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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Asus ROG Azoth Review

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The work from home trend of the last several years has accomplished many things, but in the midst of all of that, it forced many of us to take a good, hard look at our computer setups. As a result, custom mechanical keyboards exploded in popularity. But while these keyboards easily demonstrate how much better your typing experience can look, feel, and sound, they don’t exactly cater to gamers. That’s where the Asus ROG Azoth comes in. Aiming to be the best of both worlds, it has just about every feature you could ask for in a gaming keyboard and delivers one of the best typing experiences in its class. At $249, it doesn’t come cheap but is well worth the cost of entry.

Asus ROG Azoth – Photos

Asus ROG Azoth – Design and Features

The ROG Azoth is the product of one of the simplest things a company can do: listen. Asus clearly paid attention to all the buzz around custom keyboards throughout its development. Virtually every part of its design is a response. To gamers, it has just about every feature you could ask for: per-key RGB, tons of programmability, high-speed wireless connectivity, and great battery life. To keyboard enthusiasts (who are also gamers): it has sound dampening foam, lubed stabilizers, great keycaps, and excellent switches, complete with their own lube kit.

The design strikes a middle-ground between gaming prowess and functionality as a do-everything day-to-day keyboard. The Azoth uses a 75% layout, which means that it has a full function row and arrow keys, as well as a column of navigation and editing buttons along the right side. It has most of the keys of a TKL but leaves a couple of extra inches for your mouse hand. Compared to the uber-small 60% designs of the Steelseries Apex Pro Mini or Corsair K70 Pro Mini Wireless, it’s entirely more functional. While you’ll still need to hold the function button to access a few keys, like Print Screen, most of what you’ll need has a dedicated button, so you won’t be slowed down if you need to type out an essay or get some work done.

In the upper right is an OLED screen that’s anything but gimmicky. While small, it can be customized to show anything from your own custom logo and GIF animations to system information like your CPU and GPU temperature, the date and time, or even calendar and email notifications. This is especially useful if you’re pushing your system for the best performance and want to keep an eye on temps.

The screen also ties in with the keyboard’s control dial, which has a pressable button and a lever to navigate up and down. Clicking the button changes categories between volume, lighting brightness, lighting effects, multimedia controls, and OLED brightness. Each category gives you a clear read on your current settings and makes adjustmenting them easy, though I would have preferred a knob for more precise tweaks to volume.

Battery life on the Azoth is also something to behold.


The screen also indicates your current connection status between USB, Bluetooth, and 2.4 GHz SpeedNova wireless. Trying it for the first time, the keyboard paired automatically with its USB dongle, but I appreciated having a screen to confirm my Bluetooth device and pairing status. Once it’s connected, it was reliable and fast. Bluetooth is best left for typing due to the inherent delay, but I found SpeedNova competed with even very best wired keyboards, including the 4,000 Hz Corsair K100 RGB and the 8,000 Hz Razer Huntsman V2, despite maintaining a 1,000 Hz polling rate.

The battery life on the Azoth is also something to behold. Asus quotes an incredible 2,000 hours of total battery life with RGB and the OLED screen disabled. Most people will probably use both and won’t hit that number, but even ignoring that recommendation, I haven’t even used 50% of the battery in over two weeks of daily use. I anticipate 200 hours with lighting at half brightness and taking advantage of the power saving settings that put the keyboard to sleep when not in use.

The Azoth is built like a tank. The top half of the case is made of sturdy aluminum, much like you would find on expensive custom keyboards. Keyboard manufacturers like to brag about “aircraft-grade aluminum” frames, when what they really mean is the plate holding the switches. The Azoth tops this with a steel plate for the switches and then a burly aluminum top case on top of that. Unlike many gaming keyboards, this does hide the top of the switch housings, so it’s not quite as flashy when viewed from the side, but helps to isolate the RGB under the actual keys. The design also means that the keyboard is weighty and feels extra premium in the hand.

The bottom case is plastic, but there’s a good reason for the material swap. Metal tends to block wireless signals, and since the Azoth is intended to offer low-latency wireless, that bottom case provides a way for those signals to escape. Along the back edge of the keyboard is a toggle switch to choose your preferred connection mode, and on the bottom are a pair of dual-stage tilt feet along the bottom to set your preferred typing angle. There are no additional USB ports or audio jacks, which is disappointing but increasingly common among gaming keyboards.

The keycaps are made of durable PBT plastic, so they won’t shine or look oily even with extended use. They’re thick and textured and both felt and sounded good under my fingers. The legends are doubleshot, made from a second piece of plastic, so it’s impossible for them to chip or fade. They’re backlit too, which allows the RGB to shine through for gaming in the dark. Asus still uses its typical angular gamer font, which some people don’t like, but I think works well here.

Underneath those keycaps, the Azoth uses ROG NX switches. They’re Asus’s latest generation of mechanical switches and are excellent. My sample came with tactile browns, but they’re also available in linear red and clicky blue. I was also able to swap in a set of NX Red switches, which felt lubed even though they weren’t. The tactile browns, on the other hand, had a slight bit of scratch but a much more satisfying bump than Cherry MX Browns. These switches are also hot-swappable, so you can easily change them out to try something new without replacing the whole keyboard.

This is where Asus really begins to wear its custom keyboard inspiration on its sleeve. The Azoth ships with a full lube kit consisting of keycap and switch pullers, a switch opener, a jar of Krytox 205g0 (the preferred industrial lubricant by keyboard aficionados), a tray to hold your opened switches, and three replacement switches in case things go awry.

As a massive keyboard nerd, I was giddy to see this kit included. Lubing switches makes them feel smoother and sound deeper, which is why just about every keyboard builder spends time doing it. At the same time, it’s a cumbersome process that can take several hours, especially if you’re new at it. Rest assured, it is entirely optional and the keyboard feels and sounds much better than most gaming keyboards without touching the lube kit. If you’ve been on the fence about building your own keyboard, though, this is a great middle-ground to see what all the fuss is about.

Beneath those switches, Asus has incorporated layers of foam and silicone to quiet the keyboard and tune its sound. It uses a gasket mount structure, with silicone tabs around the plate to isolate typing sounds and soften keystrokes. Beneath the plate and PCB is another layer of silicone, which quiets the keyboard and draws out the sound of the switches. In the bottom of the case is a layer of thick PORON foam and another layer of silicone to remove any hollowness from the case.

As a result of all of the great switches and case filling, the Azoth is one of the best sounding out-of-the-box gaming keyboards available today. It has a clean, poppy sound signature that’s all about the switches. Best of all, it’s easy to open and modify if you’d like to try other mods popular in the keyboard community, like adding tape to the back of the PCB.

Asus ROG Azoth – Software

The Azoth works hand in glove with the Asus Armoury Crate software. It allows you to customize all of the keys, record and assign macros, program lighting effects, and change what appears on the keyboard’s OLED screen. The software is broken into tabs to make it easy to navigate, though is more limited than competing keyboards when it comes to layered keymaps.

The first tab is where you’ll remap keys and assign macros, but as of this writing, there is no way to break functions in secondary layers. Assigning a macro to Fn+1 is impossible, for example, and can only be mapped to “1” replacing that key. Armoury Crate does allow you to save keymaps across five profiles which can be quickly swapped, but there’s no way to assign two functions to the same key like with Razer Synapse or Corsair iCUE.

Asus ROG Azoth – Software Screenshots

Apart from that limitation, the software offers just about everything you could ask for. Keys can be completely remapped and assigned to keyboard and mouse functions, as well as macros, multimedia controls, Windows shorts, text strings, and even launching individual applications. Creative gamers can create multiple layouts for different games and applications with dozens of macros at their fingertips.

There are eleven basic lighting effects to choose from, including all of the basics like breathing, reactive typing, and the classic rainbow wave. You can also go into the Advanced Effects tab and create custom animations on a video editor-like timeline. The presets can all be adjusted for color, brightness, and speed, so if you would prefer to have your rainbow wave take on a custom gradient, it’s entirely possible and rather easy.

The OLED tab allows you to customize the screen, and it’s much more functional than I first anticipated. Asus provides a handful of animations and banners to choose from, as well as an audio visualizer that reacts to your games and music. If you’d rather display your own graphic, it’s as simple as uploading an image or GIF file. There was no limitation on resolution or file size that I could see (4K images uploaded just fine), and the screen is high resolution enough to make even complicated GIFs look good.

Armoury Crate also lets you set this up as a customized information screen. The options are currently limited to single hardware information, dual hardware information, and date/time. The hardware options are able to read out temperature, frequency, usage, and voltage. You can add multiple screens that the OLED will cycle through. I found this especially useful to keep an eye on my CPU and GPU temperatures while gaming.

Asus ROG Azoth – Performance

I won’t bury the lede: the ROG Azoth is one of the best gaming keyboards you can buy today. It feels, sounds, and performs at the top of its class, whether that’s for gaming or typing out a report for class. In just the two weeks I used it daily for testing, it’s become one of my favorite gaming keyboards ever, even with its expensive price.

Asus’s attention to the custom mechanical keyboard world pays off in how nice it is to use. For typing, the gasket mount structure and layers of foam and silicone do a good job of isolating the switches from the case, dampening vibrations. The Azoth has a cleaner, quieter sound than any other gaming keyboard I’ve tested from a major brand. There isn’t much flex or bounce to the keys (a trait that’s currently in vogue among keyboard enthusiasts), but what’s there creates a middle ground between expensive customs and mainstream gaming keyboards.

As I mentioned earlier, the NX switches are excellent. Opening them up, there is a tiny amount of lube pre-applied to get rid of any pinging sounds from the spring. The brown switches were excellent for typing thanks to their sharper tactile bump compared to Cherry MX Browns, and made it easier to avoid typos. In fact, it might be too sharp for some and isn’t the best choice for pure gaming. NX Reds were smoother, quieter, and better all-around for fragging enemies.

The wireless connectivity was excellent and right on par with most wired gaming keyboards. Even though it connects at 1,000 Hz versus the 8,000 Hz of the Razer Huntsman V2, I was hard pressed to tell any difference at all. This keyboard is fast and lacks nothing without the wire. The ability to connect it to my laptop over Bluetooth to quickly swap between games and email felt particularly versatile.

The OLED screen is particularly cool if you like keeping an eye on your system hardware. As a PC min-maxer, being able to see my temps without having an overlay on my screen was useful. I wish it was able to draw more information, like FPS, to completely replace software monitors, but it’s not there yet. I also appreciated that it could take the place of confusing hotkeys for media and lighting controls just by tapping the button on the side.

Taken as a whole package, the ROG Azoth offers is remarkably full featured. It comes with all of the staples you would expect at this price: on the fly macro recording, Windows lock, and software support for key remapping and custom lighting schemes. If there’s a gaming feature you can think of, there’s a good chance this keyboard has it.

Like so many things in life, it’s the culmination of a lot of small things that make the Azoth something special. It’s great for gaming, but it’s also great for everything else. It’s the kind of keyboard that makes you want to come back for just “one more run” on a typing TypeRacer. Even at $249, it’s a very solid buy.

Verdict

The ROG Azoth is the special gaming keyboard that manages to transcend pure gaming. It’s great for that, maybe even the best available today, but it’s also a great keyboard in general. Taking its cue from the custom mechanical keyboard hobby has allowed Asus to deliver its best typing and gaming experience to date. It’s expensive but it’s worth it.

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