The best gaming experience isn’t about having the best 3D Mark score or having the most frames per second; it’s about immersing yourself in another world. To that end, I’ve always said you should spend your money on the parts of your computer that you interact with. This means getting the best keyboard, mouse, and monitor you can afford. You can game reasonably well on a cheapo AMD triple or quad core with a sub-$200 video card; rather than spend hundreds more on a twelve core 32GB SLI monster, great peripherals can be the difference between living in the game world or getting mad at the unresponsive controls, rage quitting, and taking up a less-stressful pastime such as Ultimate Fighting.
And for those of you who are cheapskates like me, remember: buy a gaming keyboard now, and you’ll still be using it when every other part of your computer has worn out or been replaced by upgrades.
For the longest time, serious gamers only had one place to go: Razer. First splashing on the scene in the late ‘90s with the Boomslang mouse, they have branched out to offer gaming keyboards such as my personal favorite, the Lycosa. But just like in a video game or Ultimate Fighting or a video game about Ultimate Fighting, a challenger steps forward looking to knock off the Champ. It is AZiO Corporation. Well known in tech circles for their hard drive enclosures and wireless devices, over the past year they have shifted focus to a new line of gaming peripherals. Today I will be looking at their two new keyboards, the Levetron KB555U and the Levetron Mech4 KB588U.
The Levetron KB555U is the entry level keyboard in AZiO’s new gaming series. Its features and $70 MSRP is designed to compete with the Razer Lycosa. As a Lycosa fan, I think it will be a tough one to pull off, but that’s why they play the game (or fight the… fight? SPOILER ALERT: I know nothing about Ultimate Fighting.)
Features (from the manufacturer):
- 3 sets of 10 macro keys. Use them for quick-launching programs, create in-game shortcuts, set a specific keyboard character, or perform a whole key-sequence.
- Each Macro key can be programmed to have up to 64 key-sequences.
- Supports delay-time setting. This allow for fine tuning the rate which the key-sequences are executed.
- Automatic Profile-Switching: With the launch of a program or press of a key, the keyboard will load the proper set of user-customized macro keys.
- Windows “Start” Key Lock. Never get kicked out of a game again with the accidental pressing of the Windows Start Key.
- Replaceable QWERASD gaming function keys to increase cool factor.
- Blue LED backlit keys with 3-level adjustments to control backlight ambience levels.
- On Screen Display (OSD) function – A variety of information is displayed on-screen based on user inputs.
It is solidly built and looks great on my desk. Rubber feet keep it from sliding around during intense gaming sessions. The blue LED backlighting is a nice touch, and it has three settings so you can adjust it to your own preference. And did I mention that you can pull the QWERASD keys and replace them with “gaming” keys? It’s a little gimmicky but also kinda cool, like the dancing waters at the Bellagio– a fun glitzy extra that always brings a smile.
The keys are easy to press. Sometimes in the heat of battle I won’t hit a key squarely, and the Lycosa doesn’t register it. The Levetron does a nice job of being forgiving, and doesn’t go overboard when I accidentally brush over an adjacent key. It also gives good tactile feedback when typing, and is quieter than the Lycosa.
The Windows Key Lock is awesome! Basically you can disable the Windows key while you are in your game so you don’t accidentally kick yourself back to the desktop. Back in the day I used to “remap” my keyboards by prying the Windows key off with a screwdriver; this is a much more elegant solution.
It supports tones of macro mapping. It supports three profiles of ten keys each.
The Enter key is oversized, which is good for gaming, but as a result the backspace key is the size of a normal key instead of being extra long. If you are a touch typer with poor spelling (…) it will take some getting used to.
There is no USB port built in to the keyboard. That’s a really nice feature on the Lycosa and most high end gaming keyboards (the more expensive Levitron Mech 4 has one; I’ll get to that in a bit). Having to reach behind my tower to hook up a headset or flash drive isn’t my favorite pastime, though occasionally I will find a quarter on the floor when I’m down there, and, hey, free quarter.
It would be nice if you could save and import macro profiles. The macro key mapping software that ships with it is a little buggy, particularly when trying to map a key to launch a program. Sometimes it works perfectly, other times it lags for several seconds. There is an updated version on http://www.aziocorp.com that seems to correct the issue.
Levetron Mech4 KB588U
The Levetron Mech4 is the latest in a re-emergence of mechanical keyboards. A mechanical keyboard uses actual, physical switches underneath the keys; press the switch down and the keyboard tells the PC that you pressed that key. Sounds pretty basic, huh? But most keyboards are made with a cupped, metal-tipped rubber piece underneath each key. Press a key and the metal part pokes through a hole to touch another metal piece and complete an electrical circuit. Because there aren’t as many moving parts, this keyboard design is easier to make and inexpensive. But it isn’t as accurate and doesn’t give you as much tactile or audible feedback. This feedback is especially important in games. You don’t have to jam the key all the way down for it to respond, and you get subtle audio and tactile clues that the key has engaged. Once you get used to it you type with a lighter touch, improving your speed.
What other features does the Levetron Mech4 KB588U have? Let’s find out…
Features (from the manufacturer):
- Unlimited Profiles: Create and save unlimited numbers of Profiles
- Volume Knob: Intuitively control the volume of your PC by turning a knob
- Modular Numeric keypad: The numeric keypad can be attached to either sides of the keyboard or used as a standalone USB keypad
- Modular Macro D-Pad: This add-on adjustable Macro D-Pad provides 6 additional dedicated programmable keys right at your fingertips
- Mechanical Keys: This keyboard utilizes the CHERRY MX Black switch
- Anti-Ghosting: Ensures multiple keys register when pressed simultaneously
- Water Resistant: Designed to remain functional even if accidentally exposed to liquid
- 2 x USB Ports: Connect 2 low-powered USB devices directly to this keyboard
- Fully Programmable Keys: The included software provides full customization capabilities across the entire keyboard
Mechanical keys! Back in the day I had an IBM model M keyboard that was the most comfortable pure typing keyboard I’ve ever owned. But the Mech4 comes very close, and without the loud clickety clickety clickety noises that keep the family awake at night. (It uses Cherry’s MX black switches, which are low-noise but provide less tactile feedback than the MX blue –based Razer Blackwidow.)
The Mech4 KB588U is rugged and heavy. If a burglar broke into my house while I was gaming and I had to fight him off using only one USB peripheral, this would be it. (Yes, my fantasies are weird.) You can adjust it to three different heights, and rubber grips mean no slipping around. It has a volume knob and two USB ports, which are a nice touch.
The modular design lets you remove the number pad if you wish. Or you can put it on the left and use it as a WASD pad like the Nostromo or Logitech G13. Two locks firmly fasten it back in place when you’re done. There are also a set of six “D” macros on the top that can slide from the far left to the ¾ point on the board; it’s a nice feature that lets you customize for your own preference and playstyle.
It’s bigger than you think. If you have a computer desk with a slide-out tray, measure to make sure it will fit. And there’s no backlight, which I found odd. The macro keys light up so it’s not a big deal for me, though some of you low-light gaming aficionados might disagree.
Like with the KB555U, the jumbo Enter key and undersized Backspace throw me off. Also make sure you update to the latest software from http://www.aziocorp.com to avoid some intermittent weirdness under Windows 7 64-bit.
The heavy industrial look isn’t for everyone. This keyboard looks like Voltron had a baby with the Death Star. (Again, my fantasies are weird.) Personally I prefer the brushed aluminum of the Corsair Vengeance K90 as a complement to my swanky metrosexual digs. But the Mech4 KB588U performs better that the K90 and costs $30 less, so I shouldn’t complain. (Though, of course, I still do.)
AZiO’s Levetron series keyboards are a welcome addition to the world of gaming computer peripherals. With macro functionality and dedicated keys, the Levetron keyboards are ideal for MMORPG gamers. The accuracy and fast response of the mechanical keys offers impressive performance in FPS games also. And the macros also come in handy in the Call of Duty and Battlefield games for doing complex tasks.
These keyboards’ anti-ghosting and fast response times ensure that they do what I say. With some cheaper alternatives I’ll type a command and then watch in horror as my character doesn’t do it, doesn’t time it right, or does something completely different. AZiO’s Levetron KB555U and Levetron Mech4 KB588U answered every challenge I threw at them and would be a great addition to your gaming rig. They are able to meet the quality and price point of the Champ, Razer. If this were Ultimate Fighting, AZiO would be all, “HEY RAZER LYCOSA AND BLACKWIDOW! SOME PEOPLE SAY YOU ARE THE BADDEST DUDES ON THE BLOCK, BUT WE GOT SOMETHING TO SAY ABOUT THAT. WE CHALLENGE YOU TO A TAG TEAM TITLE BOUT. HIDE YOUR KIDS, HIDE YOUR WIFE, BECAUSE LEVITRON IS COMING FOR YOU!”
(They have outrageous WWE-style press conferences and tag team title bouts, right? Again, I know nothing about Ultimate Fighting. But I do know something about keyboards. And I recommend you check these AZiO bad dudes out.)
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