Whirlwind FX ELEMENT Keyboard Review

Posted: April 5, 2020 by Ian Gaudreau in Gamenomics - Video Games, Steam, PC, & Indie Games
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Photo courtesy of Whirlwind FX

We had the fortunate opportunity to meet the team at Whirlwind FX at PAX East 2020 to experiment with their new reactive and dynamic LED mechanical keyboard.

Finding the right keyboard to fit your PC setup can be a challenge for many. With different styles, features, switches, deciding what will be the right fit at the right price can be very confusing, especially when you online shopping and unable to actually try the keyboard in person. We were drawn to the Whirlwind FX booth at PAX East 2020 since we knew they had a keyboard that seemed to advertise a clear message: immersion.

That is where were introduced to the ELEMENT keyboard, and had the opportunity to sit down with Whirlwind FX CEO & Founder, Timothy Sun, to get a real hands-on tutorial to see what this board can do. ELEMENT is the first content-reactive mechanical keyboard that automatically synchronizes on-screen gameplay to dynamic RGB lighting effects. What impressed us the most was Sun’s passion for the board and technology. He described that one of the main ideas for the ELEMENT keyboard was based on their first product, a heat and wind simulator called VORTX. One of the main appealing qualities of VORTX is that it was compatible with any game. Sun and his team were able to take the versatility of VORTX and transfer the same feeling into the dynamic lighting effects of the ELEMENT keyboard.

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Photo of ELEMENT keyboard demonstrating dynamic lighting effects on No Man’s Sky game trailer.

The dynamic effects are made possible using patented Experience Engine (EX) technology, which allows the software to detect and recognize events and critical utility moments appearing on the screen. For example, when an explosion occurs on screen, you will get an instantaneous flash of orange and red over your keyboard. The larger the explosion, the more expansive the effects are throughout they keys. These effects do not occur solely when gaming, but will occur even when casually surfing the internet. ELEMENT uses an open-platform lighting software called Signal, which scans “zones” on your screen and then communicates the information into keyboard RGB lighting effects. According to Sun, this software is able to efficiently run in the background of your computer without jeopardizing performance. One of the most interesting components of Signal is that it users of the board are able to design, implement, and share custom reactive effects made possible by leveraging HTML5 and Javascript Canvas. To reiterate, the software with this keyboard allows you to script and customize your own effects for any game.

For online gaming and mechanical keyboards, I think most of us immediately jump to competitive games like CSGO, PUBG, Fortnite, etc. ELEMENT actually has pre-set keyboard settings for some of these popular games, allowing users to immediately jump in and play. Our experience is that these games work well with ELEMENT, but the lighting effects can become chaotic. For us, where this keyboard really shines is with bright and cartoonish games. Journey, Super Meat Boy, Tetris Effect, etc. can transform a night of simple gameplay into a really fun and immersive experience. Anything with sharp color contrasts really well into the RGB effects. ELEMENT also offers other standard lightning effects and pattenrs similar to what you would find on other types of keyboards.

Although the standard set of keys still work well when viewing the lighting effects, Whirlwind FX is currently taking pre-orders for a full set of uniform white-cap keys for $29.99, which make the colors significantly more vibrant. We would consider the whitecap keys a must-have to get the full immersive experience.

The ELEMENT full-sized  keyboard measures 455 mm width, 137 mm depth, and 36 mm height. Even with the numeric keypad, the keyboard is a nice size even if playing on a smaller desk. Personally, I prefer built-in wrist rests on a mechanical keyboard, so this may be an extra add-on if you are looking for additional support to game comfortably. The ELEMENT also has a braided USB cable (1.8 m) and Kailh mechanical key switches. The surface is anodized brushed aluminum, which gives this keyboard a really slick metallic feel.

For us, this is a great keyboard at a $100 price point. You might want a few add-ons such as the uniform white cap keys or a wrist rest, but overall, this is a great keyboard. The ability for users to design, implement, and share their own customized lighting effects for the favorite games is a new and exciting technology. In particular, if you or someone in your family is looking to practice how to code and, this would be an awesome tool to both practice with and enjoy your favorite games.

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