It’s no secret that mechanical keyboards offer more precision and durability than the rubber domes of old. Countless forum posts and YouTube discussions have reminded gamers of that fact for ages. But the prowess of mechanical switches doesn’t stop there.
By adding analog sensors to the mechanism, keyboards can develop a sense of depth. Pressing a button doesn’t have to be expressed in either a ‘1’ or a ‘0’ — switches can now operate like the triggers on gamepads do. These are some of the best analog keyboards to explore that newfound depth with.
First things first. Not all analog keyboards are equal, just as there aren’t many different analog keyboards to begin with. Although the idea of analog input under your fingers hasn’t been new since the eighties, the concept is just now starting to resurface in modern gaming keyboards. It’s a trend in the making.
Some manufacturers develop keyboards that can emulate full-fledged controller input, others use the sense of depth mostly to offer adjustable trigger points for the switches. Some use optical sensors to ‘read’ the depth of keys, others opt for magnetism. As long as they are in some way pressure-sensitive, the mechanism is considered analog.
What kind of analog keyboard is best suited for your needs, heavily depends on what you want out to gain out of the added depth. Take that into consideration when browsing this new type of (gaming) input.
Although the technology is new, there are already some great analog keyboards out on the market. These forerunners aren’t just gunning to offer something analog, most of these keyboards excel as mechanical keyboards in general. In discovering the analog range, manufacturers often seek out extraordinary smooth switches. It’s buttery sailing from here on out.
In regards to type of switch feel, most analog keyboards opt for linear switch profiles. Clicky or tactile switches aren’t common among these devices, as the physical ‘bump’ could hinder the precision of your input. Combine that with adjustable actuation points not corresponding with the ‘trigger’ of the physical switch, and you can understand why most prefer the fully linear feel.
Some analog keyboards deviate from the default. Our first highlighted keyboard is one that excels in offering gamers tweakability: the Wooting One. Not only are the switches themselves hot-swappable — with linear and clicky options — the board itself boasts nearly endless possibilities in analog control.
The Wooting One is most likely the first fully analog gaming keyboard ever. In trying to discover more depth in gaming keyboards, Wooting has been a forerunner in analog input. Aptly titled, the Wooting One was their first product, and it’s proven to be quite a formidable entry in the keyboard market.
With a minimalistic design and tenkeyless form factor, all of the Wooting One’s focus is on its revolutionary input — counting 256 pressure points between 1.5 and 3.6 millimeter travel. Through the Wootility software, users can easily enrich their keyboard with Xinput or DirectInput commands. Any key can be bound as a button, macro, trigger or joystick movement, the latter being complete with tweakable dead zones and actuation curves. Wooting perhaps didn’t discover the pressure sensitive range, but they surely know their way around it.
In addition to its controller-like nature, Wootility offers some other nifty analog tricks. Any key can be bound to two different actuation points, making it possible to have two-steps actions embedded in each switch. These double triggers can offer some great benefits in high-paced games with complex input required, most notably Fortnite. The feature has since been a staple for basically all analog keyboards.
If it’s just speed you need, the Wooting keyboards offer a Tachyon Mode. While this setting disables RGB and most analog features, it shifts the switches into hyper-responsive triggers. Through the Tachyon Mode, Wooting can achieve keyboard-wide response times under 1 millisecond.
Although Wootility is required for excessive tweaking, most settings can be stored on the keyboard itself, rendering the software optional. Most Wooting Keyboards can house three analog profiles, as well as one merely digital profile. Switching between profiles can be done quite rapidly, while bound RGB preferences remind you what setting is currently active.
Besides all of its analog tweakability, the Wooting One is above all a solid mechanical keyboard. The Adomax Flaretech optical switches are buttery smooth and hot swappable, while the keyboard itself is sturdy as ever. An aluminium plate within keeps the Wooting One rigid, with hardly any ‘keyboard flex’. The detachable cable and threeway gutter are nice touches, although the micro-USB port proves to be a sore reminder of how early Wooting got in this game.
After the One, a full-sized Wooting Two followed shortly after. Since then, Wooting has been focussing on developing its ‘Lekker’ switch, in collaboration with Gateron. Newer Wooting keyboards sense analog depth through the magnetic Hall effect, instead of optical laser sensors. These revisions are defined as ‘Lekker’ or ‘HE’ editions, which boast a wider analog range and more durability, as well as USB-C connections.
After serving as Razer’s flagship keyboard for two years, the Razer Huntsman Elite is relieved of its duties by the Razer Huntsman V2 Analog. Its predecessor introduced stellar optical switches and luxurious build quality, while the sequel itself adds analog depth to the formula.
The Huntsman’s V2 Analog input — ranging from 1.5 to 3.6 millimeter — is mostly used for adjustable and dual-step actuation. Razer’s optical switch had already proven sturdy, but with the sensor reading depth too, the switches seem to have reached their final form. The keyboard itself does come with the ability to turn the ‘WASD’ cluster into an analog joystick, but lacks options to tweak or even remap the output.
While Razer may lack in tweakability, the brand delivers on its luxurious promise. The first V2 edition of the Huntsman sports a full-size keyboard, filled to the brim with solid features and style. The rigid body is home to a chique underglow, brings back Razer’s dedicated media controls of late, and comes with PBT keycaps out of the box. As a whole, it oozes reliability. Even the magnetic wrist rest (also sporting an Razer Chroma underglow) returns, this time without requiring an extra USB connector to light up.
Additional features, like the return of USB 3.0 passthrough, add nicely to what already was a solid board. In turn, this does require a secondary USB-A connector. Not a problem for most users, but some might be thrown off by the awkward dual-cable attached to Razer’s new flagship. You have been warned, lovers of minimalistic set-ups.
The Razer Huntsman V2 Analog is a solid first step into the analog market, albeit a somewhat arrogant one. Razer offers superb build quality and some of the best RGB software, but it often feels like the gaming powerhouse doesn’t even try to revolutionize the keyboard game. The hefty retail price makes you yearn for more than just a solid board.
Yes, Razer is surely adding analog depth to their keyboards, but for now, they might seem ‘shallow’ in comparison to what cheaper and newer brands brought gamers. If Razer really wants their flagship to stand out in this brave, new world, they need only look at what Wooting’s been doing.
Aspiring esports enthusiasts might find their match in the SteelSeries Apex Pro. Pricewise, the Apex Pro finds itself balanced between Razer and Wooting, but SteelSeries excels in meeting its target audience’s demands. Their magnetic OmniPoint switch offers low latency and exceedingly rapid input, stripping any and all controller-like promises. Speed is key, not emulation.
SteelSeries’s OmniPoint makes up for the bulk of the switches, but not all. Only the main typing (and gaming) cluster features the analog range, while function rows and additional keys are more traditionally mechanical. The keys that do feature the OmniPoint switch, are extraordinarily smooth and swift. Actuation can range from 0.4 tot 3.6 millimeter, with response times down to 0.7 milliseconds. Everything about the Apex Pro is geared toward speed and reliability.
To further its esports-friendly angle, the SteelSeries Apex Pro features a tough build. Both full-size and tenkeyless variations are made mostly out of sturdy aluminium-alloy and come with firm magnetic wrist rests. It’s reliable, while staying elegant on the eye. The design does feature some tasteful RGB implementations, rendering the OLED display the most ‘extra’ looking eyecatcher.
A three-way gutter makes sure your cable is anchored, although SteelSeries does pass on a detachable cable. It’s rigid as can be, but the keyboard clearly isn’t supposed to go a lot of places.
Considering its price point — and ever so slightly discounted tenkeyless variation — the SteelSeries Apex Pro leans towards an esports-bound target audience. It strips media controls and other luxury features, and fully focuses on its switch feel.
This analog keyboard offers speedy smoothness like no other, in hopes of becoming your weapon of choice for years to come. And if it’s easily tweakable speediness you want, SteelSeries has got your back. Just don’t expect the Apex Pro to emulate a gamepad, or to natively offer more than adjustable actuation, when it comes to its analog approach.
Although it’s hardly a fully analog keyboard, Cooler Master’s MK850 does offer some pressure-sensitive features. Eight of the most commonly used gaming keys (QWER + ASDF) come with AimPad support, granting partial analog control in hundreds of popular games.
In most use cases, the MK850 is a ‘regular, old’ mechanical keyboard, that sometimes can operate like half of a controller. It does so by implementing infrared sensors into the well-known Cherry MX Red switches, bestowing a sense of depth to the traditional mechanism.
In a way, Cooler Master’s hybrid angle is the polar opposite of what SteelSeries offers. Even though both manufacturers opt for only partial analog implementation, they heavily differ in how they use the new depth they bring. As such, the MK850 doesn’t offer any adjustable trigger points, it mostly relies on AimPad to grant the keys some extra depth. Through the AimPad software, the controller emulation can be customized, but it might lack some of the precision and ease-of-use that Wooting does offer.
Besides its eight analog keys, the MK850 can mostly be seen as Cooler Master’s flagship keyboard. The brushed aluminium build and sharp lines are reminiscent of earlier MK-designs, now adorned with dedicated media controls, a detachable wrist rest, and functional scroll wheels. The design has some alien-like aesthetics, but it stays grounded with trusted Cooler Master trademarks. The MK850 is built as rigid as ever, while RGB profiles and macro’s remain mostly customizable on the board itself.
Cooler Master expands on their analog approach with their ControlPad, a nifty keypad offering 24 analog switches and two multi-functional scroll wheels. It might not substitute for a whole keyboard, but it’s pressure sensitive alright. The analog range is defined yet again by AimPad support, replacing Cherry MX Red switches with clones from Gateron.
The Cooler Master ControlPad can be used as a controller-like keypad in AimPad-supported games, but it appeals to tech-savvy creatives as well. With its scrollwheels and easily remapped buttons, the ControlPad can prove handy when video-editing, livestreaming, mastering audio, et cetera. The only thing standing in its way to become your all-in-one tool, is the time you want to spend customizing all of its 24 keys.
If you’re not up for hours of tweaking, nice-to-have analog features are lost on the ControlPad. Were it not for the AimPad-support in some games, this product mostly renders itself a niche macropad.
Considering the lower entry price that might be passable, but some adjustable actuation points wouldn’t have hurt. The ControlPad proves a concept, but might lack some dedication to its own ideas.
Whether they be hybrid controllers or esports machines, these are our top picks for analog keyboards. Although not all seem to capitalize on the pressure sensitive capabilities, each of them offers something traditional keyboards do not. As mechanical switches dive into this new sense of depth, the bar for gaming keyboards is raised.
While more switches discover the analog range, our trusty keyboards can grow in possibilities. It’s only a matter of time before more manufacturers start experimenting with the analog sensors. It doesn’t matter if that happens through emulating full-fledged joysticks or offering more versatility when typing and gaming; a new generation in keyboards is growing up in front of us.
Do you have any input on our picks, or do you want to know something about analog gaming keyboards in general? Reach out to us (and your fellow gamers) through the comment section below!
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