Almost halfway into 2022 and it’s pretty hard to get a bad gaming keyboard. Boards like the new Asus Strix Flare II AniMate have a hard time differentiating themselves from a ridiculously good pool of hardware. So with the average board boasting great switches, caps, RGB and customization features, why should you consider the $350 Strix Flare II Animate?
Well, I can think of more than a few. Asus ROG NX swappable mechanical switches, 8000Hz polling rate, metal media controls, a plush wrist rest with RGB diffuser and of course, that dot AniMe Matrix display. This board has a lot going on that sounds like gimmicks. However, after a month of daily use, I can assure you it all works together for one of the most exciting and refreshing keyboard packages in a long time.
Asus ROG Strix Flare II Animate Review
Let’s talk design first as this is one good looking board. It’s a full-size board, something that feels entirely unnecessary for most gamers’ needs and way bigger than my 65% Vissles V84. The main chassis is made from metal alloys that feel tank-like and weighs a hefty 1.1Kg. The gunmetal grey colour looks like serious business and works great with the colourful Aura RGB lighting.
But what immediately catches your eye are the full metal media controls on the top left and the LED AniMe Matrix display on the right. The latter immediately lights up with monochrome animations or system icons such as volume, play, and skip that all respond to actions performed on the media controls. It really never gets old to see the AniMe Matrix display react to the inputs you do on the media controls though it’s certainly not limited to that.
You aren’t limited to just those simple system notifications though. The display has 312 programmable mini LEDs which can show off pretty much any simple animations or visualisations. Using the Armoury Crate software, you can download and apply several predesigned animations from the library or upload your own GIFS.
The media controls are some of the most unique I’ve ever encountered on a keyboard. On the outer edge is a cylindrical, spring-style switch that can be pushed or pulled to skip media forward or backward. In the centre of the dial on the outer edge is a circular button for pause/play. Next is a roller volume dial which I believe is a must-have on any keyboard. Two additional metal buttons can be programmed for any function you like.
The underside of the board is pretty sparse with two height-adjustable feet for a more ergonomic angle. Since the Flare II has a fixed USB cable, there aren’t any routing channels on the board. The said USB cable is a chonky boi that terminates into two ends. This allows the Flare II to support USB-passthrough which can be handy for quickly plugging in dongles or other things.
The Flare II also lives up to its name when it comes to RGB lighting. The board has per-key backlighting as well as a unique RGB strip along the front with a plastic diffuser. What’s even cooler is that in a keyboard first, the lighting strip also works with the bundled detachable wrist rest.
Asus has designed the two to sit seamlessly so that the wrist wrest locks into the Flare II and the RGB lighting will shine through it to the outside facing you. I was surprised at how strong the lighting is even after passing through a 3-inch deep foam. And this is a really great wrist rest that’s plush and I love that it doesn’t move about independently of the keyboard.
Switches and performance
Once you can pull yourself away from fidgeting with the delightful media controls, you’ll turn your focus to the main keyboard deck. The Flare II is part of a new breed of big brand boards that feature swappable switches allowing you to theoretically, put whatever custom switches you want. However, by default, Asus offers either Cherry MX switches or their custom ROG NX switches. All switches are available in Red, Brown or Blue variants.
I got the NX Reds which are smooth, fast and quiet with a 1.8mm actuation at only 40gf which makes them feel lighting fast. Typing and gaming were a joy thanks to the light touch needed to make things happen. Asus has done an exceptional job lubing the switches which keeps them smooth and the additional sound-dampening foam absorbs any pinging for quieter typing experiences.
Covering the switch stems are PBT keycaps with clear legends for the Aura RGB lighting to shine through. Unfortunately, Asus opted for opaque secondary key legends which makes them difficult to see in poor or no light. This is just a bad design and I wish everyone would stop doing this.
Helping things tick for an even faster response is the 8000 Hz polling rate which is eight times faster than the average board. To be fair, only prodigies will notice the difference because I sure as hell didn’t. But playing Doom Eternal or CoD Warzone, I can’t claim to have died because the board didn’t respond quick enough to my commands.
Speaking of commands, the Flare II has all the usual accoutrements like N-Key Rollover, 100% Anti-Ghosting, Windows lock key and on-the-fly macro recordings. You can always jump into Asus Armoury Crate software and manually customize keybindings and RGB lighting to your heart’s content. It’s nothing too unfamiliar for anyone used to peripheral software and is actually one of my more favoured apps.
After several weeks with the Strix Flare II Animate, I’m quite enamoured with it. Sure, it’s big and expensive, but it feels so luxurious to type and game on, it looks like a million bucks and I can’t get enough of those media controls. The ROG NX switches are really nice with their fast response, smooth actuation and excellent RGB and for the first time, I’m not complaining about linear switches.
But there’s no denying this is one pricey board, well over the budget for even the most enthusiastic gamer. For $100 less, there is a sea of exceptional boards from Razer, MSI, Roccat and so many more. $350 is the kind of money only keyboard enthusiasts will be willing to spend and even then, it would be for a truly custom board unique to them. The Strix Flare II Animate kinda prices itself in a really odd niche that is hard to justify.
That said, it’s still a fantastic keyboard and if you are all in on Asus peripherals, and have a ton of money, then by all means go for it.