Azio is known for its quirky “retro” keyboards, but its latest offering, the Azio Fokal, is less steampunk and more…I don’t know, 1980s industrial? And it has no fewer than two knobs flanking its layout. There’s a detachable 21-key numpad, which also has a knob, bringing the knob total to three, which might be a world’s first for a keyboard.
The Azio Fokal has what looks like a heavy dark gray aluminum frame, with black leather wrapped around the sides. It features black keycaps and an 81-key sort-of 75% layout that puts a bit of space between the F-key row and the alphas. If you count the numpad, you get nearly a full layout, but without the usual system req keys like scroll lock and insert.
I am completely unsold on keyboard knobs. In theory they offer a fun, tactile way to control volume or whatever else you program onto them — a hearkening back to stereos, in the case of the chunky sort you find on keyboards like the Das Keyboard 5Q. If you dig the aesthetics of a big knob protruding from your otherwise svelte keyboard, it seems like a great feature.
But in practice, I struggle to incorporate those knobs into my typing flow. I have to stop typing and reach to a top corner of the keyboard to use it. Which just doesn’t click for me.
I don’t believe the main knob on the Azio Fokal will be any different in that regard, although it promises to do much more than simply control volume. There are three moving controls: two rings and a joystick function. The rings have an “infinite spin,” and the top one is more volume, brightness, and “any other two-way commands,” reads a press release. The ring just below it has a button to let you adjust modes. The whole knob functions like a joystick with 7-way control, and you can configure it with the included software. It also has a fetching metal look that’s inspired by the lens on a vintage film camera.
Azio said that the knob makes use of Input Club’s HID-IO technology, but it’s a little unclear what that means exactly. Input Club describes HID-IO as “…a software tool that works like a keyring for your keyboard. You can plug different modules into HID-IO and instantly have a layout optimized for German or French — it will also handle some of the analog communications from Keystone.” The Keystone is the company’s forthcoming analog-and-Hall-Effect keyboard opus. In any case, the knob and the keys are eminently programmable, with seven layers available.
The knob on the upper left corner of the Fokal lets you select between wireless connections — three Bluetooth 5 profiles, one 2.4 GHz RF profile, and an “off” setting. The numpad’s knob is the same and serves the same purpose. Having both is redundant, although because you can use the keyboard and numpad separately from one another, it does make sense to give them individual wireless connectivity controls.
The Fokal offers detachable a six-foot USB Type-C cable that can charge the 5,000 mAh (main keyboard) and 1,000 mAh (numpad) batteries.
Azio’s marketing materials seem confused about whether or not the Fokal has RGB lighting. It does not appear to, instead offering nine colors and one “RGB effect.”
The switches are Gateron — your choice of Blue (clicky), Yellow (linear), or Brown (tactile). All have the same basic specs: 2.3mm actuation, 4mm travel, and 60gf +/-15gf actuation force.
You can preorder an Azio Fokal from the company’s Indiegogo campaign. You can still nab a 30% early bird Fokal that costs $161 USD. The full price is $230. Azio expects to ready a pilot run in February 2020, followed by production in March and shipping in April.