Razer has been a longtime champion of its own mechanical switches – seen in everything from desktop keyboards to laptops and even iPad covers – but the Huntsman and Huntsman Elite introduces the company’s first Optomechanical switch. That’s a mouthful to be sure, and the way Razer’s new key switch blends together mechanical elements with freaking lasers is breathtakingly complex, but the only thing you really need to know is this keyboard is insanely quick.
We’ve quite literally never typed quicker on another keyboard – and beyond that, the Razer Huntsman Elite has also delivered the best typing experience we’ve ever had.
Pricing and availability
All of that speed comes with a whiplash-inducing $199 (£199, AU$339) price for the Razer Huntsman Elite we’re reviewing here. If you definitely have your eye set on Razer Optomechanical switches, you’ll also find them on the lower-end Huntsman keyboard that omits the media shortcut buttons and an included palm rest for $149 (£149, AU$249).
The Razer Huntsman Elite’s most direct competitor in price and speed is the $199 (£184, AU$279) Corsair K95 RGB Platinum. It can be outfitted with Cherry MX Speed Silver switches, which basically makes it the fastest purely mechanical keyboard on the market.
If you’re looking for a more affordable, but still top-end keyboard, look to the $179 (£159, AU$279) Logitech G910 Orion Spectrum. Unfortunately, going this route leaves you with just tactile Romer-G switches that aren’t nearly as quick as either of its two competitors.
Despite the Huntsman Elite’s larger-than-life aspirations, it’s actually Razer’s smallest keyboard yet thanks to it being the company’s first frameless design. All of Razer’s other keyboards thus far have come with a thick plastic fairing, but the Huntsman Elite ditches that for a simpler design.
Floating keycaps hover over a jet black anodized aluminum keyboard deck, following in the tradition of other frameless keyboards such as the Logitech G513 and HyperX Alloy Elite RGB. Where the design deviates is Razer sees everyone else’s lightbars and ups the ante with track lighting all around the perimeter of its keyboard. This includes – at long last – an RGB lit palm rest!
As ridiculously over the top as this might look, you won’t find another keyboard with more RGB lighting. As ever, Razer is a master in this field with Chroma adding a vibrant, yet soft illumination to every key, button and a unique under glow effect thanks to the 360-degree track lighting.
The Razer Huntsman also features one of the best sets of media keys with three simple buttons for play/rewind and fast forward along with a volume wheel that features a mute button in its center.
The volume wheel is the real treat here as it hangs partially off the edge for easy adjustments. As soon as you start moving it, the lighting within its inner ring changes to a pure white that increases in intensity as you raise the volume. We just wish the volume wheel would click physically and audibly or just turn with a smooth scrolling motion, rather than be somewhere in between.
Razer also cleverly places the caps locks and other indicator lighting right above the arrow keys, an area of dead space that often goes underutilized.
Although the palm rest offers plushy support for our hands, we’re not crazy about the metal edges surrounding the palm rest. If you’re wrists tend to hang off and below the edge of your desk – which isn’t great, ergonomically speaking, by the way – you’ll feel this metal edge cutting into you all the time.
Razer isn’t the first peripheral maker to come out with an optical switch keyboard – the Aorus K9 Optical and Tesoro Excalibur SE Spectrum beat it to the punch – but the Optomechanical switch has a unique feel and is significantly faster than others we’ve used in the past.
If you pull of any of the Huntsman Elite’s keycaps, you’ll find a strange-looking purple switch underneath.
There’s the usual plus-shaped peg in the middle, but surrounding it is a box with branches connected to a metal bar that looks like it was pulled off of a takeout box. This entire top-section is there to provide a mechanical feel as the bottom half of the key switch is just a spring, hollow space and the lasers that drive this optical switch.
Traditional mechanical keyboard switches typically bottom out against a metal (usually gold) contact point to create a complete electrical circuit and tell your computer when to type out a character. Razer Optomechanical switch fires the same command except it uses a beam of light to do so, which is inherently faster thanks to the speed of light being 186,000 miles-per-second.
Razer also modeled the mechanical aspects of its new key switch after the best qualities of its competitors. This includes the 45g actuation force of Cherry MX Reds mixed with the clicky feedback of Cherry MX Blue and Razer Green switches. The Optomechanical switch also has a 3.5mm travel distance and 1.5mm actuation point that’s nearly as low as that of Cherry MX Speed Silver.
Razer’s Optomechanical switch might sound like a terrifying chimera on paper, but it all works beautifully in practice. The combination of optical switches and a short mechanical actuation amounts to our swiftest typing experience yet. All the while the Optomechanical switch delivers a satisfyingly tactile and audible click often omitted on the fastest keyboards.
This editor in particular isn’t afraid to admit he types at a laughably slow words per minute, but the Razer Huntsman Elite makes us as if we're typing almost twice as fast. At first it can take some getting used to and there will be plenty of accidental key presses, but once you get the hang of its speed you’ll likely also realize you’re typing faster than ever as well.
All of this speed comes in even more handy for games, of course. First-person shooters, and especially Mirror’s Edge, plays like a dream with the Huntsman Elite. The keyboard is incredibly fun to use when playing Hammond, the new Wrecking Ball character in Overwatch, to make perfectly circular death cyclones around capture points.
According to Razer, the Optomechanical switch actuates 30% faster than a traditional clicky mechanical switch. Durability is also said to be doubled and the Huntsman Elite should last through 100 million clicks.
One down side of this optical system is every single key produces its own laser. Now, 104 individual beams of light, on top of all the Huntsman Elite RGBs, uses up a lot of energy and it requires two USB ports at all times to work correctly.
Forget about Cherry MX Speed or any other keyboard switch, Razer’s Optomechanical switches are easily the fastest keyboard switches we’ve ever typed on. Meanwhile, the Razer Huntsman Elite is the closest thing we’ve seen to a perfectly laid out keyboard.
Of course, it’s not completely perfect as the keyboard requires a ton of energy and losing two USB ports is a major inconvenience. We also feel Razer should slightly tweak the ergonomics of the palm rest. Not to mention, $199 (£199, AU$339) is an incredibly steep asking price for even a keyboard as fine as this.
That said, we’d personally would splurge sooner on a Huntsman Elite than any of the other premium, top-shelf peripherals. The Optomechanical switch is simply incredible. Razer might have set out to build the world’s fastest gaming keyboard, but the Huntsman Elite also delivers on the best typing experience you can find today.