Razer likes to keep us interested in its gaming peripherals by giving everything a little refresh each year. A tournament edition here, an ultimate edition there and they get a lot more mileage from their research and development costs.
This is not necessarily a bad thing – a well designed keyboard should last a decade or more, after all – but it does mean that sometimes early adopters can get the short end of the stick while those who bide their time can be spoiled for choice.
Well Razor’s latest revisions to four of its products come with a somewhat superficial change; variable colour lighting. So if nothing physical has changed, is there any real reason to consider the Razer Chroma range of peripherals?
After two weeks of solid use, my answer is “Maybe”.
There are four peripherals in the Chroma range; the BlackWidow keyboard, the Naga Epic MMO mouse, the DeathAdder mouse and the Kraken 7.1 headset. We’ve had all but the Naga in to play with.
The marketing blurb states “Chroma by Razer represents more than just multicolor (sic), it opens up limitless personalization options for you to play with.” What that really means is that you can change the colours and lighting styles of the peripherals to whatever your heart desires.
Razer BlackWidow Chroma: Clickity Clackity
The BlackWidow Chroma is built on the design of the BlackWidow Ultimate, which also featured backlighting, and thus the two are almost indistinguishable from each other. Both have a braided cable that resists twisting, a USB port on the keyboard as well as audio ports, a set of macro keys and the ability to disable the Windows key.
One key feature of all the BlackWidow keyboards is Razer’s own mechanical switches, and as a fan of the Cherry MX Red switches it pains me to say that my next keyboard will undoubtedly feature Razer’s. They’re that nice to type on, and the sound they make is oh-so-satisfying, especially when I’m in the zone and hitting the 100wpm+ mark.
So is there any real reason to pick the BlackWidow Chroma over the BlackWidow Ultimate? The main difference is that the Ultimate’s backlight is static, while you can change the colour of the Chroma’s and vary it across the length of the ‘board.
One extra feature unique to the Chroma is the reactive lighting mode which only lights up a key once it’s been pressed, and then slowly fades away.
In a pitch black room, it is a sight to behold and makes the Chroma really stand out from the crowd. The full array of lighting effects (which includes spectrum cycling, breathing, static, and wave) do offer a vast amount of customisation and help to make the Chroma a very attractive deck. Plus, it helps you find the right key under first time under pressure.
Add to that the fact that the BlackWidow Ultimate 2014 Edition and Chroma are the same price, and it makes no sense not to pony up for the Chroma.
A warning to all those who intend on purchasing the BlackWidow Chroma in a very dark room: use of the wave lighting effect will deliver an experience similar to an acid trip; any and all dragons and unicorns that appear are not real.
Razer Kraken 7.1 Chroma: Surrounded by sound
Surround sound headphones come in two flavours; those that pack each ear cup with a cluster of drivers and those that use software trickery to deliver the surround sound experience.
The Razer Kraken 7.1 Chroma falls into the latter category, since it uses two 40mm neodymium drivers, a USB port and some fancy audio circuitry to weave its magic. And that’s a good thing. Multi-driver headsets are frankly horrible to wear and always result in lower sound quality: with the Kraken, if you don’t like the surround effect you can turn it off.
Razer’s Synapse software plays a role in the implementation, and after the initial calibration there is no need to dive into the software again.
Interestingly enough, Razer does not ask you to download its Surround application which is designed to deliver a surround sound experience to stereo headphones. The only sound quality issue present is the heavy-handed bass which tends to make your ears bleed at the most inopportune times, which is a pity because for the most part this headset is fantastic for gaming.
The microphone is also damn near perfect, except for the mute button hidden on the tip of the mic which I pushed twice by accident, and only on the second occurrence did I find the button. The quality of my voice on the other end of the chat was always reported as being crystal clear.
The Kraken 7.1 Chroma is very comfortable even after extended periods of use, even if you have large earlobes – a vital factor in any headset’s chances of success.
The lighting effects on the headset are kept out of the user’s peripheral vision, but anyone walking through a dark LAN might be drawn to the eerie glow of the Razer logo on each ear cup. Add in a breathing effect and you will definitely hear the word “cool” liberally thrown around in your vicinity.
Razer DeathAdder Chroma: The mouse that roared
For this part of the review, dear reader, I will be more direct than usual and more direct than editors usually permit (Hmmmm, where’s this going? – Ed).
A mouse is a very personal device and finding the right mouse can be difficult. I’ve tested many mice in my career, including Razer’s own Ouroborus, but I have never truly fallen in love with a mouse until I laid my hands on the DeathAdder Chroma.
Razer claims that the DeathAdder is the world’s best gaming mouse; marketing spin aside, I totally agree – it’s a damn good mouse – but again emphasis must be placed on the fact that grip styles and personal preferences vary from person to person, and your mileage will almost certainly vary.
The Razer DeathAdder Chroma is a sizeable mouse which makes it comfortable for those with large mitts, and seems to work well with my claw/full-handed grip style. The thumb buttons are large enough to ensure that you never miss a click and the scroll wheel, while lacking in any fancy features, is solid and can’t be faulted.
The fact that the Razer logo and the scroll wheel both glow softly in a colour and pattern of my choice only added to my appreciation.
The optical sensor will need to be calibrated for whichever surface it is being used on; failure to do so will result in issues like the mouse simply not going where it’s supposed to, which isn’t what you want. But once properly calibrated to the surface the sensor never misses a beat, and not once did I want to slam it on the table out of frustration. Always a good thing.
No matter if lighting effects aren’t your thing, if you are looking for an amazing mouse then the Razer DeathAdder Chroma needs to be on your list, at least in the top two.
Razer Synapse: Better than it was
The Razer Synapse software used to be a nightmare: it would update every day and take an hour to do so and spent most of the time generally being useless, but thankfully Razer has fixed it. Synapse works properly and it’s the key ingredient in the Chroma recipe.
The software controls all of the lighting changes and even allows you to have one theme spread across all your devices so that you have a matching set. The software is well thought-out and makes adjusting and tweaking your peripherals and their lighting effects an effortless task.
But the underlying hardware still needs to be fantastic for the concept to truly shine, and for the most part the Chroma peripherals show us what Razer is capable of.
The Chroma range of peripherals allows Razer to surpass the usual run-of-the-mill backlight peripherals and makes it something special.
Of course if you are not interested in a keyboard that wouldn’t look out of place at a rave or a headset that makes you look possessed, then you could be put off, but these peripherals are good on the merit of the hardware alone, and that’s what counts.
While the Kraken 7.1 is not perfect, the BlackWidow Chroma and the DeathAdder Chroma nearly are and make a very attractive pair in term of performance and looks.
Recommended Retail Prices
BlackWidow Chroma: R2 100
Kraken 7.1 Chroma: R1 399
DeathAdder Chroma: R849