Highway to the dead zone
Before we take a deep dive into each of the R5's modes to find out how its analog slickness pans out in actual gameplay, there are a couple items worth reviewing. Probably the most important thing to understand is dead zone compensation, or what Aimpad refers to as its "anti-dead-zone" technology.
For the blissfully ignorant, a dead zone is the area around the center of a joystick or trigger that that produces no input. That zone prevents spurious touches from sending one off the track or into the ground. Nearly all joysticks have dead zones, even the ones on gamepads—even though you may not be consciously aware of them. When I reviewed the Steam Controller, dead zones were something I struggled with, because even though that controller offers extensive settings for them, I found it difficult to physically register where my thumb was resting on the touchpad.
With the Aimpad R5, there's no mistaking where your fingers are since, well, it's a keyboard. However, the fact that the R5 presents itself to games as a gamepad creates its own set of issues, since games designed to work with a thumbstick have built-in dead zones to cancel out unintentional movement. Complicating the issue further, there are multiple methods that games can use for implementing a dead zone, too.
The ideal analog control would translate its entire range of motion into input for your game. For example, if only half the travel of a keystroke was picked up by the game, it would be that much harder to precisely control your in-game character or vehicle. With a dead zone, though, you'd have to push the key down past a certain point before anything happened at all. Thankfully, Aimpad is well aware of this issue and has a few methods for solving the problem.
For starters, the Aimpad R5 assumes that games have a default dead zone compensation of 20%. That means it presumes the game will ignore the first 20% of a key's movement, and it compensates for this by telling the game the key has already moved by that amount, even though it's still at the top of its stroke. You can see this in action in the animation below, taken from the Game Controllers control panel. The first movement of the crosshair actually jumps out from the center with a light press on the key, but additional pressure generates smooth movement.
If it turns out that if 20% compensation isn't the right value for the particular game you're playing, the Aimpad R5 allows you to adjust the value in 2% increments using Fn+(PgUp or PgDn). During testing, I didn't run into any game that I wasn't able to configure satisfactorily with this method after a little trial-and-error. Since the latest firmware update, the dead zone compensation settings remain saved on the keyboard even if you unplug it. Gamers also have the ability to change which type of deadzone the Aimpad cancels out (radial or axial).
Since there's no PC software component to manage game profiles for the Aimpad, you'll have to make adjustments manually as you switch between games—assuming the games you play require tweaking. Personally, I'm just fine with that. I greatly appreciate that all the keyboard's functions are handled in hardware. Memorizing a couple key combinations and spending a few seconds fine-tuning a game when I start it is a small price to pay for avoiding a clunky piece of peripheral software. If you're on the other side of the fence, though, you've been warned.
Now, let's see how the Aimpad behaves in each of its three modes.