Razer Orbweaver Review

 

Source

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 This model is a few years old and has been superseded by the Razer Orbweaver Chroma.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

Source

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.

Software Customization

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.

Ergonomics

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.

Apple Pencil Review – From an Apple Hater

I hate doing this review. I don’t have any love for Apple or their products despite once owning several iPhones and iPads. Their ‘walled garden’ approach has never sat right with me and their lack of innovation in recent years has – in my opinion – put them somewhat on the back foot.

That said, Ms Muxx – my other half – expressed an interest in creating digital art. She often watches me with a stylus in hand, scribbling away on either a screen or on my latest tablet. She is a big Apple fan and has both an iPhone X and an iPad Pro 12.9″. She had a little go on my Surface Pro 3 last week and lamented about the lack of a pen for her iPad. Muxxy to the rescue, I ordered her an Apple Pencil Saturday evening. It was due to arrive tomorrow but turned up this morning.

Incidentally, Steve Jobs once famously said:

Who wants a stylus? You have to get ’em, put ’em away, you lose ’em. Yuck! Nobody wants a stylus. So let’s not use a stylus.”

My, how times change.

The Apple Pencil is, like all Apple products, rather expensive at £89.99 direct from Apple. It arrived in a sleek white box with a photo of the device on top. Sliding the cover off revealed a little pocket full of instructions, warranties, a spare nib for the pencil and a power adaptor. More on that later.

Lifting the sleeve out revealed the pencil in all its Apple white glory.

The pencil was protected by a thin film of plastic. Once removed it was time to pair the pencil with the iPad. This is done by removing the magnetic cap on the end of the pencil and inserting it into the iPad charging port. Yes, really.

No Apple, this doesn’t look stupid AT ALL

This was also the way to charge your pencil before enough people complained about Apple’s silliness and they decided to include the charging cable adaptor in the box. Thankfully you can now charge it like this.

Specifications for the Pencil are typically Apple vague. Despite spending some time investigating, I could not find how many pressure levels the device detects. Unlike other styluses, the Apple device does not have any buttons on it. It does, however, recognize pen tilt.

It is very comfortable in the hand, is very balanced, and weighs little more than a regular pen. In size, it is about the length of a regular pencil but a bit thicker.

Once the nib wears down it is quite easy to replace. You simply unscrew it from the pencil.

Eager to give it a try, I downloaded Autodesk’s Sketchbook from the app store. It looks and operates much the same as the desktop version I reviewed last week, albeit with increased touch optimizations. The first thing I noticed was how accurate the tracking is with the Pencil: each and every time you put Pencil to iPad, you draw exactly where the nib is. This might sound silly to those that don’t use a tablet monitor, but with my Ugee hk1560 I am forever having to calibrate it. Not so with the iPad and Pencil.

The next thing that struck me was how smoothly it tracked pressure, more so than any other stylus I have used so far. If I wanted a thin line I drew softly, a thick line I pushed down more. The pressure curve just worked as expected without much trial and error. I started to get a bad feeling: I was going to have to give Apple a favorable review…

Remembering that the Pencil recognizes tilt, I held it on the side as one would a normal pencil to shade in with the side of the lead. Oh my god, it was perfect!

As my other half was eager to have a go herself with her new toy, I tried out a few brushes and made some quick doodles.

This part was done with the Pencil on its side and then the same tool with the pencil held normally.

This was a pressure test.

And another.

Finally, a quick sketch.

The iPad had no trouble recognizing my palm on the screen while drawing – no stray brushstrokes appeared on the canvas. Despite my drawing hand resting on the screen, it tracked the Pencil perfectly and allowed me to use my spare hand to adjust on-screen controls at the same time. This isn’t an easy feat and my Surface Pro 3 has trouble with it sometimes, putting down a brushstroke where my hand rests and not letting me use my spare hand until I pull the pen away from the screen. Apple has nailed it.

As much as it pains me to say, Apple has a great product on their hands with the Apple Pencil. Like everything Apple, it just works, and brilliantly so. However, as the only iPad Pro with Apple Pencil in the house, I foresee many a disagreement over who is using it at any given time.

Well done Apple.

Huion h950p Graphics Tablet Review – First Look

.

As you may know, I am a hobbyist artist – until recently concentrating on 3D modeling. I have however started to explore sketching and painting digitally – a few days ago I posted about the beginnings of my journey and discussed Autodesk’s Sketchbook. I have a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablet PC with pen and a Ugee HK5060 tablet monitor for my desktop PC. Over the years I have tried ‘normal’ graphics tablets – a slab with a pen – but I have always struggled with coordinating what my hand is doing on the tablet with what is happening on screen. Nevertheless, I decided to persevere, practice, and get over this mental hurdle.

Source

Wacom is, of course, the big daddy when it comes to graphics tablet technology, and this is reflected in their pricing. The above model is the Intuos Pro M and the tablet has 5080 lpi – lines per inch or resolution. It has an active drawing area of 8.7″ x 5.8″ and the batteryless pen supports an incredible 8192 pressure levels and recognizes 60 degrees of tilt. The tablet has 8 express keys and a touch ring for keyboard shortcuts. The price is on average £300 / $350. Nice specs, pity about the price.

Source

This tablet is a Huion Inspiroy h950p. Its active draw area is 8.7″ x 5.4″ – as wide but not quite as tall as the Wacom. It too offers a 5080 lpi resolution and also has 8 express keys, though no touch ring. The pen is also batteryless, offers the same 8192 levels of pressure sensitivity and the 60 degrees of pen tilt. Amazingly, although its specifications closely match the Intuos Pro M, this device sells for an incredible £70 / $90! As I had some spare Amazon gift tokens in my account, I took the plunge and bought one.

It arrived a few days ago and first impressions were good. As you can see from the top photo, it comes in a nice minimalistic white box. Removing the lid revealed a carry bag for the tablet.

Taking that out I was presented with a warranty card, a thank you note from Huion and instructions on where to download the device drivers from.

Upon flinging those aside I finally reached the tablet sheathed in a protective plastic. I removed that to see the tablet itself.

Running my fingers over the express keys, they gave a satisfying and tactile click. Underneath the tablet I found the USB cord to attach the device to my PC, a quick start guide, the pen and pen holder.

With a quick twist, the pen holder opened up to reveal 8 spare pen nibs.

Replace the lid and the pen sits fine both vertically inside the holder and horizontally on top.

Both the pen for my Surface Pro and my tablet monitor require batteries. By comparison, this pen felt very light in the hand and I can imagine much more comfortable for long periods of drawing or painting – it weighs little more than a regular pen. Like the Wacom pen, it too has 2 side buttons. However, unlike the Wacom, it does not have an eraser on the end. I had a cheap Wacom many years ago with an eraser and never used it – so I cannot imagine missing it with the Huion.

By comparison, my Surface 3 Pro pen has just 256 pressure levels. My Ugee HK1560 has 2048 levels. The 8192 levels of the Huion pen are mind-boggling.

After installing the device driver I opened up the panel to see what options I had.

The first page allows you to set your express keys to whatever keyboard shortcuts you might need. Easy and straightforward.

This next page lets you tweak your pen pressure according to how you use your pen. Some are more light or heavy-handed, so this lets you dial in something that you are comfortable with. Here you can also set what functions the two barrel buttons do.

Finally, you can set the pen use according to your preference. For example, if you have more than one monitor you can dedicate it to whichever one your drawing or painting software is on. It’s also possible to span monitors, but I can’t really see a use case for that.

So, how is it in use? The increased pressure sensitivity is very noticeable. The pen is comfortable to use and the tablet surface is not too slippy – unlike drawing on a glass screen there is a little bit of drag like when drawing on paper.

Sure, it’s going to take me a while to perfect my hand-eye coordination, but with practice and perseverance, I hope to get better at drawing and painting with the Huion. I cannot tell you how it performs compared to the Wacom Intuos Pro M, but for the price, this tablet is a bargain – especially when considering its specifications.

All three strokes use the same pencil tool in Corel Painter with none of the settings changed between strokes. With the top line, the pen was held at a nearly vertical angle with little pressure applied. The second line was held the same, just with increased pressure. The bottom line I held the pen as one would when doing shading with a normal pencil, tilting the pen sideways. I have never used a digital pen with tilt functionality but I like it the different stroke variations I can make with the pen.

Overall I think the Huion h950p was an excellent buy and thoroughly recommend it if you are in the market for a device with similar specs to the Wacom Intuos Pro M but costing a fraction of the price.

Now, back to practicing….

 

Note: this post contains Amazon affiliate links to the products featured.