At first glance, the Whirlwind FX Element keyboard appears to be like any other mechanical keyboard available in the market. It offers everything from sturdy build quality, solid Kailh switches, and a robust design that should sit well with most gaming setups. But its unique RGB lighting sets it apart from most of its competitors.
The Element keyboard’s RGB lighting system isn’t just for aesthetics alone, it can also be used for a more immersive gaming experience. Thanks to some software innovation, the RGB lighting on Whirlwind’s keyboard can react to in-game action without the need for developer support. The company itself also supports a number of popular games with specialized RGB profiles that are designed to reflect on-screen action on the keyboard.
The RGB tech here is fascinating, but requires a bit of time to digest. You won’t find your normal keyboard software where you can click around and edit everything easily. Instead, you’ll get tighter integrations with games, as well as the option to completely write your own RGB effects, if you want to go down that path.
For coders and expert gamers, that’s going to be an amazing journey to explore. For everyone else, you’ll have to wait for the developers and community to write integrations to your favorite games, as doing so yourself isn’t the easiest trick in the book.
Whirlwind is arguably a lesser known brand in the market but that doesn’t mean they are skimping on quality. The Element keyboard (priced at $129.99) appears to be well built with very little flex on the body. It uses an aircraft-grade aluminum frame with an all-black look, except for the brushed carbon fibre effect on the top. The keyboard is mostly devoid of text or any other garish branding except for the Whirlwind FX printed logo on the top-right.
The placement of the logo means that the LED indicators have been moved just above the arrow keys. It's an odd place to put them but it doesn’t detract from using the keyboard in any sort of way.
The keyboard has a fairly compact footprint for a full QWERTY configuration, with the slim, sharp bezels that most modern mechanical keyboards carry. This also means that it doesn’t have any additional functionality like dedicated media keys, USB passthrough or macro buttons, all of which are quickly losing popularity among manufacturers.
For switches, Whirlwind offers both red and blue Kailh switches. Our review unit features the blue ones, which are the louder and more tactile of the two. If you have ever used blue switches on any keyboard, you already know how the Element feels like when used. The decibel on it is definitely high pitched and crunchy, so it’s not ideal for office work, or if you are sharing the room with someone. However, they do provide a satisfying typing experience thanks to the high actuation point.
The keycaps feel solid too, with a nice font and size which gives the keyboard a very clean and suited look. Everything is quite evenly lit, which would be necessary for the advanced lighting system to do its various tricks.
After installing the free companion software, you can immediately see the keyboard spring to life. You get a basic rainbow effect as a default profile, but you can easily comb through the hundreds of profiles created by Whirlwind and the community, until you find something you like.
Want your keyboard to show off a heatmap of the keys you’ve pressed? Or how about a Matrix-style cascade of green lights? You can even get effects that react to audio on your PC, so there’s plenty for you to choose from. The ‘Natural’ effect mimics whatever colors are on the screen, which is a truly surreal thing to witness. Sure, if you’re just sitting and typing up an email the keyboard will mostly appear white, but switch to a colorful nature video or fire up Netflix and your keyboard quite literally comes to life.
While there are a good number of profiles available for download, it’s not that straightforward to make a profile of your own. For example, when we play Overwatch using our Logitech G910, only certain keys are lit up when the game launches, such as the movement and ability buttons - all other keys remain dark. To accomplish this on the Whirlwind FX Element, you’d have to get someone to code that properly for you, or even attempt it yourself.
There’s no friendly UI that you can use to click certain keys and configure them individually, which is going to be the biggest challenge here. If you’ve got a favorite game that you’d like to customize, you’ll have to read up on how to do it yourself or wait for it to be officially released. With other keyboard software, this isn’t as challenging, which may not make this keyboard fit for everyone out there.
But when it works, it works really well - depending again on how the profile has been set up. In Destiny 2, the keyboard periodically lights up a section of the keyboard to remind us that our abilities are ready, and will start to flash red if we take too much damage. It’s a cool effect, and one that you sort of see in your peripheral vision, since no one is going to play a game by looking down at the keyboard constantly. Again, depending on how each profile is coded, you can change additional options such as turning off certain lighting effects or even changing colors.
The beauty of the software as well is that it integrates with other products from Whirlwind FX, such as lighting strips, making for a very immersive experience indeed.
There unfortunately is no way to remap keys or use macros, which for a gaming keyboard really is a bit of a let down. We’re hoping that future models have this feature, or if it can be implemented via software as a work-around.
Should I buy the Whirlwind FX Element Keyboard?
Buy it if...
You want an affordable keyboard
At $129.99, Whirlwind FX is an easy bargain, especially with its build quality and RGB effects.
You’re crazy about RGB
With a good number of profiles for the most popular games out there, you’ll definitely enjoy all the crazy RGB effects you can pull off
Don’t buy it if...
You need macro support
The lack of dedicated media keys or macro keys is understandable, but for the software to not support macros or key remapping is a strange choice.
You want easier customization
The RGB effects are cool, but trying to design or customize them yourself is going to be quite challenging.