By: Hai Wang
August 17, 2016
I remember when I was young, my first step of learning how to use a computer was typing practice. I spent hundreds of hours adapting myself to typing without looking at the keyboard. At that time, my computer entrance level course was almost equivalent with the learning of how to use a typewriter, which sounds less exciting in a certain way. However, after much later, when I entered university and sat in the classroom of the first year engineering course called computer architecture, I realized my situation was not bad at all, as my professor started his career with punching holes on cards. Thanks to the rapid development of technology, how we interact with computers is becoming more and more interesting. By the time my kids start to learn how to use the computer, they will probably be waving their hands with some science fiction looking glasses on. The point I want to make here is not saying the physical keyboard is a dying technology as a human-computer interface. On the contrary, I think the keyboard, especially the mechanical keyboard, will continue have a big share of market, since people cannot just rely on their touchscreens for productivity work and gaming. Besides, there are always companies that will make keyboards great again, right? New things are always emerging, which means as customers, we can have more and more choices. Take mechanical switches for example. Due to the patent expiry of the Cherry MX switches, quite a few companies are getting into the mechanical switch business. Kaihua is one of them. They make the same products as Cherry does. So here comes the question: Is the Kailh Blue switch, which is essentially a Cherry MX Blue replica made by Kaihua, a good choice for today's review unit, the AZIO MGK L80? Let us find out!
The AZIO MGK L80 arrived via FedEx Ground to us here in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. As you can see from the picture, the parcel is clean and intact. After thousands miles of transportation, there is not even a single scratch on the cardboard, which may suggest the FedEx delivery staff do care about their cargo. The package was shipped from Walnut, California, where the headquarter of AZIO is located. As always, I was not the person who received this parcel at the first place, therefore I cannot say thank you to the delivery person, even though I really want to. Since the MGK L80 Blue is not the only content in the delivery package, you can also find other AZIO MGK L80 series keyboards reviews, namely the Red and RGB editions here at APH Networks.
A good retail package design can draw people’s attention and make the product itself stand out among hundreds of other products on the shelf. Considering this requirement, the retail container of the AZIO MGK L80 does the job fairly well. On the matte black background, the company and the product’s name is located at the lower left corner of the box, which allows the customers who are specifically looking for this product easy to find it out. Under the product’s name, the variant “BLUE” is printed out in blue color, followed by a proper description of this keyboard, that is, a “backlight mechanical gaming keyboard”. It is worth noting the MGK L80 series has two other models; one featuring Kailh Brown switch with a red backlight and the other uses the same switch with am RGB backlight, both of which we have reviewed here at APH Networks as aforementioned. The word "blue” here is to indicate the color of the backlight rather than the choice of the switches, although they are both blue coincidentally. The blue concept can also be expressed by the big glossy MGK logo that is served as part of the background on the upper left corner of the box. The face side picture of the keyboard is located on the right side of the product's name, and it almost takes two thirds of the space, such that the details of the product can be demonstrated. Overall speaking, there is nothing in my mind that can really improve the design of the retail package, since the theme of the package is consistent with the product’s official website and the product itself.
The specification of the AZIO MGK L80 from its official website is listed below:
- Model: MGK-L80-03
- Interface: USB
- Switch Type: Kailh Blue
- Backlight: Blue LED
- Cable: 6 ft. Braided
- OS Support: Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, 10
- Dimension: Keyboard / 5.8 x 17.5 x 1.4 in, Palm Rest / 2.5 x 17.5 x 0.5 in
- Weight: 1060 g / 2.3 lbs
- Box Content: L80 Keyboard / Key puller / Thank you card / User guide
- Warranty: 3 Years Limited
Peel the retail package off, we can see the all black cardboard container of the keyboard, which includes the keyboard itself, magnetic detachable palm rest, red key puller, "Thank You" card, and a user's manual. Both the keyboard and palm rest are wrapped with semi-translucent plastic bags, which can provide protection to the plastic surface from scratches. The key puller is useful if you want to remove the keycaps when necessary; this may include showing off to your friend the Kailh switches. The "Thank You" card is essentially a message card from the manufacturer to ask if you are satisfied with the product. If you like this keyboard, you can share this with your friends. However, if you have trouble with the product, the card shows you how to contact the company instead of sharing it with your friends. The user's manual is printed out using high quality paper, and it is pleasant to read. It tells you the features of product, and how to use this keyboard without using any assisting software. In the following parts of the review, we will get into the details of those features.
The slogan of the AZIO is “Elegantly Fierce”. In my opinion, the MGK L80 Blue is a perfect example of how to design a battle-ready gaming keyboard with elegance. The chassis of this keyboard is made out of blue plastic. On top of the chassis, there is an aluminum face plate with a brushed finish. The combination of the blue plastic base and aluminum face plate gives the keyboard a unique look among other products. It is not just simply putting two parts that are made of different materials together; the blue plastic base also provides the whole keyboard with the color contrasting bottom and top edges, which makes the overall appearance clean. All the keys are compactly placed on the keyboard, and there is no wasted area on this keyboard. As you can see from the picture, there is only a small bulge above the number pad, which is designed to place the modes changing switches and the volume/mute control knob. Personally, I really like this volume control knob. Not only because it looks good with a shining chamfered edge on top of the knob, but also the smooth feedback you will experience when you change the volume. This is the kind of volume control knob that I would have expected to see on an actual speaker instead of a keyboard.
Another great thing that is offered by the MGK L80 is the detachable palm rest. Truth be told, this is the first keyboard I have ever used that has a dedicated palm rest. When I first received this keyboard, I was not sure how useful the palm rest was, and I thought it might be just another “nice-to-have” part. However, after a few days of using the MGK L80, I found out it was actually very useful in terms of increasing the comfort level. More importantly, the palm rest is removable, and it can be attached to the keyboard using magnets. There are two magnets on both sides -- left and right -- of the rest to provide attraction force to keep the palm rest and the keyboard together. It is easy to remove the palm rest if you do not need it. Using magnets to attach the palm rest is a brilliant idea, since no physical clips need to be used, and we all know that those plastic clips cannot take long time abuse. On the other hand, the palm rest can easily find the right attaching position by itself, although it may not be a perfect match every time, you do not need to worry about adjusting the palm rest if you are not an extremely picky person.
Speaking of dimensions, the MGK L80 is 444.5mm in width, 35.6mm in height, and 147mm in depth. The palm rest only adds an additional 63.5mm in depth. It is a compact keyboard for sure, thus it will not take too much space of your table. This keyboard weights about 1kg. It is sturdily built, since you can feel the rigidity by trying to twist it. Unlike the keyboard itself that is made out of both plastic and aluminum, the palm rest is made out of pure plastic, and it is relatively softer than the keyboard itself. There is no need to worry about the strength of the palm rest, since it is a fully boxed structure, it can take a lot of weight.
As I have mentioned in the introduction, the switch choice of the MGK L80 Blue is Kailh Blue, which is the Chinese clone of the Cherry MX Blue. The mechanical key switches are the most important parts on the keyboard, since they define the quality of tactile response and typing experience. If you are not familiar with mechanical keyboard and switches, there are three major types of keyboards we can buy today. Type one is the membrane keyboard, which features low manufacturing cost, but rather poor typing experience. Mostly because of the low cost, low noise level, and possibility of using it in low profile applications, the membrane keyboard is the most common one in the market. The second type is the improved version of membrane keyboard. The improvement lies in the use of a scissor-like structure, which can improve the typing experience in the switch. This type of switch is mostly used for laptops. The third type of keyboards feature mechanical switches that provide the best tactile response and typing experience, and they are referred to as mechanical keyboards. The MGK L80 Blue belongs to the mechanical keyboard family. The Kailh Blue mechanical switch has a similar typing experience and the clicking sound as the Cherry MX Blue. If you consider the performance of the Cherry switches as the industry standard, the MGK L80 Blue can actually deliver rather high level of replication. Regarding the lifespan, the Kailh switches can last up to fifty million keystrokes, which is also the same as the Cherry switches. Generally speaking, the Kailh Blue switches are quite capable in the MGK L80 mechanical gaming keyboard.
Once the USB plug of the keyboard is connected to the computer, the backlight LEDs of all the keys will take turns to be turned on and off as if a self-check procedure is performed. After all the backlights are “checked”, and followed by two blinks of all the backlight LEDs, the keyboard gets into your default light mode: Static, which means all the backlight LEDs are on in my case. The backlight LEDs only have one color, which is blue. It makes sense, since this is the blue edition of the MGK L80. The brightness of the backlight LEDs can be adjusted by using Fn + Up and Down arrow keys. The labels on the two arrow keys are quite self-explanatory. If you press the backlight mode changing key located at the upper right section of the keyboard, the lighting patterns of the LED will change accordingly. Aside from the static mode, there is also breathing, FPS preset, MOBA preset, and reactive mode available. You can even turn the backlight off if you want. The breathing mode is achieved by continuously adjusting the brightness of the backlight LEDs from the brightest to complete off and back to the brightest periodically. The FPS and MOBA preset modes only light up the backlight LEDs of the keys typically used in FPS and MOBA games, respectively. As for reactive mode, it only turns on the backlight LEDs of the keys you press on. It is worth noting the indicator LEDs on the keyboard are little bit too bright for my likings, especially at night. It will be nice if the brightness is adjustable too for the three indicator LEDs.
It can be seen from the photo above the illumination distribution is even for all keys. This is because the MGK L80 avoids double line labels. The downside is, for the keys that have secondary functions (e.g., from the F1 to F12), those function labels are not illuminated, since these labels are just printed on the keycaps. I have to say it is a worthy compromise, since most of the time, those secondary functions are not that hard to find if you are not in an absolutely dark place. Once you have familiarized yourself with this keyboard, you can remember where to find them.
As it is the same as the other two editions of the MGK L80, the Red and RGB editions, this Blue edition also features a standard 104-key QWERTY ANSI layout. It is worth noting the Enter key is single row, which is a good news for those people who like a full size right Shift key. There is only one Windows key on this keyboard, and it is located at the left side of the keyboard between the “Ctrl” and the “Alt” keys. The Fn key is at the right side of the space key after the right Alt. All the keycaps are designed ergonomically, therefore they are nice to press. The letters on the keycaps are translucent, such that the backlight LED light can shine through. All of the information on the keys are easy to read. The font of the numbers on the MGK L80 is pretty fancy, and the result is the number “6” looks like the letter “G”, but to be honest, who cares?
Since the MGK L80 series are gaming keyboards, this Blue edition is no exception, and it is optimized for gaming performance. There are three major functions that can boost up the gaming experience. First, as I have introduced before, the backlight of this keyboard can be changed to the FPS preset and MOBA preset modes by just a single press of the backlight mode changing key at the top right of the keyboard. Although by just changing the backlight mode may not help you win the game, it can at least prepare your mind for the specific battle you will get into. The second gaming performance booster is the macro key function. The MGK L80 blue edition allows you to record four sets of macros, and they can be triggered only when you are in gaming mode by pressing F1 to F4. The macros can be recorded without using any software or driver on your computer. The third gaming performance booster is gaming mode. By pressing the gaming mode key on left side of the backlight mode changing key, the keyboard will disable the Windows key and allow the user to trigger those macros. To indicate the gaming mode is activated, the LED that has a “G” label on the top right side of the keyboard will be illuminated. Likewise, if you are not in gaming mode, that LED will be off. These three gaming performance enhancements can definitely win you some advantages in battle.
Speaking of non-gaming usage, the MGK L80 is also capable of delivering a high quality typing experience. Starting from F5 to F7, there are three Fn-modifier secondary function keys related with increasing working productivity. You can use them to open your email app, default web browser, and calculator. I find the calculator key is really useful for me, since I am in engineering. The Fn-modifier secondary function keys from F8 to F12 are designed to control your media player. They provide functions like opening the default media player, previous track, play/pause, next track, and stop. I do not really use the media control function keys, but I know some people who are interested in watching dramas episode after episode, and these keys can be useful. As I have mentioned before, the volume can be controlled by the knob that is located at the top right corner. You can mute your volume by pressing the knob. I have to say this knob is the one thing I like the most on this keyboard, since it has the right size and feedback at the right position, and most importantly, it looks nice.
The MGK L80 is a full NKRO keyboard. NKRO stands for n-key rollover, which means there will be a maximum n keys being registered simultaneously by the keyboard. If the number of keystrokes at one time, say m keys, exceeds the number of n, those (m - n) keystrokes will not be recorded by the system, and ghosting may happen, such that some of your actions in the game will be ignored. I remember when I played Need for Speed Underground 2 on my laptop a few years ago, I could not use NOS while turning in the corner. This is because the laptop only supports two key rollover, and the NOS, turning and acceleration require three keys to be registered simultaneously. The ghosting issue will not be happening on the MGK L80 series of keyboards, since they are all full NKRO.
The MGK L80 Blue is a wired keyboard; therefore, it requires a USB cable to connect to the computer. For this keyboard, the cable is almost two meters long, and it is fully braided to provide better strength and less friction. As you can see from the above photo, the cable is non-detachable. I personally prefer to not have detachable USB cable on my keyboard, since the more connectors you have, the higher chance you will get bad connections. The USB connector of the MGK L80 is gold plated. Note that the gold plated connector is only there to make the keyboard look good, with is no actual performance improvement regarding data transmission. At the bottom of the keyboard, there are six pieces of rubber strips: Two at the back and four on the two risers in front; that is, two strips on each riser. Using four strips, the risers can provide grip regardless of their position. There is even a pair of “L” shape rubber feet on palm rest. All of those rubber feet can provide enough grips to allow the keyboard to be as stable as a mountain.
Another interesting feature of this keyboard lies in the software-free keyboard setting. Everything including the macro recording and the backlight mode control can be done completely on the AZIO MGK L80. The macro recording is a little bit challenging; therefore, it will be a good idea to keep your user’s manual around for the first few days. Comparing with the RGB edition, this keyboard only has one backlight color, therefore it is totally fine without software.
Coming back to the question I proposed in the introduction, is the Kailh Blue switch a good choice for the MGK L80 Blue? My answer is yes. After few days of using the AZIO MGK L80, I find myself really into the clicking sound of the Kailh Blue, and the typing experience is good, too. The trade-off between user experience and manufacturing cost is perfectly balanced by using Kailh switches. The overall construction of this keyboard is also of high quality. I have to say, I am a fan. Why? Firstly, the blue plastic edges and black brushed face plate provide a solid basis for the keyboard. Secondly, the magnetic detachable palm rest highly increases the usage experience. Thirdly, the backlight can evenly illuminate the characters on the keycaps. Finally, the design of the volume wheel makes the volume changing a pleasant experience, and it is also my favorite feature of this keyboard. However, the MGK L80 Blue edition still has room to improve. Here, I have two suggestions. One suggestion is to allow the indicator LEDs’ brightness to be changed along with the backlight. This is a common trend across all of the MGK L80 variants. The other suggestion is to add one or two more magnets to the palm rest attaching mechanism, such that the palm rest can be more firmly attached to the keyboard. To conclude this review, I would like to say the AZIO MGK L80 Blue is worth considering if you need a clean and sturdy built mechanical gaming keyboard that looks good and performs well. By now, our only concern is the price. The MSRP of the AZIO MGK L80 blue edition is $99.99 USD. Certainly with the more economical Kailh switches used, I hope some discount can be applied at the dealer side to make this product even more competitive for the consumer.
AZIO provided this product to APH Networks for the purpose of evaluation.
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 7.6/10
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 MGK L80 (Kailh Blue) is a well-balanced mechanical keyboard with great features and attractive looks.
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