Razer DeathStalker Gaming Keyboard Review

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Razer’s DeathStalker gaming keyboard is, like many of the company wares, named after a dangerous arthropod—in this case, a scorpion. The DeathStalker shares many features with other modern gaming keyboards: USB connectivity, (green) backlit keys, macro recording (for carrying out complex in-game actions with the press of a single button), and a mode for disabling certain keys that, when pressed accidentally, can kick you out of your game.

The DeathStalker’s most unique feature is its chiclet-style keys. In essence, that means the DeathStalker’s keys are flat, like the keyboards on Apple’s MacBook Air, rather than the more traditional raised, dome keys found on, for instance, Logitech’s G105 and nearly all other gaming keyboards. The switches underneath the DeathStalker’s keys are also made of rubber, unlike the mechanical switches found in many higher-end gaming keyboards, like Razer’s own Blackwidow Ultimate.

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Keyboards with mechanical switches—the kind you may remember on old IBM keyboards from the 80s—are very popular among gamers at the moment, for the tactile feel of their switches, which allows for (what many claim) is greater accuracy and faster repeated key presses.

All that being said, which keyboard type is right for you really comes down to preference. And if you’ve spent most of your typing life using a laptop, rather than a desktop keyboard, you may find chiclet-style keys more familiar and appealing. You can see the difference between the DeathStalkers flat keys (left) and the domed keys of the Corsair Vengeance K70 in the image below.

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The DeathStalker is one of the only gaming keyboards available with flat keys. Razer’s higher-end Deathstalker Ultimate also has flat keys, but it also has a built-in LCD screen on the right side, in place of the number keypad, which adds more functionality.

Comfort & Keys

I should preface this section with an admission that I’m a fan of mechanical keyboards. I use a Das Keyboard Ultimate every day for work, and a Corsair Vengeance K70 for gaming. So I wasn’t expecting to like the feel of the DeathStalker as much as I do. The DeathStalker keyboard keys are flat, which took a little getting used to, but they’re also very well-spaced, which made for comfortable typing and gaming. The keys have enough travel (the distance between when your finger hits the key and when the key bottoms out) that the experience doesn’t feel shallow or cheap.

The layout of the keys is also generally very good. I used the keyboard over several days in gaming and writing sessions, and each key was where I expected it to be, with no shrunken keys or oddly shifted characters.

The keys are backlit in green. Again, whether you like the colour or not is down to individual preference. But there is no doubt that backlit keys are handy for gaming in low light. And gaming with the overhead lights off is a nice way to make a game more immersive.

The backlighting here is also quite good, because it doesn’t leak out around the edges of the keys, but rather shines through the character labels. And you can adjust the intensity to one of twenty levels, as well as choose whether the lighting stays on all the time, or gently pulses.

On the downside for gamers, particularly those who play massively multi-player online RPGs (like World of Warcraft) or strategy games, while the keyboard does support recording macros, there are no dedicated macro keys. So you have to essentially sacrifice a standard key in any given game when you want to assign a macro to that key. And in many games with complex controls, the keys that are easiest to press are already used for common tasks. This is one of the DeathStalker’s biggest downsides, so if you often use macros, specifically if you like to assign several when gaming, you may instead want to consider something like Logitech’s G105 Gaming Keyboard, which has six dedicated macro keys running down its left edge, within easy finger reach.

The other thing the DeathStalker lacks, which many other keyboards in this price range have, is dedicated media control keys. The keyboard does have keys to control audio and video playback, but they’re doubled up on the F1-F7 keys. So in order to use them, you’ll have to hold down the Fn key, which is located to the right of the space bar, while pressing one of the Function keys, located in the upper left. Doing so will most likely require two hands, and is far less intuitive or convenient as mashing a dedicated key.

Also, the keyboard has 10-key rollover, which means you can press as many as 10 keys at once and the keyboard will be able to register them all. This is plenty for most gamers, as most people only have ten fingers. But if you use a lot of recorded macros when gaming, which are often comprised of multiple key presses, you may in fact wind up activating more than ten keys at once. If that sounds like the type of gamer you are (or are aspiring to become), you may want to invest in a higher-end keyboard that advertises N-Key rollover, which means that the keyboard should be able to register any key on the keyboard, no matter what others are currently being pressed.

 

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Synapse Software

The Razer Synapse 2.0 software, which the keyboard should prompt you to download when you plug it in, is quite good. You’ll have to create an account with Razer, but this will also store your keyboard (or Razer mouse) settings in the cloud. So when you use the mouse on another PC or Mac, and log in to the software, your settings should be automatically applied. You can also use the keyboard without the software, but the software makes recording macros much easier.

From within the software, you can adjust the backlight levels, create profiles for different games, enable and disable the Gaming mode (and choose which keys get disabled when you do). The software also allows you to record macros and edit them. Recording macros is fairly easy: Click the Macro tab on the top of the window, name your macro, and record your key commands. Each key action is shown visually in a window, so you can edit the commands and insert time delays between key presses.

Somewhat confusingly, though, when you’re done recording, there’s no save option or instruction on how to assign your macro to a key. Instead, you have to jump out of the Macro section, back to the Keyboard tab, and mouse over the key you want to assign your macro to. Once you do that, the key’s colour will change to green in the image of the keyboard shown within the software. This tells you that a macro has been assigned.

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Conclusion

If you’re looking for a gaming-specific keyboard and prefer flat, chiclet-style keys over the larger keys of most gaming keyboards, the Razer DeathStalker is definitely worth considering—especially if you don’t generally feel the need for dedicated macro keys.

If flat keys aren’t a priority, and you’re on a tight budget, Logitech’s G105 has a regular price of $69.99, and can sometimes be found on sale for less. The G105 keyboard also has (blue) backlit keys and six programmable keys that can be used to assign macros.

Alternatively, Gigabyte’s GK-K8100 Aivia K8100 offers backlit keys and dedicated macro keys, as well as a touch-sensitive panel at the top for volume and mute, and a pair of built-in USB ports. USB ports are handy for plugging in things like flash drives. The Gigabyte keyboard is also priced lower than the DeathStalker, at $76.99.

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Included in the Box:
Keyboard
Quick-start guide
Paper manual

 

Summary
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Razer DeathStalker Gaming Keyboard
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Matt Safford

Matt Safford spends his days testing gadgets and writing about technology. He has written for Popular Science, Smithsonian, Consumer Reports, and Wired.

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