider in African folklore. He’s celebrated as a symbol of slave resistance and used his wisdom, cunning and power to turn the tables on his enemies while helping to free the slaves. While there are many stories about this character, it’s the ability to help turn around the battle against his follower’s oppressors that can be applied to Razer’s Anansi, a multi-functional keyboard for gamers and MMO players.
I don’t have much of a history with gaming keyboards. My first one that I ever bought was a Microsoft cheapie and it’s still working, although irritating as hell to type on these days. I was spoiled a year ago with a Logitech G11 which I spied in a second-hand store. It was brand new, it worked perfectly and there was nothing wrong with it at all. So I bought it, for R250. It survived for a year before a cable connection went wonky a few months after I had cleaned it out. I went back to the Microsoft cheapie and I missed the accuracy and the backlit keys of the G11. I later got a Roccat Arvo from my brother that he won at rAge 2012, but it still wasn’t the same.
Opening up the Anansi, I was impressed by how good it looked. The dark grey colour complemented its sleeper looks and the rubberised surface feels smooth and cool to the touch. The keys are painted black and domed, helping your fingertips to slide into the grooves when you press them. They’re also rubber-coated, giving the surface a smooth texture and making it easy to clean. I swear, the first time I started typing on this thing I had a nerdgasm.
On the sides the Anansi has some gloss accents and these are only there to throw off the grey colour with a brilliant jet black. It scratches easily, picks up fingerprints like a $5 hooker picks up STDs and needs regular cleaning to keep it looking good, but it’s a nice touch all the same.
The keys themselves are backlit, but not individually. Razer says there’s a choice of 16 million colours to choose from but I settled on one immediately – bright white. Its not too bright in the day and at night the rubberised keys diffract the light a bit, keeping it from blinding you at too high a setting. There are three intensity settings in addition to turning the LEDs off.
The Razer logo in the middle of the keyboard where the palmrest is glows the same colour. It’s also covered in a soft-ish, easily scratched plastic but it looks pretty damn cool. Its a lot clearer than the backlit keys and the colour comes through brightly. Its not too distracting in dark environments and the Anansi’s backlight settings are never bright enough to actually be uncomfortable.
The Anansi has five macro keys to the left, labelled “M1” to “M5” and these are also backlit. They feel stiffer than the regular keys and have a good, solid feel to them. Below the space bar are an extra seven macro keys, labelled “T1” to “T7”. These are covered in the same plastic as the rest of the keyboard’s surface and are easy to reach. Some keys serve two functions, accessed by pressing the Fn key and the other key at the same time. The function keys on the top also have music and volume controls, a mode selector/Macro recorder and light intensity adjustor. The game mode key disables the Windows key, useful for avoiding being thrown out of your multi-player matches when you hit it accidentally. All of these extra functions require you to press the Fn key at the same time.
The regular keys aren’t mechanical – that would just about double the price if they were. They are instead sitting on top of a plastic membrane just like regular keyboards. Performance is very similar to my G11 and the keys work well enough. Unfortunately, like most keyboards with a membrane, the Anansi’s keys need to be bottomed out to register a click. Having tried out a mechanical keyboard at rAge 2012, I can assure you that the use of some Cherry MX switches here would be a massive help. After a few hours of typing or gaming, my fingers need some stretching exercises to feel normal again.
The thumb macro keys are a little weird. Hitting them is easy, but it’s very easy to press them instead of the spacebar. Some of the keys have pre-programmed functions like a second “Alt” button but they feel mushy and don’t have a lot of travel.
Clickety clickety, clack clack!
Typing with the Anansi was a similar experience to my G11, but there are some changes. I’m less accurate because the keys are domed and need to be bottomed out. With the G11 I could go halfway and the press would be registered. They’re also loud and make the same clickety-clack sound cheaper membrane models make, not something you’d expect of a keyboard costing just over R1000.
The lack of a decent palmrest also hurts my accuracy. With the G11 I had a long one that would support my wrists, making extended gaming a little easier. There’s no wrist extension for the Anansi and there’s nothing to clip it to if Razer made one anyway. That’s a missed opportunity there.
The drivers were a slightly different story. The Anansi doesn’t use Synapse 2.0, at least not yet, and requires its own driver profiles and software. There are options to program every key on the keyboard to do anything you want but again, this is profile-dependant. You can’t, for example, set up the key to activate a macro if you press the key and the Fn function, for example. You can’t have a key perform multiple jobs in one profile and although there are several macro modes that you can enable and almost unlimited profiles, there’s no option to set up everything once and not have to rely on the software to be clever enough to figure out which profile is applicable. As before, you can have two open programs but it won’t switch the profiles contextually. Only the program that was last opened gets to change the active profile.
I will say though that the lighting was neat to play with. You can choose from the default 48 colours pre-set by the drivers along with brightness levels, or you can choose from the 16.7 million colours available in the colour palette. The backlighting is dependent on the available power source as the Anansi needs to be plugged into two USB ports at the same time. Logitech’s G11 and G15 managed this off only one USB port and I’m told the G110, with customisable backlighting, also uses just one USB port.
“Rise and shine, Mr. Freeman. Rise and…shine”
Gaming held up very well and key presses were registered easily. I played through a bit of Crysis 3 to get a feeling for FPS titles and the Anansi was reasonably comfortable, but the aforementioned lack of a wrist rest does force me to take breaks after two hours. Bottoming out the keys also annoys others around me and tires out my fingers a little quicker. Borderlands 2 had the same effect and in none of these games do I benefit from the macro keys. So I went to the game of the year that everyone’s forgotten.
That’s right, I played Diablo III. I’ll refrain from calling it a sequel to Diablo II because it’s more of a spiritual successor. Diablo III is an always-online Blizzard title and changed things around for a lot of gamers. Some things like co-op is immensely fun while other aspects of the game, like the Real Money Auction House, killed it off for die-hard fans. But let’s ignore that crushing disappointment for now.
I ran through the first two hours of the main quest and things were going good. The thumb keys were coming in handy because I could assign key presses to them in macro record mode without quitting the game, allowing me to switch between spells that much quicker. I daresay this would be of immense use to World of Warcraft players, although that’s a game I’ll never play because it sucks you in far too easily. It’s like a giant, cartoonish, choose-your-own-adventure title that you can play with friends from across the world that has a storyling that practically never ends.
But regardless, the macro keys did have some use in Diablo and it was a pleasant experience. Many keyboards have some macro functionality and in the right situation they are a godsend. In others, though, like shooters and racing game, the benefit wasn’t there. I kept hitting the thumb keys every now and then and with the way I let my wrists lie on the table, I could easily squash them with my palms. I do think they’d make a great addition for games like Street Fighter and I found some use for them with photo editing using GIMP.
I’d also like to touch on the Naga connection for just a moment. Right now, you can tailor the Synapse drivers to use macro recordings in conjunction with the Anansi’s thumb keys which give you a total of nineteen macro keys within easy reach of your digits. That’s good integration right there, even if it’s an unintended aspect which Razer never planned. If you’re a MMO player and need all that functionality, the Anansi and the Naga should be bought together.
In the end…
Razer’s Anansi is one of the better keyboards I’ve tried. It looks good, the lighting is insanely customisable and there’s enough personalisation and functionality options to satisfy most gamers. But there are a couple of niggles, chief of which has to do with the underside of the Anansi.
As you can see, it’s pretty bare. There are no grips or slots for a palm rest so if you were hoping for one in the future, you’d best look elsewhere. There are no routing gutters for cables so if you like running them under your keyboard to keep your desk looking clean, you’d best look elsewhere. Given that the Anansi takes up two USB ports you’d expect it had an on-board USB 2.0 hub and the audio and microphone jacks – nope, not here.
Its a pity that those are my major detractors because they would really add value and functionality to a keyboard that’s pretty much a one-trick pony. It has customisable lighting, macro functionality and programmable keys but for just over R1000 you would expect more, especially given that the competition is bringing out mechanical keyboards for the same price that can also be quieter and have better feedback. As far as membraneous keyboards go it’s very good so its performance can’t be faulted. I just wish there was more to it than that.
There’s also a slight heating issue. After an hour of gaming with the backlight on full, the area of the keyboard where the backspace, enter, insert and delete keys are gets pretty warm underneath and on top. I stuck a thermometer onto the bottom and recorded a 35º C temperature. For some owners this might be an annoyance and it was certainly worrying for me. If you play with the keyboard on your lap you’ll have to contend with a bit of heat on your right leg which I did register as uncomfortable.
You will also have a severe issue of cats discovering they can now annoy you and get warm by lying on that specific spot of the keyboard.
Overall, I like the Anansi and I wouldn’t have too many problems with recommending it. My only problem and, indeed, Razer’s problem is Logitech’s G110. Its cheaper by R100 on average than the Anansi, comes with a competitive driver package, has backlighting with brighter luminance and comes with a detachable palmrest. If also sports a USB hub and audio pass-through cables with jacks on the top. That is the keyboard to beat, I think.