Is this a low-cost semi-mechanical keyboard from Razer with fancy lights or an, “I see, that’s why you pay more for a decent keyboard?” Find out as we take a look at Razers new Ornata Chroma keyboard.

There is a reason that budget and build quality are not good bedfellows and the old adage of you get what you pay for is often true when it comes to gaming peripherals so can Razer break the mould and deliver a quality typing and gaming experience on a shoestring.

When I say shoestring I really mean that with an RRP of £99.99 and prices on Amazon as low as £97.92 the Razer Ornata is certainly priced to sell.

The technology is something Razer is calling Mecha-Membrane and its exactly that, a proprietary mechanical switch and part silicone dome so that when you hit a key the mechanical switch depresses the dome to register the stroke, this means you don’t need the full version of either switch but you get most of the benefits of each.

Measuring 6.1 inches deep, 1.2 inches high and 18.2 inches wide the keyboard is not the most attractive on the market. In fact, it’s not even on my top 10 but it has a lot of the features I would expect from a decent and far more expensive alternative.

Indeed, there are programmable macro keys, accessible via an Fn key that replaces the right windows key and a corresponding F1-F12 press, not as good as individual macro keys but this keyboard is all about compromise, a full 16.8 million colours in a pre-configured pattern or an infinite number more with customisation available using the Razer Synapse software you can be sure that the colours of the lights on your black keyboard are unique at least.

Weighing in at 33.51oz (almost 1kg) this is certainly not a light bit of kit and will sit well on a desk even if you are extremely heavy handed with it comes to typing. The keys are about ½ the size of a traditional keycap and feel a fair bit lighter than the Razer Blackwidow Chroma than I am used to. That said there is a satisfying amount of travel and it does feel like a cross between the two types of keyboard. I am not a fan of membranes but some (like the late 2010 MacBook’s) are very nice to type on.

Razer claims the height of the keys and the amount of travel will actually improve the time it takes for you actions to register so keeping you typing far quicker and being more effective when gaming. I didn’t really see an improvement in the real world but maybe someone with an accurate stop watch and too much time will prove me wrong. 

Included with the keyboard is a very welcome padded wrist rest. It connects to the keyboard via a magnetised clasp and it’s over 3 inches deep meaning that it will be a useful item when you are playing games like Dota or League of Legends but I have personally never used a wrist rest so didn’t tend to use this one as I like my RSI old fashioned and painful.

There are more features, a 10 key rollover, anti-ghosting and did I mention the pretty lights. Actually, the lighting is the only premium feature and there are certain things I would have liked included such as a USB pass-through for connecting additional devices such as headphones or mice and as previously mentioned there are no dedicated macro keys but this also means there are no dedicated media keys, not an issue for most but it’s always nice to have. How about those lights though?

In truth, finding customizability in this price range is rare, the SteelSeries Apex M500 has a fancy light, in a single colour but is an identical price. The lack of dedicated Macro-keys and media keys is understandable given the price and I am not sure who would choose this keyboard over a similarly priced if slightly older Razer Chroma DeathAdder which has all of these features and is a solid performer, if you wanted to forgo the macro and media keys what about the superior and less expensive Corsair STRAFE RGB. 

It’s a very first world problem to have to access the volume, playback, macro recording, and lighting controls via the Fn key and the appropriate function key in the top row. In fact setting up these functions in Synapse isn’t complicated but I couldn’t help feeling that I was missing out on a lot of features despite the price point.

Pulling together two distinct techs and fusing them into one new device is, as you’d expect, a bit odd to begin with. I was expecting a little click and then a little cushion. What I actually got was quite clicky and then quite mushy. I was not overly impressed but with use, it began to feel quite natural and certainly coming back to my regular mechanical key I imagined my fingers would feel like they were hitting rocks but this was not the case.

As I first began to type it felt like the keys were sticking. I have small children so, believe me, I am used to things being sticky but I felt like I had to slow my typing down because of the unnatural feedback. Gameplay wise it wasn’t an issue but I really noticed it when typing. I would certainly not switch to this keyboard as a daily driver but if I was using a membrane keyboard it would certainly feel a lot better switching to the Ornata.

After the first week, however, I wasn’t finding the same issue typing and I would, in fact, say I was quite comfortable and fully used to typing on the Ornata, that is until I switched back to my keyboard for an hour, then it felt wrong again. I have to admit to being a bit slow to take on change but I can say with confidence that if you are using a mechanical keyboard now and make the switch you will lament the day you were using a mechanical switch. I type a lot so you may not be as bothered by this if you primarily use the WASD keys.

Psychological reconditioning will be required to use this keyboard full time as for the simple fact that I have been using my keyboard for so long. My keyboard has Razers green switches with an actuation point of 1.9mm and a travel distance of 4.0 mm vs the Ornatas travel distance of 3.5 mm you would think this would be broadly similar but it’s odd how to use to that click you become.

The actuation vs reset point of my current keyboard is only 0.4mm. The Razer Ornata, with the Mecha-Membrane, actuates at the bottom, 3.5mm but clicks at 3mm I constantly felt like I had typed something else even though in reality when gaming I hit far fewer miss keys for the very same reason. I think this is the reason the keys feel sticky, you get a click and then you hit the actuation point. This isn’t a conscious understanding and it’s only when you look at the tech specs you start to understand why you are typing at half speed for a day or two.

I don’t think there are any budget peripherals on the market that deliver everything you want. There will always be a trade off in some areas however, the Razer Ornata is a decent gaming device but, in my job, where typing is what I do, it just doesn’t cut it for me.

I think there are better keyboards for similar money like the aforementioned Razer Blackwidow Chroma which I found on Amazon UK for £109. Spending an extra £10 gets you USB passthrough, proper mechanical switches, media keys, macro keys and of course those all important lights. Corsair has a strong showing in this price range too and arguably feel better and I think certainly have a better build quality. 

If you are looking at the Razer Ornata because you currently use a Membrane keyboard then you may like the differences. For me, the price to performance isn’t here and I would have like to see Razer choose one or the other, I just don’t see Mecha-Membrane featuring in any future setup of mine.

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