It’s a keyboard, Jim, but not as we know it
IT’S NOT OFTEN that a keyboard strikes us as special. Many great keyboards cross our desks, many innovative devices, many bells, many whistles. But special keyboards? Not so much. So, does the Wooting One really land in that bucket, or is it merely sloshing around in the pool of very good keyboards that we keep in the corner? We’ll tell you: This is special. Very special. It’s a combination of supreme style, superior sound, fantastic feel, and tantalizingly innovative technology that sets itself far apart from everything it’s even tangentially competing with. We’re keeping it. Forget prying it out of our cold, dead hands; we’re curling up around it, and developing rigor mortis.
We should probably break down the Wooting One’s key gimmick before we go any further. It’s an analog keyboard. That sounds weird, and in a way it is. Your keyboard doesn’t need to be pressure-sensitive. It’s a digital input method, and has been that way forever for good reason. Having your fingers on the keyboard is about speed, accuracy, triggering triggers, and moving on. But even if you never make use of the analog trigger-style functionality, which can track just how far down you’ve pressed a key and map that to analog control in games, that functionality means you can precisely adjust the actuation point of the keys. Lily-fingered key-skimmer? Keep it high. Hammer-digit bottom-outer? Drop it as low as you can go. Want the same key to do two individual things? You’re crazy, but OK, you can do that.
That does lead to a rather unusual feel to the keys, with a consistent level of resistance all the way down—almost, yes, like you’re pressing the analog trigger on the back of an Xbox controller, at least if you concentrate on what your fingertips are doing. There’s no notch, understandably, so the only truly tactile response you get is at the bottom of the travel. That’s going to be a big negative for some people (and we’d usually advocate tactile switches without hesitation), but this isn’t the miserable squashiness of a Razer yellow, or the muddy feel of a membrane or membranical board. It’s clattery, and it’s satisfying. If you’re dead set on click, you’ll find a bunch of key switches in the box, so you can replace WASD, or any other favorite cluster, with the clicky version of these Flaretech Prism switches—or you could buy the clicky version, which spills them over the whole thing, or a $50 pack of replacement switches for the whole board.
Most remarkable? Those cross-topped key switches (which make this an ideal base for customization) aren’t plugged in to anything. Pull one of the double-shot caps off, remove the switch, shove your finger in the hole, and you actuate the key—Wooting’s infrared optical sensors, beneath each switch, provide the real magic. They mean a super-fast debounce rate, n-key rollover, and room on the top layer of the circuit board for some awesome lighting effects. Great logic, backed up by Wooting’s great software.
The whole thing is remarkably solid, too. The upper aluminum plate is tough, the unit itself weighty enough to fell a bison with a well-angled swipe, and the lack of electronics in the light-beambreaking switches means that throwing in a spare is easy. Even if this weren’t a gimmick carrier—and after our time with it, we’re not so sure it is—we’d give it huge credit for its understated tenkeyless looks, underpinned by perkey lighting. Or we would, if it weren’t so expensive. $140 is an astonishing ask for a keyboard. We understand where the fee comes from, given the no-compromise internals, and the fact that Wooting is still a small company after its initial Kickstarter success. If you’re not going to exploit the analog keys for all they’re worth, there’s a ream of other keyboards that will sting your wallet less—but we’d still choose a Wooting One.