For many PC gamers, mechanical keyboards are the beginning and end of the conversation. Countless arguments have swept across the web regarding the superiority of particular switch types or manufacturers, but the fact that mechanical switches are the best -- and the only -- choice for serious gamers isn't often debated.
But there are exceptions to every rule, and counter-points to every widely-held belief.
Meet the DeathStalker Chroma from Razer. For $99 on Newegg.com you get a full RGB keyboard with 3 different programmable zones, 10 key rollover, 1000 Hz polling, a wrist rest, programmable macros....and slim 2mm chiclet keys which are decidedly NOT mechanical.
How does going against the gaming mainstream work out for the DeathStalker Chroma? Read on and find out.
Features and Design
The DeathStalker Chroma has a nice selection of features, though you would expect as much given its price tag. $100 is cheaper than most of the premiere gaming keyboards on the market (such as Razer's own Blackwidow), but it's significantly more expensive than many other options without mechanical keys.
For your money, you're getting a keyboard that's designed for gaming in all the ways that we've come to expect from Razer. The anti-ghosting works well, the keys are all fully programmable, and macros can be designed via Razer's software (though the keyboard lacks any dedicated macro keys).
A look at some of the customer reviews of the keyboard on Newegg shows that Razer's peripheral software continues to be an issue for some gamers, and I too had some problems getting the keyboard recognized at first. When you get the software working properly (and this might not be an issue for you at all) it's robust and easy-to-use, but stability continues to be a nagging concern.
My biggest complaint about the visual design of the DeathStalker is that the RGB lighting, the "Chroma" in the product's name, just doesn't seem bright or vibrant enough. Especially when compared to the Mamba TE Chroma, which I was using at the same time, the DeathStalker seemed dim and disappointing. The available animation patterns are nice though.
The overall design of the DeathStalker is striking in how flat and angular it is. It's essentially a big black rectangle and not much more. If it weren't for the distinctive Razer font on the keys and the snakeskin-style texture on the wrist rest (a very nice touch) it could remind you of the infamous obelisk in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
I'm a fan of keyboards that try new things, visually, and the DeathStalker definitely fits that description. Whether you like the way it looks or not will be a matter of personal preference, but it's impossible to deny it makes a bold statement.
Comfort and Performance
The textured wrist rest on the DeathStalker is a real treat, and feels good despite not being at all flexible. The texture of the rest of the keyboard is above average -- it's very flat and matte and has just enough grip to it that your fingertips don't slip off. Unfortunately, the whole keyboard remains a bit of a grease magnet, in a way that the Mamba TE Chroma managed to avoid.
The extreme flatness of the keyboard caused some comfort issues for my particular typing style. Long-term use caused finger fatigue and some unfortunate cramping, even after I gave myself enough time to get used to the board.
Performance-wise, it can't be denied that the chiclet-topped keys on the DeathStalker lack the responsiveness and tactile feedback of their mechanical siblings. Using the keyboard for games like SOMA, Minecraft: Story Mode, and Unreal Tournament 2004 left me feeling that the keys were very fast (almost too fast) but I was never as certain about my actions as I am when I'm using a solid mechanical switch. The lack of any sort of special texture or bumps on the WASD keys contributed to these issues.
For normal typing the DeathStalker left a lot to be desired. After repeated speed typing tests I scored an average of 78 WPM, compared to the 90 WPM I'm usual able to achieve with gaming keyboards. My accuracy was also down a few percentage points.
On the plus side, the DeathStalker's keys are much quieter than normal mechanical ones. If you're specifically looking for a keyboard with gamer-friendly features without the clatter you get from other gaming keyboards, the DeathStalker Chroma becomes much more appealing.