By: Ben Joubert
November 9, 2018
Years ago, before I had any idea of how a computer works, my brother started to play World of Warcraft. I would always enjoy watching my brother play different video games. From Star Wars: Phantom Menace, to Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, I tried to play the games, but I was horrid at them. One game I wish I could replay was this pod racing Star Wars game, which held hours of fun. This game took you to different planets to race and you could choose from a myriad of racers. World of Warcraft was the next great game I always wanted to play, but never could. Instead, I only watched my brother and his friend play it. They grinded through all the levels to reach the 60 level cap. I was too young to have a subscription and I would only be able to play a few minutes here and there. The highest level I achieved was level 10. All this mystery created a strong draw throughout my teenage years as I attempted many different ways to play the game. Finally, when I could buy the subscription, I started to play quite a bit. I did not have too many other friends at the time who played WoW, but I did not even get that far either. After finally being able to play the game fully and completely, I was not excited about it anymore. It was as if everything making the game attractive, disappeared like a mist. With every expansion since then, I would always return and play a bit more, even though I would not play that much on the expansion itself. The faction my brother and his friend played on followed me throughout the whole experience, never moving away from the Horde. Today, we have a product from ROCCAT called the Horde AIMO. Will it live up to the Horde's glory as brutish, but strong willed and ready for action? Read on to find out!
The ROCCAT Horde AIMO arrived to us via FedEx Ground all the way from Cerritos, California. With it safely here in Calgary, Alberta, we proceeded to inspect the exterior of the box. We quickly noticed the large indent on the front of the packaging, which was the most worrisome damage. Other than that, there were some smaller insignificant pieces of damage along the edges and the corners. The ROCCAT Horde AIMO was not the only product from ROCCAT included in the shipping box, as we also have the Kone AIMO, which will be reviewed in the coming weeks. Overall, FedEx did a good job in ensuring the package arrived safely except for the dent.
The ROCCAT Horde AIMO comes in a large rectangular box, which is quite thin. The front features a black background with a large image of the keyboard front and center. To all the eagle-eyed readers out there, you will notice the layout of the image on the retail box is different from the keyboard we have in this review. In striking white font, we find the words "Fully Equipped" plastered below the keyboard. A handwritten-like grey text explains some other notable features such as the detachable palm wrest, tuning wheel, and the AIMO intelligent lighting system. The American flag in the right corner indicates the US layout, while the product's name is located in the top left. Nothing special is located on the sides of the retail packaging, but the back explains in more detail some of the selling points in a multitude of languages.
Before we move one, here are the specifications as obtained from the manufacturer's website:
ARM Cortex-M0+ 50MHz
Onboard memory: 512kB
Polling rate: 1000Hz
Actuation point for macro keys: 1.2mm
LED driver, 256 steps PWM control
Six-zone illumination with 12 RGB LEDs
Wheel encoder with 20 steps
Braided USB cable: 1.8m
Weight: 1100 g
System requirements: USB 2.0 Port, Internet connection for driver installation
Operating system: Windows® 10, Windows® 7, Windows® 8
Unboxing the ROCCAT Horde AIMO is comparable to any other keyboard. After lifting the flap up, I was met with the keyboard and the wrist rest. The wrist rest was on top of the keyboard covered in a thin plastic bag to protect it from surface level scratches. It also sat in a little cardboard sleeve for it so that it would not touch the keyboard. Otherwise, the Horde AIMO was covered in plastic, while resting snugly on two foam bricks. The foam prevents the keyboard from bouncing around and provides some shock absorption. Beyond the main keyboard accessories, there are also two booklets with one being the installation guide and the other a booklet on how to dispose of the keyboard. A nice touch of ROCCAT is the inclusion of a few ROCCAT branded stickers. I remember back in the day how every product came with some stickers, but recently the trend has died down. ROCCAT is one of the few manufacturers to include stickers.
The ROCCAT Horde AIMO has a modern design to it. There are only a few straight lines to the keyboard. Generally, there is a bit of a curve, which can be most easily spotted along the bottom line. The keyboard extends slightly lower around where the wrist rest connects to it. On each end of the keyboard, right next to the macro keys and the edge of the number pad, there is a ridge line where the keyboard slightly angles downward. As well, it looks as if there is a piece that can disconnect from the keyboard, but it is purely a design choice. Along the top, we find similar ridges and in the top left there is space to connect a separate 3D-printed smartphone dock. A standout feature of the Horde AIMO is the tuning wheel in the top right corner with its long list of buttons adjacent to it. Pressing one of those buttons and turning the wheel adjusts the settings of the selected key. Pressing the volume key and turning the tuning wheel would adjust the volume. This is not the only feature which makes the Horde AIMO different from other gaming keyboards. The ROCCAT Horde AIMO has membranical keys, which are supposed to be a middle ground between mechanical and membrane keys. We will dive into this a little bit later. However, the keycaps sit snugly in the base of the keyboard, which actually makes the RGB LEDs look a little dull. Usually, some of the RGB LEDs light leak out the bottom of the keyboard, illuminating the whole keyboard more than the Horde AIMO. When it comes to its layout however, it is the standard 104-key US QWERTY ANSI layout.
As for dimensions, I could not find any specifics on the manufacturer's website, but I measured the keyboard myself. The dimensions came in at 490 mm in width, 165 mm in depth, and 20 mm in height. The wrist rest adds a couple more centimeters, but not too much. For a membrane keyboard, it is actually quite heavy. The Horde AIMO comes in at 1100g. I was surprised considering the plastic construction, which should make it lighter. But my guess is the membranical keys are just as heavy as traditional mechanical key switches. Usually, weight transfers well into build quality, and for the most part that still holds with this keyboard. Nevertheless, because of the plastic construction the keyboard has quite a bit of flex. But the plastic is hard and I cannot imagine any issues arising because of its integrity that would not arise with other keyboards. There are still a couple of differences from the general gaming keyboard trends. Anti-ghosting is one of these differences. Generally, we find N-key rollover, which means no matter how many keys are pressed at once, all of them will be registered. The ROCCAT Horde AIMO has anti-ghosting, but only for a select grouping of keys. What ROCCAT identifies as the gaming key area, are most of the keys from the left up to 5, T, G, B, and spacebar. There are a few more keys on the right side which also have N-key rollover, including the arrow keys. I find this a strange feature, as most keyboards have N-key rollover for the whole keyboard instead of just a set of keys.
From the picture above, you can more easily see the design choice around the edges. Furthermore, you can also see the clip in the top left for the smartphone dock. The main set of features on this end are the macro keys running down the left side. Each of these keys can be programmed through the ROCCAT Swarm software. I will speak more on if it was easy to use the software a little later in the review. The macro keys are located in a spot that is easy to access. World of Warcraft makes good use of macro keys, which is fitting with the Horde name of this keyboard. On this end of the keyboard, we also find the EasyShift+ toggle, which is Caps Lock. EasyShift+ allows one to assign a second set of shortcuts or macros after activating it. It has been featured on many of ROCCAT's products.
At this end of the keyboard, we find the row of keys along the top with the large tuning wheel. I always appreciate a keyboard with a wheel for volume, but ROCCAT has really stepped up what this wheel can do. Pressing any of the buttons along the top and then turning the wheel, adjusts those settings. An LED for the selected setting will stay on and from then on anytime you do use the wheel that setting will be changed. This means one can leave it on volume if one chooses to. The different settings one can change are volume, brightness, color, mouse DPI, and even scrolling through open windows after using Alt + Tab. Right below the wheel, we find the usual row of LEDs indicating different functions that are on.
This is ROCCAT's first membranical keyboard. It is attempting to take the best of both types of key switches and implementing them together. After removing the keycap, this is what it looks like below. The ROCCAT Horde AIMO has a 7.8ms actuation speed, while the macro keys have a 5.0ms actuation speed. The keycap has a long square stem pointing down. This stem pushes down against the membrane at the bottom of the keyboard. The long stem provides good travel distance and there is a slight "click" feel to pushing the key without the loud click some mechanical switches are known for. When it comes to how heavy or hard one has to press on this switch, it is most comparable to a Cherry MX Brown. However, the soft landing and mushy feeling of a membrane switch is still there, but less so than a budget membrane keyboard.
On the back of the keyboard, we find a bit of a wavy design, instead of just a flat back. On the kickstands, there are small pieces of rubber to keep the keyboard in place. Without the feet extended, there are three other rubber pieces along the top, one in each corner and one in the center. Along the bottom, there are two more rubber feet in each corner. All of this helps to ensure the ROCCAT Horde AIMO stays in place at all times on a myriad of different surfaces. The wrist rest, which slides into the two holes at the bottom left and right of the above picture, also features three more rubber feet to keep everything in place. The sticker in the middle of the keyboard carries the same miscellaneous information as usual.
The ROCCAT Horde AIMO is customized through ROCCAT's Swarm software. Basically, it is a base for all of ROCCAT's products from which you download the software for individual products. As you can see from previous reviews I have done, the other products are along the top and shown not to be plugged in. Anyways, ROCCAT allows for plenty of customization in the usual ways for their keyboards. On the key assignment tab, you can use the many different functions already listed on the left. To create and manage macros, there is a tab for that as well, which lists many different games and useful functions within those games. They are pre-configured macros, which can be slotted in. I checked the games I know and if you have not changed your controls from the default much, then these macros should work fine. The key illumination tab allows one to customize the lighting effects and colors of groups of keys. Finally, on the General Features tab, the sound feedback and other settings can be adjusted. On each tab, the profiles can be added to or changed on the bottom of the keyboard. Overall, the ROCCAT Swarm is still an intuitive and effective piece of software.
As mentioned before, the LEDs are not exceptionally bright as the keycaps seal in plenty of the light. It was difficult to get a picture to effectively show the LEDs, but depending on the color chosen for them, they can be brighter. I did appreciate the RGB lighting and the AIMO system is pretty cool. I am not exactly certain on what basis it chose the different colors and patterns. For the most part, it seemed to just constantly make nice changes to the RGB LEDs. Of course, there is also the possibility that it will work better with more ROCCAT devices in sync with it. Otherwise, using the keyboard was a pleasant experience overall. The first issue I ran into was the F-row. They are smaller than usual and I used some of them when I am gaming for different functions. I had to adjust to the smaller size, but I would frequently miss hitting them. If you do not use the F-row then this is probably a non-issue for you. When it comes to the membranical keys, they feel better than a traditional membrane keyboard. They feature a slight bump in their actuation, where the bump itself is kind of like a Cherry MX Blue, but more subtle. The membrane switches ensure the keyboard is silent. Unfortunately, the mushy feeling is still present to a certain extent. If you have never liked a membrane keyboard and prefer mechanical, I would recommend to stick with the mechanical. The membranical switches are different from membrane keyboards in general, but only slightly.
The ROCCAT Horde AIMO provides different qualities than the Horde, which is probably a good thing, haha. Although it carries the popular faction's name, it offers elegance that is not present with the Horde. The ROCCAT Horde AIMO seeks to provide some sort of middle ground between membrane keys and mechanical switches. To a certain extent, it provides a compromise that is not entirely bad. Starting with the rest of the keyboard, the build quality is as good as it gets with an all plastic build. The Horde AIMO provides many different useful features. The macro keys are in a useful place and can be easily accessed at all times. Furthermore, the tuning wheel along with its myriad of functions is very useful. I always appreciate some sort of scrolling wheel to adjust volume, but ROCCAT has really stepped it up with adding so many different capabilities to it. The RGB lighting is also pretty spectacular, though I found the lights to be a bit dimmer. This is also probably due to the design of the keyboard. The key switches, arguably the most important part of the keyboard, are good. It is a tall order to try and incorporate a mechanical feel to membrane switches, but ROCCAT has done a respectable job. They feel much better than an average membrane keyboard and if one prefers these, this is an option on the table. However, the mushy feeling of a membrane is still present and the satisfying click or crisp feeling of a good mechanical keyboard is absent. At the time of publication, the ROCCAT Horde AIMO can be found for around $84 USD. This is fairly expensive for a membrane keyboard, though it does include a wrist rest and RGB lighting. Overall, despite its imperfections, the ROCCAT Horde AIMO provides some excellent features for the masses.
ROCCAT provided this product to APH Networks for the purpose of evaluation.
APH Review Focus Summary:
8/10 means Definitely a very good product with drawbacks that are not likely going to matter to the end user.
7/10 means Great product with many advantages and certain insignificant drawbacks; but should be considered before purchasing.
-- Final APH Numeric Rating is 7.2/10
Please note that the APH Numeric Rating system is based off our proprietary guidelines in the Review Focus, and should not be compared to other sites.
The ROCCAT Horde AIMO aims to provide a well-rounded membrane experience and I can thankfully say it delivers on.
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