Roccat’s Kone Aimo gaming mouse reviewed

If you’re reading this review, I don’t have to tell you that gaming in general—and PC gaming in particular—is bigger than ever. Gaming peripherals come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and now, colors. The emphasis on RGB LED lighting in the current wave of hardware has been the subject of much discussion in TR comment threads, but it’s difficult to deny the cool factor of those lights for input devices.

Even with that cool factor, we have to note that everyone’s doing it now. Throwing some RGB LEDs on a peripheral isn’t groundbreaking anymore—it’s practically expected at this point. How does a company distinguish itself now? According to Roccat, the answer is to make its RGB LEDs work better than the competition’s. Those LEDs should synchronize with other devices, and do it without sacrificing device performance. Enter our subject for the day: Roccat’s Kone Aimo gaming mouse.

I was pretty sure I knew what to expect when Roccat sent me the Kone, because I’ve actually used a couple of the company’s devices before. A Ryos MK was my primary keyboard for a bit, and I also have some experience with Roccat’s entry-level Savu mouse. Both products were solid and reliable while I used them, so when I opened up the Kone Aimo’s box, I fully expected it to be a solidly-built and eminently-capable pointing device.

I’m happy to report that that’s exactly what it is. Folks looking for the high-quality tracking experience afforded by other mice based on variants of the PixArt PMW3360 sensor will be perfectly pleased with the Kone Aimo’s performance. This sensor is practically an industry standard in optical gaming mice by now, and we’re all for it.

The sensor in the Kone Aimo is actually Roccat’s customized version, called “Owl-Eye” in its literature, but in the week or so that I’ve been using it I haven’t noticed any difference between it and the standard PMW3360 in my usual Steelseries Rival 500. Steelseries also makes claims of customizations to its sensor, and that mouse felt the same as the EpicGear Morpha X based on the same sensor. If there are meaningful differences among these implementations, my time in-game with them hasn’t teased them out.

It’s a lot easier to tell how a mouse will perform simply by wrapping one’s hand around it. Let’s take a deeper look at the Kone Aimo’s form now.

 

Form and essence

All of the Kone mice have had the same basic form: a right-handed wired pointer with four buttons and a wheel on top, plus two more buttons on the side. The Kone Aimo breaks stride by adding a third button on the side that by default is dedicated to the Easy-Shift function. Aside from the extra button, though, the Kone Aimo is essentially a very slightly-massaged version of last year’s Kone EMP—right down to the placement of the Roccat logo and the gently-curved RGB LED accents.

So up top, you’ve got your two main clickers. Mouse 1 and Mouse 2 on the Kone Aimo have an extremely short throw, so they feel very sharp and responsive, as good mouse buttons should. The third mouse button (that is, the mouse wheel click) also feels crisp, but the detents on the mouse wheel itself feel a little sloppy.

The feel of mouse-wheel detents are a matter of taste, of course. Some people prefer a free-spinning or gently-notched mousewheel, while I like one with as clear a click as possible. In any case, the Kone Aimo’s wheel works fine scrolling both vertically and horizontally. Unlike some mice I’ve used, the wheel-tilt horizontal scrolling functions here have very little resistance and are easy to hit.

The two buttons behind the mousewheel are set up to control the DPI settings of the mouse by default. You can configure and toggle through up to five DPI settings per profile. This sort of feature is commonplace on gaming mice these days, and I’m glad to see it here. Ordinarily I don’t really care for buttons that rest in the middle of the mouse behind the mousewheel, but the Kone Aimo’s elongated shape actually makes these quite easy to use.

Over on the left side of the mouse we have the usual forward and back buttons above a thumb divot. At least for my hands, these clickers are comfortably placed. Like the rest of the buttons, they feel fantastic. Down on the bottom of the thumb divot, there’s an extra button that’s dedicated to Roccat’s Easy-Shift function by default. Unlike the other side buttons, this one depresses downward. That makes it very easy to hold while using the other buttons, and that’s a good thing given its intended purpose. I’ll talk a bit more about Easy-Shift on the next page.

The picture above is from Roccat, and it is no part of an embellishment. As you’d expect from a product being marketed mainly on the strength of its lighting, the RGB LED illumination on the Kone Aimo is bright, vibrant, and tunable. As its name trumpets, the Aimo is the first to take advantage of Roccat’s latest RGB LED syncing system, also called Aimo. The company has a lot to say in general but very little in the way of details about Aimo right now, but so far it can link up the Kone and a version of the Horde keyboard. We’ll delve into a bit of what Roccat’s software can do in a moment.

Keeping it on the real

Arcane Dimensions for Quake

Folks who read my articles and front-page comments will already know that I play a lot of games. Seriously, too many, probably. Lately I’ve been working my way through the glorious Arcane Dimensions map pack for the original Quake, and it has proven an excellent test for the Kone Aimo. I expected nothing less than a flawless mousing experience from the Kone Aimo, and it didn’t disappoint.

Who needs sniper rifles?

I also used the Aimo to compete against my friends in some CS:GO. While none of us are pro-level FPS gamers, I certainly felt comfortable with the Kone Aimo in my hand. Its 4.6 oz (130 g) weight is light enough to make it slide around my makeshift mouse mat with ease, yet heavy enough to feel secure and solid under my palm. I feel like this is an area where 10 years of evolution has benefitted the Kone Aimo. It doesn’t have the customizable weight of other mice, but it really doesn’t need it, either.

I’ve also played some Phantasy Star Online 2, a bit of Titan Quest: Anniversary Edition, and a few other games with the Kone Aimo. In these other titles, the mouse itself performed well. However, some of the faults of its software came to light. Examined purely as an input device the Kone Aimo is almost flawless, but a piece of modern input hardware is only as good as its software. With that in mind, let’s take a look at Roccat Swarm.

 

The heart of the Swarm

Using the Kone Aimo isn’t actually my first encounter with the Swarm software, although my prior experiences were brief. I’ve also used the configuration utility for my Ryos MK keyboard, which is similar but strangely not the same.

Roccat’s software has always impressed me with its simple and clean design, as well as its intuitive interface. At the outset, Swarm for the Kone Aimo is no different. Across the top, we get a series of panels that allow a user to to select which device they want to work with, manage the Swarm Connect mobile app, or configure which type of coordinated LED lighting they want to use. You can hook up the Kone Aimo to the Roccat Talk FX platform instead of the newer Aimo system, and it’s also compatible with Alienware’s Alien FX effects.

Over on the Kone Aimo’s page, you’ve got tabs for settings, button assignments, advanced settings, and illumination. The basic settings page lets you configure the horizontal and vertical scroll speed, up to five DPI settings, and the basic Windows mouse settings. It’s a little difficult to see in the picture above, but I’ve disabled two of the five available DPI presets to simply give myself fewer of them to scroll through. The ability to customize the number of available DPI presets on a given profile is a nice feature that I’d like to see on more mice.

Skipping over to the Advanced Settings page, you’ll find controls for the Kone Aimo’s polling rate, lift-off distance, audio feedback, and angle snapping features. Angle snapping defaults to off, and a quick MS Paint test confirms as much. The polling rate defaults to 1 KHz and the lift-off distance defaults to the preferable “very low” setting, but once again it’s good that the options are here for folks who desire a different behavior. I played around with the audio feedback feature a bit and while it’s sort of neat, having a synthesized voice tell me what settings I just toggled isn’t particularly useful.

On the Illumination page you can fiddle with the RGB LED lighting on the mouse. It defaults to the Aimo mode that “reacts organically to your behavior without the need for extensive configuration.” I have to be honest, folks—I have no idea what the Aimo setting or software is supposed to do. Roccat says it is “enriched by the apps and devices you use.” My best guess is that it is supposed to shift the lighting color and brightness in some reactive fashion based on how you move the mouse, but details are scarce right now. The feature might also react to in-game events, but it’s hard to tell.

Aimo might make more sense if I had the Horde Aimo keyboard and Khan Aimo headset. One major problem with Aimo on a mouse alone is that you never see the lights while you’re using it, and its reactive nature doesn’t do much while you’re not—frankly, it just looks like a basic color cycling mode. You can preview what Aimo is supposed to look like with all three devices connected on the Aimo tab in Swarm, and even in the preview it doesn’t look all that interesting.

Don’t take my tone to mean that the Kone Aimo’s RGB LED illumination looks bad, mind you. Whether because of the materials Roccat used, the arrangement of the RGB LEDs, or some other factor, the Kone Aimo has as pleasing a lightshow as I’ve seen on any input peripheral. At least, if you turn off Aimo and enable the “color wave” mode. It seems silly to discard what is purportedly the most important feature of this mouse, but I found Aimo to ultimately offer a slow and inconsistent color-shifting experience, while the color wave mode was exactly the opposite and quite gorgeous to look at. Aimo might get better with time, but it’s not a reason to choose the Kone all by its lonesome.

 

Just a pretty face

Delving further into Roccat’s software led to my first disappointments with the Kone Aimo. Stepping over to the Button Assignment page, we have a fairly standard layout: a picture of the mouse with each input numerically labeled, and then a series of drop-down boxes to customize the functions. One of the selling points of Roccat’s mice is the “Easy-Shift” function that allows users to hold down a button and shift all of the inputs to a second layer of configurable functions. That’s not new or clever, but the interesting part of it is that if you have a Roccat keyboard as well, holding Easy-Shift on either device “shifts” the other.

Like the rest of the app, this window is well-designed and fairly intuitive to use. Roccat defines the basic mouse functions as “click” (LMB), “menu” (RMB), “browser forward” (mouse 4), and so on. I’m not wild about that—I’d rather see simple numbers instead of descriptive names, but it only caused me a moment’s pause. The default configuration has the scroll wheel set up as a complete set of media and volume controls on the Easy-Shift layer, and I actually found that layout pretty darn handy.

Configuring the mouse’s inputs for individual buttons or keypresses is easy and works fine. Swarm also supports a few more uncommon features, like momentary DPI toggles, custom timers with audio cues, and a feature called Easy-Wheel that lets you use the mousewheel to adjust volume, change DPI, switch profiles, or even switch tasks in Windows. If the Kone Aimo’s 12 configurable functions aren’t enough for you, you can store five separate profiles on the mouse and configure keys to switch them.

The issues creep in when you want to create and use a macro. You can enter the Macro Manager by clicking the Macro Manager button in the lower part of the window, or by choosing to create a macro when assigning one to a mouse button. When you first open the Macro Manager, you can’t actually do anything until you select a macro to edit. If you don’t want to overwrite any of the hundreds of pre-made macros that came with the mouse, you’ll have to create a new one, which means creating a folder for it. All of these are individual steps with multiple clicks and keypresses, and it’s frustratingly fussy.

The whole process feels backward and awkward, but the rough edges don’t end there. Once you’re recording a macro, you have the option for Swarm to record delays between key inputs or insert fixed delays between keys. Even though it’s recording a macro for a mouse, however, you can’t record mouse buttons in Swarm—those have to be added manually by right-clicking in the macro-record window. Once you’ve recorded your macro, you also can’t define it to play on repeat while you hold the button, or to continue playing indefinitely until you press the button again. Your only options are to play once, or play a fixed number of times. These are basic features that any macro software should have, but they’re missing from Roccat’s.

Neither the macro function nor the macro manager are unusable, to be clear, but a lack of very basic macro playback functionality along with the awkward interface makes for an unpleasant macro-making experience. I can’t use any of the macros that I use on a daily basis in Phantasy Star Online 2 with my Kone Aimo. Attempting to re-create them got me nowhere; a fixed number of repetitions approximates a “while-held” macro very poorly. It’s just not enough.

Worse still, the Swarm software itself has some serious user experience problems. When you download the package from Roccat’s website, you get a skeletonized framework of a program that then has to download “modules” to support each separate feature. I’m not necessarily against this design philosophy, but each module has to be downloaded one at a time, and then every single one requires an application restart. Furthermore, even though I’m not using desktop scaling, Swarm couldn’t decide if it wanted to run in a postage-stamp-sized window or a panoramic vista. It seemed to pick at random on each launch.

I’m a savvy power user, so Swarm’s weirdness didn’t cause me any major issues. I ticked on the “Offline Mode (Preinstall all available modules)” box and let it do its thing for an hour. Ever since then it’s only bugged me for updates twice, and the updates have happened quickly. That initial install wasn’t a pleasant experience, though. The app had to download separate modules for the mouse itself, for the mouse firmware, for the Swarm Connect mobile app (which I’m not even using), for the Aimo lighting and AlienFX integration, and so on. Swarm also wanted to launch on system startup, even though it isn’t required for the Kone Aimo to work its magic. I can hardly ding Roccat for this as almost every peripheral maker does it, but it’s no less annoying here than it is from anybody else.

 

Conclusions

I really do like the Kone Aimo. It’s a joy to use for shooter and strategy games, and it while I can’t speak to its reliability, I can speak to its solid build quality and 50-million-click microswitches. The problem is, this mouse just isn’t made for people like me.

If you’re someone who makes a lot of macros or spends hours in their mouse’s configuration software fine-tuning pre-programmed actions, well, stay away from Swarm. Roccat’s macro editor is well behind the competition in essential functionality for folks like me who are really passionate about programming their devices. Roccat is a newer company than some of its competitors, and yet even younger brands like EpicGear embarrass Swarm with their software’s customizability—even if the software isn’t nearly as slick to look at.

If you’re not a macro maven but instead prefer to pop heads in FPS games or conquer civilizations in strategy titles, the Kone Aimo is a solid choice for an input device. I believe every word of Roccat’s claim that its new mouse is the culmination of 10 years refining the Kone design, because it shows. From its comfortable shape to its just-right weight, the Kone Aimo itself is a pointer pusher without parallel.

If Roccat bangs out an update to Swarm that improves its macro functionality, and perhaps pulls back on the price a bit, it could have a real winner on its hands here. Along similar lines, if you don’t care about the macro feature and find a Kone Aimo on sale, don’t hesitate to snatch it up. It’s a top-class gaming device for top-tier gamers, and you won’t be disappointed.

Even as nice as it is, though, I think all but the most dedicated Roccat fans will balk at the current price tag on this mouse. Roccat suggests $80 for a Kone Aimo, whether you get it at Newegg or Amazon. Folks who already have a compatible Roccat keyboard and who can make full use of Easy-Shift might find the Kone Aimo’s price a bit less of an ask, but when similar devices with superior software go for less money, my singing of the Kone Aimo’s praises will have to remain muted.

Comments closed
    • limitedaccess
    • 5 years ago

    From a performance standpoint in theory we could have wireless mice without the weight disadvantage by combining wireless charging and using capacitors in pace of batteries to store charge. I suspect Logitech will be the first to bring something out like this.

    Aside from that with sensor performance now at the diminishing returns stage any other performance areas will likely be centered around the shell and specifically individual customization/tailoring. Perhaps allowing users more end customization via 3D printing or something things like smart materials.

    Well actually there is one simply distinction that companies might move to next with gaming mice which is to revert back to non braided cables.

    • Voldenuit
    • 5 years ago

    UV LEDs.

    • freebird
    • 5 years ago

    I’m waiting for RGB lighting on RGB lights… maybe Geico can make that commercial like they did with X-mas lights.

    • drfish
    • 5 years ago

    Nah, CMYK LEDs of course.

    • Sargent Duck
    • 5 years ago

    /quote/ How does a company distinguish itself now?

    By not putting RGB lighting on it?

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