Azio never produced the most popular keyboards. Be it their weird typewriter style Retro Classic Or illustrious, but in the end cheap iso feelingManufacturers often prioritize form over function with their designs.
Azio Cascade, the newest keyboard from the company, is different. It has a compact and sensible design, with regular-shaped keycaps and Bluetooth connectivity. Unlike the $129.99 Izo, it benefits from hot-swap capability, which means any keyboard buffs who like to fiddle with it can replace its switches without pulling the soldering iron. Most of all, it’s really nice to write, which you wish when it puts its final price in competition with the likes $169 Keychron Q1.
Pre-orders for Azio Cascade Keyboard are open today Via Kickstarter campaignWhere you can order one for an early price of $89 or the regular Kickstarter price of $109. But after the campaign, which is set to run for 30 days, Azio plans to sell the keyboard for $159. Azio expects the keyboard to start shipping to backers by the end of May.
Azio Cascade is available in two styles. There’s the Cascade Slim, which comes with low profile keycaps and switches, and the Regular Cascade, which comes with standard height switches and keycaps. Available keycap colors include Galaxy Dark and Galaxy Light, as well as Forest Dark and Forest Light. I was reviewing Cascade for normal height, with Galaxy Light ABS keycaps (although Azio tells me that the colors of this review sample may not exactly match the final colors).
No matter which model you choose, you’ll get a 75 percent off keyboard, which is similar to the keyboards on most laptops. You get a combination of arrow keys and a job description, but no number pad, and generally things are tightly grouped together. There is no built-in ability to reset keys on Cascade, but I think its default layout is reasonable enough that most people don’t need it. Around the right side of the panel are every key I use on a regular basis, including a button dedicated to the print screen, and there are media playback controls built into the F row. I wish there was a European ISO layout option at launch, but Azio says it has plans to produce a version This will be planned at a later date.
Depending on whether you choose the Cascade or the Cascade Slim, you will either get Gateron G Pro switches in red, blue, brown and yellow or Gateron G Pro switches in red, blue and brown. The Cascade is also hot-swappable, which means you can use the included key puller to easily remove and replace arrow keys without having to cancel anything. The Cascade’s circuit board supports 5-pin switches, which means it should be compatible with any MX-style switches you throw at it, while Azio advertises that the Cascade Slim is compatible with any lower-level Gateron switches. Note that the switches face north, which can sometimes cause compatibility issues with some aftermarket keycaps.
The keycaps that came in my review sample were fine but not great. Azio says the Cascade is available with ABS keycaps with laser-etched legends as standard, but there is also an upgraded keycap option that uses heavy-duty PBT plastic with heat transfer legends (a printing process similar to dyeing sublimated legends) for $30. My sample had cheaper laser etched ABS keycaps, and while the sparkly legends were generally clear and crisp, the additional opaque printed legends on certain keys were of lower quality. For example, the Bluetooth logo printed on keys 1, 2 and 3 is really bad.
Around the top of the Cascade is a USB-C port that handles both charging and wired connectivity, as well as a three-way switch to turn the keyboard on and off and put it into USB and Bluetooth modes. The second converter switches the layout between Mac and Windows, although unlike Keychron keyboards, you don’t get both Windows and Mac keycaps in the box. Instead, Windows and Mac icons are printed on the Option and Command keys. It looks a bit messy.
Out of the box, Cascade looks really cool to write on. Azio advertises that it has built-in silicone and foam dampers to eliminate harsh clicks or crackles while typing. The result is a keyboard that looks nice and crisp, and while its installs have a bit of crackle, it’s not particularly terrible. I wouldn’t say it’s on the level Synchronization switch Q2but it’s in the same ballpark, and that means I’d be very happy to continue typing on that keyboard every day.
In the box, you’ll find a nice braided USB-C to USB-C cable, complete with a USB-C to USB-A adapter in case you want to connect the keyboard to a device with the old USB ports. If you’re using a wired keyboard, it works as you’d expect, while if you’re using a wireless keyboard, the keyboard can remember up to three devices. I’ve paired Cascade to both my laptop and my phone, and can then use a keyboard shortcut to quickly switch between them.
None of these features are particularly unique and were previously available in everything from Logitech Pop Keys to me Epomaker AK84S. But the Azio series looks a lot nicer to type on compared to the Pop Keys’ quirky typewriter-style keycaps, and I like their design a lot more than the AK84S. It’s a more cohesive package.
The biggest drawback of the Azio Cascade is the battery life when used wirelessly with backlighting. After fully charging the keyboard overnight between Thursday and Friday, the battery indicator started flashing at midday on Tuesday and the keyboard battery was fully drained on Wednesday morning after just three days of daily office use with the keyboard backlight on. This is roughly in line with the 20 hours of backlight usage that Azio promises.
You’ll get better battery performance overall if you turn the backlight off, as Azio says you should expect 160 hours of use. I couldn’t get the keyboard to work during testing, but after four days of use without the keyboard backlight turned on, the keyboard was saying it was still charging at 80 percent. Depending on the battery life I experienced with the backlight on, I would expect the keyboard to last about 24 days with the backlight off, or about a month of daily use. (Meanwhile, Cascade Slim is rated for 10 hours of backlight use, and 80 hours with the backlight off.)
After my previous experience with Azio Izo, I wasn’t expecting to like Cascade as much as I did. But except for the resettable keys, it has everything I want from a modern keyboard. It’s wireless, backlit, hot-swappable, and most importantly, it’s great to write on. The keycaps have some rough edges, and the battery life may be better, but depending on your preference, these are often sins that can be forgiven.
At a Kickstarter price of $89 or $109, depending on when you apply, the Azio Cascade looks like a steal. It’s affordable, feature-rich, and customizable enough that you can make a few upgrades along the line to work around non-battery shortcomings. At its final price of $160, I think it’s a less obvious bargain. At this price, it competes with Keychron Wired Q1which I would personally choose for the most beautiful typing experience, even if you missed Bluetooth and backlighting.
If you’re happy to go on Kickstarter, I can recommend Azio Cascade. It’s feature-rich and great for typing, and it has decent wireless battery life if you’re willing to forego the backlight. But if you’re not happy with Kickstarter, or if you’re reading this review more than 30 days after it was posted, it’s hard to take.
Photo by John Porter/The Verge
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