The world of mechanical keyboards goes far deeper than Razer and Corsair. Under the surface, there’s a bustling community and companies large and small building keyboards for every type of user. As gamers, we often get caught up in the hype of RGB lighting and fancily phrased features on the back of glossy boxes. But what’s out there for the gamer who wants quality without the flashing lights and marketing buzzwords?
Enter: Input Club, a small six-man team from California. Today, we’re taking a look at their WhiteFox Keyboard. It’s small, powerful, and has the most adorable fox legend we’ve ever seen.
- MSRP: $169.99
- Fully Programmable Keys
- Durable PBT Keycaps
- Aluminum Body
- Perfect Compact Layout
- Open Source Hardware
- USB Type C Connector
- Available with Cherry MX Clear, Kaihua Blue, Kaihua Speed Silver, Speed Bronze, and Speed Copper Mechanical Switches
- Cherry Stabilizers
- Cherry Profile Keycaps
Input Club as an organization is fairly unique. They’re a small team of enthusiasts that aren’t in this to get rich. Each has shown an uncommon dedication to the mechanical keyboard community, frequently turning to crowdfunding to turn their dreams into realities. This also provides them another unique opportunity: to really engage with their community, to hear their voices as they plan and develop, and to connect with people who share their passion for mechanical keyboards. It is, as Andrew Lekashman, the company’s Business Advisor, told me on the phone, one of the most fulfilling and enjoyable parts of the process. ````]
It’s fitting, then, that the WhiteFox may just be the company’s most well known keyboard to date. It began it’s life on the forums of Deskthority as the passion project of prolific community member, Matteo Spinnelli, known online as “Matt3o.” Then, it was known as the Brownfox due to the distinctive color he’d chosen for the case and keys. With the partnership with Input Club, Matt3o and Input Club went through revision after revision to make what was once a small, community-based passion project into a mass market reality.
When the initial production run quickly sold out on Massdrop, the team turned to Kickstarter. Their initial goal was a modest $100,000. By the end of the run, the team earned nearly four times their initial ask, enticing users with a wide array of switch options that are still a hallmark of the keyboard today. The Kickstarter also saw the birth of the first WhiteFox variant, the NightFox. As you might guess from the name, the NightFox trades the white and blue for black and red, mounted on an an anthracite black case. We’ll be looking at that variant sometime in the future.
Until now, then only way to pick up a WhiteFox was through Massdrop. With the return of the keyboard to Input Club’s Kono Store, they’re running their first-ever group buy. After spending a month with the little keyboard, it’s become on of my favorites and the one best suited to traveling with me on the road.
The Whitefox uses a 65% layout. It’s relatively uncommon, with full-size and tenkeyless dominating the mainstream market and 60% holding command over the custom world, but is definitely my “small layout.” In essence, it’s a 60% keyboard with four extra buttons along the right side. If all of this is completely foreign to you, take a closer look at the picture above.
Like all 60% keyboards, the WhiteFox cuts the function row and number pad out of the layout. Unlike those keyboards, the WhiteFox maintains the the arrow keys, as well as a column of four navigation keys along the right side. Since this picture, I’ve swapped out Print Screen and Delete for Home and End to fit my taste, but since the keyboard is completely remappable, you can put anything there you’d like. Since Input Club knows you’ll be customizing, they’ve included more than 30 additional keycaps, including legends for Mac.
Since it’s so programmable, you don’t have to worry about trading functionality for all that desk space. The WhiteFox supports up to seven layers of functions under what you see printed on the legend. Using a modifier key (like shift on a normal keyboard), you can access secondary functions. On the WhiteFox, the Fn button unlocks your secondary keyset. If you have more you’d like to do, such as making a macro, you can do that devote other keys to modifiers. This causes you to lose keys, however, but if you’re savvy you can avoid this by hiding function keys in those layers.
Have a look at my current layout:
The above is a picture of Input Club’s Configurator software. Everything in blue is my second layer, accessed by holding f1. Along the left side, you’ll also see a tab to adjust lighting effects (our unit does not have the white LED backlighting, but it is an option), change some basic software settings, and record chain macros (sequences with or without delays). This functionality isn’t quite finished yet but the team expects it out shortly. If you’re crafty with code, the entire project is completely open source which means you’re welcome to build and submit your own features. In the meantime, programs like AutoHotKey will get the job done.
The Configurator is available in both online and downloadable versions, and if all you’ll be doing is changing your bindings, we’d recommend using the online version. With the team relying so heavily on the community and reinvesting in their products, the software hasn’t undergone Microsoft’s costly certification process. There are a couple of extra steps to get it going, which are covered in this guide, but it’s worth noting that it’s not as seamless as they hope it will be in the future.
The plus side is that unlike many gaming keyboards, the Configurator actually flashes the firmware on the keyboard. This means that any changes you make are stored on the keyboard itself and will work on any system, regardless of security restrictions (i.e. work) with no additional software required.
As you might expect from a team whose main designer has a collection of more than 500 keyboards, the quality here is just exceptional with a definite eye toward minimalism. It uses a two part aluminum frame that’s lightweight and durable with absolutely no flex. The keycaps are dye-sublimated PBT, so you’ll never have to worry about the legends fading over time. They’re very well done with a crisp, non-gamer font.
Resounding against the partially hollow aluminum body, the keys do make a bit of noise, even with non-clicky tactile switches. I personally like that; it’s snappier than most mechanical keyboards without audible clicks. Since the keyboard is so easy to disassemble (eight screws; the keys/circuitboard just rest in the aluminum case), you can easily add a sheet of damping material if it’s not your cup of tea.
The WhiteFox is super stylish. The clean white keys with blue accents on the ESC and arrows look great against the aluminum case. Usually a cable is utilitarian but here it definitely adds to the look with its blue and white striping. In an extra nice touch, Input Club ships the WhiteFox in a nice hard travel case, complete with little fox logo on the front.
One of the lies gamers get caught up in is that they need a “gaming keyboard” for gaming. Blame marketing. The reality is that most high-end mechanical keyboards will offer the same set of features: rapid polling rates, n-key rollover, and key remapping. The best even offer programming. So when you sit down to buy a keyboard, consider this: adding the word “gaming” onto a product is as true of a tax as we see in the computer world and may not mean as much as you the manufacturer would have you believe.
The WhiteFox offers a stellar alternative that will not only work perfectly in games but is also better built, looks great, and will free up more of your desk space than ever before. And really, is there any better selling point than having a cute little fox on your Windows key?
- Very customizable
- Lots of functionality in a tiny footprint
- Well-built with quality materials
- Lots of switch options
- Looks great, includes themed hard case
- No chain macros (yet)
- Software installation isn't seamless