What was that we were just saying? That there aren't any established keyboard companies with analog switch keyboards? Well, Roccat is the first to break the mold by announcing its Force X technology, which is making its debut on the Isku+ Force FX keyboard.
The Isku+ Force FX, though, is a significant departure from the two analog keyboard designs we’re familiar with. This is an oversimplification, but whereas both Wooting and Aimpad use an optical sensor to detect the depth of the key press, and therefore the level of input sensitivity, the Isku+ Force FX uses something else. Roccat described it thusly:
“By employing a special chemical layer which modifies electrical conductivity beneath the QWEASD keyzone, our engineers have found a way to allow pressure-sensitive input on a rubberdome keyboard.” It uses a polymer-piezoelectric composite material--how it works, exactly, we do not yet understand.
Further, the Isku+ Force FX is a membrane keyboard, so it lacks the switches that Wooting and Aimpad employ.
Modes And Features
The Isku+ Force FX's analog controls are limited to the QWEASD keys, as noted above, but Roccat supports it with its Swarm software, so configuring the input should be easy. There are three modes of operation: The default mode gives you standard input. Another mode lets you assign up to three functions to a key, and you can activate any of them by pressing a modifier key. (For example, you would press Shift or Ctrl or Alt or what have you and then press the assigned key to perform the secondary or tertiary actions.)
The secret sauce is Smooth Mode, wherein you get pressure-sensitive analog input on the aforementioned key cluster.
Roccat did not elaborate further on the analog controls, such as how many levels of sensitivity they offer, if you can change the actuation point, and so on. However, the company made it clear that this is not a one-off product; expect Roccat to launch more analog-enabled devices in the future.
The Isku+ Force FX is a large, chunky-looking thing with a wrist rest attached, and for a membrane keyboard, it has several choice features. It offers RGB lightng with six levels of brightness, several lighting effects, five dedicated left-side macros keys, and the capacity to store up to 180 macros. There are three programmable “thumbster keys,” too, and of course the whole thing is supported by the Swarm configuration software.
It costs the same as its predecessor, the Isku FX, with a price tag of $100.
|Header Cell - Column 0||Roccat Isku+ Force FX Analog Keyboard|
|Type||Full-size with 5 macro keys|
|Switches||Membrane (QWEASD are analog)|
|Onboard Memory||Yes, 5 game profiles|
|Lighting||RGB, with various lighting effects and six levels of brightness|
|System Requirements||Windows 7, 8, 10|
|Misc.||-3 unique Easy-Shift[+] zones-36 macro keys + 3 Roccat Thumbster keys-Media & hotkeys for access to more than 25 functions -Extra large wrist rest-1,000Hz polling rate-Anti-ghosting|
As we wrote when we recently spent time with the Aimpad R5 prototype analog keyboard, current keyboards offer us precision, but analog keyboards will add nuance.
Analog keyboards potentially portend a positive change in what we can expect out of enthusiast gaming gear. It is, perhaps, a slight shift, but the increased pressure-sensitive control that analog switches enable (among other benefits) could become a key feature that gamers won't want to do without.
It appears that Roccat will win the race to market with an analog keyboard, but it’s notable that it lacks the mechanical switches that its closely-following competitors employ.