By: Aaron Lai
August 19, 2016
On my recent road trip to Seattle, my friends and I had a one-night stop in Spokane, Washington, in order to give our driver a break. We visited a local park, where hordes of people were gathered around. At first, it seemed nice to see other people out and about. However, on closer inspection, we realized everyone was on their phones playing the latest mobile game, Pokémon Go. One of my friends, who is more of a traditionalist when it comes to Pokémon, was quite disappointed with all these loiterers, and I could understand why. For one, all of these people sat around, oblivious to their surroundings, and staring directly down at their devices. They were walking around, not even communicating with other people besides whenever a wild Pokémon would appear. Then if you look at the game itself, it is quite watered down, and compared to the original Pokémon games, it feels oversimplified. Even with all this flak, I think it is cool a game like this can get other people outside to begin with. Also, you cannot deny the huge impact it has made. People of all ages and genders are out there trying to catch 'em all. Similarly, today's review unit of the AZIO MGK L80 RGB is not exactly a big splash as it was revealed earlier this year at Computex. Furthermore, as the mechanical keyboard market is becoming as watered down as the budget solid state drive market, we have to wonder where AZIO has differentiated itself. Can a volume knob, a magnetic wrist rest, and rainbow lighting be enough to make a PoGo-like splash? Or will it be more similar to Magikarp's Splash? Read on to find out!
Today's review unit of the AZIO MGK L80 RGB arrived from the manufacturer's offices in Walnut, California. Traveling with the purple and orange company known as FedEx, this parcel arrived in excellent condition with very few issues on the box to speak of. In addition to the RGB edition of the MGK L80, AZIO also sent us the red and blue versions, which are to be reviewed by Ben Joubert and guest writer Hai Wang this week, respectively. Otherwise, each keyboard was individually wrapped in a plastic bag to prevent any scratches on the box surface, while all the contents were surrounded by plastic air pockets and a few sheets of bubble wrap.
Yep, AZIO was pretty awesome to send us all their L80 models.
As you can see from the photo above, all of the retail containers of the MGK L80 are quite similar to each other, with the main difference being the coloring of the trim and large lettering. The red and blue ones are red and blue, respectively, while the RGB edition is a silver metallic, which shimmers rainbow-like in room lighting. The front of the box shows the keyboard itself in on a smaller scale. The product's name is written on the left side, with "RGB" shown to denote this as the more colorful option. On the flip side of the box, we have some highlighted features of the keyboard, which we will cover more in detail later. Otherwise, the sides show some specifications and other things. As these words can be brain-numbing, we will now move onto the keyboard itself.
However, if you are interested, we have pulled out the specifications from the manufacturer's website for your perusal:
Switch Type: Kailh Brown
N-Key Rollover: Full NKRO (Windows)
Cable: 6 ft. braided
OS Support: Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, 10
Dimensions: Keyboard / 5.8 x 17.5 x 1.4 in, Palm Rest / 2.5 x 17.5 x 0.5 in
Weight: 2.3 lbs / 1060 g
Box Content: L80 Keyboard / Key Puller / Thank You Card / User Guide
Warranty: 3 years limited
As you might have read from the box contents in the specifications, along with the keyboard itself, we have a magnetic wrist rest, keycap puller, and two pieces of documentation. The keyboard and the magnetic wrist rest are held in a partially translucent bag, which has some sort of almost rubber like feel to it. I do not know what it is, but I really like these bags, because they seem just a bit more premium than the standard clear plastic. A red keycap puller is included under the keyboard to help in removing keycaps. Finally, the two pieces of documentation include a "Thank You" card, which is actually contact and warranty information. It should be noted, the keyboard is covered for three years, which is one of the longer warranty coverage periods. Cooler Master and Fnatic Gear covers their keyboards for two years, while some manufacturer's like Tesoro or SteelSeries only offer a single year of coverage. Finally, the user guide is a multilingual book, helping users determine various things, including macro recording and lighting effects. We will cover all of this later in our review.
When I reviewed the AZIO MGK 1 RGB earlier this year, I was quite happy with the simplistic and clean appearance. With the MGK L80 RGB, AZIO has not changed much. However, it also takes cues from their older USB keyboard, the L70. Thus we have a brushed aluminum finish on the top, which provides a sturdy and clean finish. Unlike the MGK 1 RGB, the L80 has rounded edges on the left and right side. This makes for a better look and feel overall, since nothing on the side will dig into your hands while holding the keyboard. The top and bottom edges are made up of black plastic, providing some material contrast. The majority of the keyboard is black as you can see, with some chamfered edges around the three LED indicators. A large knob is located on the top right corner and this is used for volume control. It too has a black finish, with chamfered silver edge around the top of the knob. The bottom is bordered by a plastic ring. Otherwise, there is also a small glossy area at the top right edge. The wrist rest is also very clean and only shows an "Elegantly Fierce" and AZIO logo. Personally speaking, I loved the design of the MGK 1, and the L80 is no different. To me, AZIO has provided the correct balance between gaming and professionalism with this keyboard.
Another thing I enjoyed quite a bit with AZIO keyboards is the inclusion of wrist rests. It is quite a basic thing, but it seems many keyboard manufacturers do not care to include it. The MGK 1 RGB used a single large clip on the bottom to secure the rest in place. It worked fine, but it felt a step below in terms of quality, just because the clip was plastic. With the MGK L80, I think AZIO has done the right thing by making the wrist rest magnetic. Two magnets, one on each end, hold the wrist rest securely to the keyboard body. The magnets are strong enough to keep the plastic bar in place, but also make removing easy, if it is intentional. Picking up the keyboard by the sides will cause the wrist rest to dangle, but it will not fall unless you violently shake it off. Thankfully, Taylor Swift did not endorse this keyboard, or else we would have a lot of wrist rests on the ground. Unlike the Patriot Viper V760, there is a bit of leeway when it comes to exact positioning with respect to the keyboard, resulting in a very slight, off-centered position. This is something very minute and the fact it is magnetic is more important to me.
As for dimensions, the keyboard is 444.5mm in width, 35.6mm in height, and 147mm in depth. Adding the wrist rest adds an additional 63.5mm in depth. In terms of mass, this keyboard is average for a mechanical keyboard at a little over 1kg. This is similar in weight to the AZIO MGK 1 RGB. Even so, the keyboard definitely feels solid with the exposed aluminum backplate. The AZIO MGK L80 exhibits zero flex in the body or the keys. Although the rest of the keyboard and the wrist rest is plastic, it feels like a durable product.
The AZIO MGK L80 RGB 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. At the top right corner are three white LED indicators. The first two are the traditional Num and Caps lock, while the third one is for a game mode indicator. I will explain the functionality of this soon. The keycaps are good in quality, with the letters being translucent to allow the backlighting through. Font of the lettering is unique to say the least, as some letters look kind of sci-fi like. The surface is not as smooth as other keycaps and have a bit more texture this time around. In addition, you might have noticed, but all the secondary functions on the F-key row are actually not translucent, but placed on top of the keycap in white.
Speaking of the secondary functions, there are quite a few to note. From F1 to F4 we have four macro keys, which users can use to perform a multitude of custom actions, as you will see shortly. From F5 to F8, we have some shortcut keys to allow users to launch various programs, such as the email application, default internet browser, calculator, or start a search. I do question the usefulness of this, as it would have been better to allow users to change these up. Finally, from F9 to F12 we have the media keys, which include Previous, Play/Pause, Next, and Stop. Not shown in the image above is one more shortcut key located on the Print Screen button. The secondary function is for it to launch the default music program.
You may have noticed a few missing secondary keys from the F-key row; namely the volume controls. As with the last generation AZIO L70, the MGK L80 has a nice big volume knob at the top right corner for easy volume adjustments. This plastic notched wheel is offers good feedback. Pressing the knob also mutes the volume completely, which is quite intuitive. Next to the knob are two more buttons, marked by a 'G' and an 'M'. The G activates gaming mode. Entering gaming mode disables the Windows key and enables macro functionality. The M button beside the G is used to record macros. On the L80, you can record up to four different macros and apply them to one of the F1 to F4 keys. To activate them, you can either press Fn + the respective function key, or you can directly press it when gaming mode is active. Recording macros is quite straightforward, and can be done without installing additional software on your PC.
The other secondary keys are displayed on the six keys above the arrow key, as well as on the up and down of the arrow keys. All of these vary the lighting colors and effects. These are the exact same lighting effects as the MGK 1 RGB. Therefore, there is a "Spectrum Cycling" mode, where all of the keys cycle through various colors in a uniform manner. Next is a "Splash" mode, which is a ripple effect dispersing from the middle of the keyboard. "Wave" mode blends two colors a time, going across the keyboard from left to right. "Color Marquee" mode is the typical mode to show off the RGB capabilities. "Custom" mode allows users to set the color on a per key basis. Finally, the "Reactive" mode is where the keys light up and fade out based on where they are pressed. All of these modes have modifiers or can be paused, by pressing the respective mode key twice. Finally, all of the lighting modes can be changed in terms of brightness by using the arrow keys, ranging from completely off to fully lit.
As for key rollover, the AZIO MGK L80 RGB offers NKRO mode over USB. NKRO is abbreviated for n-key rollover, and it 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.
Before continuing on, one of the main selling points of the AZIO MGK L80 RGB is its 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 MGK L80 RGB, 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 MGK L80 RGB features Kailh Brown mechanical switches. These keys are rated to last up to fifty million keystrokes, just like Cherry MX switches. Brown switches are what I would call a hybrid switch, combining the silent 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.
Flipping the keyboard over reveals few surprises. As usual, we have the standard rubber pads in all four corners, with two of them located on the extending feet. The wrist rest has two more L-shaped rubber feet in the corners and some smaller thin rectangular parts in the middle. Two very wide feet swivel out at the back of the keyboard to help change the incline on the keyboard. Fortunately, this time around, 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 2m in length and is braided to protect the cable while making it more flexible.
I plugged in the AZIO MGK L80 RGB into my computer and started typing. 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. With the MGK L80 RGB, I can once again happily report Kaihua, the manufacturer of its switches, has done a relatively good job of replicating the original German Cherry MX switches. Some small differences you may notice is the fact the Kailh Brown switches have less of a tactile feedback, and feel slightly spongier. There is also a difference with the location of the bump during the key travel, but otherwise it still is a pleasant experience. Despite the budget reputation Kailh has, I do not feel like I am missing out on anything by using these switches. Kaihua has stated a fifty million actuation lifespan, which is the same as the Cherry MX counterpart. Otherwise, the typing experience offered by AZIO and Kailh is satisfying.
Once you have RGB in the name, you know there will be some rainbow goodness. I have already gone through the several lighting modes available with the MGK L80 RGB, which is average in terms of the number of them. As for lighting quality, it suffers from the same problem we have seen on practically every backlit mechanical keyboard. As the LED is located near the top of the key, the bottom part of the key is not lit as brightly. With this in mind, AZIO has mended this problem by putting all of the lettering on the keycaps at the top. For all the F-keys, they second row of text is printed on instead of being translucent. This removes the inconsistent brightness we usually see, but it does mean the secondary functions are very hard to read in darkness. I think this is an understandable move to counteract the uneven lighting. As the back of the keyboard is metal and thus reflective in nature, a neat under glow-like effect is created under the island style keys. Finally, the only lighting thing I would change again are the indicator lights. They are white and very bright compared to the rest of the keyboard, and AZIO should dim them.
As with the AZIO MGK 1 RGB, there is no accompanying software with this keyboard. It would have made changing the individual lighting easier. In addition, I think it would also help with the macro recording. While I do not think the macro recording is the hardest to do, it will still provide some visual aide for users, making the keyboard use experience all the more better. Some people may prefer the simplicity in the plug-and-play way, but I think giving users the choice to use a utility would be much better, rather than to forgo it completely.
As I have mentioned in the introduction, AZIO is in a very crowded space when it comes to mechanical keyboards, as many manufacturers are jumping into the peripheral space. However, I can comfortably say the MGK L80 RGB is a solid contender. Starting with the build quality, we have the same excellent material choices I have come to enjoy about AZIO. Simple and clean is the way AZIO makes their keyboards, and I really like what they did with the MGK L80. They have also kept the volume adjustment as a separate entity, now as a knob instead of a scroll wheel, making for easy adjustments. Some may find the knob a bit visually distracting, but I personally think it is a great idea and more manufacturers should make an alternative way to adjust volume. While the Kailh switches underneath are not the cream of the crop Cherry MX, they are still a very solid alternative, and I have no issues using them daily. In addition, the MGK L80 RGB fixes up several things I called out from the original flagship, the MGK 1 RGB. This includes adding rubber pads to the extending feet, making the wrist rest attach magnetically, and implementing macros. All of these features make the MGK L80 a better choice. The only thing AZIO ignored was my request to reduce the brightness of the LED indicator lights. At the end of the day, if there is anything to really suggest AZIO start doing, it would be to start making a lightweight software utility. Considering the AZIO MGK L80 RGB is going to carry and MSRP of $140 USD, I think it is due time for some software. Competition at this price range is also quite tight, and there are several keyboards with similar functionality for similar pricing. If multiple colors are not a big deal to you, I would suggest looking at the single color MGK L80s, as they are $40 cheaper. Even still, I think the attention to detail and quality, the thoughtfulness of the features, and AZIO's refinements from the MGK 1 RGB to the MGK L80 RGB is in itself worthy of applause.
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 RGB may not be the next big splash, but it skimps on very little, delivering in looks, quality, and features.
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