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Razer Huntsman Elite Gaming Keyboard Review

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Back in 2014, Razer created its very own proprietary switches instead of going with the Cherry MX switches that were then, and still are, found on most mechanical gaming keyboards. Here in 2018, it seems Razer isn’t done innovating on the keyboard switch front, as its all-new Huntsman Elite (See it on Newegg) is the first keyboard to use a new type of switch it calls "opto-mechanical." These switches use frickin' laser beams to register keypresses instead of metal contacts, theoretically offering better speed and durability. In addition to new switches, the keyboard also features new media controls (finally) and a cleverly-designed RGB perimeter lighting system that works with or without the wrist rest.

At $200, the Huntsman Elite is Razer's most expensive keyboard, though there is a non-Elite version for $150 as well that forgoes the side lights and wrist rest. I spent some time with the slick-looking Elite deck to see how the new switches compare to their mechanical rivals, and to see if the insane price tag was an early-adopter tax or justified.

razer-huntsman-elite-gallery08

Razer Huntsman Elite – Design and Features

The Huntsman Elite, even from a distance, has the look of a high-end keyboard. The overall size feels more compact than the rather large BlackWidow Chroma V2 and the matte-black aluminum face of the board adds some needed weight to keep the keyboard from moving around the desk. I’m a big fan of the brushed aluminum decks on the Corsair K70 MK.2, for example, but the Huntsman and its matte finish have the welcome benefit of warding off ugly fingerprints. On the underside of the board, the flip-out stand legs offer two positions, which is handy for finding a comfortable typing position.

On that note, the Hunstman Elite is definitely comfortable. The wrist rest on Razer’s BlackWidow V2 was the best I’d ever used – until now. The Huntsman’s pad seems to be of the same design, with soft memory foam inside a leatherette covering, but its stance is a little more squared-off and elevated. The result is pretty much heaven for long gaming sessions and typing. Key spacing on the Huntsman is equally comfortable, and typing felt natural.

rest

As expected, this keyboard uses Razer’s Chroma RGB lighting for per-key illumination. I found the lighting to be even and consistent, although a bit dimmer than I would have liked, even at max brightness. Unlike previous Razer keyboards, though, the lighting on the Huntsman doesn’t stop with keys, thanks to a fantastic under-glow provided by a light bar that runs around the edges of the keyboard, including the wrist rest. The wrist rest receives power via a new proprietary contact port on the body of the Huntsman. It's aided by strong magnets that keep the rest from flopping around. Unfortunately, the RGB-powered wrist rest is the sole reason the Huntsman requires two USB ports – there’s no USB passthrough on this keyboard, which is a pretty big disappointment considering its price.

side

At the top-right of the board resides another new feature of the Huntsman that's emerged as one of my favorites: a knurled metal dial. While this wheel isn’t compatible at this point with Windows Dial functionality – unlike the Roccat Horde – it’s still programmable. On the Hunstman, the dial's default behavior is simple volume control, but you can also use it to zoom into Windows, swap between applications, change mic volume, or even swap weapons in games. The dial is clickable, just like a mouse wheel, so you can use it for extra functions like tapping it to mute the sound or your mic. The wheel's location is offset slightly from the side of the Huntsman and works flawlessly. There are also three dedicated media buttons with a very pleasant, round profile.

dial

Of course, the optical switches under the Huntsman Elite's keys are one of the main attractions here, and definitely what sets this keyboard apart from basically every mechanical keyboard on the market. With Razer's "opto-mechanical" switch there's actually a beam of light under each key, and when the beam is interrupted, a keypress is registered. The opto-mechanical switches offer a clicky bit of feedback, not unlike Cherry MX Blues, but a lighter required actuation force (45g compared to 55g), making them more akin to Cherry MX Speed switches. Beyond the blend of speed and tactile feedback, Razer claims the opto-mechanical switch is more durable, lasting up to 100 million presses; Cherry MX are generally rated to 50 million.

Razer's new "Opto-mechanical" switch.

 

Razer Huntsman Elite – Software

The Huntsman Elite uses the latest version of the Razer Synapse software to control lighting schemes, sync Chroma functionality, and assign macros. Synapse is easy enough to use, but the app itself has grown a bit clunky as it keeps adding new tabs to the interface. It's getting overgrown. There’s an unnecessary number of tabs along the top, and there's even a second "row" of sub-tabs too. This newest version even has support for syncing your lighting with Phillips Hue lightbulbs, which at first seemed "off brand" to me, but the more I picture it in my mind, it could be really cool.

synapse

Once you figure out where everything is, Synapse does make it really easy to get the lighting set up quickly with preset effects like color waves, breathing, and lights that react to typing. Chroma Studio, yet another tab in Synapse, is very intuitive when it comes to customizing per-key lighting. In particular, it’s now possible to select a pen tool and “draw” a lighting scheme right onto the Huntsman.

Macros are also easily created and organized within Synapse, and I found recording macros on the fly with the keyboard’s dedicated macro recording key to be just as simple. Overall, Razer Synapse continues to bulge and tumble under its own expanding weight, and it's annoying that you have to create an account with Razer just to use it, but if you're just looking to make a quick lighting adjustment or to record a macro it's not difficult to jump in and make a few tweaks.

Razer Huntsman Elite – Gaming

The idea of optical switches in a gaming keyboard is still relatively new, with very few competitors on the market at this point. I’m partial to Cherry MX Red and Speed switches primarily because of the lighter actuation force that keeps my hands from feeling fatigued, along with the speedy key presses in first-person shooters. But there’s certainly something to be said for the tactile feedback of a Cherry MX Blue, both in gaming and for plain old typing. Razer’s opto-mechanical switches feel like a blending of the two, with a clicky response that doesn’t feel like a chore to actuate.

One of the more interesting things about these optical switches is the ability to provide that satisfying click without the need to wait for mechanical components to move back past that actuation point after a reset to then be ready to register another keypress. This means the reset distance of an individual key is minimal and that translates to super quick key presses. While I still think it’s somewhat difficult to test just how effective that may be in-game, these new Razer switches feel excellent.

Playing Overwatch for a number of hours, I really appreciated the light, speedy keypresses coupled with a reassuring click on each press. Plus, coupled with the wrist rest, the optical switches and their light actuation kept me comfortable even after marathon sessions of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Destiny 2. I don’t know if opto-mechanical switches will outright replace the standard, metal-contact switches we’re all accustomed to, but for fast-paced gaming they’re a solid option – and with twice the durability; a good investment.

Also, I absolutely loved the programmable wheel Razer attached to the Huntsman, bringing it in line with competing dials on the Roccat Horde and Corsair K70/K95. But while there are a ton of options for programming this wheel, I didn’t find it very useful in games beyond adjusting volume, muting my mic, or swapping apps. While weapon switching with the wheel seems like a great idea, you have to move your hand off the mouse or send your other hand across the board to accomplish that task. I tried this a bunch in Far Cry 5 and it’s just easier to stick with the usual keyboard/mouse shortcuts.

Purchasing Guide

The Razer Huntsman Elite has an MSRP of $200, and since it was just launched that’s what it costs. There’s also a non-elite version without the wrist rest and side lighting for a more affordable $150. Both models are available now from Razer, or you can pre-order them from Newegg.

  • See the Huntsman Elite on Newegg
  • See the Huntsman on Newegg
  • See the Huntsman Elite on Razer

 

The Verdict

The Razer Hunstman Elite brings something new to the table with its exceptional optical switches, and useful features like the illuminated wrist rest and programmable wheel. The $200 price tag is a hard pill to swallow though, especially when it’s missing some features found on other boards at this price-point, like the Corsair K95. Still, its really great lighting and features make it an excellent and a very unique keyboard.

Great
The Huntsman Elite is what we've come to expect from Razer; unique lighting, great innovation, and a high price tag.
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