Every once in a while we are presented with the opportunity to experience something above and beyond normal, opulence takes over adding materials and features that may not be needed, but let something stand out from the crowd.
Well that was a bit deep, but a deserving introduction to the ridiculously luxurious Azio Retro range of keyboards, one of which I have the pleasure of reviewing.
I have not previously been aware of Azio, a company started in 2009 out of California dealing in only a few peripherals, however they do seem to focus on design and elegance along with some more outrageous products.
|AZIO Typelit Mechanical Switch (by Kailh)
Tactile & Clicky Feedback
|Yes (USB Type-C Port)
|Windows & macOS
Interestingly these keyboards come with custom switches designed by Kailh, once dismissed but who have increasingly produced quality switches. I am looking forward to trying these.
One quite heavy but classy looking box greets us with a big image of the keyboard, immediately showing off the retro style keycaps. Not much information here other than the name.
The bottom of the box has just one end of the keyboard imagined, more details greets us here describing features and the typewriter roots.
Sliding off the outer sleeve we have a very sturdy inner box with a magnetically held lid, flipping that open reveals a warranty card and manual in a sleeve on the back of the lid and then they keyboard protected not only by a plastic bag but a keyboard cover, which we all know come in very handy indeed. This really is presenting an opulent product with extra attention to detail and protection.
Spilling the contents out onto the table, we have the rather gorgeous looking keyboard, a bag of keycaps for Mac users, a user guide, a warranty card, a very well braided usb to usb type-c cable and a cleaning cloth. Oddly no keypuller.
Lets have a good look at the Azio Retro Classic then. The frame around the edge is copper, polished and without machining marks it feels very Steam Punk. The backing on this one is the leather option, wood is also available as are other metals for the frame. The leather is actually artificial rather than actual hide. The keycaps have actually been seen in this style before, I do own some Cherry compatible caps the legends are very clear even before any backlighting is applied. The LED’s at the top of the board for Caps Lock etc are old school bulb style giving more of that Vintage or Steam Punk effect. The keyboard is very heavy and won’t move around easily on your desk while in use. Finally there is a plaque detailing the keyboard.
On the underside of the keyboard we have four very large rubber feet, these are in that HiFi style ring, which is again made of copper. One Access panel for the hefty 6000mAh battery for wireless Bluetooth operation and some stickers with product details.
Twisting the copper feet at the rear of the keyboard activates the tilting mechanism raising the feet up to increase the typing angle. Quite a snazzy way to do this rather than the usual flip out flaps.
Here we see the keyboard tilted up to it’s full extent. Considering how flat the board is, I would have liked the keyboard to be able to tilt further forward, we are lacking the normal keyboard curvature which makes typing more accurate and speedy.
Looking at the rear of the keyboard we have from left to right, the OFF/USB/Bluetooth switch, the MAC/PC switch and the USB Type C connector.
The lack of a keypuller turned out not to be a big issue here as the keycaps come off fairly easily, not that it’s really necessary due to the custom nature of these keycaps, it could be difficult to find a different set that would fit. Here we see the custom Kailh switch, it does remind me a little bit of Topre swtiches.
The keycaps themselves are also a custom design, don’t expect to interchange these with your cherry based keyboard. The clear stem here is to allow the light to illuminate the key legends.
Getting the keyboard plugged into my rig, and I get what I must say is a simply gorgeous backlight setup. Hardly any bleeding showing (just a bit of glow on the nameplate) and each key lit up perfectly. Definitely some precision engineering here, sometimes a keyboard lighting system can seem like an afterthought, this one has been thoroughly well designed. Even with a pretty bright light shining on the keyboard the backlights shine through, very impressive.
Here we see how that excellent lighting is achieved, just the centre stem is illuminated and this itself is encased in a square shroud. There is no RGB available here, it might have been nice but I think considering the design and style of the Azio it would be unnecessary. Illumination can be increased and decreased using the FN key and the Up and Down arrows as the symbols indicate.
Performance & Testing
The Azio Retro Classic is a plug and play keyboard with no software downloads to worry about, I was soon up and running.
I do lots of typing and this makes the key layout, angle and surfaces important for me to achieve my best speeds and accuracy. The Retro Classic is quite flat and level, as it is with many keyboards especially laptop style low profile affairs, this causes me a little issue at my desk as I seem to need more of a tilt than is supplied by the feet at the back. Using the keyboard on my lap with my mobile phone, I found it suited the typing down from above position better. The custom Kailh switches feel like a lighter Cherry Blue you definitely get a decent feedback bump and a very light click, not as loud as the Cherry’s, Kailh have done an excellent job on these though they feel fantastic to type on. The lighting through the switches is clear even in brightly lit rooms.
Wired the keyboard performs as good as any other, the switches are accurate and even. I did find the keycaps a little strange to start with, as I did with my own cheaper set in the same shape, my fingers sometimes catch the next key as the tops are large and round. The keycap shape did slow my typing a little however and is something you may need to get used to. The USB Type C connector is very welcome, I do see why the PC end of the cable is still normal USB due to the slow uptake of USB-C on mainboards and laptops and the cable is of course replaceable with a standard C to C version should that setup be available to you.
Bluetooth behaves very well, my phone picked up the keyboard quickly once the FN and – Keys were pressed for pairing, I was able to select keyboard layout on the phone and choose whether it worked with the Swiftkey or Google keyboard app. It wasn’t long before I was rattling off messages to friends with more content and speed than any set of fingers on a screen could accomplish.
As usual with my reviews I spent a few days putting the keyboard through it’s paces in my usual gaming sessions, the n-key rollover is more than sufficient and the feedback from the switches reassuring that moves had been made. The large round tops on the keycaps were a snag from time to time but nothing too serious. The rubber feet and the sheer weight of the keyboard ensured it didn’t slide around the desk. The backlighting again coming into it’s own and enabling gaming in darkened rooms, the adjustable brightness preventing glare for maximum comfort.
The build quality of this keyboard is second to none, I could find no flaws what so ever, this is of course what you get when looking at boutique equipment. The custom Kailh switches feel well made and a lot of attention has gone into the quality of the keycaps. The metal frame is machined to perfection, there were no discernible scratches or flaws. The faux leather backing is stuck down with no rough edges or bubbles. The cable is well braided and fairly stiff but moves into position fairly easily for routing. The Azio Retro Classic is heavy which will be partly the metal construction and partly the decent 6000mAh battery which should keep a charge for a good while.
OK so this is a strange one for design, while a very high quality product, it’s appearance may only suit a niche market. As an example I took it into work to gauge reactions, first appearances garnered very mixed reactions. Colleagues are used to me having a mech on my desk but were very surprised by this retro keyboard, some loved the look some hated it but everyone wanted to know more. The use of high quality materials gives this keyboard a premium look, it also looks as if it’s from another time anybody with a themed rig containing metals and wood would do well to pick from this range to help complete the effect. Steam Punk builds would also suit this very well as would copper pipe water cooled rigs. Looking further at the keyboard functionality designs, there are the clever twisting feet to raise the rear of the board, these not only look uniform but almost hide the fact that they are adjustable. The use of USB Type C is elegant and functional, the keycaps styled to feel like an old time typewriter, the LED bulbs made to look old fashioned yet change colour depending on function. The board itself is very flat and level meaning a fairly steep typing angle may be needed for some typists, we also miss the curve of the key layout.
Being a boutique product you can’t expect this keyboard to come cheap. It is $219.99 from Azio’s own site for the Bluetooth version and you can expect to pay customs fees when having one shipped to the UK. I couldn’t find this exact version elsewhere, the non Bluetooth version sits at around £180 on Amazon. This is a high quality themed product which screams luxury and opulence so if you’re looking for something different, it’s worth it.
- Fantastic build quality and design
- Retro themed
- Great switches with excellent back lighting
- PC, Mac and Bluetooth functionality
- USB Type C
- Expensive to import
- Board layout quite flat
- Height adjust could be higher
- Keycaps not for everyone
This has been a very interesting review, I don’t normally get such mixed reactions from people, there are certainly a big bunch of folks who are interested in owning one, the other material options also piquing interest. I found using the keyboard very pleasant in the end, there are a few niggles but they are ultimately niggles, third party keycap compatibility is holding it back a little. The quality and functionality is excellent and the Azio Retro Classic definitely deserves the design award along with a Silver Award taking into account the few limitations. Well done Azio on a quite unique and opulent product.
Many thanks for Azio Corp for sending in the sample for review.