Given the glut of mechanical keyboards flooding the market promising vast improvements over typical membrane-style ones, it’s a wonder hardcore gamers have any money left over for, you know, actual games. Consider how even modestly-priced clickers can run well over a hundred bucks – and that’s for budget models; it doesn’t take much before even savvy typists start longing for the simpler days when any old keyboard would. Heresy, I tell you!
Azio, the company who’s becoming increasingly well-known for cheaper, odd-styled keyboards, offers fans a fairly straightforward typing experience with the rugged MGK1 Backlit Mechanical Gaming Keyboard, and a very good one at that. It’s really a shame that Azio is pushing it toward the gamer crowd, as there’s very little about this very capable keyboard that screams out to that group. But given the price, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Apart from the tragic use of super-ugly fonts (see below), the MGK1 is a real looker, with the build quality far exceeding other keyboards in its price-range. Azio calls this “Elegantly Fierce”, and they aren’t kidding. That gunmetal brushed aluminum looks and feels extremely solid, with a black matte finish accentuated by a juicy red backing that creeps up to the sides. The size and weight are standard stuff for a mechanical keyboard: 17.5 x 5.4 x 1.4 inches and a comfortably hefty 2.3 lbs, with an attached 6-foot thick braided USB cable powering both the keyboard and those backlights.
There are no USB passthrough or routing options, but situated on that juicy red backing are four rubberized feet helping keep things nice and stationary (most top out at just two, so having four is welcome). Two extendable leveling legs elevate the typing angle somewhat, though doing so invalidates the top two rubber feet (sadness). Happily, the detachable wrist rest is extremely comfortable, despite being purely plastic, adding much-needed additional weight to make an already heavy keyboard feel even more so.
The top-row of Function keys pull double-duty, of course, with the standard array of media and bonus hotkey shortcuts you’d expect, including Internet, Mail, Calculator (always a plus – get it?) and media playback options. The rest of the Functions include brightness controls and, because this is a gaming keyboard, a Windows-lock key so you won’t get pulled from the action in a flurry of button-mashing. Also welcome are the handy Mute/Unmute and volume control wheel on the top right, just in case you need them.
Additional options are pretty light for a so-called ‘gaming’ keyboard, to be honest. Apart from the Windows-lock key, there’s also support for both 6KRO (hello, Mac users) and full NKRO rollover settings for the most demanding Windows gamer who needs to mash ‘em together. There’s also a lack of programmable macro keys, button-binding, and just about every other perks you’d find in fancier, pricier keyboards. I’ve always suspected that manufacturers are compelled to label all their mechanical keyboards as “gaming” by default, to justify the higher cost.
Given how smooth and luxurious the actual typing experience is, you’d think the market could survive by marketing towards those professionals who spend most of their waking lives typing away.
Because mechanical keyboards are still a snobbish (i.e. elitist) niche product right now, it should be noted the clicky-keys used here are NOT genuine Cherry MX switches, but instead Kailh mechanical switches from Chinese manufacturer Kaihua. The MGK1 Keyboard I tested sported Kailh Blue Switches, which had the same comfortable 60g actuation force found in authentic (and pricier) Cherry MX Blues; this means perfect for typing enthusiasts who love their loud and noisy clicks. A quieter, Brown Switch variant is also available, so make sure to choose the type that best fits your typing style. Azio was even kind enough to pack in a red plastic key-puller, though it’s pretty stiff.
Backlighting: The Good, Bad, and Very Ugly
The Good: the backlighting works! The MGK1 supports LED backlighting for every key (some better than others) with three settings: On/Off and Reactive (keys are dark unless individually pressed) modes. Three levels of brightness offer decent illumination for most every key (see below for the Ugly), and the single ghost-white color gets the job done. Lights are fairly easy to control, thanks to a few Function Key-combos to cycle through the different levels. Better still, the backlighting is limited to the key caps themselves, meaning no blazing seas between the islands of domed clicks.
Note: if you absolutely, positively need cascading, multi-color RGB lights, take a look at Azio’s RGB-equivalent model MGK1-RGB.
The Bad: that font, though. There’s no getting around the pure ugliness of the font Azio employs on those keys, most likely to avoid having to pay pricey font fees (yes, that’s a thing). Keys have a funky 1980s cheesy retro look that, I’ll grant you, some may find pretty cool, but they still come off as pretty disappointing considering its parent company Azio literally means “A to Z”.
The Ugly: unfortunately, the backlights themselves aren’t spaced out evenly on some keys, meaning those with larger text (Enter, CAPS LK, and SHIFTS especially) aren’t lit entirely. Worse still, the number keys’ secondary symbols (!, @, #, etc) appear washed out and dull, as do several others (:”<>?) even at the brightest settings. Again, not a dealbreaker, but the cheap lighting diminishes the whole ‘elegant’ motif a tad.
Azio’s MGK1 Backlit Mechanical Gaming Keyboard offers a (mostly) excellent typing experience that should please most fans of super-clicky mechanical switches, even if they aren’t authentic Cherries. The price won’t break the bank, either, which means those gamers picking one of these up can spend more cash on actual games; though if you’re just looking to enter the fast-growing world of mechanical keyboards to actually type (I know, pretty crazy, right?) then you’ll probably be happy with it, too.