Razer's Beautiful BlackWidow V3 Mini Shows the Limitations of Compact Wireless Keyboards

The Razer BlackWidow V3 Mini is the best solution available right now for a wireless compact mechanical keyboard with mainstream support.
The Razer BlackWidow V3 Mini is the best solution available right now for a wireless compact mechanical keyboard with mainstream support.
Photo: Florence Ion/Gizmodo

Mechanical keyboards are becoming more popular to use these days, but finding one that isn’t tethered by a cable feels like an impossible task. It’s not that there aren’t any wireless mechanical keyboards—it’s that the ones that exist aren’t wireless by the end of the day.

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The Razer BlackWidow V3 Mini HyperSpeed mechanical gaming keyboard suffers from the same limitations as other wireless keyboards. If you like Razer’s signature RGB backlighting, just know that you won’t get long-lasting wireless performance. But if you don’t mind building a routine around plugging it in at the end of the day, the BlackWidow V3 Mini HyperSpeed is one of the few wireless mechanical gaming keyboards worth considering.

Smaller Than You’re Used To

Razer isn’t new to the world of wireless mechanical gaming keyboards. The BlackWidow V3 Pro was Razer’s first foray, but its 108-key full-size layout is too much for some desks. As customization becomes more of a draw for mechanical keyboard enthusiasts, more folks are looking to adopt compact ones.

The Razer BlackWidow V3 Mini HyperSpeed is a 65% keyboard, so it only has 68 keys. It’s about five inches smaller than the BlackWidow V3 Pro. It has all the standard QWERTY keys plus numbers and symbols and a small column for the Page Up, Down, Home, and Insert buttons. The layout takes some getting used to if you’re coming from a full-size board or even a Tenkeyless (TKL), which typically has a whole column dedicated to the navigation keys. There’s also a Function key you can press and hold for additional keys and music playback controls, as well as quick Macro executions. You definitely shouldn’t consider this keyboard if you’re planning to do any data entry.

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Razer is a gaming company, and the BlackWidow V3 Mini certainly maintains the aesthetic—“for gamers, by gamers” is emblazoned all over the back of this keyboard. The black-on-black with bright RBG lighting looks very cool when you’re typing or playing games at night. Razer’s Chroma RGB backlighting is more prominent than what I’ve experienced with the SteelSeries Apex Pro, for comparison, and it’s pretty decent at differentiating between neon and pastel hues. But the software to set that up is a doozy to navigate, which I’ll get into a bit later.

The rest of the BlackWidow V3 Mini’s chassis matches with Razer’s gaming peripheral lineup. The bottom end of the keyboard by the wrists slopes downward, with a light-up Razer logo on the front you can customize to your liking. The backside also has adjustable kickstands, though the highest setting felt too uncomfortable to type with while I wore my smartwatch. There is no wrist-rest for the BlackWidow V3 Mini, so you’ll have to procure your own for the sake of ergonomics.

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Quiet Enough Not to Wake Anyone Up

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The Razer BlackWidow V3 Mini has function keys that reveal additional keys and macros.
Photo: Florence Ion/Gizmodo
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The BlackWidow V3 Mini can connect via Bluetooth or USB-C, but the actual marquee is Razer’s HyperSpeed multi-device technology. There’s a tiny compartment on the back of the keyboard that houses the USB dongle, and once you slot it into the computer, you can pair up to three HyperSpeed-compatible devices at once.

Razer sent me the Orochi V2 wireless mouse to test with the BlackWidow V3 Mini’s HyperSpeed capabilities. My initial experience uniting the keyboard and mouse through one HyperSpeed dongle wasn’t the most pleasant. I connected the BlackWidow V3 Mini through the Orochi’s HyperSpeed dongle first, and the keyboard could barely keep up. I was repeating letters in emails and Slack messages, and at one point, I had to go back and edit every line before I made any sense.

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Razer’s HyperSpeed technology uses a 2.4-GHz connection. I suspect there was some interference at play, though I couldn’t pinpoint whether it was my laptop or something else. I switched connections so that the mouse linked through the keyboard dongle instead, and it helped smooth performance a bit. However, the best combination was having the keyboard connected to its corresponding HyperSpeed dongle and the mouse through Bluetooth. It’s something to keep in mind if you find yourself experiencing similar hiccups.

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Easily swap Razer’s default keycaps atop its Yellow Switches for your own.
Photo: Florence Ion/Gizmodo
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The BlackWidow V3 Mini comes with Razer’s clicky, tactile Green Switch or quieter, linear Yellow Switch. I tested the latter, and I found them comfortable, though springy enough that I would accidentally hit other keys. (I’m a very hard typer.) They’re a tad quieter than the usual Gateron Browns I type on, enough that I didn’t feel guilty using them after the kid’s bedtime. The stock keycaps on the V3 Mini are Doubleshot ABS, made from two layers of plastic, which are standard across the industry. They’re speckled to provide texture, though they retain a bit of finger grease. I prefer the set of broken-in matte keycaps I found on Amazon. Thankfully, Razer uses standardized mounts, so it’s no problem swapping those out.

Wireless Only Half the Day

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The Razer BlackWidow V3 Mini will require charging at the tail-end of the work day.
Photo: Florence Ion/Gizmodo
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I haven’t had any hands-on time with the wireless BlackWidow V3 Pro. But from what I’ve read, the BlackWidow V3 Mini suffers from the same battery problems as its full-size predecessor. The culprit is the backlighting.

The BlackWidow V3 Mini promises up to 200 hours of use with each full charge, but that’s without any fancy backlighting—i.e. without anything that makes using a mechanical gaming keyboard any fun. Within the first few days of use, I’d already charged the V3 Mini twice. By the fourth day, I ramped up the brightness on the backlighting to 100% to officially measure how it would fare throughout the workday. The keyboard was at 17% battery life by the eight-hour mark of use. I tried adjusting the settings so that the keyboard hibernates more quickly, but the battery was still at 18% by the end of the day.

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The key to battery longevity on the BlackWidow V3 Mini is to do away with the backlighting entirely. With backlighting turned up all the way, I managed a full day before having to plug it in. And that meant no need for additional cables on my desk during work hours, which is what I try to avoid to keep things sailing. If you plan to use this keyboard for gaming, as intended, you can choose to connect a USB-C cable to your computer to hardline for utmost performance.

Bloated but Capable Software

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I’ve used Razer’s Synapse 3 software on Windows 10 several times, and each time I’ve found it somewhat bloated. The sound of my laptop fans turning on when I navigate tabs in the app could spawn a thousand ASMR accounts.

The dawn of apps and plug-ins has made software bloat sort of commonplace, but you don’t have to buy in. For instance, I avoided installing the Alexa module and other smart home integrations that Razer offers. I stuck with the Chroma Studio and Macro features for my review. The Synapse app is still a bit heavy, but competent when it comes to recording Macros and customizing keyboard shortcuts. It lets you customize and store up to five different profiles, and you can program shortcuts as you need. I also found the backlighting customization feature to be one of the easiest to use compared to other keyboard apps.

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The Razer BlackWidow V3 Mini is one of the best available mainstream solutions for a wireless compact mechanical keyboard. Just don’t expect super-long battery life.
Photo: Florence Ion/Gizmodo

I’m starting to question whether there’s any hope for a proper wireless mechanical keyboard. Even with the option of either Razer’s HyperSpeed dongle or Bluetooth connection, the BlackWindow V3 Mini requires a backup cable nearby, standing on the ready. I might invest in an artisan cable from the likes of Cookie Cables or a similar company to add a bit of customization and help me forget I’m charging a wireless keyboard.

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I’m happy to see Razer release a wireless compact gaming keyboard, particularly one that is as comfortable as some specialized mechanical keyboards, like the KeyChron K3 Wireless. But that brand lacks mainstream appeal, while Razer is a leading gaming keyboard maker. Hopefully, this inspires its competitors to get into the game—and maybe some of them will prioritize battery life.

I cover Android, the smart home, laptops, and mechanical keyboards for Gizmodo. You might've heard me on a podcast once.

DISCUSSION

kpchawk
Theodore Brosevelt

I’m sort of confused as to your complaints, as the limitation of making any tech wireless is either battery life or weight. This is the exact same trade-off with gaming laptops, everyone knows you can technically game on battery, but you are going to last at best 30mins to a hour, depending on the game.

I’m starting to question whether there’s any hope for a proper wireless mechanical keyboard”.

It is wireless, it has mechanical keys, and it can last up to 200 hours*. Just because it can’t run a light show the entire time doesn’t invalidate that statement.