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Reviewing the Razer Anansi MMO keyboard: A tricky little spider

Razer has very graciously sent me one of its Anansi MMO keyboards to review for you fine people. My previous experience with Razer products has been positive, mostly because its MMO-centric wares fit well into my own MMO-centric lifestyle. I face this simple fact every day -- I play a lot of games. In fact, I play a lot of World of Warcraft. When you play a game this much, you get the tools made for it.

How about some features in convenient bullet point form?

The Razer Anansi MMO-Gaming Keyboard:
  • 7 thumb modifier keys
  • 100+ programmable keys
  • One-button profile switching (awesome for backlighting your Alliance characters blue and Horde characters red ...)
  • Five additional macro buttons
  • Media keys
  • Gaming mode option


Requirements:
  • PC with USB port (2 for backlighting feature)
  • Windows 7/Vista/XP
  • Internet connection for driver installation
  • At least 32MB of HDD space

My sad history with keyboards

Keyboards annoy me. Keyboards vex me. I've never had a keyboard that hasn't completely and utterly quit on me before it was supposed to. To be fair, I abuse my keyboards. When I went to BlizzCon 2010, I was escorted around the Razer and Steelseries booths, shown their various wares, and touched their MMO- and gaming-centric peripherals. In the end, I was truly impressed not with the robustness of an MMO keyboard but the simple, sleek, and indestructible mechanical G6v2.

As usual, I have a few hardware review caveats. First, my hands are of average to low large size. I am a six-foot-tall male, human, clean-shaven, green eyes, and I have the full function of both of my hands, favoring the right. These are the physical truths that are present in my reality when I am reviewing this product. If you have any questions for me based on this review or even on features that might not have been discussed, please let me know via email.

As with my other hardware reviews, I use each product for a full week or more before making a final call and putting all of my thoughts together. If I'm going to recommend a product, I need some time with it to get used to the crazy amounts of nuance that accompanies new technology.

Anyway, enough of that. Let's talk keyboards. As I noted before, there are few keyboards that I have had intimate connections with, most of them being the run-of-the-mill gaming keyboard of the day. Nothing stood out to me. The multitude of macro buttons or the media key buttons were never my cup of tea, mostly because these features never worked as intended for me. The Logitech G15 was the first keyboard to make me understand the power of gaming peripherals, causing a marked shift in my own reflection about the way I used the keyboard. It was solid, easy to clean, and only had one flaw -- the spacebar decided to up and quit.

The Anansi MMO keyboard was a treat. My hands rested nicely on the solid keys, and the layout was welcoming.

Keys where once there were no keys

The Anansi's main feature is a set of seven buttons just below the space bar that act as macro buttons, program launchers, single-stroke keys, and combinations of modifier keys. The real magic is in the modifier combinations, since you can string together the modifier trifecta of "ctrl-alt-shift" into the various keys. The default setup assigns these keys thusly:
  • 1 - Shift + Ctrl
  • 2 - Ctrl
  • 3 - Shift
  • 4 - Alt
  • 5 - Shift + Alt
  • 6 - Ctrl + Alt
  • 7 - Shift + Ctrl + Alt
Many of us WoW players already have keybindings glued to these button combinations and are familiar with their purposes and uses. Recently, I was on the Hunting Party Podcast with WoW Insider's very own Euripedes and (admittedly absent) Frostheim, and we talked about an extensive usage of keybinds. Each and every one of the above combinations of modifier keys were discussed, in detail, in conjunction with mouseover macros, key combos, and everything in between.

Pressing one key for these modifier combinations is a welcome treat. For players who have trouble with the finger dexterity required to hit these modifers in such a way, the Anansi can prove to be a valuable tool. It takes some getting used to, much like the Razer Naga's learning curve, but the results are something to behold. As with most "new" idea implementations on MMO-centric hardware, I approach these oddities with confusion and caution. Thankfully, the experience turned out to necessitate neither.

The "under" buttons are best pressed with the thumb, and after pressing the left-ctrl button with my pinky for so long, it was a welcome change to slide my thumb down from the space bar and easily hit a few of the new keys. It feels awkward at first, but you get used to it. The beauty of the keys truly shines when you pair it with the Razer Naga, since the modifier keys work in tandem with the Naga's keyset, putting the potential number of keybinds on the Naga plus the modifiers at around 84+. That's a lot of macros and keybinds. Even without the Naga, you've got so many buttons and modifiers to play with that you'll be overwhelmed as it is.

The little things

As with other Razer products, the cable on the Anansi is braided and "clothy" opposed to a tangled mess of plastic. The braided cords are durable and withstand the constant desk-catches and cat attacks that I have to deal with on a daily basis. The braided cord also makes it easier to tell where your Anansi is plugged into by the unique cord, unless you own a ton of Razer stuff. (You're just out of luck, if that's the case.)

The Anansi also features a "gaming mode" that completely disables the Windows key to avoid some slip-ups as well as stopping accidental alt-tabbing. Back when I was playing Dark Age of Camelot, we just ripped the Windows keys off of our keyboards. We've come so far.

Razer understands and designs around one of my biggest concerns -- I don't have a lot of money, so the gaming peripherals I purchase must function impeccably as my day-to-day tools. In fact, this review was typed on the Anansi in order to give my household an audible break from the mechanical keyboard. The Anansi feels great to type on and functions as a standard keyboard dutifully, with media keys and their requisite modifiers making life a little easier during Grey's Anatomy marathons or Lady Gaga album trawls. Many reviewers pointed out that the function key feels odd on the right side of the keyboard, requiring the user to take a hand off the mouse to use. It's a fair concern, but during my time with the Anansi, nothing that required the function key also required my hand on the mouse. Just personal preference in use, I'd imagine.

Minor issues

I don't have too many problems with the Anansi, if any at all, really. The keys are responsive, and the product feels durable. Some reviews commented on the difficult accessibility of the media keys, but I am used to using a function key to use media controls from my laptop, and not having dedicated media keys doesn't do anything to my review or perception of the keyboard.

The learning curve is not terribly difficult, but the new buttons require a bit of relearning on the space bar and some added thumb dexterity. It's not necessarily a negative but definitely warrants a pointing out. Players with larger hands and larger thumbs might have issue with precision on the smaller top row of modifiers, but the two bottom, larger keys are easily hit every time.

The last negative I can think of is the dual USB needed for getting everything out of the keyboard. This complaint is probably well-worn territory by now, but it deserves a mention. If you're hard-pressed on USB ports, you can still use the keyboard but without the backlight feature. If you want all of the lighting options, you'll need to plug in the second, attached USB plug. This would not be an issue if the keyboard had a USB port or two on board to mitigate some of the USB clog, but there are none.

Possibilities

The number of possibilities the Anansi brings to the table is staggering. Modifier keys have been and will be the "new hotness" for a while, as long as MMOs and WoW in particular use so many abilities. The Anansi functions dutifully as an everyday typing machine and capably as an MMO-branded keyboard. While it doesn't have the cool LCDs of the Logitech-branded gamer keyboards or the WoW-centric feel of the Steelseries SHIFT, the Razer Anansi is a solid keyboard that does the MMO thing right. Modifier keys are paramount to the Anansi's design. Putting these new keys below the space bar was a risky move, but my hands don't seem to have a problem hitting them correctly. It takes some getting used to, of course.

A score so Metacritic doesn't get mad at me: 4 out of 5

Bullet lists for people who like bullet lists:

What I liked
  • Awesome backlighting.
  • Modifier keys make for limitless possibilities for macros and keybinds that work for the dexterity-challenged.
  • Razer Naga/Anansi combo is deadly, done right.
  • Feels durable, works as everyday keyboard and gaming keyboard.
  • Game mode turns off Windows key and alt-tabbing.
Concerns
  • Learning curve was short but present.
  • Two USB ports for total functionality (backlight requires a separate but connected USB plug).
The Razer Anansi retails for $99.99, but you can potentially find it cheaper online at many outlets.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Hardware

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