[section label=1. Introduction]
Meet the Mecha of Keyboards
For many companies out there, building a new keyboard is nothing more than finding an OEM/ODM, have them produce your keyboard, drop your logo on top and sell it. While this is an easy way for companies to introduce a hot new product without a whole lot of investment, it doesn’t always allow companies to differentiate themselves from other companies doing the same thing. This is why sometimes we find keyboards, coolers, fans, etc. that are nearly identical to other products in their respective categories.
Because of this lack of real innovation in the market, when AZiO released the innovative Levetron Mech 4 mechanical keyboard last year, I was really looking forward to testing it out. After all, the Mech4 reminded me of what the name implies – a mecha robot, except it’s actually a mechanical keyboard infused with the modular flexibility of a mecha robot’s design. Awesome!
While I wasn’t able to get my hands on the Levetron Mech 4, I was quite excited when AZiO recently informed me that they were coming out with the Levetron Mech 5 despite the fact that the Mech 4 had been released for only about a year.
Safe to say, this time around I made sure to get my hands on a Levetron Mech 5…
Features and Specifications
The Mech 5 sports a ton of features and is highly customizable. These include Cherry MX Black Switches, a built in wrist rest, a large volume dial, 5 dedicated macro keys, 2 USB 2.0 ports, braided cable, gold plated connectors, a detachable number pad, a modular D-pad and much more…
[section label=2. A Closer Look]
A Closer Look at the AZiO Levetron Mech5
Included with the Mech 5 we receive a quick start booklet with more information about the keyboard as well as a CD that will allow us to install the required software for the macro and profile buttons. Since the Mech5 supports full NKRO over USB, no PS/2 adapter is included or required. Both the booklet as well as the software can be downloaded through AZiO’s website.
Here we get a full view of the Mech 5 and the first thing I noticed was the built in wrist rest (close up below). Most mechanical gaming keyboards out on the the market today will either come without a wrist rest or come with a detachable wrist rest. What sets the Mech 5 apart is that its wrist rest is built in so you won’t need to remove it prior to transport. The construction of the keyboard is all plastic, but feels extremely durable. The entire keyboard itself is coated in a matte finish, so fingerprints and dust won’t be an issue.
Also, notice how this keyboard is currently in tenkey-less mode. Because of the modular nature of the keyboard, it’s capable of operating either tenkey-less or with the tenkey on either the right or left side. More on that later.
Additionally, comparing the Mech 5 to the product shots on the Mech 4, there are a couple things to note. First, AZiO has changed the color scheme from the Mech 4’s yellow/black to the Mech 5’s red/black. Second, it seems like they reworked a couple key things on the layout of the keyboard as well. The Mech 5 now has a more standard US layout with a full sized backspace key and a long enter key instead of the L shaped enter key and the short backspace key. While this probably won’t be an issue for most gamers out there, those planning to type on the Mech 4 will more than likely be quite frustrated with the layout. While not apparent in the specs or the product shots, AZiO also informed me that they’ve improved on the Levetron Mech 5’s internal circuitry as well.
Taking a look at the bottom of the keyboard we find the inclusion of four line shaped rubber feet. The detachable number pad comes with two additional feet to further improve stability. Why am I making a big fuss about the rubber feet? Well many keyboards out there in the market only provide you with small sized rubber feet and during intense gaming sessions they often buckle and will slip. The Mech5’s level of anti-slippage rivals that of the previously reviewed CM Storm Trigger, which included 6 much larger rubber feet and would not budge no matter how hard I button mashed.
The stands on the Mech 5 are quite unique. Instead of having only one height setting, AZiO included two pairs of stands with different heights to allow the user to find the perfect height setting for his wrist. There are even rubber feet attached under the stands, so you don’t have to worry about losing grip with the front half of your keyboard elevated.
Around the back of the keyboard we get the 6ft long braided cable as well as the two USB ports that will allow you to connect two USB devices. Unlike many keyboards we’ve reviewed in the past, AZiO has thoughtfully increased the spacing between the USB ports in order to allow larger USB devices such as flash drives to be inserted here. Unfortunately, this comes at a cost as there’s no audio/mic jacks included on the Mech 5.
The Mech 5 also comes with two gold plated USB cables. The main connector is required for main keyboard operation while the second is used to provide power to the two USB ports on the keyboard. The secondary connector however, is a bit short, so those with smaller laptops may have issues achieving the full functionality of the keyboard. On a PC or larger laptop this will not be an issue. I did test the keyboard with only the main connector plugged in and I was able to run devices out of both USB ports, however they will be limited in power unless the second connector is plugged in.
[section label=3. A Closer Look (Cont…)]
A Closer Look at the AZiO Levetron Mech 5
The Mech 5 additionally comes with dedicated volume control knob. The ring around the logo will actually glow red when plugged into a machine giving it a relatively cool look. This dedicated volume control comes quite in handy for fine volume adjustments while listening to music and playing games. Unfortunately, the Mech 5 does not have any media keys to speak of.
A cool accessory that came with the Mech 5 is the D-pad. This detachable mini keypad provides the keyboard with 6 extra programmable keys. Upon discovering this neat little extension, I immediately mapped the 6 D-pad keys into media keys since they are MIA on the keyboard. Although the D-pad may be able to compensate for the lack of media control keys on the keyboard, I think that AZiO should introduce a media key attachment for the rail system that would make it even easier for people to change tracks or pause their music.
That said, the D-pad may be remapped to anything you prefer, so it’s like getting instant access to another six keys. But bare in mind that you will be covering up some of the function keys so it may not be the best interest for those that frequently visit the F-row. I would like to point out now how the D-pad has its own USB cable that needs to be plugged into the keyboard. AZiO has provided enough wiring so that the D-pad so that it can still be moved around the rail without interference or issues, and will allow you to place it anywhere you desire. I personally chose to place the attachment on top of the F1-F4 buttons since I don’t normally use these buttons too much, but I did end up losing access to Alt+F4. Oh well…
The bottom of the D-pad has grooves that will allow you to slide it onto the rail and place it in your desired location. The small flip-up stand sits on the plastic between the F keys and the number keys and supports the pad. This prevents the D-pad from flexing and hitting the keys beneath it.
Remember the rail system we mentioned in the previous pictures? Here’s a closer look at it. Here’s just another aspect that distinguishes the Mech 5 from other keyboards out there. Kinda reminds me of the rail system on guns used for mounting sights or flashlights or something. That said, I definitely hope AZiO capitalizes on this rail system and introduces additional accessories for the keyboard.
As if a rail system isn’t enough customization, the Mech5 further allows you to insert peripherals by opening two plastic tabs located along the sides of the keyboard. Once these tabs have been opened you will have access to a USB port allowing you to dock the number pad.
Speaking of the number pad, the number pad that comes with the Mech 5 can be placed in the more traditional right or left of the keyboard depending on the user’s hand preferences. It may also be completely separate from the rest of the keyboard and connected via an included USB cable if you wish.
From the side view of the number pad we see the USB port that will be used to unite the keypad with the rest of the keyboard. You can not, however, attach it to anything other than the keyboard itself since it only has a USB port.
The bottom of the number pad also has a large rubber anti-slip feet as well as a dual height stand as well.
Here’s the number pad attached to the right side of the keyboard. The way this is done is that the USB port cover on the right side lifts up like a wing and the number pad slides right in. Yeah, it’s actually pretty cool.
Also notice how AZiO has included a dedicated calculator key. Unless you’re one of those stats guys who spends lots of time calculating DPS or something, it’s sorta useless for gaming, but for working individuals or students this dedicated shortcut key is a welcome addition.
To the left side of the keyboard, the Mech5 sports two more really cool features. The first is the ability to activate or deactivate the windows button. As depicted in the little orange LED lights up when the windows key is deactivated. This is a great for gamers who like having the windows key around doing everyday tasks, but hate its presence during gaming. The second feature that makes the Mech5 special is the five dedicated mechanical macro keys. Up to 10 macros can be recorded, 5 for each of the two banks. Switching between banks is actually quite simple – all you have to do is press the button at the top of the macro keys labeled A/B and voila! You now have access to a completely different set of key functions. To distinguish profile to profile the red back lighting will either be turned on or off letting you know that you are either on Profile A or B.
Finally, removing a couple keycaps off of the Mech 5, we can see that underneath every single key on the keyboard is a Cherry MX Black mechanical keyswitch.
[section label=4. Performance]
Testing the AZiO Levetron Mech 5
I began my tests with FPS (First Person Shooter) games and was quite pleased with the performance of the keyboard. Keys were responsive whether I was sidestepping, switching weapons or throwing a jar of Boomer bile. The Cherry MX Black Switches felt really good and no ghosting was seen.
I was informed by a member of our site that the old Mech4 had some issues when the “sprint” button on FPS games were remapped to the Caps Lock key. I am uncertain whether this problem was caused by the game or by the keyboard, as far as I can tell AZiO has taken care of this issue. On my test with the Mech5 on Modern Warfare 2, I was able to remap the sprint button to the Caps Lock and run without encountering any issue. I also re-mapped the caps lock to crouch and walk on Left 4 Dead II and similarly did not encounter any issues.
Test2: StarCraft II
Next I tested the Mech5 in the RTS genre by playing StarCraft II. Here the D-pad was a great benefit. Through the macros I created, I was able to mass produce units, select them and send them to battle all through the D-pad. This was extremely convenient for me although I’m sure pros would scoff at any use of these macros. During gameplay, absolutely no ghosting was seen, and every key was registered as I spammed probes out in the early game.
Test3: Diablo III
Just like in my StarCraft II test, the keyboard performed fabulously here and the D-pad came in handy once again. Although it’s not that necessary, I remapped the buttons from the D-pad anyway so that I could easily cast my most used spells and have quick access to potions. This ensured my Wizard was always ready to take on the legions of the the undead.
Test4: Marvel vs Capcom / King of Fighters XIII
During this test is where I first saw the keyboard encounter some performance difficulties. The single player experience was great and I had absolutely no issues performing combos or special moves the keys were responsive and like the previous tests I saw no ghosting. The issues however showed up when a second player joined the party. Once both of us started hitting keys it was apparent that some of our moves were not being registered by the keyboard. This was specially apparent when we tried to perform super moves or tag out different characters. Since my test experience here was so similar to the experience I had with the Storm Trigger, I believe that the Mech5 is around 6KRO.
Test5: Typing Test
Having heard that mechanical keyboards could improve your typing speed, I decided to put that to a test. In order to conduct my testing, I used this touch typing test site and proceeded to perform a typing test with my laptop’s keyboard (Dell Studio XPS13, possibly the worst case scenario) followed by a new test using the Mech5. So that the results would be accurate I performed these tests 3 times and the results are below. If you want to know how fast you type try it out for yourself after you have finished reading this review.
As you can see from the test above, my overall speed improved by 5.75% but what was really impressive was that by switching to the Cherry MX Blacks my accuracy was much higher. On my three typing tests using the Mech 5, I actually did not have any misspelled words. Since the Black Switches require you to have an actuation force of about 60 to 70 grams of force it essentially eliminates most if not all unwanted accidental key presses, which means that if you misspell a word, it was because you pressed the wrong key not because it was accidentally pressed.
To test whether my previous conclusion regarding 6KRO was accurate, I decided to perform a test on the Mech5 to verify it. I began my test by pressing 4 keys and every thing showed up. Next I moved on to 6 keys and again everything showed up. It was when I moved to the 8 keys that the keyboard begun to have some hiccups. Sometimes it would register 5 keys sometimes 7 and but I was not able to get it to register all 8 at once. As a result, the Mech5 is limited to 6KRO which is actually the maximum allowed through USB. (Although other companies have been able to work around this issue)
[section label=5. Software]
To program the dedicated macro keys as well as the D-pad you must first install the software from the CD that is provided or from AZiO’s website.
AZiO was kind enough to supply a thorough guide for setting up profiles and macros which will be helpful for those who are unfamiliar programming these keys. This is important since I’ve used my fair share of software that simply require you to figure it out.
To create a macro it’s as simple as setting up a profile, choosing a key and re-programming it to whatever you like. In this example I have made the dedicated macro keys the media keys. Notice how once a key has been assigned a function it will turn orange on the software, reminding you that the selected key is no longer available in that profile.
[section label=6. Conclusion]
Overall impressions on the Mech 5’s gaming performance were good. For typical single player gaming, the keyboard showed no ghosting and the Cherry MX Black Switches were extremely responsive. Those planning to play a lot of two player fighting games might want to invest in a keyboard with NKRO as the Mech 5 tops out at 6KRO.
The D-Pad was quite useful when playing RTS and MMO games. Having 6 shortcut keys at your fingertips allows you to cast spells or build/manage units quickly and conveniently. In addition, having the ability to deactivate the windows key at the press of a button ensures that your gaming experience will never be interrupted again by accidentally exiting to the desktop.
To those typists out there who can’t make a day’s living without putting a report on the screen, you’ll be happy to know that the Cherry MX Black Switches will improve your key press accuracy by ensuring that you don’t accidentally hit any keys. If you’re switching to a mechanical keyboard for the first time, you will also see a nice boost in your typing speed. My speeds improved by 5.75% by switching from my laptop computer to the Mech 5. That said, personal opinion (supported by testing results) is that if you’re planning on using the keyboard for mostly productivity, go with something that has Cherry MX Blues or Cherry MX Browns. While the Mech 5’s Cherry MX Black switches are excellent for those who plan to do a lot of gaming, those who do a lot of typing may prefer Cherry MX Blues or Cherry MX Browns which offer tactile feedback and a lighter actuation force.
In terms of features, the Mech 5 isn’t lacking here either. Starting off, it’s got two detachable attachments which allow you to have a level of customization that simply isn’t seen from other keyboards on the market. Those who like taking their keyboards with them also have the satisfaction of knowing that the Mech 5 may be used as a tenkey-less keyboard when all customizations are removed. This is great for gamers who travel, but still want to carry their own keyboards. Additionally, the Mech 5 also comes with a D-pad accessory as well. This comes in handy especially if the left side macros simply aren’t enough. Speaking of the left side macros, the Mech5 also comes with 5 dedicated macro keys are available for people who desire to use them. The fact that they are dedicated allows for faster access to macros which is an advantage over many awesome keyboards that either have integrated macro keys or simply don’t have any. The software to program them is relatively easy to use and a preset macro can be chosen or a new one recorded.
The built in wrist rest is quite sturdy and makes sure that your hands would always be supported and allowed you to play or work longer and not get as tired as before. The fact that it’s built in also means that those who frequently travel with their keyboards will not find the wrist rest broken off after the first LAN event. USB ports were definitely convenient as well. I was able to plug in both the SteelSeries Diablo gaming headset and mouse without issues. I also plugged in some flash drives and those worked perfectly as well. AZiO did a great job on spacing out the USB ports with the Mech5 because it’s quite possibly the first keyboard that I’ve been able to simultaneously plug in two wide USB flash drives without issue. Other companies, please take note.
Currently going for $109.99 on Amazon, the AZiO Levetron Mech 5 is definitely one of the pricier keyboards out there, especially since (aside from the bit around the macro keys and the volume knob) it doesn’t come with any sort of backlighting. Competitors include the Razer BlackWidow ($69.99), Corsair Vengeance K60 ($99.99), SteelSeries 6Gv2 ($84.99), and the Cooler Master Quick Fire Pro ($94.56). That said, none of the competition offers a detachable number pad or a D-pad accessory for that matter.
Ever wanted the chance to own possibly the most customizable mechanical keyboard on the planet? Well, now you can. With the Levetron Mech 5, AZiO has clearly brought something truly unique to the keyboard market and I like it.
Special thanks to AZiO for making this review possible.
The AZiO Levetron Mech 5 is currently available on Amazon.