Reviews

Razer Arctosa Keyboard – Review

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Razer are doing very well for themselves. Their logo is easily recognizable and they’ve developed quite a reputation for creating good gaming gear. The Razer Arctosa is designed as an entry level piece of equipment, squarely aimed at those who want to upgrade to a gaming keyboard but don’t want to have to go to all of the trouble of listing their grandmother on Ebay to do it. And indeed there are a lot of expensive keyboards out there, all boasting shiny bells, whistles, matter transporters and tea makers. Yet while they dress up in bright colors and have a list of features a mile long The Arctosa makes its intentions clear on the back of the packaging:

“While it includes fully programmable Hyperesponse keys with macro capabilities, customizable profiles with on-the-fly switching and 1000Hz Ultrapolling, it does away with the non-essential ones like backlighting and rubber-sprayed keys.

No-nonsense, no bling:  this baby does what it’s supposed to do – allows you to perform better and faster in-game.”

With a current asking price of just £45 on the official website Razer have reinforced their goal, putting it in the perfect price-bracket for anyone who doesn’t have much cash to spend, which these days is just about everybody. But does that low cost come at the expense of performance?

TECH SPECS

  • Fully-programmable keys with macro capabilities
  • Selective anti-ghosting for WASD gaming cluster
  • Slim keycap structure with Hyperesponse technology
  • Easy access media keys
  • Gaming mode option for deactivation of the Windows key
  • 10 customizable software profiles with on-the-fly switching
  • 1000Hz Ultrapolling / 1ms response time
  • Detachable wrist rest
  • Approximate Size : 470 mm / 18.50” (Width) x 222 mm / 8.74” (Height) x 23 mm / 0.91” (Depth)
  • Approximate Weight: 720 g / 1.59 lbs
System Requirements
  • PC with USB port
  • Windows® 7 / Windows Vista® / Windows® XP
  • Internet connection (for driver installation)
  • At least 35MB of hard disk space

(Please note that I can confirm that the Arctosa also works with Windows 8)

If the price-tag and the back of the box blurb wasn’t enough to convince you that this is a simple barebones piece of technology then the design of the keyboard shall. Sleek and simplistic the Arctosa is about as under-stated as a gaming keyboard comes, making it a good choice for anyone that doesn’t appreciate the glitz and glamor so often associated with pricier offerings. upon opening the box I was momentarily fooled into thinking Razer has accidentally sent me a standard keyboard, but once I got used to it I appreciated the streamlined design.
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Getting started is as easy as plugging the Arctosa into an available USB slot. But if you want access to everything it has to offer then you’ll need to go ahead and install the correct drivers. To do this you just whack the included disc into your PC to launch an application that…downloads the drivers!? Wait, What? Yes, to my utter confusion Razer have included a CD in the box which serves only to launch an application a few mega-bytes in size that then download the drivers. It seems like a unnecessary way of increasing production costs with no benefit to the consumer, but oh well.

Once you’ve got the software up and running it’s a dawdle to use thanks to a simple and straightforward interface from which you can access  the Arctosa’s key features, including the mighty power of macros. Since this is a keyboard aimed at entry-level gamers I’ll stop and talk about what macros are for just a second: a macro is a series of  programmed commands that are activated and carried out in sequence when you press the designated key, allowing you to perform complex operations quickly and with minimal fuss. While the Arctosa doesn’t have dedicated macro buttons, which is to say extra keys along with the standard ones, it makes up for this by allowing you to program any of the existing regular keys, making it possible to turn the entire thing  into one massive collection of macro commands, something only desirable to really dedicated World of Warcraft players who just can’t be arsed. Setting up a macro is easy, and each one can have up to 50 commands assigned to it, which should be more than you could ever feasibly need.  You can also program a macro to launch a specific application or game, and you can even disable the selected key entirely should you have reason to do so. Further more you can save and store up to ten profiles, allowing you to swap on the fly between sets of macro’s for whatever game you’re playing, done either through the software or by pressing the Razer symbol on the top right of the keyboard plus one of the Function keys.  You can also open up the macro window and set a key to change to any given profile when pressed for even quicker swapping.

As you might have expected  a budget price-tag can come with some drawbacks, and one of those is the quality of the workmanship. The Razer Arctosa’s main body is made out of a shiny, cheap feeling black plastic, the kind that when tapped makes a loud clacking sound. If you put a finger on the plastic and push down gently the entire keyboard will flex, which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Granted, at this price range I wasn’t expecting too much, yet the Arctosa still manages to disappoint, and I feel that even keyboards with a lower price-tag are better built. However, despite that fact the keyboard feels cheap it does actually appear to be fairly rugged, although I’ve not hit it with a hammer to test this theory. Be warned that the glossy black plastic of the body also attracts dust and highlights fingerprints.

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The Arctosa certainly feels nice to use, regardless of any issues I might have with the build quality. The keys are low profile, almost like those of a laptop, require only a small amount of pressure to use, and have a light audible click to every stroke, making typing a pleasure. Indeed, this entire review has been written using the Arctosa. However, I did find that due to the low-profile nature of the keys it was harder to differentiate between them while gaming in comparison to other keyboards with higher keys and thus more spacing between each, leading to a few awkward moments and even more awkward deaths  The keyboard boasts a 1000Hz polling rate along with Razer’s patented Hyperesponse technology, resulting in an extremely responsive piece of kit where each keystroke is registered in just 1-millisecond. If you’ve ever been typing and noticed a delay between your inputs and what appears on screen, then that’s because your keyboard has a fairly slow response time (although the refresh rate of your monitor can also play a part in this), whereas with something like Arctosa you’ll never experience that delay.

The W/A/S/D gaming cluster on the left of the board also features anti-ghosting technology to ensure that not a single keystroke is ever lost when the pace of your session starts to become a little manic. To explain “ghosting” occurs when several keys are pressed at the same time and keyboard fails to register one or more of them, which can be a problem when gaming. Anti-ghosting technology combats this, allowing multiple keys to be pressed at the same time without fear of any of them being lost in translation, Indeed, I never noticed an instance when the keyboard ever failed to detect a stroke or was a little slow to respond, and thus it performed well in every game I played, which ranged from Planetside 2 to Starcraft 2. However, having anti-ghosting on one part of the keyboard only is a shame, especially if you happen to be like me and prefer using the directional keys for gaming.

On the back of the keyboard there’s two feet which can be flipped  down to raise the angle of the entire Arctosa, while on the front there’s a decent sized palm rest that offers a good level of support . If the palm rest isn’t to your liking then it can be removed completely, but this does require unscrewing it. Sadly the palm rest cannot be adjusted, but at least it being attached by screws ensures it won’t move during use.

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At the top right of the Arctosa a set of media keys can be found, which officially work with Windows Media Player, the iTunes player, Winamp and Realplayer, although I am pleased to say that they also worked with VLC player. I can’t comment on whether the keys also work with other players, however, although if they work with VLC then I think they probably will. Again I have some issues with quality here: The media keys are only very slightly raised and are hidden beneath a small piece of black plastic, making it appear like the panel is a touchscreen when they’re really just standard buttons. They feel cheap and clumsy to use, requiring a fair bit of pressure to activate. Sometimes they refused to work altogether on the first push. Like on most keyboards the media keys feel more like a gimmick than something practical, and while I can understand having them on more expensive offerings where you want all the trimmings, the Arctosa would have been fine without them, cutting down production costs and the RRP by a little more. Still, they’re there, and they do their job. Take that how you will.

Am irritating flaw also comes in the form of the status lights on the top right of the keyboard which are incredibly bright, a problem if you’re gaming late at night. A bit of black tape will solve that little problem, but once again, though, it highlights my doubts about some of the design choices made with the Arctosa. Such things may seem trivial to some, but to gamers it’s these little details that can really make a difference.

Now we come to the biggest problem I have. The version of the Arctosa I’ve been sent for review has its key markings finished in a slightly different shade of black than the rest of the keyboard, meaning that it’s nearly impossible to see the marking the majority of the time.  That might be fine if you’re a master of touch typing, but a lot of people aren’t, even when they use a keyboard for several hours a day. Obviously since I write and play games on my PC a lot I know my way around a keyboard, yet being unable to see the markings properly still threw me. However, the Arctosa does also come with the key markings finished in a lovely silver instead, so I heartily recommend that version of this one. Given that this problem can be avoided altogether I’ve decided not to factor it into the final score.

A solid keyboard with am equally solid price, the Arctosa isn’t going to amaze you with a range of features. It’s a straightforward, good piece of hardware and a brilliant choice for anyone looking for an upgrade from their regular keyboard that doesn’t involve begging the bank for a loan or having to sell the children into slavery. Ultimately its simplicity is both a strength and a weakness, presenting  clean, basic design and a limited set of features.  But as the saying goes you get what you pay for, and as an entry-level gaming keyboard it performs well.

The Good:
+ Good performance.
+ Easy to use software.
+ Every key can be a macro.

The Bad:
– No dedicated macro keys.
– Feels cheap.
– Those damn status lights!

The Verdict: 3/5 – Good
The Razer Arctosa is a good gaming keyboard at a great price, just don’t expect to be blown away by it.

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