Razer Ornata Chroma Gaming Keyboard Review: An awesome affordable hybrid keyboard!
Gaming keyboards haven’t changed that much in the last few years, and Razer is the only company truly trying weird new stuff.
And I love them for it.
Razer introduced the mechanical key switch to the gaming keyboard world back in 2010. Then an explosion happened, and you couldn’t walk two feet in your local Best Buy without tripping over keyboards filled with Cherry MX switches. Membrane was out; mechanical was in!
Until then I had happily used membrane keyboards. They’re common and cheap. They use a plastic key cap over a rubber dome. The key cap depresses the dome, and that triggers a switch underneath. The rubber gives the key a nice soft touch. They’re durable and easy to clean.
But they can feel squishy and bland for long gaming and typing sessions.
Mechanical key switches use a spring- loaded mechanical mechanism. The key cap pushes down a stem, which triggers a metal switch, and then the whole key bottoms out at the bottom of the keyboard. The switch is made from beefier components, and has a loud click sound. You can feel the actuation point, and your brain gets much more feedback from the whole experience. If you’re a gamer or marathon typist, you can tune into the precise response of the keys, and it’s very satisfying.
Unfortunately, bottoming out the keys is more taxing on the fingers and can cause fatigue over time. The loud sound can be bothersome to other people in the room.
And then, there’s the nightmare process of choosing a switch type.
There are a million different kinds of mechanical key switches. Cherry has been the stalwart go-to for many years, and their switches are color-coded based on their tactile feel and actuation points. Recently, Kailh and Omron have produced their own solid Cherry competitors, in part because Cherry can’t always keep up with the sudden massive demand for their switches in gaming products.
But mechanical and membrane technologies have both existed for a long time. Recently two companies have tried to shake things up a bit. Apple recently introduced the “Butterfly” switch, a tiny and controversial mechanical switch used in all the new MacBook and MacBook Pro models. It uses a chiclet keycap over a wide thin switch mechanism. The whole surface of the key actuates evenly…but at the cost of travel height.
Razer re-designed the mechanical switch in 2014, creating the Razer key switch. It has a faster actuation point to allow for more game actions per second. But it still worked more or less identically to other mechanical switches.
Now, Razer has gone wonderfully mad and created a brand new hybrid switch type called the “Mecha-Membrane” switch.
It’s part membrane, part mechanical, and completely awesome!
This is the Razer Ornata Chroma. It’s $99, which puts it at the lower end of fancy keyboard pricing. It includes a nice free wrist rest, and media keys via a function shortcut key. If you don’t want the RGB lighting, the regular Ornata is $20 cheaper and backlit in green.
It’s the first keyboard to use Razer’s new “Mecha-Mechanical” switch. The base of the keyboard uses rubber domes, just like a membrane keyboard. However, sitting atop those are stems with a click response, very much like that in a mechanical key. The result is a key that feels like a mechanical switch, but with a much softer bottoming-out point.
It’s incredible! The keys really do feel like mechanical keys, and they respond the way you’d expect them to. It has the same weird brain-melting feel that using Apple’s force touch for the first time has. My brain knows there’s a membrane in there, but it feels and sounds so much like a mechanical switch. It’s nuts.
I’ve only personally owned one other mechanical keyboard. In 2014 I bought the Corsair K65RGB, which was a Best Buy exclusive. It had a solid aluminum base, with Cherry MX Red switches. So in an intense gaming or typing session, my fingers were bashing into a big hunk of aluminum, over and over again. This did indeed get fatiguing over time…so I switched back to membrane.
I know. Not very elite of me.
Fortunately, in using the Ornata over lengthy sessions, in has no such fatigue problem. The membrane/plastic base and the half-height key caps make this a pleasant, soft typing experience…but you still get all that clicktastic high-response mechanical magic. In other words, this really does what they say it does!
Also, the Chroma lighting is really cool. There are a ton of preset effects built in, and you can build your own effects as well with a fancy editor in Razer’s software. It’s quite easy to sync effects across multiple Razer devices. The lighting is astoundingly bright and brilliant. The backplate under the switches is white, and the light bounces beautifully off of it. It’s the best lighting I’ve seen on a keyboard, so if that’s your thing, you’ll love it.
I get that some people are going to want the genuine experience of mechanical switches. There are a million products out there that would serve you well, including the Razer Blackwidow line, The Corsair K line, and the Logitech G line.
But if you want try something new and different and kind of awesome that doesn’t break the bank, the Ornata Chroma is a wonderful keyboard. If you want to try out this whole mechanical keyboard thing I think this is also a great entry into that world without diving all the way to the bottom.
I actually prefer this new switch to any other that I’ve used. Now, keep in mind I’m not a crazy hardcore keyboard guy, and I’m also one of five people that actually likes the Apple butterfly switch. But the Razer Ornata does everything it claims, and it’s a nice-feeling keyboard to boot. If you’re lost in a sea of trying to decide what color switch you want…maybe start here instead?