Author Topic: Azio Retro Compact Keyboard While Watching Star Trek: the Motion Picture  (Read 989 times)

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Offline cheesy_jones

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Azio Retro Compact Keyboard (RCK) Review While Watching Star Trek: the Motion Picture
Allow me to preface this review by saying that, for real, I'm only doing this as an excuse to use my new keyboard. I've got Star Trek: the Motion Picture on the widescreen, a glass of Irish whiskey on a nearby coaster (we are civilized here and naked, liquid-filled glass does not touch wood) and my dog is so tired from the game of fetch we had earlier this evening there's no way that rascal's gonna act up now. So settle in. We're going to look at this keyboard, and take a good while doing it.

Well, only as long as the movie lasts. Then I'm doing something else.

Warning: brutal keyboard violence ahead
I am well aware that many keyboard enthusiasts have a deep and abiding love for 1970s-era keyboard tech. That was a time when men were men, and keyboards were built to withstand those men pounding all day on them, and possibly each other, forever into perpetuity. It's hard not to love keyboards that basically had military-grade builds but were largely sold to businesses and universities. So I feel obligated to warn you in advance that in this movie a beloved character brutally and violently murders a keyboard, and it is captured in unflinching detail. Turn away if you must, but never say that Robert Wise, even though he directed the Sound of Music and West Side Story in addition to this film, ever compromised a story to mollify a potential viewer's squeamishness. You have been warned.

We've moved past the prelude and Vger's about to eat him some Klingons
Klingons are especially delicious when they're angry and confused. Ask anyone.

Speaking of delicious, let's talk about the packaging for this keyboard. Now I know unboxing product is an Internet phenomenon, and honestly I'm not sure how fetishizing commercial packaging became so popular. The extent to which unboxing videos on YouTube feels vaguely like pornography makes me feel guilty and Catholic for even watching them. Plus I end up buying things, which is even worse.

Yet so much thought was put into the Retro Compact Keyboard packaging that I wonder if maybe I was paying for *that* as much as anything else. Ironically—or is it coincidentally? I'll need to watch that Weird Al video to be sure—the packaging is a stark contrast to the Unicomp keyboard I bought recently, where the box is so nondescript and generic I felt like I was a shipping manager at a bundling facility getting in some new stock. Yep, that's *my* idea of receiving something in the mail.

I understand the motivation behind designing fancy-schmancy  packaging like this is to induce a feeling of delight and surprise, thus enhancing the experience and orienting you positively toward the product prior to use. But I won't be using the box day-to-day, or rather I haven't done that since I was five, so it seems as though money has been thrown in a direction that feels vaguely wasteful, or at least secondary. I wonder if Azio could have instead struck a deal with Matias and contracted them for some of their great tactile switches and put those in the board instead. That seems like a better use of resources, although now that I think about it, it's probably competition Matias would prefer to eschew. You'd get people who care about that stuff talking for sure, probably about how stupid Matias would be for allowing Azio to steal market share, or some other boring nonsense. But they went for the packaging and there's no turning back now.

Part of the deal when I bought the keyboard was that they threw in their retro mouse for free. Now I'm an Apple guy going way back, so I either a) have a deep appreciation and understanding of what a pointing device is and how it functions as an avatar for a user's interaction with a computer, or b) don't know **** about computer mice at all, blindly accepting Apple's mice like a sheep for years. Azio's Retro Classic Mouse is shaped more or less like Apple's, but with rounded bevels where Apple's are sharp and it has a bit more volume and heft to it, sort of like Apple's Magic Mouse started taking protein supplements and got swol. It's not one of those disco gaming mice that intends to conform to  the shape of your hand effortlessly in an attempt to become a sort of a cybernetic prosthesis. No, this mouse is old school: it Calvinistically means to make you work to love it.

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Mine is apparently coated in a leather skin, although it feels like textured plastic, so maybe I misunderstood something on the web site. It has two buttons and a scroll wheel that also functions as a third button. People can criticize the Apple mouse all they want but you can perform gestures on it like a track pad, and most importantly you can swipe side-to-side in all sorts of situations. Very handy, although it can sometimes lead to what can generously be called comedy when you swipe a payment web page without meaning to. This mouse doesn't do that. I'll bet that disco gaming mouse probably doesn't either.

I turned the mouse over and after feeling slightly dirty about that, I immediately became aware that this is the single most complicated mouse I have ever seen. The underside of the mouse has five separate elements, including the optical sensor. When the mouse is re-oriented right-side up, the top shell lifts up from the back like a car hood with a magnetic seal, revealing the USB dongle you can use, should you decide to use your mouse in USB mode rather than Bluetooth. I hate those dumb little USB dongles, so it stays where it is and I am going to invent a fantasy whereby if I take it out of its place it will somehow make the mouse ill, maybe give it a digestive issue, or at least mild dyspepsia. That thing's never coming out of that mouse.

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Scotty's not fat, and the Enterprise is just gorgeous
Speaking of pornography, Robert Wise and Industrial Light and Magic really knew what they were doing with those money shots of the Enterprise. And believe me I know, because I dragged my mother an hour and a half in the car all the way from Sherwood, Oregon to Milwaukee (not Wisconsin), where Star Trek was being exhibited at the time. And isn't James Doohan looking good, even next to William Shatner, who looks like he took the role seriously and hit the gym hard before production started. Bravo, gentlemen.

Once I got the keyboard out of the box, it's apparent it's a work of industrial fine art. This is the most beautiful thing I own, and I have almost all the original Frank Miller Daredevils from the late 70s and early 80s.

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It's not a keyboard so much as an objet d'art, and I feel as if at some point a museum guard is going to come up from behind me and yell at me for touching it the way that one mean guard at the Guggenheim admonished me when I got too close to a portrait of a clearly hungover 19th-century Russian aristocrat one afternoon. His eyes were so bloodshot I was shocked he could even stand for any length of time. And I mean the Russian aristocrat. The guard was fine that day.

My keyboard is an "Elwood" model, which means it has a wood veneer faceplate and dark copper-colored metal piping surrounding the frame. Wasn't Elwood a Blues Brother? Am I the only one who thinks this? Do you think they're calling this model Elwood because of the Blues Brothers? Did the marketing people at Azio grow up in the Seventies, or does that movie have some wider cultural significance of which I am unaware? I'd ask my son, but he wouldn't even tell me who Harambe is or was when I asked. "It's an Internet thing, Dad." Goddamn kid.

Wormhole
The degree to which Persis Khambatta, Rest In Peace, shakes herself to the extent none of the other actors do in the wormhole scene always struck me as weird. Maybe Deltans are particularly susceptible to crude wireframe vaginal imagery meant to convey a tunnel through space-time, in a way that humans aren't. More on this kind of thing later in the film.

I popped off a keycap—which sounds like a drug reference—and the switches are a backlit Kaihl variety in which the LED is centered nice and neat in the middle of the slider, with a lens above it that diffuses the light evenly to the keycap. Speaking of which, the caps are gorgeous and circular, the idea being, apparently, that typewriters used to look like that. Now let's be real: I'm old. I bought those Frank Miller Daredevils new when I was in high school. I typed on many typewriters back in the day, even this horrible secondhand Olivetti manual typewriter I lugged around in college, and none of them had these circular keys. The typewriters I used were usually electric (except in college, as mentioned) and many had keycaps that wouldn't be unfamiliar to anyone born, say, I don't know, *last week.* Clearly this is some sort of imagined Steam Punk aesthetic, where we all exist in an alternate-reality 19th century in which computers are just a thing we all use, you know, like now.

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If that Russian aristocrat could see straight, he might recognize and appreciate the craftsmanship and build quality of the machine, as elites back then were prone to do. Europeans would, in those days, travel to the United States and then report back on the plumbing over here. So this keyboard, made in China as I'm sure it was but I'm too lazy to check, represents fine American plumbing. I know some people like to twist keyboards as a kind of resilience test. It seems insane, like that test was developed by a murderous toddler, but in any case you can't twist this little darling. This keyboard is solid.

Checkov Screams
It cannot be understated. Screaming was Walter Koenig's main value to the original show. I've seen plenty of interviews with him and he spends too much time complaining about William Shatner mugging for the camera and not enough time talking about how well he himself could scream. But life is full of lost opportunities. No one but I seems to understand that William Shatner is Canada's gift to the world. Yes, I know Lorn Michaels and Cobie Smulders are Canadian. I stand by it.

As for other features of the keyboard, Azio's marketing claims it has an industry-leading battery size that enables it to hold a charge for, I don't know, forever, I guess. Keyboard marketing is so boring I'm putting myself to sleep typing this. And the drowsiness is not that this is the part of the movie where the Enterprise, at length, does what the mission of the Federation ostensibly is: go explore stuff. I think that part is great. No Borg queens are dying today.

As a short aside, I can say the gallant Enterprise crew has made it to V'ger without getting eaten the way the Klingons were, so we've made it this far without the keyboard battery winking out. That means as far as I know it holds a charge at least this long. Marketing claim well, not confirmed, exactly, but not denied.

The manual says the keyboard can pair via Bluetooth with three different devices, so if you need that, then you're good. My goal was to be able to work at my coffee table with my iPad, and not have to use the crappy Apple keyboard that came with the cover I foolishly bought for it, so pairing my keyboard with anything else seems unnecessary at best and deeply suspicious at worst. I've been married twice and both of my wives would have objected strongly to me pairing with anyone else at the time. I'm of the opinion lately that Romantic ideology has permeated society over the last 250 years to such a degree that it is nearly impossible to shake it off, even if you attempt to outright reject it. So no matter how you try, eventually open relationships will lead to some form of unhappiness. Maybe this is true for keyboard Bluetooth pairing, maybe not. But I will leave you with this: is it really pairing if you can connect three devices?

Spock crushes a keyboard!
He beat the hell out of that thing with a shocking brutality that takes one's breath cleanly away. It seems disrespectful and abusive to the keys. They were just sitting there on the console, backlit and beautiful, and he forms a two-handed haymaker and clobbers the hell out of them. They tumble from their mounts like blood spilling from a butchered carcass. The camera then moves away to Spock, uncaring as to the plight of those poor keys, fixated as it is on Spock getting some angry V'ger business in response to this truly flagrant transgression. Console buttons were harmed. Spock is punished. Oh, and the shaky bald chick is dead or whatever.

The key feel of this board is hard to qualify. I only have the other keyboards I use on a regular basis to which I can compare it, but I don't know how that helps anyone here. Still, that's what I have, so here we go.

When I switch from the Azio Compact to my Matias Tactile Pro, the Matias is altogether more pleasant, and the keys are not as weighted. It's a lighter feel overall, but that is also true when I transition from the Unicomp buckling springs switches to the Matias board. The Matias Alps switches feel more tactile, but the custom Kaihl switches on the Azio also give some feedback, so they don't necessarily have a dead feel I've heard you can get with some other Cherry-MX types. These are not linear feeling, and give more feedback than the Kaihl browns I have on my Azio MK keyboard, which themselves feel linear, but not unpleasant. Does that make sense? No?

Then perhaps it's best to put the typing experience this way, as a side-by-side comparison with my other keyboards:


Unicomp (IBM buckling springs): Kirk all the way. Well balanced with a firm resolve.


Matias Tactile Pro (Matias tactile Alps): Complete McCoy: tactile with strong feedback. A keeper you should never retire.


Azio MK (Kaihl brown): More of a Nurse Chapel: a little wishy-washy, but when the chips are down strong and dependable. Spock was a fool for rejecting her, and I won't make that mistake with this board.


Matias Quiet Pro (Matias quiet Alps): Very Spock: dependable with a quiet reserve. Can be annoyingly pedantic, but dead sexy if you're into that.


Azio Retro Compact (Kaihl custom backlit): This is a new-generation product, honestly, at least newer than the others I have, so this really is a Commander Riker board. It's extremely good looking, probably successful with the ladies, especially when dressed up. Bold. Swings its leg up over chairs to sit down, no question. Maybe a little hidebound at times, but overall likable. Not to be dismissed out of hand.

Part of the reason I think I'm having such trouble typing is the layout. I'm used to a full-size keyboard mainly, so typing on this compact layout is making me a little crazy. The arrow keys, especially, are not where my fingers want to find them, and the eject key is positioned such that I have now, on about 500 occasions, put my iPad to sleep, because that's what the eject key does apparently. I don't know whether it is Apple or Azio I need to vent my Righteous Internet Anger at here, but I may need therapy after using this keyboard for any length of time.

A robot in heels wearing a miniskirt bathrobe
Honestly, it was the 70s.

The keyboard is packaged with a very stylish palm rest, in this instance made of gorgeously-smooth stained wood that they claim is walnut. No, it probably is walnut. I have a friend who makes furniture who would know. I also knew a guy who could tell the exact species of a tree in the dead of winter with just a casual glance. The nonchalance with which he just spouted off tree species was unnerving. He tried to teach me, but I just could not figure out how you could even begin to differentiate a black cherry tree from an immature maple without at least having a leaf or two to look at. But there you are. Some people have an appreciation for the subtleties, while other people were raised in Oregon, where they just have one tree. Well, many trees, but they're mostly the same tree.

Pictured below is my palm rest. That is not a scratch, it a dog hair. They're everywhere, I can't get rid of them and I will never get rid of them unless I get rid of the dog. I have to live with dog hair everywhere, and now so do you.

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Also bundled is an adorable brushy thing that is absolutely perfect for cleaning out the crevices in my Unicomp, and I've taken an unwholesome delight in keeping that thing as clean as a whistle with the brush. So cute.

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Spock has penetrated the chamber
His words, not mine. I'd say grow up, but this movie is all about sex. It just permeates the picture. Have fun, kids, metaphorically speaking.

And I'm happy to report that Kirk has rescued Spock from the haunted electric clitoris and my keyboard's battery is still backlighting the keys successfully, so now we've come this far. I have high hopes for completing the film with the battery levels intact. Well done, Azio!

The keyboard has two modes: Blue tooth wireless, which we've discussed at length, and USB. Plug it into an available USB port using the supplied braided USB-C to USB 2.0 cable and you're good to go. The keyboard lights up like a little Christmas tree, albeit one that only comes with white lights, and you have a very nice laptop keyboard.

The carbon units will now provide V'ger with the required information
The Azio Retro Compact Wireless Keyboard, Elwood model, is maybe not ostentatious, but it's definitely on the what-the-hell-am-I-looking-at side. When you glance at a keyboard you don't figure you're going to think it's somehow inspired from a wood-panel station wagon, a.k.a., Woodie, of decades past, but dammit if that didn't eventually come to mind. And this isn't a Ford LTD with plastic simulated wood, this is a Ford Prefect (yes, that's where Douglas Adams got the name), and a finely-crafted Prefect at that, with real wood siding and metal fenders. It has heft and presence, and the keys make a very satisfying thunk sound when you type. This beauty purrs, if you get my meaning. However, the detachable feet at the bottom of the keyboard have a tendency to fall off if I even breathe on them, though, so be careful with that.

Jim, I want this
Things are getting weird between Decker and V'ger. I've lusted after machines in my time, but not, you know, literally.

Look, not every keyboard can have Alps or buckling-spring switches. Sometimes we have to overlook how difficult it is typing on a keyboard because this is art, dammit. This is an object of beauty and desire. It is a thing not needed, but wanted, like Lt. Kyle or maybe Uhura, or perhaps the tall dude with the big forehead who has the line at the beginning of the movie about Commander Decker that one of the original cast members should have had, probably Koenig, because jeez, that guy has made a career of whining about how little he and the other supporting cast members had to do on the show. That kind of keyboard.

But I bought it. It cost 219 dollars US and I'm not ashamed to admit that I could have spent the money on a bunch of dog toys.  I mean these days maybe only five or six really good dog toys, they've gotten so expensive. My car's registration is coming due soon, so I could have saved the money for that. And I wish my dog's yearly checkup at the vet only cost $200, but sadly it costs almost twice as much when you figure in the heartworm and edible flea meds. Two hundred dollars is also about ten pounds of Parmesiano Reggiano cheese at Whole Foods, which to my taste is the best cheese. It's the bacon of cheese.

You get the point. There are a lot of things you can reasonably do with the money short of buying this keyboard. You don't need it. You really don't need it. But you want it, don't you?

Roll credits. What a great movie. And the keyboard's backlight is still shining brightly.
« Last Edit: Fri, 08 May 2020, 16:26:49 by cheesy_jones »

Offline funkmon

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Is there a post of the year award we can give to this thing? That's some good stuff! I don't actually know if I know anything about the keyboards, but I do feel like I just dropped acid.

Offline cheesy_jones

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That’s more or less the point. A bit of fun, hopefully worth reading through.

Offline Maledicted

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  • Location: Wisconsin, United States
Is there a post of the year award we can give to this thing? That's some good stuff! I don't actually know if I know anything about the keyboards, but I do feel like I just dropped acid.

Agreed. I'm glad I read this review, even already having the full size version of this board. Fantastic writing. You should be a writer of some kind, a blogger at the very least, if you are not.

These are probably still the worst clicky switch I have ever personally felt (besides Ajazz/Zoro maybe), old or new, but the rest of the board is awesome.

Offline cheesy_jones

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tl;dr - the keyboard is not worth $219. Buy cheese. But good cheese—don't waste your time with store-brand Parmesan. Get the good stuff.

Offline Maledicted

  • Posts: 1061
  • Location: Wisconsin, United States
tl;dr - the keyboard is not worth $219. Buy cheese. But good cheese—don't waste your time with store-brand Parmesan. Get the good stuff.

I don't know, if the switches can be replaced, then you've got a a slick-looking board that's also pleasure to type on. I'll stop being lazy and tear mine apart to see eventually.