Nobody is going to accuse Angry Miao of making boring keyboards (or earbuds). The company’s previous releases, The Cyberboard, Am Hatsu and Am AFA, are as overengineered as they are unique. When the company first started teasing its new 60% board, it almost looked too conventional to be an Angry Miao product, but keeping with tradition, there’s a twist here.
See, the AM 65 Less: AM Compact Touch is a wired and Bluetooth-enabled 60% keyboard with an HHKB layout — which means there are no function keys, no numpad and, as is standard for this layout, no arrow keys. Typically, keyboard enthusiasts then put those arrow keys on a separate layer, accessed through a key combo. As you can imagine, that can be a bit of a hassle, especially if you write a lot. But having their hearts set on this layout, the Angry Miao designers decided that instead of keyboard shortcuts, they could put a small touch panel on the front of the case. The argument here is that this offers the advantages of a small 60% keyboard and symmetric HHKB layout, while still featuring arrow key functions. Did I mention Angry Miao really likes to overengineer its products?
Originally, the company had called the board the ‘AM 65 Less,’ but that caused a bit of confusion in the community, given that it’s not really a 65% keyboard either. The official name is now the AM 65 Less: Am Compact Touch.
Angry Miao sent me a review unit in the Famicon-inspired ‘8-Bit’ colorway last month (there are seven variants in total) and I’ve been using it almost exclusively ever since.
Despite the touch panel, this is the company’s most conventional keyboard yet. It features a hotswap PCB, so you can easily change the switches if you want to, south-facing RGB lighting, and with the exception of the high front, it looks pretty normal for a small keyboard.
Let’s talk about the touch panel first, since it’s surely the most controversial aspect of the board. It works just as described and it does what it does well, but arrow keys remain infinitely more convenient. The promise here is that you won’t have to move your wrists as much because your thumbs can handle moving the cursor, since it’s already aligned with the touchpad. In reality, you’re likely going to move your hands more, because you’ll use your mouse more. For fixing the kinds of typos you catch while writing a word, it’s easy enough to go back a few letters. For anything more, which you can do by keeping your finger on the touchpad, it becomes a bit of a guessing game whether you’ll be able to time things right to stop the cursor where you need to. I ended up putting the cursor keys on a layer, but that kind of defeats the purpose of the touchpad, of course. Your mileage may vary.
The fact that the touchpad is at the front of the board also means you can’t really use a wrist wrest, something that’s exasperated by the fact that the board sits at a non-changeable 10-degree angle. I ended up putting a wrist rest a few inches away from the board, leaving enough space to still use the touchpad, though I never found the high angle to be a problem. The company recommends a split wrist wrest for users who want to use one.
Like all Angry Miao products, this one is unapologetically not for everyone. The fact that it feels and sounds fantastic makes up for its quirks, but I can’t help but wonder what an Angry Miao 65% board with arrow keys would be like.
One of Angry Miao’s latest innovations is its adjustable leaf spring that lets you change the flex of the PCT and hence the typing experience from very hard to soft. Currently, most other keyboards use a gasket design and very flexible PCBs to allow for a softer typing experience. If done right, that usually works, but in many of the keyboards I’ve recently tested, it didn’t seem to make all that much of a difference. Here, you can really feel the difference between the various settings (though it does take a bit of work to open up the board and make those changes to the springs).
In addition to the different springs, the board also comes with all of the necessary tools to change them out, as well as a very nice screwdriver, an additional bottom foam mat, cleaning cloth, replacement cables and screws. There is no carrying case. Instead, Angry Miao opted for a soft carrying pouch.
The build quality here is impeccable. The company says the CNC milling of the aluminum case alone takes almost 6 hours, with the case then being sandblasted and painted afterwards (with all of the colorways using two colors: one for the part of the case up to the top of the first row of keys and another for the rest). Mechanical keyboard fans are nothing if not persnickety, but I think they are going to have a hard time finding fault with the execution here, be it the rounded corners, the painting or even the finishing on the inside of the board.
You open the board from the top, which is a bit unusual, but it also makes it pretty easy to take it apart. Once inside, there are a few more connectors than you are probably used to — in part because of the battery and Bluetooth module. It’s also easy to see why the board sounds good. Not only is there plenty of foam, but also a nice copper weight (the whole keyboard weighs in at about 3.3 pounds). Add the battery and the result is a board with very little room to sound hollow. There is also no rattle from the screw-in stabilizers.
If you own one of Angry Miao’s Cybermat charging mats, you’ll be able to wirelessly charge the AM 65 Less with that, too.
The switches that come with the bundle version are Angry Miao’s Icy Silver switches. These are premium transparent linear switches, manufactured by TTC, with dual-stage springs and an initial force of 45 grams. There’s very little stem wobble here and they are very smooth, though one thing worth noting is that as I took off the keycaps, the switches often came out of the PCB with them. That’s not been a problem in daily usage, but worth mentioning nonetheless.
The result of all of this is a keyboard that is a joy to type on. Every key press sounds like two pool balls hitting each other, which is what I personally look for.
Like all Angry Miao products, the 65 Less doesn’t come cheap, though while high, the price isn’t completely outrageous in the world of higher-end mechanical keyboards. The standard base kit, without switches and keycaps will retail for $398, the bundle with switches and keycaps that match the variant you choose will cost $498.
Given that the likes of Keychron barely charge $20 more to go from a barebones kit to a fully assembled one, that’s quite a difference, but a lot of these are custom designs and the company sells its switches for about $1 each.
We’re also talking about some thick, high-quality keycaps — at least on the 8-Bit version I tested. For this version, the company is using the Cherry-profile JTK Classic FC keycaps, inspired by the Nintendo Famicom of the 80s, which, best I can tell, were first available in a group buy in 2020 and now available in stock at a number of vendors. These are triple-shot ABS keycaps with latin and hiragana legends that feature a mix of the original base kit and its novelties. Other variants feature keycaps the company created in collaboration with the likes of Domikey and others.
While I haven’t tested these, there are also two special editions. For $450 for the base kit and $550 for the bundle, the Laser kit features LED light elements on the front left and right (inspired by Tesla’s Cybertruck, the company says). The Mech Love version, at $515 and $615, features customizable LED elements in the open spaces next to the first row and personalizable engravings on the back. It looks like the company may later make these additional LED modules available as add-ons, too.
Whether these boards are worth that is going to be in the eye of the beholder. The fact that Angry Miao is launching all of these variations must mean that the company believes it’ll see a fair number of orders. It’s definitely the company’s most approachable product yet and while the prices may seem eyewatering, they are within the ballgame for higher-end custom keyboards, where they keycaps themselves can often cost $150 or more. Like with so many “hobbies,” at some point, you are paying a lot more for incremental improvements. Whether you want to own a keyboard that costs as much as a laptop is something you have to decide for yourself. It’s definitely the closest we’ve seen Angry Miao come to building a straight-up everyday keyboard.
The pre-launch for all of these variants will go live on Indiegogo on February 2.
Bonus: HyperX is launching its first artisan keycap today, Coco the Cozy Cat. The 3D-printed artisan from the gaming brand is available today (starting at 9am EST) and tomorrow and priced at $19.99. Apparently, this is the first in a series of time-limited designs the company plans to drop every month.