What is it?
Looking like something from a sci-fi movie, the Razer Orbweaver is a gaming keypad. This model is a few years old and has been superseded by the Razer Orbweaver Chroma. I originally bought it to use together with a joystick to play Elite Dangerous, but have since found many uses for it.
A look at the hardware
There are 20 mechanical programmable keys on the unit, in addition to another 6 inputs accessed with the thumb – see section D. The keys are very tactile, have good travel, and are backlit with green LEDs. The brightness can be adjusted via software or turned off altogether.
Your wrist sits on the wrist pad at the bottom while your palm fits on a front swiveling palm rest – it swivels to allow access to the top keys without having to lift your hand. The thumb sits over the thumb unit to access a thumb pad and two other buttons.
Flipping the Orbweaver over there are three points at which you can customize the size of the unit to better suit your hand. The first one indicated in the photo allows you to slide the thumb unit in or out. The second one adjusts the length between the keys and the wrist rest. The third is a pin that, when pulled out, allows the palm rest to swivel. There are also two lock settings for the palm rest, either at full forward or backward rotation. There are seven rubber feet on the bottom of the unit that prevent it from slipping and sliding across your desk while in use.
As my hands are on the larger size I fully extend the wrist rest and the thumb unit.
To customize the functions of the keys, you have to download the Razer Synapse software. It requires a reboot of the PC once installed. Creating an account with Razer synchronizes your settings between different systems. This is great for when I don’t want to work at my desktop: I plug the Orbweaver into my Surface Pro 3 and Synapse downloads the customizations I set on my desktop PC.
Each program can have its own profile. If you link the program, Synapse automatically switches to that profile. To change a key setting simply click on the key in the software.
As you can see, there are a ton of options for customization. If you want a simple key press, however, select keyboard function from the drop down and press the key you want to bind to on your regular keyboard. Each profile can have up to eight different keymaps, should the twenty-six buttons not provide enough inputs so that, in theory, you could program up to 208 different functions per profile, although 1 key in every keymap must be set to switch keymaps should you require more than 1.
To customize the controls on the thumb module you simply click on ‘go to side view’ and return to the main keys with ‘go to top view’. These are customized the exact same way.
Clicking on the lighting tab lets you adjust the brightness of the backlit keys. In general use I have mine switched off, but if I am gaming at night, I’ll turn the lighting onto dim, just so I can see the buttons. There is a pulsate mode too if you want to get all fancy and have a slow disco at your desk. Again, the setting here is tied to whatever profile you are in, so you can have different lighting levels per game or program.
Thanks to its adjustable design, together with the wrist and palm rests, the Orbweaver is very comfortable to use. The main keys are very responsive and quite clicky in the way mechanical keyboards are. The clicks are quite loud – the only thing I do not like about the Orbweaver. The thumb controls do not require much force to activate but you never find yourself accidentally clicking them. The unit is solid and sturdy and stays in place thanks to its rubber feet.
My use cases
As mentioned earlier, I originally bought this for its intended purpose: to play games. However, I started using it for so much more. When I started using Zbrush on my Surface Pro 3, it was not practical to have the keyboard attached while sculpting on the screen with the stylus. I had the idea to program Zbrush keyboard shortcuts onto the Orbweaver and found this to work very well.
Once I bought my tablet monitor for my desktop PC, I decided to use the Orbweaver on that too so that I could remove my keyboard, pull the tablet monitor closer to me and rest my left hand on the Razer gamepad while sculpting with my right hand. The ALT button is quite important in Zbrush and it’s great to have this bound to the bottom thumb key, the top thumb button I use for CTRL.
This works brilliantly with drawing applications too. I generally set the thumbpad to resize brushes by moving it left and right, and adjust opacity by going up or down.
The Orbweaver works great with my Surface Pro 3 too. I can set the tablet on my lap to draw while sitting on the sofa and have the gamepad sat next to me with access to all of my keyboard shortcuts. As previously mentioned, the profile settings are stored in the cloud so it doesn’t matter which device I am on, they synchronize automatically. It doesn’t take long to build a muscle memory for which keys do what function.
I have had the Razer Orbweaver for a few years now. Initially, I was skeptical because of its rather high price, but now I couldn’t do without it. Out of 10, I will give it a solid 9 – 1 point deducted simply because I am not a fan of loud clicky keys.