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Input Club's Keystone is Groundbreaking for Gamers

By Christopher Coke on July 18, 2019 | Hardware Reviews | Comments

Input Club's Keystone is Groundbreaking for Gamers

Input Club thinks keyboards can do better. The small company has been on the forefront of custom mechanical keyboards for several years now and with every release, they’ve pushed this pivotal input device forward. This week they announced their biggest innovation yet, the Keystone. It uses custom analog sensing technology, AI, and features the premium enthusiast build the company has built their name on. Let’s take a closer look.

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The beating heart behind the Keystone is Input Club’s brand new Silo Beam Spring switch. If you’re asking what a Beam Spring switch is, don’t worry. They’re a very rare switch that hasn’t been in vogue for around 40 years. Despite that, it’s highly sought after in the mechanical keyboard community for it’s unique tactility. You can read more about it here but image a piece of sheet metal held taught in the air from either end. You know that popping sound as you press down on the middle and it buckles? That’s a Beam Spring. That’s the first new trick Input Club is bringing back to the market but it’s only half of what makes it Keystone so exciting.

The other half of the innovation is that they’ve enhanced this switch to use magnetic Hall Effect sensing to offer complete analog control. Analog is the holy grail of the keyboard world and the quintessential difference between playing a video game with a controller or mouse and keyboard. Analog sensing means the keyboard knows how far the keyboard is pressed down, not just whether it is or not; it’s the difference between a throttle and a light switch.

The Keystone isn’t the first analog keyboard to make its way to market but it’s certainly shaping up to be the best. You may have seen its biggest competitors right here on this site: the Wooting One and the Cooler Master MK850. While each is impressive in their own right, they have several limitations the Keystone doesn’t have. The Wooting, for example, only assesses analog input across a handful of levels. The MK850 is additional tech built into Cherry switches and only found in a small number of the keys.

By using magnetic Hall Effect sensing with Input Club’s custom implementation, the Keystone is able to track analog input much more accurately. In private conversations, I:C has shared with me some rough ideas on how much more but this is still being pinned down, so they haven’t shared a hard number yet. But, think big – Input Club is out to redefine what an analog keyboard can be and it will be on every single key.

What’s more, since this is all done with magnetism, it also allows opens the keys up offering multiple inputs depending on how far you push them down. Press halfway to crouch, all the way to go prone in your favorite shooter. Maybe instead you want to tie your PVP chain to a single key putting different skills to different levels of depth. Even something as simple as using partial presses for lowercase letters and bottoming out for capitals is a viable option.

The possibilities extend richly into the creative and productivity spaces too. Using analog control in the Adobe suite is a natural move for things such as scrubbing a timeline or choosing brush size. CAD professionals can apply it to their design work, medical professionals to their assessments of patient imaging. It’s exciting technology whether you’re a gamer or not.

For the first time, we’re also seeing a meaningful introduction of AI in a keyboard. Input Club’s Adaptive Typing AI will intelligently assesses your typing style and sets actuation points which match your actual typing style. A very light typist may have a high actuation point but if you bottom out the keys it may be lower. They say this will put less stress on fingers like the pinky which you use less. It’s the same theory on the popular Topre Realforce variable actuation keyboards which are a dream to type on, except the Keystone promises to tailor the experience specifically to you. If you’ve never used a variable weight board before, they feel much more light and airy to type on; it’s hard to describe but is one of the best typing experiences you can have.

This also means, of course, that you can set your own actuation point if you’d rather keep things a bit more standard.

The use of magnetics also allows the switches to be completely contactless. They’re quoting actuation points in the billions where the average Cherry MX mechanical switch is rated  for 50 million. It also means that there’s no need for these switches to be soldered in. The company plans to have  clicky, linear, and tactile variants of the SILO switch available, so if you’d like to try another, all it takes is pulling one out and swapping the new one into its slot.

Multi-function keys could have a big impact on competitive gaming

All of this also comes with Input Club staples: full programmability, customizable RGB, and open source software so you can contribute to the project and develop your own custom additions. They even expanded software to accommodate.

Previously, the company offered online and downloadable “Configurators.” The new package will be called HID-IO, which they say is like a key-ring for your keyboard. With HID-IO, you can download custom modules for different languages and software applications, like games or Adobe Photoshop, and take full advantage of the keyboard’s analog capability.

Some questions still remain. How well will this work with games? One of the things we’ve seen with previous analog boards is that they need to “trick” the game into seeing your keyboard as a gamepad. Even then, tweaking is often required to really have the best experience. The software is going to have to address that. Likewise, having such high-fidelity analog tracking is great in theory but how meaningful will it be in practice?  Of course, just like a gaming mouse, it’s always going to be better to have high-res sensing but with only a key-depth of travel, is it going to be enough to out-do gaming stalwarts like Cooler Master?

The Keystone is just beginning its Kickstarter run but it’s already a massive success.  As of this writing, only two days after the project’s launch, it’s more than tripled its $35,000 goal with nearly 700 backers. Find out more at their Kickstarter campaign here.

Now we turn it to you - what kind of innovations would you like to see in the gaming keyboards of tomorrow?

Christopher Coke / Chris cut his teeth on MMOs in the late 90s with text-based MUDs. He’s written about video games for many different sites but has made MMORPG his home since 2013. Today, he acts as Hardware and Technology Editor, lead tech reviewer, and continues to love and write about games every chance he gets. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight