Note: This article was first published on 20th March 2019.
Razer has a long history in making mechanical keyboards now. The first BlackWidow launched in 2010, and it was arguably one of the first mechanical keyboards to really embrace gamers. Before that, mechanical keyboards were drab, boring affairs which main selling point was how durable they were. Razer essentially made the mechanical keyboard cool, and helped usher in a new wave of mechanical keyboards from various brands. Today, nearly every major manufacturer of gaming peripherals has a mechanical keyboard, and gamers have never been more spoilt for choice.
Having said that, Razer is looking to expand its reach to consumers who want the superior typing experience of a mechanical keyboard but don't want the bells and whistles. Enter the BlackWidow Lite, a tenkeyless model that's basically a stripped-down version of what Razer usually offers. With its no-nonsense minimalist design, the Lite is built for the office, and Razer is expressly marketing it as such.
The keyboard is equipped with Razer's own Orange switches, which are tactile, silent switches. They have an actuation force of 45g and a total travel distance of 4mm, so they're pretty similar to Cherry MX Browns. There's also only a 0.05mm difference between the actuation and reset points, so I didn't really have any trouble with rapid key presses. All told, I like the feel of these switches, and they make a satisfying 'clack' sound when they hit the aluminum top plate.
However, even though Razer is branding these as silent switches, they're really not all that quiet. They're only silent because the switch mechanism doesn't produce a click, but they're quite different from true silent switches like Zilents, which feature dampeners on the switch stem to help mute the noise of the stem hitting the bottom and top of the housing on its way down and back up.
To mitigate this, Razer has included a pack of matching, orange o-rings that you can install on the keycap stems. These still don't compare with the approach of the Zilent switches though. While the o-rings stop the key stroke just short of bottoming out, thus reducing the noise produced on the way down, they can't do anything about the stem hitting the top of the switch housing on its way up. Furthermore, they also slightly reduce the overall key travel distance and create a mushy feel.
If you're super particular about noise, the o-rings will help silence the switches, but I personally prefer to use the keyboard without them. The typing experience just feels more satisfying without them, and maybe I just don't care about my co-workers all that much (just kidding).
Razer's Orange switches are also based off the design of Cherry MX switches, but they feature dual side walls for reduced key wobble. In addition, the walls help protect against the ingress of dust and liquids, particularly useful if you're in the habit of eating at your desk.
When it comes to design, the BlackWidow Lite may be my favorite BlackWidow yet. It's simple and minimalist, sporting a clean, matte aluminum top plate. The base is still plastic though, and it would have been really cool if Razer crafted the entire base from metal. Of course, that would have added to the cost of the keyboard, and Razer probably wanted to make the BlackWidow Lite more accessible. The floating key design is easier to clean as well, and you can blow out dust and detritus without having to remove all the keycaps.
Build quality is pretty good, too. The metal top plate adds to the rigidity of the keyboard, and there's barely any flex to it. Having said that, the keyboard is really light at just 660 grams, so it won't weigh you down too much if you need to take it out. The detachable micro-USB cable plugs into the top right of the keyboard, and you can remove it for easier transportation (there's even a built-in cable tie). The braided cable is a little on the stiff side, but this doesn't really matter for a keyboard.
The most telling thing about the keyboard that shows it isn't targeted at gamers is its omission of Razer's Chroma RGB lighting. The BlackWidow Lite's LEDs only glow in white, and they're located at the top of the keycap. This could have produced problems with uneven lighting on keys with secondary legends, but Razer has cleverly gotten around that by making the secondary legends opaque.
I've always said that Razer's implementation of keyboard backlighting is among the best on the market, and that remains true even with just white LEDs. Instead of clunky three- or four-step brightness adjustments, the keyboard supports a wide range of brightness tweaks in gentle gradations directly from the function keys, so you can get it to a level that is just right.
Of course, the BlackWidow Lite will work with Synapse 3 as well, and you can program individual keys and set up macros. The keyboard prompts you to install Synapse the moment you plug it in though, which is slightly intrusive, especially if you don't need any of the extra features.
Finally, I'd have preferred a slightly steeper angle of elevation from the keyboard feet, but that's purely a matter of personal preference. I also find that dust collects and shows up quite easily on the matte black surface, so you'll have to be pretty diligent in your spring cleaning. Other than that, the BlackWidow Lite is a great keyboard for Razer fans who want a more discreet option. At S$149.90, it's also priced pretty reasonably, and I really like that Razer has made this sturdy workhorse more accessible.