So we keep up with the happenings in the keyboard world. Most of the time, its the same old thing... someone does it slightly better, or this or that is available in a new color - but its lots of the same (which is ok - but makes finding new and interesting keyboards pretty tough)
So color us surprised when we had Razer suggest we take a look at their new optical mechanical switch. The technology is nothing new to be honest. Lots of companies have optical mechanical switches. But nobody has really done it like Razer has on this brand new Huntsman Tournament Edition TKL. (Razer did not provide us a keyboard - we purchased it ourselves solely for this review)
Rather than trying to set the actuation point of the switch (something others have done) Razer has left a set actuation point, and instead, focused on smoothing the switch out.... and that got our attention. That is right smack dab in the middle of our lane.
After a terrible Logitech review, a GOOD review for Razer? What timeline is this?
First - let's sort out the marketing hype from the real facts.
No, this is not any faster than any other comparable switch. Just because it uses light, does not mean you will be able to notice a difference because the signal is going through the same type of circuit board that every other keyboard has. That "light" is turned into a digital signal, processed, and sent up the same type of usb connection you have in use right now. Will the signal get to the PCB quicker? possibly by thousands of a fraction of a second - but we are comparing an electrical signal to light... both traveling just a millimeter or so. In your game, and under normal use - you will NOT see a difference, and honestly, it think the claim is a bit disingenuous, but that's marketing for you.
Secondly - "Quality, Aluminum Construction: Covered with a matte, aluminum top frame for increased structural integrity" - ok... but that "quality aluminum" is REALLY thin, and is sitting on top of the same cheap, thin, ABS plastic case that most other cheap keyboards do.
Now let's get to the good stuff.
The Razer optical switch is........ GOOD. I know. We are as shocked as you are. We have shunned Razer for years for not listening to the public, using proprietary parts that don't play well with others, and shunning industry standards. But, even though this switch is drastically different, unique, and new - they kept the industry standard cherry top so any cherry compatible keycap can be used! GOOD JOB RAZER!
Secondly - they had a dubious claim that it was the smoothest switch in the world. I was salivating at the chance to write a lengthy rebuttal telling them to remove their heads from somewhere but Razer has denied me my delicious opportunity. But after a few minutes of using this Huntsman... They may be right. Of course, that is an entirely subjective claim, but its not outlandish. In fact, it may be 100% accurate. I pride myself on building some of the most refined keyboards in the world - and will spend hours if not sometimes more than a day meticulously applying Krytox to my Zealios or Zilents for my next daily driver keyboard. Razer has managed to (at worst) match my craftsmanship in getting every fine detail in the switch running smoothly.... and (at best) surpassed hundreds of dollars of time and energy getting that smoothness just right.
But - that is not to say there aren't problems.
Immediately upon seeing the design I saw the flaw - the one downside to the idea. The external sliders make for GREAT action and do create a really smooth switch - but one piece of dust, and that smooth action is all but done. In my 3 minutes of using the board, a hair managed to make its way underneath the up arrow on the direction keys. That hair became stuck in the slider, turning a really smooth keystroke, into a scratch nightmare. Within just a few more presses - the key started becoming stuck and lagging on the return. That's a problem.
The other issue I quickly noticed was the spring weight. This should be easy for Razer to resolve - but they are light to the point that the brain sometimes misses that you actually pressed a key. I found my normal 80 (low) to 100 (high) words per minute drop down to 50 (at best).
So, there is good and bad with this Huntsman Tournament TKL - make sure you know what you are buying! This keyboard will not be right for everyone. It does however show a ton of potential on this new switch.... it is one of the most promising things Razer has had in years.