Razer Huntsman Elite review: Uhh, actuation…
- Toes the line between clicky and linear.
- Impressive (if not totally justified) innovation.
- Detachable wrist rest and dedicated media keys are a nice luxury with more possibilities down the line.
- A delightfully tactile typing experience.
Could be better
- The racket this thing makes might be NSFW for some.
- Synapse for Mac needs some TLC.
Razer's new Opto-Mechanical switch is the purple cherry on top of an already outstanding gaming keyboard.
How much of a difference can a millisecond make in the heat of battle? How finely tuned does your trigger finger have to be to recognise such a minute improvement in reaction time? After spending about two weeks with Razer's latest gaming keyboard, the Huntsman Elite, I still don't have the answer to those questions. However, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that it's one of the finest gaming keyboards I've ever had the pleasure to use. And this deep love for Razer's engineering marvel extends past its obvious gaming applications; the Razer Huntsman Elite is one of the finest keyboards I've ever used full-stop.
Razer was one of the first manufacturers to marry gaming and mechanical keyboards when it first launched its immensely popular BlackWidow back in 2010. The peripheral pros spent the last eight years improving and iterating on what many considered and still consider the best gaming keyboard on the market. So why the Huntsman and why now?
Ever the innovators, Razer's RGB-mad engineers have been working on something special behind closed doors, an all-new keyboard switch technology. Dubbed the Razer Purple "Opto-Mechanical" switch, the keys for the Huntsman do away with physical contacts and in their place use actual infrared beams in every individual key. In its idle state, the infrared beams in each key are interrupted. When a key is pressed, a passage for the beam is created, allowing the beam to connect with a receiver that "actuates" the keypress.
For those not privy to the inner-workings of a mechanical keyboard, the actuation point is the moment the intended action of a keypress is actioned on-screen.
Normally, this actuation occurs when a key makes physical contact. With the Razer Huntsman, it's the moment the infrared beam hits the receiver, meaning there is no physical contact required to actuate a keypress. Besides being able to boast about your laser-powered keyboard, less physical contact also means less wear on the keys and Razer estimates you'll get around 100 million clicks out of each key (the standard is around 80 million).
If you know your clicky and your linear from your tactile, it's worth noting that the new Razer Purple switch sits somewhere betwixt (and if you don't, might I suggest our comprehensive guide to gaming keyboards?).
Purple has the satisfying click of a clicky Razer Green switch but requires less force to actuate (45g compared to 50g) and actuates at 1.5mm, faster than Razer's clicky Green and tactile Orange, and falls just 3mm short of Razer's linear Yellow. Razer tells us Purple is roughly 30% faster than most clicky switches. What they didn't tell us was that it's about 30% louder than your average clicky switch too.
I (and the folks unfortunate enough to sit in proximity to me) have grown used to the clickety-clack of the Razer Purple, which seems to reverberate a little more than your average clicky switch. My first day with the Huntsman Elite consisted of me timidly rapping at the keys, uncomfortable at the racket I was making. Then there was the visible tick from my co-workers when I'd hammer down on the keys. Realistically, it took less than a day for everyone in my immediate vicinity to get used to the rhythmic clicking but after a precious two-week stint with the Huntsman, I still draw attention from other colleagues passing by.
I actually love the brouhaha of typing on the Huntsman. It's so dramatic, as if every sentence you type is packing heat. Whether typing or gaming, the click is a loud callback from your keyboard shouting "message received, cap'n". It builds confidence while typing and clears up almost any doubt when you swear you countered an attack or hit jump before racing off an edge.
I will say it gets a little much in the dead of the night or a quiet office setting but, again, it won't take long for everyone to get used to.
So the Razer Huntsman's infrared mechanics are a marvel to behold and will likely hold up a little longer than your average keyboard if you're in it for the long run but back to my original question: does the 0.4mm difference with the clicky Razer Green's actuation actually make a difference? It's hard to say but I've found burning through a few rounds of PUBG and Overwatch an absolute treat with the Huntsman Elite.
Whether there's some Jedi-level mind-trickery going on here or I can actually feel the difference, games that require expert timing while platforming and shooting like Cuphead actually seem a little breezier. When I've tested mechanical gaming keyboards in the past, I've almost always hopped back to a gamepad as soon as humanly possible (especially for platformers and twitch gameplay) but after spending some time with the Huntsman, I'm genuinely concerned about returning to a life without it (okay, not "genuinely" or "concerned" but you get my point). The quiet life, if you will.
Ultimately, I think my attachment to the Huntsman is a combination of a few things; the audible confirmation of key actuation, the actual increase in responsiveness (though minute), together these make gaming with the Huntsman an absolute pleasure. That's the only way I can explain why I enjoy gaming more on the Purple-Switched Huntsman more than I do on a faster Orange-Switched BlackWidow V2.
That doesn't mean it's for everybody. Don't like the click? Stick with Razer Orange or Yellow. Not willing to give up your precious 1.9mm actuation? Stick with Razer Green or consider comparing clicky keyboards from other manufacturers.
Huntsman vs Huntsman Elite
While we've had the pleasure of reviewing the pricier Huntsman Elite there is a base model also available for those looking to save a few bucks.
Forking out for $339.95 for the Elite model will give you a sleek set of four dedicated media keys, a textured volume dial, an RGB ergonomic wrist rest and four-sided RGB underglow.
The four media keys are set as skip forward, skip back, play/pause and audio mute by default but can be remapped with Razer Synapse.
Dedicated media keys are always a bonus but the dial is an especially nice touch that allows for fast and reliable volume control. My only criticism with Synapse is that the Mac version is in need of a serious update. Not that you will be gaming much on a Mac but for those that use a Mac for work, the outdated Mac version of Synapse is a bit of a pain. Admittedly, the Huntsman uses hybrid onboard and cloud storage allowing you to save customisations online or to the keyboard itself. Still, the Synapse experience on Mac needs to be brought up to speed for a seamless experience across operating systems.
The RGB-ified wrist rest might be an unnecessary luxury for some but it's a damn nice luxury to have. The wrist rest magnetically snaps to the bottom of the Huntsman Elite and is powered by a small six-pin contact. If you're the type to light up your home office like the inside of a seedy nightclub, the Elite is going to be the obvious winner here.
My interest in the wrist rest lies in Razer's plan for more attachments down the line. In a chat with Razer before the Huntsman's launch, we were told Razer has a few ideas in the pipeline that will take advantage of the six-pin power source, most notably a wireless charging attachment.
However, if you're only after the Hunstman's main selling point, the Purple Opto-Mechanical switch, you can save yourself $90 and settle for the Hunstman which comes in at $249.95.
Pricing and availability
As mentioned above, the Hunstman Elite will set you back $339.95 and the Huntsman just $249.95. For a bit of perspective, Razer's BlackWidow V2 with Yellow Switch costs the same at the Hunstman Elite at $339.95 and the popular BlackWidow X Chroma costs $259.95, just $10 more than the Hunstman. So in terms of Razer's pricing, the Hunstman range is par for the course.
The Huntsman range is available through your usual brick-and-mortar storefronts; with JB Hi-Fi and EB Games selling the Hunstman Elite at $339 and $249.95, respectively. You can also find it online via Razer's official store at the recommended retail price (with free delivery).
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The Razer Huntsman Elite gives an ambitious pitch that's almost impossible to measure in any practical way outside of comparing the experience to typing on any other mechanical keyboard. Thankfully, the overall experience is an absolute delight if you don't mind the rhythmic clickety-clack of the Razer Purple's slightly noisier mechanical melange of clicky, linear and tactile.
While it borders on obnoxiously noisy, the tactile and audible feedback of the Huntsman makes it one of the most pleasant typing and gaming experiences I've had in a long time and now that I've become accustomed to it, I'm afraid there's no going back.