I recently brought you two new peripherals from ROCCAT featuring their new collective lighting system, namely the Kone AIMO mouse and Khan AIMO headset. Rounding up the set is today’s review for ROCCAT’s Horde AIMO which is a gaming keyboard with a new membrane-based switch with mechanical-like properties that ROCCAT have labeled ‘Membranical’ and should give the best typing experience available on a membrane base. The Horde AIMO also comes with RGB lighting, five macro keys and an array of controls on the media bar as well as a wheel to select not only the keyboard features but also to control windows settings and features.
Before we delve into the keyboard itself, let’s take a look at the specifications as listed on the product website.
- ARM Cortex-M0+ 50MHz
- 512kB onboard memory
- 1000Hz polling rate
- 1.2mm actuation point for macro keys
- LED driver, 256 steps PWM control
- Six-zone illumination with 12 RGB LEDs
- Wheel encoder with 20 steps
- 1.8m braided USB cable
DIMENSIONS / WEIGHT
Internet connection for driver installation
USB 2.0 Port
Around the back of the box, it’s more annotated images and a multitude of languages to tell you the features of the keyboard, again, pretty standard stuff that we have seen from the rest of the AIMO series.
Once out of the box, we can see the Horde AIMO hasn’t changed much from its original iteration. It’s still a full sized keyboard which now comes complete with matching wrist rest, mine arrived in a rather fetching 2-tone black and grey although it’s also available in all black or a black and white version which looks simply beautiful. Among the more obvious features is a row of macro keys to the left and an extensive functions bar with a rather iconic wheel for controlling those features.
Taking a closer look at the macro keys on the Horde AIMO and we notice something unique to ROCCAT. The macro keys are substantially shallower than the main keys. This isn’t accidental; the designers realised that mistakes in gaming are a bad thing and having a fully programmed macro fire at the wrong time has the potential to be disastrous, much more so than say a miss-click on a standard key, so to reduce the chance of triggering a macro in error they reduced the height of the keys. These keys also actuate at just 1.2mm making them faster to actuate (5ms compared to the rest of the keyboard at 7.8ms). You might also notice that each key is sunk into the backplate of the board which will go a long way to preventing the ingress of cat fur and chocolate or biscuit crumbs and should keep your keyboard running smoothly for years to come.
Looking at the function keys we can see that the media bar is much more enhanced than your usual fare, coming complete with play/pause, back, forward and mute but also speaker volume and mic volume which utilise the wheel. Indeed the wheel is present from here as it controls the brightness of the LED backlighting, the LED colour and the selection of which effect you prefer to display. The last-but-one shows the same window as holding CTRL and TAB on your keyboard and then you can wheel your way through all your active programs (or apps as we seem to have to call them nowadays).
The last button with a person on it I presumed was something to do with profile selection… but it isn’t and I can’t for the life of me find any information either online or sent with the keyboard to explain what it actually does. In the end, I resorted to asking ROCCAT directly and their answer was, “…basically if you press on the 3 little squares it sets to scroll through apps if you press on the little man it configures the wheel as a windows 10 dial.” That was enough for me to have a play and work out exactly how it worked. As stated, while the wheel defaults in normal use to a volume control, but when you press the little person it changes to scroll or zoom depending on how you have ‘Wheel’ set up in Windows’ Devices settings. Press and release to select the last used Wheel function or press and hold to change to the function you want. Unlike the other function buttons which toggle on and off, the Wheel selection stays active until you choose another function rather than toggling off again with another press. This experience really highlights that the material sent with the Horde AIMO isn’t really up to the task of explaining all its features and functions and a user manual might be appreciated by end users.
Around the back of the keyboard, there are only two points of real interest: the first is the nicely braided cable that we have seen on the other peripherals in the range, the other is that groove that sits atop the F1-F4 key array with a corresponding grill underneath the keyboard. This groove is nothing to do with cable management and neither is the grill something to do with advanced cooling, in fact, they both serve a single purpose – anchor points for a 3D printed phone holder of your own making. Yep, instead of including a holder that might be suitable for use on most mobile phones, or tablets, or phablets or whatever and whacking up the price of the keyboard they simply included the option for you to create your own perfect bespoke device holder so long as you have access to a 3D printer at least. Why would you want to have your phone there? Well, aside from it simply being a convenient place to put it by hooking your phone up to your peripherals with the Swarm app you can monitor and control all your ROCCAT devices a lot easier than with the wheel while staying immersed in your game of choice. I really wish I had access to a 3D printer to be able to test this feature as I would immediately combine the convenience of the well-placed holder with an induction charger to free up some real estate on my rather crowded desk.
Underneath the Horde AIMO we see some of the largest rubber feet that I have ever seen on a keyboard, and not just the one below the spacebar but the matching pair of massive rubber pads that are fitted to the wrist rest. In fact, with the feet closed there are 10 rubber patches in contact with the table, 3 of which are longer than 180mm (7″). Even with the flip-down feet extended this is a remarkably stable board because those 3 long rubber patches are able to keep in contact with the table and the flip-down feet themselves have rubber bottoms.
I’ve discussed the ROCCAT Swarm software previously and so I will only focus here on the changes, and specifically one page – the Key Assignment.
The Horde AIMO has the rather likeable ability that almost every single key can be remapped and used as something else, what’s more, if you select a key within the ‘gaming zone’ you get the dual functionality of Easy Shift if you are using a compatible mouse which means that you can remap 2 different functions to a single key. I’m not talking macros here, which are also fully supported but taking the letter ‘F’ and deciding on a whim to change it to the letter ‘X’ as well as the letter ‘P’. It’s not a challenge either, you can choose to remap a key to another letter as mentioned or to a function such as opening a file or folder on your PC, or perhaps even shutting down the computer entirely… which would make for a fun practical joke.
When it comes to customised commands or macros as they’re called, they’re pretty simple to write in Swarm, then you can either set them to the dedicated macro keys or as mentioned replace a letter you don’t use in one game or perhaps use Easy Shift to allow two macros to run from that same key. The choices are nearly limitless.
There should be an honourable mention here for the connectivity between ROCCAT Swarm and it’s Android counterpart, after all the keyboard is designed with a view to someone making their own phone holder and using this software, but no matter how many times I try to pair the devices using the software it simply never goes to plan. I can’t wait to see what it’s like when it finally does connect – if it ever does.
Couriers, in general, don’t always treat our packages with the care that we might wish they did, and as a result faults and damages in review samples are more common than you might think. At Play3r we take the view that if a fault occurs during testing that would normally be covered under warranty then any buyer would simply get a refund or replacement and probably not be too concerned so we don’t often highlight them.
Within days of receiving the AIMO peripherals from ROCCAT, they sent me a warning email to let me know that the specific board I received was a pre-production model that might be affected by an inherent fault in which the spacebar if used in a very specific way, might not always register. That intermittent fault had been noticed by ROCCAT during testing and they advised me of it before I even started using the keyboard and also confirmed that the before beginning their main production run they had already resolved the problem. You might ask, “If it’s fixed, why tell you at all?” Mostly it’s because the fault in this case was not due to carelessness or a courier, but also because while you should never personally experience it yourself if you opt for a Horde AIMO keyboard, it speaks to the character of the company. It might have been easy to blame the user in the small number of cases where this fault was even noticed, but instead of burying the problem and perhaps blaming it on ‘user error’ for pressing the spacebar in that very specific fashion, they researched the fault and fixed it before going into full production.
Aside from the already resolved issue of that opening section, I’m happy to say that I’ve found nothing really untoward about the experience of using the Horde AIMO. The hardest part for me was stepping down from a full mechanical keyboard and getting used to this hybrid ‘Membranical’ design, essentially getting almost the speed, firmness and precision of a mechanical setup but without the usual price tag. The typing experience is a lot softer and gentler, as well as substantially quieter, than I was used to from my GSkill Ripjaws KM780 but without the expected sponginess that you tend to find with full membrane bases. It is certainly an enjoyable experience once you get used to it. ROCCAT’s Membranical design is not meant to be an upgrade for someone who already uses and likes using a mechanical keyboard but is simply a better experience and a better alternative for anyone who for reasons of budget or preference wouldn’t choose a mechanical keyboard but wants a better typing experience. Since I’ve mentioned budget you should probably be aware that the retail price of the Horde AIMO is £89.99, and unusually it’s not widely available cheaper – in fact, if you already own and register a ROCCAT product on their website you get a 10% reduction on the price dropping it to £80.99 which is by far the cheapest it is currently available anywhere.
Aside from the typing experience which as I mentioned is rather pleasant, you also get full RGB however I’m a little torn on this feature. Like their other AIMO products, the keyboard really comes alive with the intelligent lighting activated but there are times when you notice that the effect is a little pixelated. That’s because instead of the all or nothing approach to RGB where you either get a full block of colour or per-key addressable colour ROCCAT have gone with a middle ground of six lighting zones which means when there’s a more dramatic variance between the neighboring tones it’s a bit more noticeable. It’s one of those things, like the always-white function keys, that once you see it you can’t un-see it and I think that’s a shame. It’s perhaps the only cost-saving decision that I can easily point at and I rather wish that ROCCAT hadn’t made it but I understand their reasons for doing so. Still, no matter how impressive the AIMO lighting is, and with the full set on my desk the view is really impressive, it’s never going to be as good as that same light show with per-key addressable RGB. The keyboard, along with all other AIMO products, also supports ROCCAT Talk as well as ALIENWARE ALIENFX™ for added immersion but since I don’t play any of the compatible games or have an Alienware system I can’t comment on the success of the implementation of these lighting modules. I can say that aside from testing the rather basic lighting functions that are available through the Swarm software I’ve not had AIMO turned off.
While we’re talking about the lighting on the keyboard it’s worth mentioning that although you have the full vibrancy of millions of colours available to you the brightness of each key is somewhat lacking, especially compared side-by-side to the Kone AIMO or Khan AIMO. This is something that the designers recognised and struggled to improve so that the peripheral range was more uniform but for my money, I think it’s about right. The keys are easy to read in any lighting situation, including the surprise summer we had over the last few days, and importantly they’re not too bright to cause discomfort as you use the keyboard toward the end of the day or even in a darkened room, whereby comparison if I had to actually look at the mouse in order to use it I would have turned the brightness down by now.
Macros and customisation is also something I enjoyed playing with, particularly as I also had access to the Kone AIMO with its Easy Shift button. That little device on the mouse allowed me to use almost any key under my left hand (affectionately called the Gaming Key Area) to trigger a second function which is ever so useful if you are a fan of MMOs or any other game where you need to remember and repeat a spell rotation as efficiently as possible. In fact, if I wanted to try to remember where I put everything I could probably have typed this whole review with just my left hand and the Easy Shift button. It’s not just remapping that it’s good for, you can choose any pre-written command and tag it to a key or write your own string and use that macro with or without timed pauses between each registered key being pressed or lifted. What’s more, every key within the gaming zone is covered by not-quite-N-key rollover (N-key by definition would be the whole keyboard), so every actuation with or without Easy Shift triggered will be recognised by the keyboard’s processor and stored until it can be sent to the computer. You might possibly be able to type on a single or maybe multiple letters fast enough that the keyboard will need to start using its onboard memory but I firmly believe you would get exhausted before the memory does. Speaking of Macros, those dedicated macro keys are not just shorter to reduce accidental triggering, but they have a shorter actuation range compared to the rest of the keyboard so they trigger faster than the rest of the keyboard.
The Roccat AIMO RGB Keyboard Review: The Verdict
As you may have worked out by now, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Horde AIMO, so much so that that once I get a current version (remember that bug I talked about) it will become my main unit, taking over from my mechanical GSkill keyboard that costs almost twice as much. Let’s take a look at my reasons why…
- AIMO lighting is one of the best light shows I’ve come across on any set of peripherals I’ve tested
- A gentler typing experience compared to mechanical without sacrificing too many benefits
- Faster typing and less spongy compared to a membrane keyboard
- Extensive re-mapping and per-key features
- Almost all the software and hardware refinements of a high-end macro-enabled gaming keyboard
- Extensive and easy control of the keyboard and your PC through the function bar
- Incredibly stable on the desk during frantic button-mashing sessions
- Limited anti-aliasing (or not-quite-N-key rollover)
- Per-key RGB would have looked so much better.
- Still cannot get Swarm Connect to join my phone to my computer
- Limited instruction on how to get the most out of the keyboard
This is a keyboard that’s designed for use with a mouse in one hand, hence the limited anti-aliasing, but it’s a feature that I think could have been implemented without too much additional cost so it’s limited function only points toward it missing and not the extra feature of that set of keys that comes from using an Easy Shift enabled mouse. It’s also a great looking keyboard, not just the lighting which is fantastic (I’m such a fanboy of AIMO) but also the sunken keys and overall two-tone effect – it’s ‘gamer’ without being over the top and if you see a black and white one in the wild you will be smitten.
The user experience as someone who types a lot (usually late at night) is really nice, the lights aren’t too bright that they have to be dimmed at the end of the day and the feel of the keys as you write (or game) is very pleasant, not spongy like you might expect when you discover the membrane underbelly but not the more stiff movement of a mechanical key either, just a nice balance.
Priced in the UK at around £90 this is not a cheap keyboard, but for all it’s form and function it’s not expensive either. What’s more interesting is that if you are already the owner of a registered ROCCAT product you can buy it direct for less than £81, and that does make it cheap enough for a second look if you weren’t already sold on the features you get.
When it comes to awards I obviously won’t consider the fault on my unit since that has already been resolved and won’t affect any end user, and so it’s overwhelmingly positive. So much so that it’s easy for me to rubber-stamp a Play3r Gold Award in addition to a Design Award, recognising not only the attractiveness of a product aimed squarely at gamers but also the amount of thought that’s gone into it and, for the most part, the software backing it up.
Many thanks to ROCCAT for sending the Horde AIMO in for us to review.