Angry Miao’s new anime-inspired keyboard with user-adjustable stiffness is made by sickos, for sickos, and it instantly made me want to bust out my Master Grade Gundam model kits from the early aughts and get painting. But sometimes, I did feel like this keyboard was better to look at than to use.
The Angry Miao Adjustable Flex Alice (AM AFA) is the company’s first Alice layout keyboard (a newer ergonomic style with contoured keys, a gap in the middle, and a split space bar). It’s also another over-the-top science fiction-inspired design — this time drawing a likeness from the transforming VF-19 Advance fighter jet of Macross. It’s very on-brand in its over-engineering and obscene price, being machined from a 4.4-pound block of solid aluminum down to a 3.1-pound chassis and selling for $795 with keycaps and switches or $680 as a bare-bones kit that goes on sale November 1st.
The AM AFA is a hot-swappable split-ergonomic board that gets part of its name from its internal adjustable gasket mount-like setup. Essentially, this keyboard’s stiffness can be fine-tuned like you’re modding your car’s aftermarket suspension — but instead of ripping a high-speed corner in a stage three WRX STI, you’re dialing in just how stiff or soft each half of its keys are for your lil’ digits. It has a foam layer separating the mounting plate and PCB assembly inside the case, giving the bottoming-out of the keys a softer feel that also isolates sound for a quieter, tighter clack. It uses leaf springs in a coilover-like design, and swapping out the stock springs for one of three included sets while moving the fulcrum point is supposed to allow for up to 18 levels of firmness.
It has table stakes keyboard features such as Bluetooth 5.0 for wireless use and a USB-C port for wired operation and charging. It’s also got two 5,000mAh batteries in it, one in each side, and in my testing of a preproduction model, I have yet to kill it after well over a week of continuous use with its RGB lights shining. And like other Angry Miao boards, it’s got a wireless charging coil built into its bottom to keep it perpetually charged by the surfboard-like Cybermat charging pad (that’ll cost you another $300 or so when it’s not sold out).
The similarities to other Angry Miao keyboards don’t end with wireless charging. The AFA in complete kit form uses the same translucent smoked-black keycaps with pea-green legends and icy-silver linear switches found in the Cyberboard and Am Hatsu. For all the engineering that went into the adjustable flex gasket system, the stock AFA out-of-the-box sounds and feels a lot like those boards. I dig Angry Miao’s signature sound, as I find it satisfyingly sharp yet soft — though some colleagues thought the keys sounded overly deadened when I briefly used a Cyberboard R2 at our office. That’s the charm of the subjectivity you find in mech keyboards because preferring an aggressively thocky or softer clacky sound is just like having a preference for crunchy distortion or a vintage fuzz effect on an electric guitar.
$795 with keycaps and switches or $680 as a bare-bones kit. Woof.
Beyond the sound, typing on the AFA is a nice ergonomic experience that speaks to the benefits of the Alice setup. My wrists, arms, and shoulders felt very comfortable thanks to the keyboard’s steep 6.5-degree incline and five degrees of tenting (the lateral tilt from the sides to its split center). The AFA’s center has a much wider gap than most Alice boards, which is where the status LEDs for connection, battery level, and CAPS Lock are located. It also gives the RGB underglow space to spill out onto your desk in a unique pattern and keeps your hands further apart for better comfort. This AFA’s setup definitely has merit for softening the toll of typing fatigue for writers and coders, but it all feels violently disrupted by the terrible arrangement of the right shift and up-arrow keys.
Angry Miao put the right-side shift key to the right of the up-arrow — a mistake Razer made in its laptops years ago and then thankfully corrected — and it fights against the muscle memory built from just about every other keyboard. It requires an awkwardly long reach for your pinky finger, causing a frustrating amount of mistakes and typos. The number of times I’ve moved my cursor up a line while highlighting text and accidentally overwrote swathes of words before my brain even realized what was happening was so numerous it’s become absolutely maddening. This isn’t something you find on other Alice-style keyboards, and when you look at the clean symmetry, this arrangement creates with the left-most keys on the opposite side of the AFA, it becomes obvious that it was done solely for aesthetic reasons. I get that design is paramount for Angry Miao, but this annoying placement doesn’t feel worthwhile. It makes this otherwise cool keyboard immensely irritating to use on a daily basis.
While I admire design exercises and experimental concepts brought to life as real products you can buy, if it requires too big a compromise in the functionality department, it runs the risk of ending up on a shelf as a collector’s piece. If you’re such a big fan of Macross that you want to spend $800 on a keyboard inspired by Shōji Kawamori’s mecha design, there’s a good chance you already own a beautiful and expensive DX Chokogin figure that’s kept behind glass. The keyboard shouldn’t sacrifice function and end up there, too.
Photography by Antonio G. Di Benedetto / The Verge