Hands-On, Keyboard

Asus ROG Strix Flare II Animate Hands-On: Hotswap Support, Intriguing ROG NX Switch

We’re seeing more and more pre-built mechanical keyboards from bigger brands with hotswap support, which lets users easily swap out the keyboard’s switches to their liking. The latest brand to release such a product is none other than Asus with the Asus ROG Strix Flare II Animate – yes, it’s a mouthful.

Not only does it feature a hotswap PCB, it also comes with a unique AniMe Matrix LED display on the top right corner of the keyboard; not unlike the one found on the Zephyrus G14 gaming laptop. Aside from that, the ROG NX Brown switch on the Flare II is…surprisingly good too!

If you want a fuss-free pre-built keyboard with hotswap support, a unique LED display, and bright RGB lighting, the Flare II is worth a look – read on to find out why.

Just like Asus’ other mechanical keyboards, the ROG Strix Flare II Animate is a full-size keyboard, complete with a function row and numpad. As mentioned, it features a hotswap PCB as well, but unfortunately, it only supports three-pin switches.

Of course, it’s still possible to use five-pin switches with the Flare II; you just have to snip off the extra two plastic pins on the bottom of the switch. It’s a little bit annoying, but hey, if you’re fond of a particular five-pin switch, it’s worth the effort.

Speaking of which, the Flare II review unit we received is fitted with Asus’ ROG NX Brown switch – made by Kailh, as evident by the Kailh logo on the bottom of the switch – with a 58g peak actuation force. Usually, “brown switches” have very light tactility, but that is not the case at all with the ROG NX Brown, much to my surprise.

Rather, the NX Brown switch has a pronounced, rounded tactile event that starts at the very top of the downstroke. While it’s not as tactile as, say, the Gazzew Boba U4T or Anubis, it’s comfortably a medium tactile switch.

On top of that, it has reasonably minimal stem wobble as well, though it also has a slight scratchiness throughout the downstroke.

The keycap set of the Flare II is worth a mention as well. Asus said these are double shot PBT keycaps with “shortened stems and mid-height profiles” to reduce key wobble and improve ergonomics. Compared to OEM keycaps, this keycap set definitely has a lower profile; almost like a Cherry profile, in fact.

It’s comfortable to type on this lower profile keycap for long periods of time, but I’m not a big fan of the keycaps’ rough texture. Although PBT keycaps are usually rougher than their ABS equivalents, the Flare II’s PBT keycaps are especially rough. It would’ve been nice if the keycaps were a tad smoother for a more pleasant typing experience.

Since we’re on the topic, how is it like typing on the Flare II? Well, it feels like any other Asus mechanical keyboards. It’s a stiff keyboard with no flex at all, so if you want a firm typing experience, you’ll get just that with the Flare II. This is really a typical trait of most pre-built keyboards.

As for the sound profile of the Flare II, it has a relatively loud, plasticky sound signature – again, a typical trait of a pre-built mechanical keyboard. The stabilisers, on the other hand, have a little bit of ticking and rattling, especially on the spacebar.

While the Flare II’s stabilisers have some factory lube out of the box, adding more lube should be able to eliminate these undesirable issues quite a bit.

Anyway, let’s move on to more positive aspects of the Flare II, such as its media control keys. The metal scroll wheel – which controls the volume – feels very satisfying to use with subtle clicks as you scroll. You can even use the toggle to reverse or skip track, or use the circular button on the side to pause playback.

There’s also the AniMe Matrix LED display of the Flare II. Not only can you customise it to show your own animations, it’s also used to show some useful information. As you adjust the volume with the scroll wheel, for example, the LED display will show the volume level.

Naturally, the Flare II has some bright RGB lighting too. The legends are also translucent, so you get the full per-key RGB effect on every key.

All in all, the Asus ROG Strix Flare II Animate is really quite a decent pre-built keyboard. It has a unique LED display, very useful media keys made of metal, and of course, hotswap support for more customisation options.

Unfortunately, the Malaysian pricing of the Flare II has not been revealed yet, so it’s a little hard to judge whether it’s worth it or not. But for the sake of comparison, it retails at $220 in the US, which comes up to about RM920.

That’s a steep price tag, to be sure, but the Flare II does offer a number of unique features; some of which are not even found on a custom keyboard. We were told that the keyboard will be coming to Malaysia sometime in March 2022 next month, so we’ll find out then how much the Flare 2 will cost locally.

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