The World’s First Fully Analog Keyboard
The World’s First Fully Analog Keyboard
For years, keyboards have been mostly static. Sure, there’s been innovations here and there but for the most part, we’ve been clacking on the same set of keys for most of our lives. The switches are digital, like the light switches on your wall: they’re either on or off with nothing in between. For many games, this just isn’t ideal. Racing games need feathery touches; third-person action games demand you both creep and run; most, in fact, feel better when you add a little bit of nuance to your control.
The Wooting One is the world’s first completely analog optical keyboard. With the press of a button, every key can offer the same kind of nuanced control of a controller’s trigger, and thanks to a clever design, it will work any game that offers dual controller and keyboard support. Coming in at $159.99 for a single tenkeyless model and two switch options, this is the kind of innovation that doesn’t come cheap.
- MSPR: $159.99
- Form Factor: Tenkeyless
- Keyswitch: Optical, Flaretech Red/Blue
- Operating Force: 55cN
- Actuation Point: 1.5mm – 3.6mm
- Lifetime: 100M clicks
- N-Key Rollover: Yes
- Polling Rate: 1000Hz
- Illumination: Per-key RGB
- Cable/Connection: Braided/USB 2.0
Packaging & Design
As always, we’ll start things off with packaging. The Wooting One comes in a simple black box. Usually, we’d show the rear here but it’s blank save for a reference to the company website. Inside, the keyboard comes nicely presented with a plastic tray to keep any dust from marring the first impression. There’s no styrofoam or specialized cutout to hold the board but it fits snugly in the box for travel. Interestingly, the box comes with instructions on how to fold it out to create a makeshift keyboard holder.
Along with the keyboard we have a nice braided cable of a little over six feet, a combination ring-style keycap/key switch puller, four replacement switches (two clicky, two linear), and a postcard from Wooting thanking you for your purchase and encouraging you to let them know if you ever need anything. It’s a nice touch coming from a company built around a successful crowdfunding campaign.
Also included in the package are four inexplicable screws. I would guess that these exist in case you lose one disassembling the keyboard? I’m at a bit of a loss here since most users will never do that and given how unique it is, there’s not much point beyond checking out that high quality assembly line soldering. But hey, free is free.
When the Wooting One was originally developed, USB-C wasn’t quite as big as it is today, so I can forgive the use of Micro-USB to USB Type-A here, but a future revision including integrated USB-C support would be good to see.
Turning to the keyboard design itself, we can see that Wooting has gone for a very basic tenkeyless design with few frills. They have added a little flair by swapping the windows logo with their own, which is also engraved on the angled foot of the board. The design wouldn't stand out in an office or non-gaming-focused setting, but this product isn't something that makes sense outside of a gaming scenario. I don’t mind simplicity but at this price, it feels little boring.
On the bottom we have a total of seven rubber feet to keep it from sliding around on your desk, as well as a pair of single-stage tilt feet. I like that Wooting has included cable routing channels and a recessed bay for connecting the keyboard. If you have to use USB, it’s a good idea to protect it like this.
Looking to our editing and navigation cluster, we find our secondary media controls, brightness and dimming, and a mode switch for analog/digital hot swapping. Using the arrow keys with the function button also allows you to swap between three separate analog profiles which you can customize for different controller configurations and depth sensing functionality.
Analog Optical Switches
That brings us to the real star of the show: the Flaretech optical switches. The basic principle behind these switches is the same as other optical keyboards like the Razer Huntsman or Bloody Gaming’s 900 series. Firing underneath each key is a beam of light. When the key is depressed, the beam is broken registering the stroke.
This is where the Wooting does things a little differently. Rather than breaking the beam of light, the Wooting One uses reflections and then measures the length of the beam. That variation in the light being registered translates directly to depth and, voilà, the fully analog keyboard is born.
At the time of this writing, there are three switch types available in the Wooting store – red, blue, and black, but only red and blue come pre-installed on the board. The red and blue switches are each weighted to 55g of actuation force and are linear and clicky, respectively. The black switches are also linear but much heavier, requiring 80g of actuation force. Since there are no actual mechanical contacts to cause physical wear to the switch, Flaretech has rated these switches for 100M presses versus Cherry’s 50M.
It’s actually a bit unusual for a keyboard vendor to sell switches in their webstore but there’s a good reason here: the key switches are completely hot-swappable! Since the Wooting system works on a beam of light, the switches are only held in place by a single peg and easily pull out using the included switch puller. This does mean that the keyboard isn’t compatible with other switch types but that’s to be expected. Since Wooting has included an extra four switches in the box, two each of linear and clicky, you can try out the two switch types and have a couple replacements on hand in case one ever breaks.
On that note, if you care about analog functionality, I would suggest avoiding the clicky switch type entirely. The tactility is nice for gaming (and clicks both on the downstroke and upstroke) but terrible for analog control. The force required to move past the click gives you a jolt of force that wrecks your force curve.
The stock keycaps are disappointing, however. They’re your basic single-shot, thin-walled ABS with laser-etched legends. Compare the Wooting keycap in the picture above to a standard aftermarket PBT cap and the quality difference is visible. These keycaps will shine as they wear out. The standard layout means they should be easily replaceable, and, in fact, Wooting offers a double-shot PBT replacement set on their webstore for an extra $35. It’s not a bad price for a set of PBT keycaps but with an MSRP of $159.99, these really should be included standard.
Wootility Customization Software
Though the keyboard will work perfectly fine for typing right out of the box, you’ll want to pick up Wooting’s Wootility software to unlock its full potential. Inside the software, you’ll be able to control the lighting for each of your digital and analog profiles, including a handful of built-in animations. Just don’t go looking for anything too fancy with the lighting customization. You have the basic presets we’ve come to expect on RGB keyboards and some speed and randomization controls, but it’s fairly standard fare with the different modes. Setting static presents is very easy as you can simply hold down the left mouse button and “paint” colors across the board.
Surprisingly, there’s actually a lighting effect that has a practical use instead of just looking good. The “Touch” effect turns your function row into a pressure meter. One of the challenges of making key switches analog sensitive is how little depth they actually offer. As such, there’s a bit of a learning curve to really get used to them. Being able to see this represented in a light meter is quite useful in the early stages.
This first screen also allows you to change a few other settings, including some basic remaps of your Mode and Function keys, as well as assigning keys to your three Analog Profiles. Full key remapping and macro programming are still in development and have been for more than a year. The Wooting team is small but it’s still disappointing to see these core gaming features absent this far after the fact.
On the plus side, the analog capability of the keyboard also opens the door to setting your own actuation point. You can set this as low as 1.5mm, speed switch territory, all the way to 3.6mm. For analog accuracy, I recommend keeping this at 1.5mm as this is also the starting point for depth tracking.
Moving over to the Analog Profile tab, the first thing to notice is that you have your choice between Xinput (Xbox) and DirectInput (everything else). When in these modes, games will detect your keyboard as a controller, specifically on the keys you assign. By default, WASD is mapped to joystick input and everything else is unmapped, allowing you to control characters from a walk to a run and steer cars with much more accuracy than a normal keyboard. The other keys will remain keyboard inputs.
This has two implications. The first is that the game will potentially be rapidly swapping between controller and keyboard inputs so will need to support on-the-fly control changes (which is most AAA games). The second is that it opens up the best of both worlds for PC gamers: gamepad controls without having to push your keyboard to the side!
Scrolling down a little bit further, Wootility also offers a handful of different analog curves to fit your taste. These can’t be customized, which is odd because the presentation certainly looks that way, but honestly I found everything but the stock “Analog Curve” to be too touchy to be really useful in games.
Underneath is another interesting feature known as DKS, or Double Keystroke. This feature allows you to bind multiple actions to each keystroke. For example, you might set it so pressing a key halfway down makes your character crouch whereas pressing it all the way makes them go prone. Company spokesman Calder Limmen regularly encourages users to think outside the box and this is certainly a case where doing so could give you a competitive edge.
Usage Impressions and Conclusion
All of the design and customization aside, the question we're really here to answer is how does it work? Is full analog control all it’s cracked up to be? Well, yes and no. Let’s be frank here: analog sensing on every key is one of the biggest innovations in keyboard technology in the 20+ years I’ve been using computers. Analog tech opens the door to things that simply aren’t possible on digital keyboards, which is exactly why we’re seeing companies like Cooler Master come out with their own variations like the Control Pad or the MK850.
In games, however, this type of input takes some getting used to and still isn’t a complete controller replacement. The biggest problem with the Wooting One is that each key is working with less than 3mm of travel distance. You have to actively train yourself to use an incredibly light touch to make the most out of it. If you’re someone who regularly bottoms out their keys, it’s going to take some time to not go from zero to one hundred.
That said, once you do get used to it, it works well. Playing a racing game like Project Cars or Forza Horizon 4 is leaps and bounds better than a standard keyboard. Likewise, RPGs like The Witcher 3 also feel far more natural. These games weren’t designed to be played in off- and on-states and feel more at home on a keyboard like the Wooting One.
For all of that, you’re giving up some key controller features. There’s no rumble, which means losing an important sense of feedback in driving games. More importantly, the Wooting just don’t compete in terms of comfort simply because there’s less room to work with. You get used to it and can even start to forget what you’re losing but those losses are still important.
But, if you’re a PC devotee who finds themselves, well, bad on a controller – like yours truly – then there’s something a little bit magic when it all clicks. Maybe the biggest selling point is that it allows to have analog input for movement while continuing to use a mouse for aiming, and we all know that a mouse beats a controller any day of the week in that regard.
The Wooting One isn’t a perfect keyboard. It’s a small team and there are still missing features, like the programmability we were discussing way back in September 2017. It also plays it a bit too safe in the design department, lacking any kind of visual personality. But it is remarkable nonetheless. It’s simply the only keyboard on the market capable of doing what it does. It’s great to see a small team give the heavy hitters of this industry a run for their money and really challenge them with core innovation on what we know a keyboard to be. If you’re a PC gamer that dreads swapping to a controller, this is an easy recommendation to make. For everyone else, it likely depends on just how much you'd rather stick to the mouse and keyboard.
|Review Terms and Disclosure
All Information as of the Date of Publication
|How product was obtained:||The product is on loan from Wooting for the purpose of this review.|
|What happens to product after review:||The product remains the property of Wooting but is on extended loan for future testing and product comparisons.|
|Company involvement:||Wooting had no control over the content of the review and was not consulted prior to publication.|
|PC Perspective Compensation:||Neither PC Perspective nor any of its staff were paid or compensated in any way by Wooting for this review.|
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