The keyboard is the most important peripheral in your gaming arsenal. It is your gateway into each and every game you play. A bad set of keys can bog your game down, distract you, and, most importantly, make gaming less fun. A good keyboard, on the other hand, can not only take your skills to the next level, but also skyrocket your enjoyment and satisfaction doing anything on your computer. Razer’s latest entry, the Deathstalker Chroma, not only aims to raise your game but make you look good while doing it.
You’ve probably heard of the Deathstalker. The first version of the board debuted at Gamescom 2012 and featured the Switchblade UI along with laptop-like “chiclet” keycaps to provide a cost effective middle-ground between membrane and mechanical key switches. The Chroma version released this month abandons Switchblade, but refreshes the model with Chroma backlighting inspired by the Deathstalker’s big brother, the BlackWidow Chroma. The result certainly provides the most customizability this side of the Blackwidow in Razer’s current line-up.
So Many Pretty Colors!
Chroma, in the case of the latest Deathstalker, denotes full 16.8 million color customization. If that seems like a lot, you’re right. The important thing to remember is that these boards animate rather than remain static. Colors fade into each other, breathe, and wash across the board in waves. Smooth transitions demand so many colors and provides you with complete control over the exact hues you want decorating your desk top.
The Chroma is configured using Synapse, Razer’s all-in-one software controller, and the built in Chroma Configurator. While the Deathstalker does not feature per-key customization, the software does split the board is split into three customizable zones: the main keyset, the navigation buttons, and the numpad. Each of these regions can be customized to display a static colors, create a breathe effect by pulsing between two, cycle through a pattern of up to seven different colors, or automatically cycle through the entire spectrum.
It’s important to note, however, that colors can only be “layered” in exactly this way. Despite the ability to assign multiple effects to each zone, the top effect always seemed to take precedence during our testing. The result is a keyboard that is significantly less customizable than the “Chroma” tag would make it seem, following what was offered in last year’s Blackwidow. This is disappointing but expected with the different internals (and prices) between the two boards. Despite this, the Deathstalker delivers on its promise of competition stomping customizability.
Razer has also released the Chroma SDK, allowing developers to create custom profiles and lighting functions for their games.
The Power of Programmability
Like others in Razer’s line of gaming keyboards, the Deathstalker is completely programmable. Every single key can be easily remapped or configured to launch programs within Synapse by selecting from a drop-down menu. I found this especially useful for launching Google Chrome or Steam by tying them to my scroll lock or pause break keys. You can also record macros on the fly with a simple button press and then bind these to any key that suits your fancy.
On most boards, using these features would mean losing the normal function of whatever key you bound it to. On the Deathstalker, you can simply create extra profiles to give yourself whole new sets of extra keys. Since one of the bindable functions is profile switching, I to hop back and forth between typing and my own macro mode eliminating the need for dedicated macro buttons. The Deathstalker also supports 10 simultaneous keypresses for complex combinations.
Also of note is the included Game Mode and Stats-based Heatmapping. Game Mode is as you would expect, disabling alt+tab and the windows key, saving your from switching windows at the wrong time. The Stats tab, however, not only delivers but surprises. You’ll see your keystroke count, travel distance, and the like, but you will also see how fun facts like how often you’re pressing buttons, when, and where by each game you’re playing.
Hardware Designed for Sleekness
The Deathstalker is a low-profile board. Everything about it just screams “sleek,” from the extra-quiet, chiclet keys, to its flattened typing angle. Compared to my other keyboards, the Deathstalker rests notably lower, which I thought would bother me, but never actually did. The body of the keyboard made up of gently textured black plastic, which allows the attached wrist rest to pop with its more reflective pattern and prominent logo. The wrist rest has a tendency to grip your wrist, which is helpful for preventing typos on such low-profile keycaps.
Let’s talk about those. Though the chiclets resemble laptop keys, they actually function similarly to a standard membrane keyboard. However, Razer’s blend of these two designs allows for a typing experience that is much crisper than a typical membrane and cuts the travel distance of each key in half. Theoretically, this could increase your typing speed and APM in games like StarCraft 2. The major drawback is the lack of contour, which makes it much easier to typo until your fingers get used to the new design.
Build-wise, the board leaves something to be desired. It flexes easily and is fairly lightweight, without being chintzy. It also lacks features found in other boards in this price range, such as a braided cable, USB port, or audio jacks. These are odd omissions for a keyboard with a $99 MSRP. Typing feels great though, and the shallowness of the chiclet keys means you can press more keys, faster.
The Deathstalker isn’t a cheap keyboard. That said, the same thing is true here that I’ve found with other Razer products: you’re not only buying into the hardware, you’re buying into the software that pushes it to next level. The ease of programming is a huge part of what makes this board, whether that be in powerful lighting customization or running a dozen macros on the fly, without spending hours programming them in. If you don’t care about lighting, however, the original Deathstalker accomplishes these tasks just as well, at about half the price.
But ask yourself this: Can the original Deathstalker make it look like a unicorn just ran across your desktop? I thought not.