The Whirlwind FX Element keyboard is an intriguing proposition for gamers, with one very clever party trick: the ability to sync the RGB lighting on its keys in real time, to complement any game, with no extra configuration required. And it works very well, too.
It's also a fantastically well built keyboard, sporting (red or blue) Kailh mechanical key switches that offer a polling rate above 1000Hz and integrated anti-ghosting technology. Is it the right keyboard for you? Our Whirlwind FX Element review will help you decide.
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It's a busy gaming keyboard market at the moment of course, so there's a lot riding on this debut model from Whirlwind FX. The Element is also at the pricier end of the scale when you're choosing an input device – this is very much a premium pick for serious gamers.
The question is whether it justifies the cost (and quite a bit of hype). Check the widgets on this page for the latest pricing and the best deals on the web, but you should be able to pick up the Whirlwind FX Element keyboard right now for around $120 (about £90).
Whirlwind FX Element keyboard review: design and setup
This is a wired keyboard, so you simply plug in the cable with a USB-A plug – a very nice, braided cable, we must say – and you're up and running. To access all the lighting effects, you need to download the free software from the Whirlwind site. Once you've set up an account (yet another account...), you can change the keyboard lighting, update the firmware, download lighting routines, and so on.
Keyboard design and aesthetics are to some extent subjective of course, but there's no doubt that the Element is a real eye-catcher. It's moody, and black (apart from the lighting), and has a brushed, anodised aluminium finish that really underlines the idea that this is a premium-level device. There's also the option of adding a padded wrist rest for an extra $20 (about £15).
You can of course use the keyboard without the lights, but then there's not a lot of point buying the Whirlwind FX Element in the first place. Turn on the illumination, and you'll see it's really well done – bright, consistent, and capable of cycling through more variations than our humble human eyes can actually pick out properly (there are in fact 16.8 million colours to pick from).
This is a full-sized keyboard (with a number pad and Page Up and Page Down keys and everything), and it comes with a couple of little risers on the back so you can have it at a comfortable angle for your gaming. During our testing we didn't notice any problems with durability or response times, and as far as we could see the bold claims about the quality of the Element all stand up.
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Whirlwind FX Element keyboard review: features and performance
To our fingers, the Whirlwind FX Element feels like a dream to type on – the keys offer an extensive amount of travel and just the right amount of cushioning, while they're apparently good for up to 70 million keystrokes (we haven't tested this, but we can believe it). The keyboard is otherwise solid and unflexing, with the high-quality materials and design shining through – sometimes quite literally.
And so to that lighting – the accompanying Element software gives you a host of different routines to pick from, and you can set them up differently depending on how you're using the keyboard too. There's a Matrix-style terminal effects (with green cascading down the keyboard), a heatmap effect (so keys glow after you've touched them), a fire effect (all rippling reds and oranges), and many more. It's a lot of fun.
Then there are the game integrations, which cover titles like League of Legends, Minecraft, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, PUBG, Call of Duty, Fortnite, The Witcher 3, Hearthstone and plenty more. These games can use the lighting in special ways – everything from showing the passing of time to showing the status of your health bar. Even on games that aren't supported, the keyboard can change its lighting to match what's on screen.
If you know a little bit of programming, you can have a go yourself, and create your own custom effects. Individual keys can be mapped with different colours if required (handy for highlighting the controls for a particular game for example), though there's no custom mapping available in the software – that's a surprise when everything else has been catered for so well.
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Whirlwind FX Element keyboard review: price and verdict
It's not often that you get something truly innovative in the keyboard space, but the Whirlwind FX Element keyboard has managed it – if you want to take full control over keyboard lighting, while having a top-quality mechanical keyboard at the same time, then the Element is the best pick to go for right now. We were very impressed with what it had to offer, how easy it was to set up, and how the lighting looked close up.
At the same time it's not going to be the keyboard for everyone, of course. Some people won't want or need so much flexibility when it comes to the lighting, others will want features that the Element doesn't have, and others won't want to spend this much money on an input device. Those are all valid points, so make sure the Whirlwind FX Element fits with what you need.
When it comes to the good stuff though, there's plenty of it: as you can tell from everything that we've written about above, this is a keyboard with a whole load of customisation options and settings for you to play around with. You won't find a keyboard that's more fun to play around with at the moment, and in fact we'd never have thought we could have this much fun changing the colours of keyboard keys.
We're hoping that more effects and integrations are added to the mix soon, but there are plenty available already – and because the customisations rely on analysing what's on screen rather than getting into the game files, this shouldn't be a problem going forward. Not perfect, but a hugely impressive bit of kit.
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