Wooting One Keyboard Hands On: Are Analog Switches the Future of Gaming?
Most of the mechanical keyboards marketed as “gaming” boards don’t have many features that make them demonstrably better for gaming. That’s not the case with the Wooting One, an intriguing mechanical keyboard that was launched on Kickstarter earlier this year. It looks like a fairly standard keyboard, but the switches are an entirely new design that feature optical analog input–it’s not just on or off like other switches.
The Wooting One gives you more control over movement in games, similar to the analog stick on a controller, but with the added precision of a mouse. You might see a real advantage in certain titles. However, not all games play nicely with analog switches.
The Flaretech Switches
The designers of this keyboard have come up with two switches: a red switch and a blue one. The stems aren’t colored to match the names, but the properties of the switches are an approximate match for the standard Cherry Bed and Blue switches. The reds are linear, so there’s no click or bump as you press. They have a 55g operating force, which is considered a medium-weight switch (it’s slightly heavier than a Cherry Red). The Flaretech Blue has the same operating force, but there’s a click after about 1.7mm of travel.
If you’re not sure which of these switches sounds more appealing, there’s good news: The Wooting One supports swappable switches. Most keyboards require switches to be soldered into place, and even those with “hotswap sockets” often fail after a few uses. There are no pins on these switches, so they just clip into the plate and sit above the PCB. If you buy a Wooting One, you can choose red or blue for the board, but you get a kit of four extras of both types. So, you can swap some of the other flavor on your board to test them out. There’s also a premium bundle that comes with a set of both switches.
When you take a keycap off the Wooting One, it doesn’t look much different than a standard mechanical keyboard. The Flaretech switches use the standard Cherry-style cross stem, which means it can accept custom keycaps for MX boards. When you look inside the switches, things get weird.
Other mechanical switches have a metal contact of some sort inside that is triggered when you push the stem down. The Flaretech switches don’t have that. Inside is just the stem, spring, and a light pipe. The light pipe is a nice touch as it allows light from the RGB LEDs on the circuit board to shine up through the top of the switch and the transparent stem.
The spring appears to be a typical design you’d find in any Cherry-style switch, but the stem is unique. There’s a small prism protruding from the side, so it moves up and down as you press the switch. The PCB does all the work with an infrared optoelectronic sensor. As the prism moves up and down, the sensor registers the distance as analog data. Because this is all handled by the PCB and not the switch, you can do a lot of wild stuff with the Wooting One.
The Board and Software
To customize your experience with this keyboard, you’ll need the cleverly named Wootility desktop client. It’s available for Windows and macOS with a Linux version coming soon. This app lets you customize the color of each LED on the board however you like, and multiple profiles can be configured for different games.
The Wooting One has analog data from all the switches, so it can basically pretend to be a game controller–it uses either Xinput or Direct Input. So, you can press a key down a little, and it’s like you nudged an analog stick slightly in one direction. The most obvious advantage here is that your WASD cluster movements can speed up or slow down based on how hard you press the switch.
There are some very cool options built into Wootility that are only possible thanks to the optical analog switches. You can change the analog curve of the gamepad output, which controls how much stick movement is emulated as you press. You can even change the actuation point of the switches to be higher or lower.
The board itself has a tenkeyless layout, so there’s no number pad. The top plate is aluminum, and the keys have a floating design. That exposes the edges of the switches under the keycap. You’ll be able to see some of the light spilling out under there, which is a fun effect.
On the underside, you’ve got flip-out feet and a micro USB port in a small recess. Removable cables are a nice bonus on a keyboard. You can get fancy themed cables to match your keycaps or just bundle up the stock cable when you’re moving the board around, so it doesn’t get in the way.
I tested the Wooting One in a few games, and it worked mostly as expected. Analog input on a keyboard takes some getting used to, and some games won’t work correctly. While many PC games do support controllers, they won’t let you use a controller and a mouse at the same time. I was unable to get Fallout 4 to work with the Wooting One, but Doom and CounterStrike seem to work well. Rocket League works great after some fiddling with profiles.
The Wooting One is far from a plug-and-play gaming experience right now, but it seems like you can get most games working. Is the analog input actually an advantage? I’m not completely sold on that yet. You’ve got about 2mm of travel that can be used for analog sensing (about half the total switch travel), and that means you need to carefully control how much pressure you apply. It’ll take practice to master this.
So, is this the gaming keyboard you’ve been wanting? Maybe… if you don’t mind tinkering with things to get them working. I don’t know that you’ll benefit much in a FPS, but driving and flying games could be much easier to play on the Wooting One. The optical analog switches are also super-cool. Pricing starts at $160, which is similar to other high-end keyboards marketed to gamers.