In a scenario many thought impossible a few years back, fancy (i.e. pricey) keyboards are now luxury additions to your ultimate computer workstation. No longer the domain of typing samurai or office drones, fancy keyboards are all the rage today. The only real issue with the majority of them is who the target audience is: let’s just say it’s not for those rocking Word documents and drafting the Great American Novel.
Most expensive keyboards, especially those lavished with every feature under the sun – including backlighting – are mechanical ones. Clearly, these noisy, raised keys have come to symbolize the modern Gaming Keyboard, and most do this well. But excessively noisy clicks, no matter how precise and accurate, aren’t everyone’s idea of an ideal typing experience.
There are plenty of reasons to want a backlit typing experience without the fuss – and expense – of mechanical keys designed for gamers. Those who spend their time actually writing, or those with poor eyesight, often find illuminated keys a godsend in just about any scenario. But trying to find an inexpensive backlit keyboard without mechanical keys (or the accompanying price) is nearly impossible, despite what countless off-brand companies promise. For the ultimate in misleading cheapness, few options can match eGenPlus’ mechanical “feeling” monstrosity.
Azio Corp, the “A to Z, Input-Output” company, has slowly been proving their worth with tons of fancy and clever looking mechanical and backlit keyboards, many costing much less than others like Corsair, Razer, and Logitech. The latest model of their PRISM Illuminating Keyboard is an intriguing hybrid of form and function, mixing an undeniably well-made standard set of keys with a singular function: backlighting.
Right out of the box (ha!) you’ll notice the PRISM not only looks like a quality keyboard, but feels and functions like one, too. This is critical, given the (relatively) low price, but the PRISM offers a surprisingly solid build to go with its commendable typing experience; not a combo we often see in this market.
This is a full-sized keyboard, complete with a number pad and full row of function keys on top, with no gimmicks like media playback, etc, gumming up the works. A nice, thick bezel makes for a comfortable resting spot towards the bottom, all made even more attractive by a gorgeous matte black finish that doesn’t reflect or showcase prints, hairs, smudges, or anything nasty that glossier models would. At 2 lbs it’s also got a nice heft to help it stay put on flat surfaces.
One design gripe would be the two long pegs on the back, each with their own rubber padded tip, which flip outward to slightly elevate the keyboard to help alleviate wrist strain. As with most keyboard legs, the elevated angle never felt elevated enough, especially given the angled view detracts from the illuminated keys (more on this in a bit).
Also worth mentioning is the included “user’s guide”, which is a single piece of paper showing an arrow pointing to the backlit key. That’s your user’s guide. Hilarious.
Let’s talk about those illuminated colors, of which there are seven colors to cycle through: Vivid Magenta, Icy Blue, Cobalt Blue, Candy Pink, Crimson Red, Blossom Orange, Emerald, as well as the mish-mash prism that gives the keyboard its colorful name. You can even opt to shut off backlighting entirely, but that would kinda defeat the purpose of having a backlit keyboard in the first place, right?
Cheaper keyboards usually pull off their “backlit” trick by using equally cheap LED lights pasted just underneath the keys; the results are, predictably, a crappy lighting experience. Not so with the PRISM as each color is distinct and contrasts nicely against the others. Each key is coated with a thick, opaque base that helps shield excess light leakage and keeps it where it belongs: emanating from the keys.
The only downside – and it’s a biggie – is how faint and dim the actual lighting seems, especially in a normally well-lit room. Don’t laugh; people of all stripes like backlit keys, even in bright light. For those of you who might prefer typing in the dark (bad for your eyes!), the illumination isn’t all that bad, especially with the Candy Pink and Crimson Red colors. A brightness adjust key would have solved these issues (I was shocked to find the levels weren’t adjustable), but that might’ve jacked the price well beyond what’s already a reasonably priced budget-keyboard.
Backlit lights and a solid build are well and good, but this is a review for a keyboard, after all, so let’s get to the actual typing experience. The verdict, with some slight reservations, is the PRISM does a very good job. The chiclet keys are well-spaced and attractively lit, but they’re still plastic keys that feel chunkier and heavier than I’d like. I was able to maintain my typically higher WPM without much issue, though I kept having the impression that I was pressing harder on the keys than I would have liked. Speed tests, however, proved this wasn’t the case and I was able to zip right along with a high level of accuracy.
Plus, the keys are mostly quiet, certainly more than your typical mechanical keyboard. There’s a nice plugging-away sound present, but that’s mostly due to the materials used. Typically, budget keyboards with plastic-on-plastic builds tend to have lower shelf lives due to excessive wearing down of their components, resulting in stuck keys and inaccurate keystrokes. While it does feel like the PRISM could go down this path, it could just be my brain sending mixed signals that such a low-priced keyboard that LOOKS so nice can’t possibly be up for the long haul. We’ll have to see how it holds up over time.
Those seeking a quality backlit typing experience without the raised keys, noise, and expense of the average mechanical keyboard might want to give Azio’s PRISM Illuminating Keyboard a closer look. Not only is this an attractive and well-made accessory that delivers on its name, but offers typing purists a solid typing experience that similarly priced imitators can’t. True, the actual backlighting isn’t the brightest (a level adjuster would have been lovely) and those plastic chiclet keys aren’t for everyone, but even dimly lit keys are a vast improvement over pitch-black nothingness. As a gateway option to bigger, brighter things, this is clearly one of the better options out there.