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Mechanical keyboards have a certain appeal -- the definite travel, the unmistakable click. The Azio Retro Classic keyboard has all that, but goes even more retro by using small round keys like a vintage typewriter, with the choice of black leather or walnut veneer in a metal frame. It's so steampunk it belongs in Warehouse 13 -- but it's also well designed, well built and full of thoughtful touches, from the careful packaging (complete with a souvenir leather or wooden card with the serial number on) to the way the indicator LEDs look like tiny vintage bulbs.
It's also bang up to date, with backlit keys with adjustable light levels, USB-C charging and connection or Bluetooth, so you can use it with any device (we particularly enjoyed propping an iPad up in front of it and typing away).
The typewriter keys aren't just a gimmick, fun as they are. Round keys means there's more space around each key and the concave keytops and good spacing help your finger slide firmly onto the right key at speed. The deep travel means the key goes down far enough for you to really feel that you're typing, and we were able to get up a fast typing speed. That will be audible to anyone you share an office with (it's about the same volume as someone typing on a Surface Book), but we found it an oddly enjoyable sound.
The keyboard layout is also good; Shift, Enter and Backspace are all extra-large keys, and even the secondary keys like Ctrl, Alt, Function and right click are larger than usual. There's clear space between the numeric keys and the function keys, with Esc nicely separated (handy for developers who need to hit that frequently). The numeric keypad feels like using an old-fashioned cash register -- and again, the rounded curved keycaps make it very efficient for typing in a lot of numbers quickly. The only annoyance was that while the Function key worked perfectly for accessing the secondary options on keys like volume and play/pause, Function-arrow didn't jump the cursor to the beginning and end of lines in Word the way it usually does.
If you use a Mac, slide the switch on the back and swap over the keycaps to get a full Macintosh keyboard with 15 function keys (all with the right secondary functions) plus Command and Option keys, and the Clear keyboard for the numeric keypad. The keycaps pull off and press back into place easily (and stay secure once they're in place). UK and European keyboards are now available, along with the original US layout (which is the model we looked at).
The rounded corners of the metal frame match the look of the typewriter keys. They're also sensible given that the Retro Classic is solid, sturdy -- and hefty enough (1.59kg/3.5lbs) to use as a weapon if a steampunk battle breaks out. It's not a particularly portable keyboard, but it won't move around on your desk however firmly you type. We also like the adjustable rear feet, which let you change the typing angle. And while the base of the keyboard is (sturdy and thick) plastic, the large round feet have their own matching metal frames.
Even the USB cable (A to C so you can use it with any PC) looks the part; the one that came with our gunmetal-and-walnut model was a sturdy black braided cable that looked rather like vintage telephone wire. It also had the least annoying hook and loop tape we've ever used to keep the cable tidy.
When you're in Bluetooth mode the USB cable charges the keyboard; Azio says the 6,000mAh battery will last a year when fully charged if you don't use the key backlighting, and one to three months if you do. The scroll lock light doubles as a charging and low-power indicator, which can be slightly distracting.
Modern computer keyboards are sleek and stylish, but they're not much fun. In search of a more vintage aesthetic, you might have taken a look at the individually handcrafted keyboards that repurpose manual typewriter keys -- and then taken a second look at the price and the waiting list. Azio's Retro Classic keyboard is certainly on the pricey side ($190 for the USB C version, $220 for the USB/Bluetooth model), but it's both gorgeous and practical for Windows, Mac and Linux users alike.
There is a cheaper model: the $110 MK Retro has the same keycaps on a glossy plastic background with metal frames in a range of colours from chrome and copper to red or pink.
But it's not just about the styling; this is a solid keyboard that's a pleasure to use as well as a joy to look at.