"I'll never go back." It's a phrase that pops up again and again in comments and customer reviews for the Razer Orbweaver, the follow up to the Razer Nostromo. Gaming keypads – specialised half-keyboards used by gamers – offer a level of comfort and control that even the best gaming keyboards fail to match.
The Orbweaver takes everything good about the Nostromo and adds design elements that adjust to your unique hand shape, alongside programmable controls that can be tailored to your games and style of play.
Design and features
The Orbweaver measures 155 x 200 x 55mm (WxDxH), and comes with a six-foot-long USB cable. It's considerably narrower than the Logitech G13 Advanced Gameboard, so it won't take up quite so much space on your desk. The Orbweaver's design utilises a higher palm-rest, which actually provides better support than the low-rise G13. What the Orbweaver does not offer, however, is a digital display as seen on the Logitech model.
The base of the device has large rubber feet, so once you've got it in a comfortable position, it will stay put. The Orbweaver consists of three adjustable parts: The two-piece wrist rest, a keypad with 20 programmable buttons, and a thumb module with a thumb-friendly joystick and two thumb buttons. The entire device is shaped and moulded to provide easy access to all of your control keys while also cradling the wrist and palm in a comfortable position, letting you play for hours without experiencing wrist strain.
The keypad has 20 programmable buttons, with the centre buttons – conveniently placed just where the fingertips fall – set by default to the commonly used WASD keys. The keys feature mechanical key switches with a short throw and light actuating force, making it a breeze to use. The keys are also backlit, with a bright green backlight which can be adjusted through several levels of brightness.
Given that the Logitech G13 offers a similar amount of buttons, 22 in fact, it makes sense that Razer would try to step up its game with an equally impressive array, but I think it's trying a bit too hard. The Nostromo's best feature was that it didn't over-complicate an already intimidating device. The addition of adjustable modules and more sensitive buttons is a huge plus, but the sheer number of buttons, and the resulting need to differentiate them on the fly, could have been thought out a little more.
What's missing from the new Orbweaver – along with Razer's previous gamepad, the Nostromo – is tactile distinctions between the regular WASD keys and the surrounding buttons. There is a small nub at the bottom edge of one key, similar to the type used to differentiate the home keys on a keyboard, but it's too subtle. The Logitech G13, on the other hand, puts unmistakable (and comfortable) indentations on each of the WASD keys.
The thumb controls have been improved over the previous Razer Nostromo, with a smaller, more sensitive thumb-friendly joystick, and two thumb buttons. The joystick, which replaces the thumbpad found on the Nostromo, is positioned perfectly, with just enough shape to the head to be used comfortably. The bottom button, mapped to the spacebar for jump commands, features a lever design and mechanical switch that offers just the right amount of force – letting you click it with very little force, but with just enough firmness to prevent accidental clicking. Taken together, the Orbweaver has the best thumb controls found on any of the gaming keypads we've ever used.
In addition to all of the adjustable modules on the device, the buttons are all programmable with Razer's Synapse 2.0 dashboard. You can remap keys, save multiple profiles, and cycle through eight different customisable keymaps, letting you configure every detail of the Orbweaver to match not only your hand, but you gaming library as well. Plus, Razer Synapse lets you customise all of your current Razer products in the same dashboard, without the need for multiple management programs and driver installations.
I test gaming keypads using Mirror's Edge, a game absolutely dependent upon keyboard control. Controls were intuitive and smooth during gameplay, and the keypad proved very usable whether in the middle of a frantic race across rooftops or while executing a complicated wall run move. The only issue I came across is one I’ve already mentioned – the lack of tactile differentiation for the WASD keys makes it easy to get your keys mixed up after you use another command.
On the other hand, the thumb buttons have a light actuation force, and are positioned to prevent accidental clicking. The thumb buttons and joystick are also better positioned, in part because the entire thumb module of the device can be repositioned.
Using a dedicated gaming keypad like the Razer Orbweaver is the sort of change that makes it difficult to switch back. Its comfort and support levels are significantly better than a regular keyboard – even a top keyboard like the Corsair Vengeance K90 – while the perfectly positioned customisable controls top even the best programmable keyboards.
Compared to the Logitech G13, the Orbweaver is more comfortable, more adjustable, and offers better control while gaming. And all this makes for a device which is well worth its asking price, despite the fact that the price tag is admittedly steep.