The Horde Aimo is an interesting proposition: an old-school membrane gaming keyboard that fills your desk, yet one that includes modern RGB backlighting and unique ‘membranical’ keys. Here’s our review.
|Switches||‘Membranical’ rubber domes|
|Backlighting||Six-zone illumination with 12 RBG LEDs|
|Form Factor||Full size + macro keys + media keys + wheel|
|Special Features||Wheel encoder with 20 steps|
|Dimensions||530 x 235 x 60 mm|
|Net weight||1.1 kilograms|
- Precision key layout: fingertip design improves key distinction and island layout resists dirt
- Quick-fire macros: low profile keys that prevent accidental miss-hits
- Improved anti-ghosting: ensures every single key stroke is registered
- Configurable tuning wheel & keys: on-the-fly control for multimedia, illumination and more
- RGB illumination: configurable multi-colour lighting with multiple zones
- Detachable palm rest: ergonomic design comfortable for long gaming sessions
- Membranical keys with precise midway travel actuation point
- AIMO lighting system: intelligent illumination harmonised across devices
- ROCCAT Swarm: comprehensive drive and software suite
The Horde Aimo is a total throwback to when gaming keyboards were in a features arms race, when higher price tags were justified by a laundry list of features spread out across a keyboard that dominated your desk.
You don’t lack for anything here: a full layout, including a number pad, a column of five short macro keys on the left side and an additional row of tiny media, volume, backlighting and shortcut keys along the top. There’s also a chunky plastic wheel in the upper right, which can be used to set your volume, adjust the backlighting and so on.
Apart from all of the space dedicated to features, Roccat have also opted to include a wide bezel around the board, replete with curved lines and detailing that increases the already considerable footprint of the board even further. If you have a cramped desk, the Horde Aimo is definitely not for you.
Beneath each lasered ABS keycap is a ‘membranical’ rubber dome. Roccat claim that it combines the quiet and soft feel of a membrane keyboard with the tactility and precise actuation of a mechanical keyboard. Indeed, the overall feel is definitely distinct from either camp; it doesn’t feel as crisp as a mechanical but not as mushy as the average membrane board either. It certainly isn’t loud, and in fact probably ranks as the quietest keyboard that I’ve tested within recent years.
Unlike most other keyboards with a £90 price tag, the Aimo doesn’t come with per-key RGB backlighting. Instead, six different zones are lit by twelve RGB LEDs. This approach works well with the rubber dome switches used by the keyboard, but doesn’t allow the kind of customisation that some gamers have no doubt come to expect.
It also results in a keyboard that isn’t as brightly lit as most others on the market; you get a dull glow even on the highest brightness setting, as the light tumbles out of unevenly lit keycaps. If you prefer more subtle backlighting then the Horde Aimo might be just up your street, but I personally found it a bit lacking.
The keyboard also comes with a black matte plastic palm rest, which clicks into place on the underside of the keyboard.
Two flip-out feet are also present on the underside, allowing the board to be used in an angled orientation that may suit some users.
With our design and feature pass complete, let’s take a brief look at the software side of things before moving onto testing.
The Horde Aimo comes with Roccat’s Swarm software; we’re testing version 1.9311. You may need to install the ‘Horde Aimo update’ within the Update Center and upgrade the keyboard’s firmware before its settings are accessible.
The first section of the Swarm software is ‘General Features’. Here, you can adjust your Windows character repeat rate settings or add a noise to be played each time a key is pressed. This sounds kind of cool when you’re pressing keys one at a time, but when you’re typing rapidly all of the sounds just kind of mush together into an unpleasant rattle, instead of the pleasant report that you would get from an actual mechanical keyboard. This gets much worse when you get to the various novelty sci-fi sounds, which caused me to physically grimace.
Next up is key assignment, which allows you to drag-and-drop various functions, including macros, OS shortcuts and keyboard controls, onto each button of the keyboard. There are presets here for a range of games, including each version of Counter-Strike, if you’d like to check them out.
Finally, you can change the keyboard’s lighting. As mentioned earlier, this is restricted to six zones, arranged left to right. That means while there is a ‘rainbow wave’ mode, you get noticeably banded sections of colour, rather than the smoothly blended effect you’d see on any Razer or Corsair RGB keyboard. You also lose the ability to set per-key backlighting, which looks nice and can be handy for highlighting game hotkeys.
Overall, the Roccat Swarm software is well designed, despite some functionality restrictions based on the Horde’s zonal lighting hardware. There’s basically everything you could want here, including excellent macro controls and a good range of lighting options — just don’t turn on the key sounds, I beg of you!
The keyboard’s dial is also compatible with Microsoft’s Dial system, which was introduced with the company’s own Surface Dial.
You can change the dial controls in Windows 10 by searching for ‘Wheel’ in the start menu or going to Settings > Devices > Wheel. By default, the wheel can change the volume, scroll, zoom and undo/redo. You can change between different functions by pressing the button to the left of the wheel (you may have to hold it down to get the pop-up).
In order to give this keyboard a fair test, we used it as our primary device for one week. In that time, we used the keyboard for all writing work, including this review. We also hopped into some games, including Counter-Strike and Civilization VI. Here are our impressions.
As soon as I read the word ‘membranical’ I was prepared to hate this keyboard. Apart from the quality of the portmanteau, I thought that rubber domes just can’t compare to the feeling of mechanical switches. One week later, and I’d stand by that statement: as fancy as Roccat’s rubber domes are, the Horde Aimo doesn’t compare to the satisfyingly precise feel of a mechanical keyboard. The keyboard is certainly usable for both typing and gaming, but I felt a step behind whenever I used it in high-pressure situations (like a clutch play in CS:GO).
However, I don’t hate the Horde Aimo the way I thought I would; in fact, I quite like it. It’s soft, it’s quiet, and it’s low-profile; all things that you can justifiably want from a keyboard and don’t (usually) find on a mechanical. I don’t like it quite enough to use the Horde as my daily driver going forward, but certainly enough to recommend it to the sizeable cadre of membrane fans who feel left behind by the industry-wide trend towards mechanical keyboards.
Apart from the overall feel of the keyboard, the Horde Aimo also comes with a number of nice added features. One of the ones I liked best is the wheel; it’s actually quite convenient to be able to adjust the volume, scroll or zoom with a dedicated dial. It feels a bit plasticky in your hand, and it could surely use a button in the centre rather than off to the side, but the functionality makes up for these flaws.
The macro keys are well-implemented as well; their low profile means that you’ll never hit them accidentally, and it’s nice to have dedicated macro keys rather than needing to rebind an existing key. Similarly, the row across the top is pretty handy for skipping songs in a music player.
Despite its unparalleled utility, the Horde Aimo is too big in my eyes. The tremendous span of the keyboard is almost 1.5 times the width of my usual keyboard, and necessitates spreading my arms apart at a considerable angle and using only a small fraction of my mousepad. With the palm rest installed, it’s also large top to bottom; you really need a massive desk to make this thing work. I’m happy to see lots of dedicated extra keys on a keyboard, but why not combine it with a more minimalist physique that trims the inches of extra space on each side of the keyboard? Surely that would be the best of both worlds.
The lighting here is also disappointing. At a glance (and in the promotional materials) it looks like standard RGB backlighting that you’d find on any other high-end gaming keyboard, but in person it’s dull and inflexible, with only six zones rather than per-key backlighting. For a £90 keyboard, that doesn’t meet my expectations.
The Horde Aimo is a hard keyboard to sum up. Perhaps the best word to describe it is divisive; it is the Marmite of gaming keyboards.
First, the positive: If you liked how gaming keyboards were back in the 90s and early 2000s, before the mechanical keyboard trend, then the Horde Aimo should be right up your street. It’s a glorious throwback that takes a few modern upgrades, like RGB lighting and slightly tactile keys, without sacrificing the bigger-is-better attitude and soft, quiet rubber domes of classic gaming keyboards.
However, if you’re a mechanical keyboard fan minted in modern times, I don’t predict you’ll find a lot of appeal in the Horde. In terms of key feel, size and lighting, it just doesn’t compare to even low-end mechs. When you can get a brilliant RGB mechanical keyboard for fifty quid, why would you pay almost double to get this?
Whatever you say about the Horde Aimo, it certainly isn’t boring. Which side of the fence are you on? Let me know in the comments below.
Update: Roccat provided the following statement regarding the lighting:-
For several reasons, our Membranical key switch technology doesn’t allow for extremely bright lighting and highly saturated colors.
The island key layout allows for exceptional stability, the sidewalls of the keycaps form a very tight seal with the cutouts for each key. In consequence, each key is more stable, has a better responsiveness and typing feel and less dirt gets into the keyboard. On the downside, less light can escape. The only points of exit are the lasered cutouts for the lettering on each keycap. There is no additional bleeding light like on competitor models, which is also the reason why Horde AIMOs lighting is less intense and bright.
However, we do not see this as a problem – Horde AIMO boasts the innovative, easy-to-set-up AIMO RGB lighting system, which is currently without equal. While we would have preferred to achieve higher brightness levels and more intense colors, this would not have been possible without sacrificing our unique Membranical key switches. We feel that the precise and responsive typing feel Horde AIMO offers is much more important to successful gaming.
It’s interesting to know the specific design reasons that the lights aren’t so bright, but I still think that there is room for improvement — I couldn’t even see the LEDs in daylight! Hopefully we’ll see an upgraded version if Roccat choose to revisit the ‘membranical’ concept later on.