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Gadget Review

Azio ARMATO Mechanical Gaming Keyboard

Feature for feature, competes solidly against better-known rivals, even besting some on build quality and value.

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The best comparison one can make about Azio Corporation’s quick rise from making budget, affordably priced mechanical keyboards to a real contender in the enthusiast space would be that of Vizio, which made a similar evolution in bringing high-quality HD displays to the masses. Not to disparage competitors like SteelSeries, Corsair, and countless others, but there’s only so many ways you can dress up a keyboard, even one rocking pretty nice mechanical switches.

We’ve covered several Azio keyboards in the past, and most have been nice alternatives to the costlier, more feature-rich brand-names competing for your typing dollars. But we’ve never tried something so audaciously eager to please like their ARMATO Mechanical Gaming Keyboard, which aims to position the company as a real competitor against more expensive options. Not to be outdone, there’s a sizable price bump to go along with the upgrade in both build quality – and jump to authentic Cherry MX switches – but it may be a justifiable price bump.

Fun note: if you’re lucky enough to grab an ARMATO with the original instruction book, make sure to flip through it entirely; it’s hilarious, with verbiage that reads like a Zoolander-like parody of what true ‘elegance’ sounds like. I’m not poking fun, but try visualizing the phrase “Powerful. Massive. Robust.” without cracking a smile. Azio, I’ll give you full credit for crafting a truly spectacular keyboard lineup, but lay off the loquaciousness…it’s (unintentional) comedy gold.

Design: Truly Elegant, Pretty Fierce

We’ve been impressed with the quality of Azio keyboards in the past, but never quite this much. The ARMATA offers the standard QWERTY layout, with full-sized keys and full numberpad for easy access. Measuring 19.0 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches makes it slightly longer than most keyboards, thanks to that extra row of dedicated Macros on the left (A1-A5, plus Macro recording button). At 3lbs there’s a nice heft to it, perhaps owing to that professional brushed aluminum top-plate and cherry red aluminum meshing on the sides. Azio is known for their wild and chancy designs, but this is easily the most attractive and, dare I say, elegant keyboard they’ve ever crafted. Yes, I know how that sounds, but this is high-quality stuff.

The standard assortment of Function keys are on top, which include the standard array of bonus functions (internet, mail, search, calculator, etc), as well as the backlighting controls. At top-right you’ll find a bonus suite of media controls, including a generous metallic volume roller in familiar cool-red coloring. It extends just beyond the keyboard’s bezel, which makes quickly adjusting the volume surprisingly quick and natural. Adjacent are typical media keys (Play/Pause, etc) that match the half-tube shape, but expect accidental presses in the dark as none are backlit.

Speaking of backlighting, the ARMATA offers full illumination on all standard keys in that familiar cherry red glow we’ve seen on other models. Options are available to adjust level intensity and even a few gimmicky extras (breathing, individual key lighting), but just know that key brightness and visibility are nice and vibrant. Unfortunately, not every key is fully lit (as we’ve seen on other Azio models), though the uneven distribution doesn’t affect the overall experience here.

A single, tough braided USB cable juts out from the top-right, though there’s no USB routing or any passthrough options here. I wish Azio had opted to have the USB centered instead, but you can’t have everything. There’s also a detachable wrist rest to add some relief for those extended sessions. But don’t get too excited; it attaches via magnets, and not very powerful ones. Moving the keyboard on the desk detached it easily, and that’s when it wasn’t sliding to the left or right. As long as you keep things stationary, and with few movements, the attachment should help your aching wrists power through.

Those Deep Cherry (MX) Browns

Yes, you read that correctly: Azio employs genuine, honest-to-goodness Cherry MX switches to power those silky-smooth clicks, taps, and pokes. Make that Cherry MX Brown switches, which means a peak actuation force of 55G. For the record, I’m a huge fans of Cherry Brown switches, as they represent a solid compromise between silent Cherry Reds and the noisy clicks of Cherry Blues.

Yes, I realize that, to many of you, the idea of a “quieter” mechanical keyboard is tantamount to heresy, but when you spend as much time tapping away at one you’ll want every advantage to make the experience sublime. And sublime is exactly what I’d call typing away on the ARMATA, as I was able to equal my personal best WPM in record time, and without scaring the neighbors away with a cacophony of noise. Yes, I realize some of you crave the Pavlovian response only a noisy Cherry Blue can provide, so if having noisy clicks with every press is a concern, you might want to look elsewhere.

Azio is marketing the ARMATA is a gaming keyboard, which is expected given how much cash the community seems to have for “elite” equipment. Generally, the ARMATA does exactly what the name promises by offering a heavy-duty mechanical keyboard with requisite backlights and some Macro functionality.

Even better, there’s no software required or even available; all those functions are handled via combinations of key presses. Recording individual Macros are easy, as is adjusting the various lighting effects (levels, breathing, and assigning individual backlit keys). Windows-lock and full  NKRO (for Windows) and 6KRO are available, too, but that’s about it for any gamer-centric options on the ARMATA.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; I really do wish these companies would stop kowtowing so heavily towards “gamers” when advertising these things; keyboards larded up with features and fancy lighting can almost seem sleazy for those curious typists having to sort through them, esp with hard-edged names that sound like Transformers villains or a death-metal band.

Professional graphic designers, audio/video technicians, and others stand to gain a lot from having a good, solid mechanical keyboard with Macros at the ready. Not only do they help alleviate repetitive stress from having one-button access to several Macro combos, but the comfort of having a silky typing experience makes those endless hours sitting in front of glowing screens is a luxury worth taking. If you’ve ever thought about upgrading (or migrating over) to the joys of mechanical typing, don’t fear the “gamer” tag, and give one a try.

In Conclusion

With Azio’s ARMATO Mechanical Gaming Keyboard the company best known for gimmicks and budget-priced alternatives aims squarely for the higher-end market, and they hit the target. Feature for feature, it competes solidly against better-known rivals, even besting some of them on build quality and value. And let’s not forget the actual typing experience, which is as good – if not better – than anything you’ll find elsewhere. As long as you’re cool with authentic Cherry MX Brown switches (and for strictly typing, they’re awesome) and don’t require the seizure-inducing lighting array of RGB lighting, consider the ARMATO. Seriously.