Razer Lycosa Mirror Keyboard Review

Zertz - 2008-12-31 10:22:20 in Input Devices
Category: Input Devices
Reviewed by: Zertz   
Reviewed on: January 29, 2009
Price: $82

Introduction:

Input devices like keyboards and mice are vital to every computer owner since they obviously allow us to interact with many complicated electronic chips. However, they are, just like the power supply, the parts that are often skimped on. Why spend a hundred bucks on a keyboard when there is one on sale for a third of the price and comes with a free mouse? Sure, for the average user, those will do the job, but the enthusiasts and gamers that lurk around here often cannot and should not settle for such a thing. Something that's going to be used for hours on end has to be comfortable, fast and, of course, flashy. While there is an astonishing amount of gaming mice, the same cannot be said about keyboards. There are actually very few options when looking at high end keyboards; Logitech has the G15, Razer carries a few and that's pretty much it. For all the Microsoft fans out there, it also makes one, but let's get back to the point.

Razer manufactures a bunch of high end gaming products, such as keyboards, mice, mouse pads and headsets. That's what the company is renowned for among gamers and today I am introducing something Razer is usually pretty good at getting right - a keyboard. Although this isn't an entirely new product, it is still a very interesting piece of equipment. The Razer Lycosa was brought to market about a year ago and now we have the Mirror Special Edition keeping our hands full with more features than ever. Enough talk, let's see if this one has what it takes to outshine its competition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Closer Look:

The Lycosa Mirror comes in the usual eye catching Razer theme - mainly black with green and silver writings. The main side showcases what looks like a sleep keyboard along with its main features on the lower right corner. The back side goes into more detail on each and every feature, both in English and in French, which I will cover later on.

 

 

Before moving further, let's just make another quick stop to the top side of the box. The reflective Lycosa logo as well as the font make for some attractive looking design. Notice the "o" is actually a spider? That is because, in case you never noticed, Razer keyboards all carry arachnid names. While I am still on that box, it feels solid and does a good job at keeping the Lycosa safe.

 

 

Flipping the box open does not reveal a shiny keyboard; instead, we discover another cardboard layer in order to keep the suspense going. Although not only that, it also secures the sleeve with a bunch of manuals in it so everything isn't all over the place in there. You also get a message from the RazerGuy himself bragging about how awesome this keyboard is, which you'll soon figure out if he is right or not. Moving that final layer out of the way finally leaves us with a keyboard.

 

 

The keyboard itself is located in a cloth-like bag in order to protect the glossy surface. Many things hide inside the sleeve, including a thirty-six page thick master manual, a quick start guide, a four square inch piece of cloth to keep the keyboard tidy, a couple of Razer stickers and finally, a product catalog.

 

 

Let's move along and take a closer look at this promising keyboard.

Closer look

Even though it's hard to show in pictures, this Lycosa really lives up to its Mirror Special Edition name. You can literally see yourself in this keyboard and even the keys have that glossy look and feel. What you can't see, which is hardly visible in person, are the labels on the keys. In fact, under bright, dark or even normal lighting you can barely see them, so backlighting is more of a necessity than a feature. Fortunately, once the keys are lit, everything is perfectly clear and makes the whole thing look pretty attractive as well. Other than that, it's the same size as a run of the mill keyboard since there are no special buttons like the Logitech G15 or the Razer Tarantula have.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the top right corner is the media player control panel. Instead of going with standard buttons, Razer chose to design a touch panel with all the usual controls - play, stop, forward, etc. There's also a button, if I can call it that, to turn the backlight on or off. This is pretty neat since you don't have to fire up any software or bind a key in order to do it. Unfortunately, this is only marginally useful since not only can you barely see the keys without backlighting, but it's nearly impossible to figure out the touch panel's functionality without it being lit. The picture on the left shows this issue, although once it's lit everything is perfectly clear and legible.

 

 

Moving on to the back, there are some rather unusual ports to be found. Starting on the left side, we have a lone USB port closely followed by headphone output and a microphone input. Just in case you noticed, even though the small pictographs seem to be printed backwards from this angle, let's not forget that those should be looked at when leaning over the keyboard. Once I realized this it made more sense but I thought it was kind of weird at first. Each of those ports has its own dedicated cable, so the USB port isn't sharing any bandwidth with the keyboard cable. This configuration should allow the port to work at full USB 2.0 speeds.

 

 

The palm rest is well sized and very stable, thanks to the fact that it is screwed into place and not simply held by plastic clips. Each side gets three rubber grips that prevents the whole keyboard from moving all over when things start to heat up. There is also a short leg on each extremity, which will lift the Lycosa up by about one centimetre, just below one half an inch. They feel solid enough to do what they're meant to but probably no more than that.

 

Time to fire up the software and see what it has to offer.

Configuration:

Just as with most modern USB devices, getting started with the Lycosa was a painless process. After it was plugged into a free port, the default Windows driver was automatically loaded and every basic functionality a keyboard can have was enabled. However, backlighting and media keys didn't work. Of course, installing the software contained on Razer's driver disc also has its uses so I dropped it into my optical drive. Oddly, the first window to pop up was asking me whether I was installing a keyboard with 104 or 105 keys. The default choice, 104, was the right one. After carefully reading the terms and conditions, clicking "Next" a couple more times and a quick restart for good measure, the Lycosa was ready to be exploited to its full extent. Those steps worked flawlessly on both XP and Vista in 32 and 64-bit flavours.

Right before restarting, I was prompted to register my freshly installed Razer product. It's always a good idea to do it as soon as you're asked to, because we humans have a pretty limited amount of memory and we tend to forget these sort of things. Once you've started gaming, going back to Razer's website to register is probably the last thing you will want, or even remember, to do.

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once your computer's desktop is back under control, you will certainly notice a new icon in the taskbar. Double click it and Razer's driver control software pops up. Not only does it have this neat gaming and catchy look, this program also allows much customization to be done on the Lycosa. The first drop down menu - Light Options - gives the choice between On, Off and WASD, which are the different available settings for backlighting. The second menu - Media Player Options - lets you select which player the media keys should launch. You are given the choice between four popular players, which, by the way, aren't necessarily installed.

At the bottom of this window, there are a few choices to be made. First, using the Auto Switching Override checkbox, you can choose whether you want the driver control to automatically switch between profiles if the application is running. The second box, Show changes on screen, is supposed to display a message on screen when the profile changes from one to another. However, it didn't seem to do anything. The last and third box, System Tray Default could've been left out, it simply prevents, or not, the driver control to launch when you double click the tray icon.

 

 

Just as with most recent gaming peripherals, different configurations can be saved to profiles. This can be particularly useful since multiple games most likely won't require the same macros to be programmed so switching between profiles makes it easy to go from one game to another. You can name your profiles so you don't have to remember which one was set to what program by double clicking in the Profile Name column. The next column, named .Exe, lets you to choose an application. Simply double click and a file dialog will pop up and let you browse through your hard drive. This allows the driver control to automatically switch to the right profile when you launch an application so you don't have to worry about firing up the software to switch between them.

 

 

Now let's move on to the most interesting part of Razer's software. When you mouse over any key, it will turn red and, when you click one, the macro key functions menu will drop down. That leaves the user with a plethora of actions to assign to the selected key. The awesome thing about this is that every single key can have a macro assigned, not just some specific ones.

Basically, once you've chosen a key you have a ton of choice to customize it. The small window on the right displays what the selected key is currently bound to, enables you to record a series of keys and, using the small mouse image at the bottom, mouse clicks as well - albeit only left, middle and right buttons. Razer also gives the possibility to ignore delays between each key stroke. Instead, you can choose to insert a custom delay between 50 milliseconds and over 12 seconds, which eliminates the unpredictable delay between every key press and permits to do some fine tuning.

Under that small window, you can select how you want the macro key to behave. First, you can choose One-Time which will act as a normal key - press it once and it performs the action once. The second choice, Repeat while pressed, is self-explanatory, it will execute the macro as long as the key is pressed. The third and last option, Repeat until next key is pressed, will run the macro over and over until you press another key.

Using the Basic Commands and Additional Commands drop down menus, it is also possible to insert simple commands like cut and paste into a macro. Clicking inside the Launch Program text box with .exe / .Ink selected will pop up a window to select any program you want. If Run is highlighted, then the text box will work just like the run command in the Windows Start menu. Either of those allows the launch of a program using a single key. The last box, Select Profile, is another drop down menu that lets you choose exactly which profile to load upon pressing the selected key. If Normal Change is highlighted, it will instantly switch profiles. In case Change only when key held is chosen, the driver control will switch to the selected profile only while the key is pressed, as soon as it is released it switches back to what it was set to before.

Finally, once you have applied a new macro to a key, it will stay coloured red so it's easy to figure out which ones have been assigned to macros. If you ever wish to delete a macro binded to a key, simply press the Reset Key and it will revert that key back to its default assignment.

 

 

 

Let's take a quick look at the specifications and then see how Razer's brand new gaming keyboard performs.

Specifications

 

 

 

Features

 

 

Information courtesy of Razer@ http://www.razerzone.com/p-131-razer-lycosa-mirror-gaming-keyboard.aspx

Testing

Since you cannot really benchmark a keyboard, I am going to take Razer's Lycosa along in a series of subjective tests to try and find out how it performs. The results will be based on my experience playing a mix of first person shooters, real time strategy games and general use like Internet browsing and office tools. I will also check out the Lycosa's extra features - audio and USB ports.

Testing System

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gaming

This keyboard is designed specifically for gaming, so I could only assume it was going to do well at what it's meant for. The hardware part felt nice for gaming, but nothing out of the ordinary, it's only a keyboard after all. However, what makes this peripheral better than average is the software Razer supplies. In fact, it allowed for a great deal of customization, almost infinite, as you set any key you want to do anything. Also, the low profile keys make reaction time in fast paced games, especially first person shooters, quite a bit shorter, which can usually make a difference between life and death. I found lighting only the WASD keys to be more or less useless since every game requires more than those keys to be used. However, as you can see in the picture below, every key around them we're also dimly lit so most ones you will be using are somewhat visible. It's also worth noting that they light up brighter than when the whole keyboard is on. While gaming, the Windows key is pretty much the last key you'd want to hit so Razer gives us the chance to disable it, or any other key actually.

General

The Lycosa not only performed generally well while gaming, but also in every day tasks, which is also quite important since we, at least myself, don't game all the time. I spend a lot of time either coding, writing reviews or on the forums and the Lycosa was really pleasant to use and comfortable even after too much time spent on the computer. Typing fast is made easy thanks to the low profile keys, what Razer calls Hyperesponse, and since the Lycosa has standard key locations and no funky shape, it's very easy to get used to it. I was able to type just as fast or maybe a tiny bit faster with the Lycosa than the keyboard I've been using to type on for the last couple years, which, to me, is pretty good.

Comfort

At first, I thought the Lycosa's low profile keys would feel a lot like a notebook keyboard, but I was deeply surprised when I started typing on it. You definitely need to apply some pressure and then you can feel the key click. It's somewhat noisy, but it feels nice, sturdy and responsive. This also prevents from pressing a key by mistake while intense gaming and whatnot. The built in wrist rest works fairly well and, amazingly, it is fixed. What does this mean? It won't have the very annoying tendency to move out of place and there are no flimsy clips to break. While the palm rest isn't made out of some kind of high tech gel, it's still pretty comfortable, especially with the low profile keys since your hands sit almost level. This made it easy to keep my hands on the Lycosa for hours and still be able to feel and use my hands after.

Customizability

This is an area that manufacturers who make gaming product like to brag about. Even though the Lycosa doesn't feature special keys, the software it comes with more than makes up for it. I prefer this route as it makes a regular sized keyboard, unlike some competitors. As you read in the last pages, while configuring a bunch of useful macros may take time, the outcome is definitely worth it as far as gaming goes. I really appreciated the ability to bind any key I want to perform a certain function, which can be saved into profiles. Speaking of profiles, it's easy to either manually switch between them or have the driver control software do it for you depending on the application that is currently running.

Audio quality

Since the microphone and headphone jacks found on the back of keyboard are simply extensions of the motherboard's sound ports, audio quality was the same as if my devices were plugged straight into the motherboard. If you don't have speakers and use a pair of headphones instead, then the output on Razer's keyboard will prove useful since your cables won't have to travel all the way to the back of the computer. Same rule applies for the microphone. Although the vast majority of cases have sound ports at the front, having them right on the keyboard will reduce overall cable clutter.

USB performance

In a very similar way, the Lycosa's USB port has its own dedicated cable going to the motherboard. In order to confirm my thoughts, I downloaded 191 megabytes worth of pictures off my camera onto my computer. I used the same USB port both times and restarted Windows between each run. The only difference is that once I used the port directly off the board and the second time I plugged the Lycosa's second USB cable into the same port. Not so surprisingly, both runs took exactly the same amount of time. It's safe to say that Razer simply made an extension to a USB port of your choice and did not cripple the bandwidth in any shape or form.

Let's wrap this up now.

Conclusion

This keyboard, like most other Razer products, is meant to be used by gamers and the company's great experience in that market really shows. The Lycosa has a nice array of useful features that should be appreciated by this crowd. The first thing anyone opening this box will notice is the mirror-like, glossy look of both the keyboard's casing and keys. The only downside is that it's hard to keep it clean as the tiniest dust particle will be clearly visible. However, and surprisingly enough, fingerprints aren't so much of an issue as they barely show up and a quick wipe using the supplied cloth will clean those few obvious marks in a second. While the sound ports aren't a ground breaking feature, I can see them widely used by people whose sound system consist of a pair of headphones and a microphone. Gamers are likely to correspond to that profile, especially those playing online games and commonly attending LAN events. In the same area, the USB port is also an interesting addition and, since it works at full USB 2.0 speed, it can be used with any device.

Getting started was a straightforward process, the supplied disc automatically launched the installer and the Lycosa was ready to be used in no time. Razer's driver control allowed for a great deal of customization, was very easy to use and is a lightweight application. I would have appreciated more control over the backlighting, including dimming and more options as to which keys should be lit. It's also worth mentioning once again that the keys are barely visible when they're off no matter how well lit your room is. Fortunately, once it's backlight is turned on, everything is as clear as it gets and typing on it is a pleasure. The keys feel great and the keyboard is comfortable to type on even after many hours spent using it. That made for a great gaming experience as well as the low profile keys that cut response time enough to make a difference in some situations.

Overall, the Lycosa Mirror Special Edition is a great keyboard with a bunch of interesting features at a competitive price point. Of course, don't hesitate to make a trip to a local store since there is nothing like trying it out for yourself. If you're into gaming and looking for a brand new keyboard, this one is definitely worth looking at.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: