Summary: Razer's onslaught of new controllers continues. They scored with the Copperhead, they didn't do too bad with the Barracuda. How will the Tarantula do?
So when gaming mouse company Razer first announced their plans for their entry into gaming keyboard with the Tarantula I was more than intrigued. Iím a big fan of their gaming mice products and even though their recent headphone recently was a little bit disappointing I was looking forward to seeing what they would do for gaming keyboards. After all, a mouse is basically a PC input product so creating a companion keyboard would be a natural fit. When I actually got a chance to use Razerís Tarantula, however, it was something of a surprise. It was more than what I was expecting from the companyÖand also a little less. Thatís confusing, Iím sure but stay with me; it will all make sense.
The first think I quickly noticed about the Tarantula was its size. Itís a big one. Itís not quite as long as the Merc keyboard (20 inches to the Mercís 21 inches) but it still takes up more desktop space because the Razer is wider than the Merc. Itís also very, very black with a shiny hard plastic finish that makes you be very careful while handling the product. You just donít want to scratch it at all.
Unlike the Merc, the Razer Tarantula doesnít really have a dedicated section devoted to just gaming buttons. Indeed the keyboard layout is pretty conventional for the most part but there are some interesting differences. The main one is the 10 keys (5 on the left and 5 on the right of the main keyboard layout) that are specifically made for the Tarantulaís macro set up (more on how that works later). Those buttons along with the Razer logo on the bottom center of the Tarantula, have an electric blue light glow coming from them that gives the keyboard an eerie presence to it in the dark, much like Razerís Diamondback mouse. There doesnít seem to be a way to disable the glow, however.
Installing the Tarantula may give you a bit of a fright at first since Razer is requiring you plug in two included USB cable connections in order for the keyboard to work (itís possible that the reason for this is that glowing light effect takes up a lot of energy but we donít know that for certain). Thankfully the Tarantula makes up for it by providing for two on-board USB ports that are placed on the top right hand side of the keyboard which is perfect for plugging in your mouse and whatever other USB device you might want (alas these ports are only USB 1.1 and not 2.0 ports). The USB cables also come with headset and microphone cables as well. If you plug both of them into the appropriate openings on your soundcard you can then plug in your headphone-microphone combo into the keyboard itself through the use of two such ports located next to the keyboardís two USB ports.
In the top center of the Tarantula is a rectangular port that Razer is calling the BattleDock. While they arenít selling them yet, the BattleDock is designed to add some extra functionality to the keyboard through the use of Razer branded accessories. They have announced two such additions so far; an overhead blue light that makes typing in the dark a bit better and a web cam for people who want to communicate via video. We would love to have a port for an iPod or other MP3 device so we can listen to music while we play games but that kind of support has not yet been announced (in an odd move, Razer is selling a version of the Tarantula to business oriented customers that replaces the BattleDock with a port specifically for an iPod connection but there is no word on when or even if that kind of support will move to the gaming product).
So how does the keyboard feel while playing games? Razer has made a big deal in marketing about the keys reduce latency in games using membrane keys to cut response time but the truth is that we really didnít notice any difference playing games like Dark Messiah of Might and Magic or Battlefield 2142 while using the keys on the Tarantula for the past several days. The keys themselves feel fine while operating them; I didnít notice any mushy feeling or anything else while we push them but to say that they reduce lag time while playing games may be pushing things a tad.
However, thatís not all the features the Razer Tarantula has for gamers. One cool thing that they have done is the idea of replacing keys with not letters but icons. If you want to, say, remove your ďRĒ (for reload) key with a bullet icon that represents reloading you can. Razer provides 10 such icon keys, mostly for first person shooter titles, in the Tarantula (they have plans to sell even more separately for other game genres) along with a plastic tool that makes removing the main keyboard buttons easy. Then all you have to do is get the icon key you want and push it in place. Other icons included with the basic Tarantula include a target (presumably for sniping) a knife, a pistol, a machine gun, a grenade, a fist, and something which we think looks like a helmet (for armor maybe). Thereís also a comic book like word ballon icon includes which is likely supposed to represent voice chatting.
The main thing that separates the Tarantula from other gaming keyboards is its software. Letís start with the macro keys first. As we stated before, the keyboard has 10 of these keys that can each store up to eight separate keyboard strokes. So if you have your favorite combo you want to use in, say, World of Warcraft you donít have to use a third party macro program. You can just bring up the Tarantulaís software which brings up a representation of the keyboard itself on your PC screen. By moving your mouse cursor to one of the macro keys shown in the layout and clicking on it you bring up a screen that allows you to put in your series of keyboard button commands. You can even use it to delay the time each keystroke in the macro is used in the sequence (in 50, 100, 150 and 200 millisecond increments). You then select which profile and program the macro uses and volia; instant combo move to take out a particularly nasty enemy in your favorite game.
Speaking of profiles, the Tarantula actually has 32 MB of onboard memory which is enough to store up to five profiles and the keyboardís software can store up to 100 different profiles. Each profile can have two different keysets which means you can switch between a regular keyboard set up and a Battlefield 2142 set up on quickly. Needless to say the software is extremely powerful and extensive but thankfully itís also just a matter of pointing and clicking inside the keyboardís user interface which is pretty each to use. If you are a hardcore gamer you can probably have a lot of fun just programming different profiles for all the games on your hard drive. Itís a little daunting at first to have all of the various options that the Tarantula gives you out of the box but we found that putting the time into it was worth it.
However, even though the product is a powerful one there is one aspect that may keep some gamers from picking it up; the price. At $99.99 this is not a cheap keyboard by any means and quite frankly we could do without some of the gameís hardware aspects (particularly the glowing lights) if it meant making it a little more affordable.
Powerful and extensive software program
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