For a number of years, Cherry’s MX switches were seen as the premium mechanical switch brand. Other switch brands that sprung up in the wake of the Cherry revival got a rap as cheap, low-quality knockoffs or alternatives that were not to be taken seriously. I will admit that I used to be of this opinion myself.
Recently, however, some switch manufacturers have been working hard to dispel this conventional wisdom. Gateron has arguably bested Cherry at its own game with smoother sliding action, for example, while Kailh has branched off into exciting new variations on actuation force, actuation distance, and tactility.
Major keyboard manufacturers have been slow to produce keyboards with these new switches inside, however, so mechanical keyboard enthusiasts have turned to building their own keyboards and funding small-production-run keyboards that feature those new switches paired with high-quality materials and custom layouts.
One of the more popular custom keyboards currently out there is the WhiteFox. This board is a collaboration between Matt3o, the creator of the highly-sought-after /dev/tty keycap set, and Input Club. I was able to get my hands on one of these fancy boards thanks to my dad’s recently developed and possibly unhealthy keyboard obsession.
The WhiteFox was created by some hobbyists who don’t have the resources of a big-name company behind them, so acquiring one can be a bit of an ordeal. The WhiteFox comes as either a preassembled keyboard or a kit in need of assembly. Both the preassembled keyboards and kits are primarily available during limited production runs called group buys. However, there are usually some keyboards left over from each group buy that you can buy outright.
The upside of group buys, in this case, is that you get to customize your own keyboard. You can choose from six supported layouts, as well a number of different switch types, depending on what’s being offered during the particular group buy. The DIY kits come with everything you need to build a full WhiteFox, but if you’d like to up your customization game, you can opt to buy a base kit.
The base kit includes the full chassis, switch stabilizers, and the PCB. You’ll have to buy your own switches and solder them to the PCB. I recommend buying switches from Novel Keys. The WhiteFox keycap set and USB-C cable can be bought separately, or you can pair the keyboard with keycaps and a cable of your choice.
Virtually all gaming keyboards these days are cloaked entirely in black. The WhiteFox defies this trend with a bright silver, white, and blue color scheme that I think looks clean and refreshing. However, there is a black, gray, and red edition called the NightFox for those who prefer the dark. This particular WhiteFox also doesn’t have any LEDs on board, though they are an option.
The entire body of the keyboard is made of machined, anodized aluminum, making it a great option for home defense. A number of gaming keyboards give the illusion of being made of metal with thin aluminum top plates covering the plastic below, but this is the real deal. A keyboard can’t really get much sturdier than the WhiteFox.
You probably already noticed that the WhiteFox seems to be missing some keys. A little while ago, I talked about 75% and 65% layouts in my review of KnewKey’s Rymek retro keyboard. Both layouts squish the arrow keys and some of the keys above them in to join the main block of keys. Unfortunately, there’s a major issue with the 75% layout of the Rymek: there is no way to access the keys the company left off the keyboard.
The WhiteFox’s 65% layout is even more compact than the Rymek, but it exemplifies proper execution of 75% and 65% layouts. All the missing keys and more can be accessed with firmware layers. These layers are customizable using Input Club’s software. We’ll get into that later.
Something else worth noting about the layout is the backspace location. There are six different supported layouts for the WhiteFox, and this particular WhiteFox is outfitted with The True Fox layout, which moves the backspace key down a row and parks it next to the delete key. Matt3o recommends this layout to anyone building a custom keyboard, and, after using this WhiteFox for a few weeks, I have to agree.
The irregular backspace placement was highly frustrating for the first couple days, but it didn’t take long for me to get used to it. I completely rewired my muscle memory after only a week, and I haven’t missed the backspace key since. Backspace is such a commonly used key that it makes one question why the key’s location on most keyboards requires them to completely remove their hand from the home row and stretch up and over to reach it. I can reach the backspace key on the WhiteFox with my pinky while still resting my pointer finger on the J key, and I have relatively small hands. My only complaint with The True Fox layout is that my muscle memory now conflicts with the backspace placement on most other keyboards.
The preassembled WhiteFox comes with thirty-two extra keys in addition to the sixty-eight installed on the keyboard. These extra keys vary in color, size, and legend style, so you can make your own custom set up. The keycaps are Cherry-profile PBT dye-sublimated keycaps. Cherry-profile keycaps are a little lower profile than usual OEM keycaps, and the top row is slightly higher profile than the rest. They are also slightly sculpted, giving the rows a bit of a curved effect.
The PBT plastic is high quality and considerably thicker and stronger than standard ABS plastic. The polymer is very lightly textured, making the keycaps feel pleasant to the touch, rather than slimy like ABS keycaps. The dye-sublimation process permanently embeds the legends into the plastic. The PBT plastic and dye-sublimation together mean the keycaps won’t wear down over time into shiny-topped keycaps with no legends. It should be noted that some of the legends on this latest batch of WhiteFox keycaps are ever so slightly misaligned, but Matt3o and Input Club claim to improve each new run of the WhiteFox, so it should be fixed when the next group buy rolls around.
Two metal stands protrude from the bottom of the board and prop the WhiteFox up at quite a steep angle—a bit too steep for my tastes. Those wanting to level the keyboard back out will have to peel off the rubber pads and unscrew the stands. The WhiteFox comes with extra rubber pads, so you can put fresh ones on after taking the stands off.
A snazzy white-and-blue braided USB-C to A cable comes with the preassembled WhiteFox, though it can also be purchased separately, as I mentioned above. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a nicer braided cable. It is incredibly malleable, but once you have it bent into the shape you want, it stays that way, which is super handy for cable management.
Buyers of the preassembled WhiteFox also receive a carrying case sporting the company’s logo. The case holds the keyboard nicely with some extra room for the cable and the extra rubber pads and keycaps. One of the securing straps inside the case came partially frayed and fully came off after carrying the keyboard and some switch testers to and from the latest TR BBQ, but the case still holds the keyboard just fine. That said, I would hope others’ cases won’t arrive with frayed straps.
Getting under the keycaps
Preassembled WhiteFoxes can come with a number of different switch types depending on what switches are being offered during group buy periods and what keyboards are left over after production.
You might think this particular WhiteFox is equipped with Cherry MX Browns if you don’t remember the exact color of Brown switches. However, this WhiteFox is actually packing Kailh Speed Bronze switches. Those who read my review of Havit’s HV-KB390L will know that I’ve had good experience with Kailh switches, and my time with this WhiteFox has only reinforced my positive opinion of the company’s clickers.
Most Cherry MX switches have an operating distance of 2 mm and a total travel distance of 4 mm. However, switch manufacturers are beginning to trend toward switches with shorter travel distances. Even Cherry’s latest switches have been lower profile. Kailh Speed Bronze switches have an operating distance of 1.1 mm and a total travel distance of 3.5 mm. The shorter travel distance makes the switch actuation more immediate and satisfying.
Cherry MX Browns have a peak tactile force of ~45 cN (or just about the same value in the gram-force unit scale Kailh uses). Kailh Speed Bronzes are advertised to have the same tactile force as MX Browns, though Input Club measured the peak tactile force of Bronzes to be only ~42 gf. Regardless, Bronzes actually feel heavier than Browns thanks to the embedded click bars. Browns have no clicking mechanisms to add that extra oomph to each press. Bronzes click both on the way up and down, making key presses all the more satisfying.
Kailh Speed Bronze switches also don’t make the mistake of putting the reset point before the tactile and actuation points. According to Kailh’s force-travel graph, the actuation point is right after the peak tactile point, followed by the reset point on the way back up However, if you push down very slowly and carefully, you can get the switches to actuate just before the tactile point, though the reset point is behind the tactile point as advertised. That said, all three points are so close together that they feel identical during actual use.
The switches felt highly responsive and delightfully clicky in Warframe, Doom (2016), and Styx: Shards of Darkness, and while typing out this review. I think Kailh Speed Bronzes are fantastic switches for those who want to type and game. However, dedicated typists may want switches with a bit more tactile force like Kailh Box Jades or Navies.
Gamers will be happy to know that AquaKeyTest shows that the WhiteFox has N-key rollover, so you won’t have problem performing complex multi-input actions.
I mentioned earlier that the WhiteFox’s firmware can be modified using software. The Input Club Configurator can be used to flash a number of different Input Club keyboards. There is a web-based version of the Configurator, but it is missing a few features and isn’t as straightforward to use, so I recommend downloading the Configurator from GitHub and following the installation instructions there.
There are a few extra steps required to install the software compared to most gaming peripheral software. However, once the Configurator is installed, it is a powerful tool that puts everything up front for you to see. After selecting the keyboard you want to flash, all the options are displayed cleanly on a single page.
You can configure up to seven different software layers, each triggered by a key of your choice. I’m a big fan of media controls on keyboards, so I set up a play/pause button and volume control keys. F1-F12 are layered over the top row in the first layer by default, which is activated by holding down the function key.
Once you’ve created your own profile, you’ll have to put the keyboard in Flash Mode by pressing the small recessed button on the back of the keyboard. A metal tool comes with the WhiteFox that can be used to press the button, though a pin or paperclip should work as well. The keyboard can then be flashed, and the new firmware layers will be applied to the keyboard. No software needs to be installed on any computer for the firmware layers to function once they are flashed onto the WhiteFox.
The keyboard market is bursting with “gaming” keyboards that are more about looks and LEDs than efforts to make keyboards that are great input devices. Input Club and Matt3o most definitely did not cheap out with the WhiteFox, and it shows in the finished product.
The WhiteFox is absolutely a premium product, and it has virtually no flaws. Some of the legends on the keycaps are slightly misaligned, and the angle of the board when propped up by the stands is a little too steep for my tastes, but those are extremely minor gripes. Some may not like The True Fox layout, but there are five other layouts to choose from, and the firmware layers are fully customizable in software.
This keyboard’s virtues don’t end with customizability. The chassis is composed entirely of machined, anodized aluminum, and it’s built like a tank, providing a completely stable and unbending typing surface. The high-quality dye-sublimated PBT keycaps feel fantastic and will resist wear much longer than standard ABS keycaps.
The silver, white, and blue aesthetic is a breath of fresh air among all the dark, brooding gaming keyboards out there today. The Kailh Speed Bronze switches in this particular unit are satisfactorily responsive and clicky. Even the cable is noteworthy with its flexible, yet form-holding braided sheath. I can’t help but give the WhiteFox a TR Editor’s Choice Award.
If you’d like to pick up a new, preassembled one of these for yourself, you’ll have to wait until the next group buy, so keep your eye on the Kono Store. A fully assembled WhiteFox starts at $170, but that price can increase depending on how you option out the keyboard. There are base WhiteFox kits available right now for $90, if you’d like to build your own. If you want a preassembled board now, you can snag a NightFox. However, the only switches available on prebuilt NightFoxes are Hako Trues. Hako Trues are odd tactile switches that I advise trying out before parting ways with $190.