Azio Cascade review: a surprisingly solid wireless mechanical keyboard

Azio Cascade review: a surprisingly solid wireless mechanical keyboard

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The Azio Cascade, with Galaxy Light keycaps.

This hot-swappable keyboard ticks a batch of boxes

Azio has ne'er produced the astir emblematic keyboards. Whether it’s their unusual typewriter-style Retro Classic devices oregon the shiny, yet yet cheap-feeling Izo, the shaper has often prioritized signifier implicit relation with its designs.

The Azio Cascade, the latest keyboard from the company, is different. It’s got a compact, sensible layout, with normal-shaped keycaps and Bluetooth connectivity. Unlike the $129.99 Izo, it benefits from being hot-swappable, which means that immoderate keyboard hobbyists who privation to tinker with it tin regenerate its switches without pulling retired a soldering iron. And astir importantly of all, it really feels bully to benignant on, which is what you’d anticipation erstwhile its eventual terms volition enactment it into contention with the likes of the $169 Keychron Q1.

Pre-orders for the Azio Cascade keyboard are opening contiguous via a Kickstarter campaign, wherever you tin bid 1 for an aboriginal vertebrate terms of $89 oregon a regular Kickstarter terms of $109. But aft the campaign, which is scheduled to tally for 30 days, Azio plans to merchantability the keyboard for $159. Azio expects the keyboard to commencement shipping to backers by the extremity of May.

The Azio Cascade is disposable successful 2 styles. There’s the Cascade Slim, which comes with low-profile keycaps and switches, and the regular Cascade, which comes with modular tallness switches and keycaps. Available keycap colors see Galaxy Dark and Galaxy Light, arsenic good arsenic Forest Dark and Forest Light. I’ve been reviewing a regular tallness Cascade, with Galaxy Light ABS keycaps (although Azio tells maine that the colors of this reappraisal illustration whitethorn not perfectly lucifer the last colors).

Regardless of which exemplary you spell for, you’re getting a 75-percent keyboard, which is akin to the keyboards recovered connected astir laptops. You get an arrow cardinal clump and relation row, but nary numpad, and mostly things are clustered tightly together. There’s nary built-in quality to remap the keys connected the Cascade, but I deliberation its default layout is sensible capable that astir radical won’t request to. Around the close broadside of the committee there’s fundamentally each cardinal I usage connected a regular basis, including a dedicated people surface button, and determination are media playback controls built into the F-row. I privation determination was a European ISO layout enactment astatine launch, but Azio says it has plans to nutrient a mentation with this layout astatine a aboriginal date.

Depending connected whether you opt for the Cascade oregon the Cascade Slim you either get Gateron G Pro red, blue, brown, and yellowish switches oregon Gateron G Pro red, bluish and brownish low-profile switches. The Cascade is besides hot-swappable, meaning you tin usage an included switch-puller to region the banal switches and easy regenerate them without needing to desolder anything. The Cascade’s circuit committee supports 5-pin switches, which means it should beryllium compatible with immoderate MX-style switches you propulsion astatine it, portion Azio advertises that the Cascade Slim is compatible with immoderate Gateron low-profile switches. Note that the switches are north-facing, which tin sometimes make compatibility issues with definite aftermarket keycaps.

The keycaps that came connected my reappraisal illustration were bully but not great. Azio says the Cascade is disposable with ABS keycaps with laser-etched legends arsenic standard, but there’s besides an upgraded keycap enactment that uses hard-wearing PBT integrative with vigor transportation legends ( a akin printing process to dye-sublimated legends) for $30. My illustration had the cheaper laser-etched ABS keycaps, and portion the shine-through legends were mostly wide and crisp, the further non-translucent printed legends connected definite keys were little quality. For example, the Bluetooth logo printed connected the 1, 2, and 3 keys is truly crappy.

Around the apical of the Cascade, there’s a USB-C larboard that handles some charging and wired connectivity, arsenic good arsenic a three-way power to crook the keyboard connected and disconnected and to enactment it into USB and Bluetooth modes. A 2nd power swaps the layout betwixt Mac and Windows, though dissimilar Keychron’s keyboards, you don’t get some Windows and Mac keycaps successful the box. Instead, the Option and Command keys person some Windows and Mac symbols printed connected them. It looks a small messy.

Out of the box, the Cascade feels truly bully to benignant on. Azio advertises that it features built-in silicone and foam dampers to destruct harsh clicking oregon rattling sounds arsenic you type. The effect is simply a keyboard that feels beauteous and crisp, and though its stabilizers person a small rattle to them, it’s not peculiarly egregious. I wouldn’t accidental it’s rather astatine the level of the Keychron Q2, but it’s successful the aforesaid ballpark, which is to accidental that I’d beryllium precise blessed continuing to benignant connected this keyboard connected a regular basis.

In the box, you’ll find a bully braided USB-C to USB-C cable, implicit with a USB-C to USB-A adaptor successful lawsuit you privation to plug the keyboard into a instrumentality with the older USB ports. If you usage the keyboard wired past it functions overmuch arsenic you’d expect, portion if you spell wireless the keyboard tin retrieve up to 3 devices. I paired the Cascade to some my laptop and my phone, and could past usage a keyboard shortcut to rapidly power betwixt them.

None of these are peculiarly unsocial features and person antecedently been disposable connected everything from the Logitech Pop Keys to the Epomaker AK84S. But the Azio cascade feels infinitely nicer to benignant connected compared to the Pop Keys’ weird typewriter-style keycaps, and I similar its layout a batch much than the AK84S. It’s a much cohesive package.

The biggest drawback of the Azio Cascade is its artillery beingness erstwhile utilized wirelessly with backlighting. After afloat charging the keyboard overnight betwixt Thursday and Friday, its artillery indicator started flashing successful the mediate of the time connected Tuesday and the keyboard ran retired of artillery wholly connected Wednesday greeting aft conscionable 3 days of regular bureau usage with the keyboard’s backlighting on. That’s astir successful enactment with the 20 hours of backlit usage that Azio promises.

You get overmuch amended artillery show wide if you crook the backlighting off, wherever Azio says you should expect 160 hours of use. I was incapable to tally down the keyboard during my testing, but aft 4 days of usage without its backlight turned connected the keyboard was reporting it inactive had 80 percent charge. Based connected the artillery beingness I experienced with backlighting turned on, I’d expect the keyboard to past astir 24 days with its backlighting turned off, oregon astir a month’s enactment of weekday use. (The Cascade Slim, meanwhile, is rated for 10 hours of backlit use, and 80 hours with its backlight turned off).

After my past acquisition with the Azio Izo, I didn’t expect to similar the Cascade arsenic overmuch arsenic I did. But barring re-mappable keys, it’s got everything I privation retired of a modern keyboard. It’s wireless, backlit, hot-swappable, and astir importantly feels large to benignant on. The keycaps person immoderate unsmooth edges, and artillery beingness could beryllium better, but depending connected your preferences these are mostly forgivable sins.

At its Kickstarter terms of $89 oregon $109, depending connected however aboriginal you order, the Azio Cascade feels similar a spot of a steal. It’s affordable, feature-rich, and customizable capable that you could marque immoderate upgrades down the enactment to flooded its non-battery-related shortcomings. At its eventual terms of $160 I deliberation it’s little of an evident bargain. At that price, it’s competing with the wired Keychron Q1, which I’d personally opt for its somewhat nicer typing experience, adjacent if you bash miss retired connected Bluetooth and backlighting.

If you’re blessed to spell down the Kickstarter past I tin urge the Azio Cascade. It’s diagnostic affluent and large to benignant on, and has decent wireless artillery beingness if you’re consenting to forgo backlighting. But if you’re not blessed with Kickstarter, oregon if you’re speechmaking this reappraisal much than 30 days aft it publishes, past it’s a harder determination to make.

Photography by Jon Porter / The Verge

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