By: Aaron Lai
April 7, 2017
I was recently watching a Netflix documentary called 'A Faster Horse', which gave an insider's look at one of America's most well-known cars, the Ford Mustang. The documentary follows the chief engineer of the 2015 Ford Mustang as him and his team talk about the challenges and successes of redesigning the Mustang. As you may or may not know, before the first Mustang was released, there was an automobile marque launched by Ford in hopes to compete as a full-size luxury car. Known as the Edsel, this lineup of cars failed miserably. As a result, it was canceled within two years of launch. To no one's surprise, the development of the Mustang was a bit more secretive; even hidden from the then chairman Henry Ford II in fears it would get cancelled due to the aforementioned Edsel failure. Thankfully, this was not the case. Ford sold over three hundred thousand of them in the first year, and produced more than a million in the first eighteen months. Since then, the Ford Mustang has been a mainstay in the lineup, with sales surpassing 9.5 million vehicles in the United States. In my opinion, while Ford may have their sports car in the GT and one of the bestselling pickup trucks in the F150, I would call the Mustang the flagship car of Ford. It may not necessarily be the most luxurious car or the fastest, but it definitely is the most well-known Ford, at least in terms of successful cars. Thus today we have another flagship, except this time in the form of a keyboard. Launched by AZIO during CES two months ago, the Armato is the best of what AZIO has to offer. Or is it? Will this keyboard be the Mustang for AZIO, or will it flop like the Edsel? Let us see when we take a closer look at the AZIO Armato!
Today's review unit of the AZIO Armato arrived via the orange and purple people, or more commonly known as FedEx. Traveling via International Ground service, our review unit arrived from AZIO's American offices in City of Industry, California in a brown corrugated cardboard box. The box itself arrived in decent condition with no major dents or bruises to speak of. In addition to the Armato, we also have the AZIO MK MAC, which was reviewed by Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Kwan. Of course, our review is on the flagship Armato, so we opened the box to get at the retail container inside.
Like the MK Retro, AZIO has taken a more minimalist approach with the box design. Rather than a flashy box design, the Armato's retail container is completely black with metallic red outlines of words. A picture of the Armato's outline in the same red is on the left side of the box. AZIO's logo in on the upper right corner, while the product name is located on the lower right corner. A product description of "Backlit Mechanical Gaming Keyboard" is printed underneath the model name. Flipping the box around, there are some specifications and features about the Armato on the back. Overall, I really like this minimal design, though some others may want to see more features about the Armato.
For those interested in the specifications, I have grabbed it from the manufacturer's website for your perusal:
SWITCH TYPE: Cherry MX Brown
BACKLIGHT: Crimson Red
N-KEY ROLLOVER: Full NKRO
CABLE: 6 ft. Braided
OS SUPPORT: Windows XP, VISTA, 7, 8, 10
DIMENSIONS: Keyboard / 6.5x19.0x1.2 in, Palm Rest / 2.8x19.0x0.5 in
WEIGHT: 3.0 lbs / 1361 g
BOX CONTENT: Armato Keyboard / Palm Rest / Key Puller / Thank You Card / User Guide
WARRANTY: 2 Year Limited
Out of the box, we have the AZIO Armato stored in translucent bags. The bag material is nice, as it is not the standard foam bag or clear plastic we usually see. This bag should do fine in protecting the keyboard and the wrist rest from any surface scratches it may endure during shipping. In addition to the products, we have a user guide and a plastic black key puller. However, we will go through the different functionality of the AZIO Armato as we take a closer look at the keyboard itself. One thing we should note is the two-year limited warranty included with the Armato, which is in line with other keyboard manufacturers such as Fnatic Gear or Cooler Master.
Unlike the previous AZIO keyboards we have seen, the AZIO Armato is definitely a step in a different direction. While it may not be as minimal in design as it was before, the AZIO Armato still has something very AZIO about it. The MGK 1 RGB and the MGK L80 RGB both held a similar look, with the island style keys and the volume wheel or knob in the corner. However, with the AZIO Armato, I think there is a bit more of a gamer look. AZIO has not moved away from the metal, so we still have the black brushed aluminum at the top. Rather, they have combined the standard black with a bit of red. At the top, you can see all the crimson red flanking the sides of the function keys. This red mesh extends to the sides of the keyboard and to the large red knob on the side. Yet again, this is AZIO's implementation of their volume wheel, but we will see what it is like later on. Otherwise, there is a bit of red at the backplate of the keys, but we will take a closer look at this later. Otherwise, we can see a lot of chamfered edges, especially around the borders of the keyboard. Other than the metal, there is some plastic found at the top, such as the buttons near the top right. The bottom is also plastic. Overall, the keyboard is very AZIO with its signature metal finish and own implementation of a volume wheel. This is definitely a more gamer-centric keyboard, which is not necessarily a bad thing, and I quite like the red highlights around it.
Once again, AZIO has done it again and included a wrist rest with the AZIO Armato. While such a basic thing, it seems many manufacturers have neglected this helpful addition. As for the one included with the AZIO Armato, it is plastic, and while you might think this is a step down in quality, I think AZIO has done a few things to make this wrist rest worthwhile. For one, it is held to the keyboard with two magnets; one on each side to make placing and removing the bar easy. The magnets are just strong enough to keep the extension in place, but I would not try picking up the Armato by the wrist rest. However, the second thing I really like is just the fact the rest extends just a bit further out compared to other wrist rests. This means I can actually place my palms on it while typing. The top of the bar is a bit grittier and coated with a finish to add friction.
As for dimensions, the keyboard is 482.6mm in width, 30.5mm in height, and 165.1mm in depth. The wrist rest adds an additional 71.1mm in depth. Compared to other keyboards, this is definitely one of the larger keyboards, at least in terms of width and depth. This is partly due to the extra column of macro keys on the left side, though I will divulge into those later. In terms of mass, this keyboard is quite hefty at 1.36kg. This is quite a bit heavier compared to previous AZIO keyboards, though it is not too surprising considering all the metal around the keyboard. Unfortunately, if there is one thing I have not had to dock AZIO about until now, it is the build quality. For the most part, the Armato is solid. The metal backplate holds the keyboard quite well, and there is zero flex in the body or the keys. Although the base of the keyboard and the wrist rest is plastic, it feels like a durable product. However, the downfall comes near the edges. On both the left and right side, the metal sticks out compared to the side of the keyboard. Lifting the keyboard from the sides allows the top aluminum plating to lift off slightly. AZIO has always been solid with their keyboards in the past, and I am quite surprised to see this not more securely attached on an otherwise solid keyboard.
The AZIO Armato keyboard came to us in a standard 104-key QWERTY ANSI layout. As such, most of the keyboard is laid out in the same way as every other keyboard sent to APH Networks. The keycaps are good in quality, with the letters being translucent to allow the backlighting through. These are laser-etched ABS keycaps. ABS, which is short for acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, is a commonly used plastic for keycaps. They offer decent quality, but are also seen as inferior compared to PBT, or polybutylene terephthalate, which are stiffer, harder, and keep their color better. Thus, fingerprint staining will be seen with these keycaps, though it is not a huge deal. Font of the lettering on the keys is pretty similar to what we have seen from the AZIO MGK 1 RGB, which is unique but legible. The surface of the keycaps is pretty smooth, once again similar to the MGK 1 RGB.
One big difference in terms of keyboard layout exists on the far left of the keyboard where the dedicated macro keys are located. AZIO has not offered any software with the keyboard, so recording of macros is done on the keyboard itself. Users can start by pressing the "REC" button in the top left corner, followed by one of the five macro keys they want to record the combination to. Afterwards, users can hit their keyboard in any sequence, up to 31 keys in length, and this combination will save to the macro key. While implementation of the macro key recording is well done, I wish the record button was placed a bit further away to prevent accidental activation. It took me a few tries to get used to not pressing the REC button when reaching for the Escape key, but with adjustment, it is not a huge deal. Otherwise, we have the similar AZIO shortcut keys we have seen from previous keyboards. They are all located on the function row, and can be activated by pressing Fn prior to selecting your preferred function key. From F1 to F6 we have functions to open your default browser, default electronic mail client, favorites, search, calculator, and default music player, respectively. You might be wondering where all the media keys are, and you will see they have found a home somewhere else on the keyboard.
At the top right corner are not three, but four white LED indicators. The first three are the traditional Num, Caps, and Scroll lock. The fourth one is marked by a W, and shows when the Windows key is deactivated. This function can be activated by pressing Fn + Win key, and is useful for gaming when pressing the Win key would normally causing you to lose focus. One thing I complained about previously with the indicator lights is the sheer brightness of these lights, and thankfully it is toned down with the Armato. One thing I have always liked about AZIO's keyboards is the volume wheel or knob often found at the top right corner. The Armato is no different, with a large red aluminum barrel placed right on the right side. It definitely is eye-catching, and personally it is my favorite implementation of the volume control. Its protrusion from the right side makes adjustment even easier, and the notched feedback is satisfying. On the other hand, located beside this knob are four dedicated media keys for Previous, Play/Pause, Next, and Mute. While I like seeing the dedicated keys, they offer very poor feedback with a cheap and clacky feel, and I wish AZIO would at least make them a bit softer to activate.
As for key rollover, the AZIO Armato offers both 6KRO and NKRO over USB. 6KRO is abbreviated for six key rollover, while NKRO is n-key rollover, and these two refers to the number of keys independently scanned by the hardware. In essence, this fixes ghosting issues found in cheaper and/or laptop keyboards. While ghosting is a marketing term, there are cases where keyboards will not be able to recognize more than one keystroke at a time, causing for missed keys. This can be frustrating when you are playing games, or even if you are just a very fast typist. On an aside, the original usage of ghosting in keyboards actually referred to a third key being registered when two other keys were pressed, which thankfully is not a problem with most modern keyboards.
Before continuing on, one of the main selling points of the AZIO Armato is the mechanical key switches. There are three main types of keyboards in the market today. The cheapest but most common is the membrane keyboard, which is the easiest to make, but also has poor typing feel and response due to squishy keys. Next is a scissor switch keyboard. This can be thought of as an enhanced rubber dome with two extra interlocking plastic pieces connected to the key and the keyboard. This creates a better tactile response and typing experience in comparison to the aforementioned membrane. Mechanical keyboards, such as the Armato, costs the most, because each key switch is an independent part. These switches are generally composed of a base, stem, and spring, with varying degrees of tactile and audible feedback. Our unit of the AZIO Armato features Cherry MX Brown mechanical switches. These keys are rated to last up to fifty million keystrokes. Brown switches are what I would call a hybrid switch, combining the quieter design of the Reds with the nonlinear travel and tactile feedback found in the Blues. The Browns also feature low resistance to typing and an actuation force of around 45g to trigger them. Unfortunately, the AZIO Armato only comes in Cherry MX Browns. Our Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Kwan would love to see them in Cherry MX Red, and I would love to see Blues too, so hopefully they will make all three.
Flipping the keyboard over reveals relatively few surprises, though there are some goodies found here. As usual, we have the standard rubber pads in all four corners, with two of them located on the extending feet. Two feet swivel out at the back of the keyboard to help change the incline on the keyboard. Fortunately, the feet have rubber applied both when it is and is not extended, thus reducing the likelihood of sliding around. Out of the back of the keyboard, we have a fixed USB cable. It measures approximately 1.8m in length and is braided to protect the cable while making it more flexible. As for the wrist rest we also have two rubber pads, one on each side, again to prevent the bar from sliding around. One thing I do like is seeing AZIO's tagline of "Elegantly Fierce" here, which makes for some clear but hidden branding.
Taking a look at the backlighting, and you can see the AZIO Armato continues the black and red theme as the lights only come in this red color. The lights are quite vibrant, though once again, it suffers from the inability to spread the light evenly across the key. This is more noticeable in the function row on the second row of icons, and on larger keys with words that spread across the key such as "Caps Lk" or "Enter". As for controlling the lights, from F7 to F12, we have the backlighting functions. F7 and F8 allows you to dim and raise the brightness of the backlight and cycling through three brightness levels in addition to turning it off completely. F9, F10, and F11 are used for breathing, reactive, and custom modes, letting you pick different lighting effects. Finally, F12 turns on and off the lights completely. It is a bit surprising to not see the RGB treatment here, especially as this is their flagship keyboard. While I am quite fine with seeing the rainbow left out of this keyboard, I think there may be others in the community who wish the Armato had more colors than just red.
After using the AZIO Armato as my daily driver keyboard for about three weeks, I have to say I really like what we have with the Armato. Brown switches are typically the main switch I use, considering my go-to keyboard is the Cooler Master QuickFire Ultimate with Cherry MX Browns. Thus, I have a pretty good idea of what to expect. Previous AZIO keyboards had Kailh switches, and while they were a decent reproduction of the German manufacturer, there is just something about genuine Cherry MX switches that feel sharper and crisper. There are also some notable differences including the tactile bump located closer to the bottom of the key travel. As stated previously, these Cherry MX switches have a fifty million actuation lifespan. Otherwise, the typing experience offered by AZIO and Cherry MX is satisfying. There is a bit of key wobble on the keys, but no more than I have seen on other keyboards. There are also no annoying squeaks or sounds when using the Armato, and most of the metal reverberation you might have expected from the Armato is absent. As for gaming with the AZIO Armato, I was able to test out the dedicated macros, and while I do not have a lot of games that I would necessarily use them with, they were quite handy to have. Gaming experience was a positive experience, though I quite like the key switches and preference will come down to the user. I have always liked Cherry MX Brown switches, and thankfully the Armato does not detract from this experience at all.
A quick search on Wikipedia would reveal the fact only a full-size vehicle can take the title of flagship. Thus, it is not the Mustang but the Taurus that is Ford's flagship. Of course, I have already said I would put the Mustang in this place, even if it does not fit the criteria. As I wrote in the introduction, this smaller car is not the most luxurious or fastest car in the Ford lineup, but it has the combination of pricing accessibility and raw power. In addition, the tight connection between the words "Ford" and "Mustang" really show the true brand recognition with the pony car. When we take a look at the AZIO Armato, it may not necessarily have the heritage or the brand recognition yet, but it definitely carries a lot of reasons to hold the title of flagship. Starting with the design and build, this keyboard is without a doubt, an AZIO keyboard. Premium material choices of aluminum alloy is superb, adding an elegantly fierce feel. Hand in hand with the design are the features, and you really cannot say the Armato is lacking in this department. These features include a well-designed magnetic wrist rest, genuine Cherry MX switches, dedicated macro and media keys, and full n-key rollover. This is pretty much everything I would expect from a top-of-the-line keyboard. On the other hand, like every car and keyboard, there is always some minor things to fix. First, I think the aluminum top plate which could be better secured on the sides. The clacky plastic media keys could also be fixed for a better tactile feedback. Finally, if there were feature requests to be made, it would be to see RGB lighting or USB pass though port. Other key color variants would also be really awesome. At a retail price of $120 USD however, I think the AZIO Armato hits the right balance between price and performance. The useful features are present on the Armato, and keyboards with this combination of features are often more expensive. Overall then, I am quite pleased with the Armato, and I hope it stays for a long time in the AZIO lineup.
AZIO provided this product to APH Networks for the purpose of evaluation.
APH:Renewal Award | APH Review Focus Summary:
8/10 means Definitely a very good product with drawbacks that are not likely going to matter to the end user.
7/10 means Great product with many advantages and certain insignificant drawbacks; but should be considered before purchasing.
-- Final APH Numeric Rating is 7.7/10
Please note that the APH Numeric Rating system is based off our proprietary guidelines in the Review Focus, and should not be compared to other sites.
The AZIO Armato comes galloping in as the newest flagship, with a flashy design and useful features to spare.
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