Note: This review was first published on 1 Dec 2020.
ASUS has jumped headfirst into the waters of compact, mechanical gaming keyboards with the ROG Falchion, and what a splash it's making. The Razer Huntsman Mini is already an excellent portable keyboard, but the ROG Falchion still manages to differentiate itself with some unique features and support for wireless connectivity.
This does mean that it's significantly more expensive than the Huntsman Mini, coming in at S$279 compared to the latter's S$190 to S$210 price bracket (depending on your preferred switch type). The ROG tax rears its head here, but for what it's worth, ASUS has indeed checked most of the right boxes when it comes to creating a modern 65% keyboard.
I'm a big fan of the compact 60% and 65% form factors as it allows for a more ergonomic typing experience and is easier to centre in the middle of your desk. It also leaves more room for your mouse, so you won't keep bumping up against the edge of your keyboard if you play at low sensitivities. At 306mm long, however, the ROG Falchion is closer in size to a standard 60% keyboard, so ASUS has managed the available space quite efficiently. It has still been able to squeeze in arrow keys and the navigation cluster, which gets rid of one of the chief annoyances some people have with the sparser 60% layout.
The keycaps are doubleshot PBT, a welcome upgrade from cheaper and less dense ABS keycaps. At this price point, I'd have been super disappointed if ASUS still went with ABS, and I'm glad that it hasn't. PBT has a slightly rougher texture than ABS and is far more resistant to shine as well, so your keyboard should stay looking like new for quite a while yet. This is particularly important as the ROG Falchion features a non-standard bottom row, with a slightly shorter spacebar than usual. I suppose this was a necessary evil to squeeze in the arrow keys in a 60% form factor, but it does mean that you won't have many options when it comes to third-party keycaps. You're stuck with the stock caps for the most part, so they had better be durable.
Another thing to note about the keycaps is their fairly short height, which helps create the impression of reduced key wobble. The secondary legends are not translucent, so ASUS has also side-stepped any issues with potentially uneven backlighting. This actually looks like it could have been a problem as the LED is situated near the top of the switch. There are a total of four different brightness levels, and you can toggle between different lighting modes on the keyboard itself or customise the lighting in the Armoury Crate software.
There is support for per-key adjustments in Aura Creator, and the lighting can be synced with other compatible devices in ASUS' Aura Sync ecosystem.
The floating keycap design also makes it easier to keep the keyboard clean, as dust and other debris can be blown out without having to first remove the keycaps.
My review unit came equipped with Cherry MX Red RGB switches, which feature a clear switch housing to allow the LEDs to shine through more clearly. These are linear switches with an operating force of 45g, making them a fairly light switch that may not be the best for heavy typers. That said, they deliver a fairly enjoyable typing experience, and there was no mushiness to the larger keys. However, they are still not the smoothest switches around, and it'd have been nice to have a hot-swappable PCB that would allow you to swap out the switches.
The switches are mounted on a sturdy metal plate, and the entire keyboard feels quite well-built, with no flexing or creaking anywhere.
This is a tiny, versatile keyboard that will work just as well as a travel companion as it will as a mainstay on your desk. It interfaces with your PC over a 2.4GHz connection, or USB-C, and ASUS is claiming up to 400 hours of battery life on a single charge. A switch at the back lets you turn the keyboard on or off in wireless mode, and there's also a convenient magnetic niche where the dongle slots in with a satisfying click.
I tested the keyboard mostly in wireless mode, with the lights set to the Rainbow effect and 100% brightness. After about 7 hours of use, I was down to 80% battery, which further went down to 20% after about just over two full days of use. This is where things start to get a little wonky though, and I found that the keyboard would randomly start to register a string of keys when the battery was low. Suffice to say, if the battery falls below 20%, you should plug it in.
Then there's the interactive touch panel on the left edge, which is perhaps the most unique feature of this keyboard. It is programmed to adjust your volume by default, but you can change it to do anything from launching an application to zooming in on a window. Different areas of the panel also support different interactions, and you can assign specific functions to the top, middle, and bottom sections.
I found this to be a pretty smart use of the available space, and it's a genuinely useful stand-in for a bulky volume knob. The touch panel has its own RGB backlighting too, which can be synced with the rest of the keyboard.
Finally, the ROG Falchion also comes with its own polycarbonate keyboard cover, which is topped by a brushed metal surface. This is useful for protecting the keyboard from dust when you're not using it, or from knocks and bumps when you're taking it out. Definitely a thoughtful addition to the package.
You can even place it under the keyboard for a neat diffused lighting effect, and there's a cutout on the left to accommodate the touch panel and rubber feet so it doesn't slip around. However, the cutout doesn't align precisely with the touch panel, so you'll find your finger constantly brushing up against its edges.
The ROG Falchion is a very capable 65% wireless mechanical keyboard. With a unique touch panel and the included keyboard cover, it offers a rich feature set that few other compact keyboards can match. The 2.4GHz connection offers lag-free performance when gaming, at least until the battery runs low, and there are powerful RGB lighting customisations offered through the Aura Creator software.
With a dedicated niche for the wireless dongle and a smartly positioned touch panel that can be programmed to suit your needs, this feels like a highly functional package that was designed with careful thought. ASUS may have missed the mark slightly with a non-standard bottom row, but it makes up for that with durable PBT keycaps.
It is rather expensive at S$279, but if you want a compact, wireless keyboard that still retains all the most important keys and functions, you can't go wrong with this one. In fact, you might not have much of an option in this category; it's rare as it is to find a wireless mechanical keyboard from big keyboard brands, let alone a competent one for gamers and in such a compact form factor that has many things going right for it.
If this keyboard has your name written all over it, you can get one at ASUS' Lazmall Flagship Store when stocks arrive.