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Roccat Horde Aimo review: This 'membranical' gaming keyboard explores new territory

We’ve observed two makes an attempt at a hybrid mechanical/membrane keyboard up to now: Logitech’s G213 Prodigy with its “mech-dome” transfer and Razer’s Ornata with its “mecha-membrane.” And I might’ve been satisfied if that had been it, ceaselessly. Neither used to be that nice, and it’s arduous to persuade me to shop for an “upscale” membrane keyboard when true mechanical keyboards are so reasonable in this day and age. (Shoot, our favourite price range mechanical keyboard, Razer’s Blackwidow X Match Version, is simply $70.)

However it seems that that is an concept firms will proceed to discover, as evidenced via the brand new Roccat Horde Aimo. Below the hood? You guessed it, a membrane/mechanical hybrid transfer that Roccat calls “membranical.” I will’t make these things up.

And as though that weren’t sufficient to unpack, the Horde Aimo may be probably the most first keyboards to imitate Microsoft’s Floor Dial tech. So is it any excellent? Can a package of extraordinary concepts upload as much as a keyboard value purchasing? We went hands-on to determine.

Observe: This overview is a part of our easiest gaming keyboards roundup. Pass there for information about competing merchandise and the way we examined them.

Dial it in

Typically I’d spend numerous effort up entrance dissecting a keyboard’s design, however the Roccat Horde Aimo has a ton occurring and I don’t wish to stay you right here all day. Suffice it to mention, it’s tremendous. Roccat has an overly specific aesthetic, a bit of busy-looking for my tastes, but it surely’s inoffensive. Black, with some superfluous edges and a reasonably outsized footprint. In the event you wanted an instance of a “gaming keyboard,” the Horde Aimo is it.

The attention-catching function this is the aforementioned Floor Dial look-alike, which Roccat calls the “Tuning Wheel.” Positioned within the upper-right nook, it’s a huge presence that may’t be ignored.

Roccat Horde Aimo IDG / Hayden Dingman

Interesting, huh?

I’ll admit, the Tuning Wheel used to be the primary reason why I sought after to try the Horde Aimo. (It undoubtedly wasn’t the membranical transfer.) Ever since I noticed Microsoft’s Floor Dial demo I’ve been intrigued via it as a sort-of mouse alternative, a technique to shortcut one of the most tedium of quite a lot of consumer interfaces.

My first downside with Roccat’s dial: It’s within the top-right nook.

Take a look at Microsoft’s Floor Dial demos and also you’ll see a gorgeous constant pattern. The individual the usage of the Floor Dial is most definitely preserving it of their left hand, as it’s serving to them navigate quite a lot of choices whilst nonetheless the usage of their mouse. That during thoughts, the position of the Tuning Wheel is baffling to me. In an effort to use it in the best means, you’d need to stretch your left arm throughout all your keyboard.

It sort of feels—and I’m no dressmaker, so take this because the backseat statement it’s—just like the Tuning Wheel could be significantly better positioned within the height left nook, the place the Dial-like capability might be accessed in the correct means via nearly all of other folks.

Roccat Horde Aimo IDG / Hayden Dingman

Anyway, once I adjusted to that disappointment, I found the Tuning Wheel a pretty interesting piece of tech. Not necessarily life-changing, but as a devoted fan of dedicated media keys, the Tuning Wheel is basically that on steroids.

By default, the Tuning Wheel works a bit like a scroll wheel—maybe the reason for the right-edge placement? Windows 10 allows you to change the default behavior though, and I found it made most sense to emulate a volume wheel.

That’s just scratching the surface though. A row of keys to the left of the Tuning Wheel allow for all sorts of other on-the-fly behaviors. For instance, switching between virtual desktops, or changing your brush size in Photoshop, or scrolling through video footage in Premiere.

Again, a lot of these actions only make sense, or are faster than traditional hotkey shortcuts, if you’re using them in conjunction with a different action on your mouse, which makes the Tuning Wheel’s placement a bummer. Nevertheless it’s a fascinating input device, and I hope the Horde Aimo is just the first of many to support Surface Dial behavior on more traditional peripherals. I found it especially useful in Photoshop and Premiere—always nice to have more shortcut options in programs that complicated.

Membranical? Not tubular

The Tuning Wheel is hit-or-miss, but the Horde Aimo’s “membranical” keys are just miss, period. I don’t like them.

Roccat Horde Aimo IDG / Hayden Dingman

Like the aforementioned Logitech G213, the Horde Aimo is a fine membrane keyboard, but it’s a bad mechanical replacement. That might make it suitable for a certain segment of the populace who’s looking to upgrade their daily keyboard and sees true mechanicals as too expensive—except they’re not. Not anymore. The Horde Aimo lists for $90. The Cougar Attack X3, which has both RGB lighting and true Cherry MX keys, is just slightly more at $100. This whole membranical/mecha-membrane/mech-dome trend is seemingly a solution to a nonexistent problem. 

So why buy one? Well, you’d have to want a membrane keyboard, and maybe you have a reason for that. Noise is a pretty common one, and indeed the Horde Aimo is significantly quieter than even a Cherry MX Red-equipped keyboard.

But these membranical keys are simply not pleasant to type on, at least for those coming from a proper mechanical. For one, Roccat’s made the odd choice to mimic the look of a membrane keyboard, as evidenced by the half-sized, recessed keys. Other mechanical/membrane hybrids, like the Ornata and G213, use the high-profile keys common on mechanical keyboards even if the underpinnings are still membrane-based, but the Horde Aimo opts for the shallower layout. Maybe it’s my own bias—I use a mechanical every day, and have for years—but I don’t like the flattened feel.

Roccat Horde Aimo IDG / Hayden Dingman

That’s a surface-level complaint though. The real problem with the “membranical” switch lies deeper, in a more granular discussion about how mechanical switches should feel. If you look at force curves for most popular mechanical switches, you can sort them into two categories: Linear and Tactile. Linear switches, like Cherry MX Reds, start each keystroke with low resistance and then steadily increases the force required as you reach the bottom. Tactile, like Cherry MX Blues, are similar, but with the addition of a stiff bump in the middle where the key actuates.

Membrane keyboards, on the other hand, are commonly compared to bubble wrap. There’s a stiff resistance as you begin to press the key, and then this resistance collapses. The opposite of a mechanical, essentially. With less resistance towards the end, you usually bottom-out the key (meaning it hits the backplate). It’s neither pleasant nor ergonomic, with all those bottomed-out keys liable to cause stress injuries or just hand fatigue.

The Horde Aimo…just feels like a normal membrane keyboard. There’s that same feedback curve—lots of resistance at first, then none at all. Looking at the expanded schematic of the membranical switch, it looks like Roccat stuck an extra piece of plastic above the membrane itself. But what is that piece of plastic supposed to accomplish? I have no idea. I think it’s supposed to make it so you can activate a key without actually bottoming out, but in practice this is almost impossible. There’s no natural resistance to prevent you from slamming the keys all the way down.

Roccat Horde Aimo IDG / Hayden Dingman

All that said, there is a difference in quality between cheap pack-in membrane keyboards—you know, the ones you see in offices and such that cost $20 and include a mouse—versus higher-end membrane keyboards. The latter are usually a bit more precise, less mushy. That’s what we have with the Roccat Horde Aimo. It’s a nice membrane keyboard.

And Roccat made one very smart decision: There’s a column of five macro keys down the left side, and they’re recessed to the point of looking like Chiclet-style laptop keys. My main frustration with left-hand macro keys is that I always find myself hitting them accidentally when I meant to hit Control or Shift or Escape. With the Horde Aimo, it’s almost impossible to misfire a macro key—which, ironically, makes me a bit more likely to use them.

Before we wrap up, it’s worth noting that the LED backlighting is way too dim, with noticeable banding when you look at the keyboard from an angle. Backlighting is way easier to do on a membrane keyboard so I’m not quite sure why that’s the case, whether it’s a matter of cheap LEDs or a problem caused by that extra layer of plastic that I mentioned.

Roccat Horde Aimo IDG / Hayden Dingman

It’s a shame, because the Horde Aimo boasts a no-setup lighting function that, as Roccat puts it, “reacts intuitively and organically to your computing behavior.” In non-marketing speak, the keyboard changes lighting configurations periodically, highlighting specific keys and such depending on the program that’s open. Cool idea—but the lighting itself needs to be worlds brighter and better before I recommend a keyboard for a secondary feature like this.

Bottom line

I like keyboards like the Roccat Horde Aimo, insofar as I like reviewing keyboards that try something new. And the Horde Aimo tries a lot of new things—membranical keys, Tuning Wheel, Aimo lighting.

None of them quite hit the mark, and the membranical keys in particular are a disappointment, just like other mechanical/membrane hybrids I’ve tested. But given Microsoft’s support for the Surface Dial, I’ve no doubt we’ll see more models implement Tuning Wheel-style functionality soon, and I think that’s going to be an interesting workflow development for a lot of people. As for the lighting, I’m always excited to see manufacturers try and push their LED lighting to be more useful. The Horde Aimo’s problem is just poor hardware, but the core concept seems sound.

Point being: The Horde Aimo isn’t necessarily a keyboard I’d recommend, but I think Roccat’s exploring some interesting ideas for whatever comes next. I’m excited to see that more-refined model.

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