Review unit supplied free of charge by Roccat.
There are few keyboards or mice that could be considered innovative, which is understandable; we’ve surely perfected them, right? In the world of keyboards, though, Roccat have decided to smash two things together to create the first ever “membranical” keyboard, thereby making a unique product and massacring the English language at the same time. Despite the fancy naming this is still very much a membrane keyboard, meaning that there’s a single sheet of little rubber contact domes hiding underneath the keys rather than the individual switches that mechanical boards have. So does this weird Frankenstein’s Monster of a board actually work?
The theory behind all of this mad-cap mayhem is to get the tactility of a mechanical keyboard without all of the noise that typically comes with it, offering something that doesn’t aim to replace or compete with mechanical keyboards as such but rather offer a step up for those who prefer membrane switches. As a bonus membrane keyboards are cheaper to produce than their mechanical bretheren, thus the Horde comes with a price of about £90. The result is a little mixed, but overall quite good.
The first thing is that the keys have a softer, mushier feel than I’m personally used to with my Razer Chroma TE which is a mechanical keyboard, but it’s considerably better than a standard membrane keyboard where pressing down can often feel like prodding a marshmallow. For typing I found it to be just fine, and my family certainly appreciated the quieter sound, even if I have a soft spot for the satisfying clicks and clacks of a mechanical board. The relatively short activation distance of 1.2mm, small amount of travel and ease with which the keys can be pressed make long-typing sessions feel like a doddle and I was easily bashing away at my usual speed with no increase in errors or anything else. In other words, for writing I’d be pretty happy to have a Horde sitting on my desk.
But while typing might be something I do a lot, I also spend a considerable amount of time shooting things, swinging swords, racing cars, doing quests and generally arsing about in video games. For gaming, I did find myself missing the crispness of a mechanical keyboard and the sense of responsiveness they can provide. With that said I certainly didn’t perform any worse than I would with a standard membrane keyboard or even with an expensive mechanical one, so the keys clearly work just fine, it’s just that the mechanical switches offer a certain something that membrane switches just can’t, even despite Roccat’s attempt to marry the two. However, I have no problem saying that these are the very finest membrane switches I’ve ever felt.
Roccat certainly didn’t skimp when it came to the accessories. This full sized beast of a board comes boasting a row of five dedicated, half-height macro keys alongside a few multimedia buttons for pausing, playing and skipping forward. The star of the show is the sizable wheel on the right. Using this is as simple as pressing one of the option keys next to it, and then spinning the wheel, thus if you pick the volume button you can quickly ramp up or drop the volume. You can also select screen brightness, RGB profiles, RGB lighting color, microphone volume and even swap between different windows without having to use ALT+TAB. It’s freaking sorcery, man.
Interestingly there is also support for Microsoft’s fancy Surface Dial system. Hold the little button which seems to have a person icon on it and the Suface Dial feature leaps into action, or possibly spins into action, on the screen. By default you can scroll through web pages and folders with the wheel, but you can also set it to do things like zoom or undo/redo, a function that I, as a bloody awful writer, used with near reckless abandon. Considering the official Surface Dial costs about the same as this keyboard it’s pretty cool to see Roccat be the first company to include Surface Dial support. All in all I didn’t find myself using the dial all that much, but it was still a neat feature to have and I may have used it a lot more if my speakers didn’t already have a volume control module on my desktop.
All of these extra frills come at the cost of sheer size. With the wrist rest attached the Horde Aimo clocks in at about 18.5 x 9.0 inches, dominating your desk in the process.
You also get the expected RGB lighting hiding underneath the keys. The keyboard shows off Roccat’s so-called “intelligent” lighting system much more than on the mice and headsets from the company that I’ve reviewed prior. Switch this mode on and the lighting will get stronger and change color the faster you hit the keys, and will become more subdued when you’re just quietly surfing the web. It’s a neat feature, and makes a nice chance from the usual breathing and rainbow effects.
There’s a caveat, however; the RGB lighting is very weak due to the single membrane sheet allowing very little of the light to bleed through, and so in a semi-bright room you really have to ramp up the brightness to notice it. Of course, if you want something a bit more subtle this could be perfect for you, but the colors also lack vibrancy. They look dull and muted. Red is more like a pale pink, the green is a horrible pale shade and blue looks like it had to call off sick. As you can probably tell I gave up trying to get pictures of the lighting in action quite quickly.
You also don’t get much in the way of lighting customization. There is no individual altering of a keys color in order to have a neon rainbow bound to attract any nearby unicorns. Nah, you just get six zones spread from left to right, and that means when you stick on the wave preset you get distinct bands of color which you just don’t get on other keyboards with individual lighting.
To play around with the lighting and some other things you need the official Roccat Swarm software which is generally a doddle to use. Assigning macros, for example, is just a case of dragging and dropping whatever you want onto the key of your choice. This isn’t just limited to the dedicated macros keys, either, as the software happily allows you to rebind any key you like. Swarm even includes an option for triggering a sound whenever a key is pressed, thus for reasons beyond me you could have a a weird laser beam noise or typewriter click play when you type. I’m not sure what practical purpose this could serve, but it was absolutely brilliant for annoying the crap out of everyone around me, which is priceless.
Considering the £90 asking price the whole thing feels and looks a bit cheap. It’s quite light due to the entirely plastic build, and if you pick it up and try to bend it there’s some flex in the plastic skeleton, though it isn’t isn’t present when typing. Meanwhile the grey and black finish of my review model looked like something you’d expect off of a keyboard sold on Amazon for a few quid. You do get a plastic wrist-rest, though. It feels cheap as well, but it gets the job done.
I think that honestly it’s hard to really review the Horde Aimo. Its unique feel is something you need to experience in person, and whether or not you like the tactility and noise of a mechanical board is down to personal preference. Personally, I liked it more than I thought I would. Upon first hearing of it I thought it would be a weird monster stitched together of two very different things and never being as good as either. Yet, to my surprise I enjoyed typing on it quite a lot, finding it fast, light and quiet. But, with that said if you simply just prefer the feel of membrane or if a mechanical board with quiet switches and o-rings still isn’t quiet enough then Roccat have crafted something just for you. While I’d still recommend a mechanical board personally, the Horde is a surprisingly strong product that feels great for typing and is perfectly serviceable for gaming.