At PAX East 2020, a small company called Whirlwind FX launched their newest creation – the Element keyboard. Advertised as the first ever content reactive, full-sized, RGB mechanical keyboard. It boasts “industry-first extensions to detect, recognize, and synchronize effects with critical utility moments and events in any game – explosions, damage taken, healing, shields and more – producing LED patterns, bursts of color and particle systems to provide next-level immersion.” The Element touts full 104-key rollover utilizing Kailh red type switches tucked into a $99 price tag.
**I’ll preface that I was not able to get a hands-on demo on the show floor at PAX East, but was given a keyboard and wrist pad to try out for this review.
[Editor’s Note: I did, however, and came away impressed after playing Tetris Effect, however it was a quick few minutes and I wasn’t able to try out the software running behind the scenes – Robin]
Once I got my hands on the keyboard, I was extremely impressed by the build quality and design. The brushed aluminum frame is sleek and the carbon fiber-esque back design adds a nice touch. Fitted with several large rubber feet, it isn’t going anywhere while you’re using it. The keys themselves sit above the face of the keyboard, making it near impossible to get dust and/or crumbs (who doesn’t eat snacks at their desk) stuck underneath. The braided USB cable was also nice to see, albeit a bit on the short side. I was also given the thin version of their memory foam wrist pad to accompany the Element. Spanning the full width of the keyboard itself, it seemed like a good fit to sit just below the front edge.
Comparing the Element against my 5+ year old Logitech G710+, the size difference was the first thing I noticed. The Element is significantly thinner and narrower; granted the G710+ has six “G” keys on the left of the main keyboard plus the dedicated profile, lighting, and media controls above. My G710+ also weighed probably double what the Element does. Since it’s been forever since I got the Logitech, I don’t exactly remember how the keys felt when I first got it for a perfect comparison, but the Element’s keys are light, quiet, smooth, and quite springy – you can feel the keys pushing back at your finger when pressed.
When setting up the keyboard, I had to do a little rearranging. When I said the USB cable was a little short, I wasn’t expecting it to be that much of an issue. But at five feet (~1,5m) with my setup at the time, I had to redo some of my cable management to make it work. If you have a computer that’s closer to your keyboard area or a smaller desk, you shouldn’t have a problem.
After I got everything situated, I plugged the Element in and right away the RGB lights came alive and started cycling through the rainbow. The glow of each key from the sides and underneath each key really makes it pop. The light diffusion off the brushed aluminum frame helps the keys stand out. One thing that does irk me slightly is that the light refracted through the corners of the clear plastic housings under the keys, become bright little dots in my focus when I glance down. The wrist pad fits perfectly under the front lip of the keyboard allowing it to sit under it. After using it for a few days, I started to notice how thin the wrist pad is – it’s almost the bare minimum you’d need for your wrists to get comfort during long gaming sessions or through a workday, but do note there is a thicker pad available.
In terms of software, I’ve used both the Logitech Gaming software (for my G710+ keyboard) and Razer Synapse (for my Naga Trinity mouse and Nari Ultimate headset). Both are robust in their capabilities and quite easy to use, granted the G710+ is not RGB. The software for the Element is a proprietary tool called Whirlwind Engine… or possibly Vortex Engine? (It displays both names at different times). Right away I was able to add colors to a specific key by simply using a “paint brush” to select which keys should be whatever color I have selected. There is also a selection of community created profiles. The main push with this software is community involvement to create and share profiles for different games. Additionally, the lack of developer created profiles (that both Logitech and Razer’s software support) promote a very niche community of those capable of spending the time to create them for the library. As of time of writing, only PubG, Fortnite Season 2, and COD: Warzone were available for game effect profiles – all created by WhirlwindFX themselves.
So, without many options available – and none for games that I play – I chose to have the keyboard essentially become a copy of the monitor I’m using for the game. At first, the ability for the keyboard to replicate the images on the screen was pretty cool and flashy, but it quite quickly lost its luster. For example, in the heat of a team fight in Overwatch, it could get increasingly distracting depending on the hero you’re playing, and how many explosions are going off in your view during a Junkrat or Pharah fight. So after a few rounds, I switched to a more mundane, low brightness solid color. Also, for some reason I couldn’t find the software using the Windows 10 search, and after much frustration I found it is pulled up by a Fn Key combo on the keyboard itself.
After using the Element for a little over a week, I ended up going back to my Logitech G710+. I really missed having the dedicated media buttons and onboard brightness controls. I also found that after using the Element for an extended amount of time, my hands and wrists would start to get a little tired and sore. It was also hard to find the “home row” on the keyboard as the divots are almost non-existent. And as soon as I shut my computer down the keyboard would go to max brightness and just cycle – without any way to turn them off other than unplugging them.
- Solid brushed aluminum frame.
- Smooth, springy keys.
- High build quality at an affordable price point.
- Inability to adjust lights on keyboard without software.
- Software is very basic for most users and requires coding abilities to fully utilize with the current limited library of games.
- Keyboard defaults to max brightness rainbow cycle.
- More control of light intensity on keyboard without need for software input. (i.e. a brightness dial)
- Create SDK for developers to use to create profiles for Whirlwind Engine.
All in all, the Element keyboard is very well built but could use some minor improvements to its default functionality and some more expansive software. If you’re looking for an entry level mechanical keyboard that will last you a few years, this is the one for you.
2.5/5 overall, 3/5 for build quality.