Element Gaming Range - Thorium 300 Keyboard
In taking a look at the Element Gaming Range, we’ve already taken the chair and headset for a spin - now we come to the items that are standard issue when it comes to PC gaming. We are, of course, talking about the mouse and keyboard. Element have again released keyboards of varying price and features - we’re going to take a look at the Thorium 300, the premium of the three different products.
Initial impressions are good, if a little muted. Arriving in a pragmatic albeit not particularly flashy box, the Thorium 300 is a single-unit keyboard that, while unable to be customised in modular parts, still contains all that’s needed to create your own macros and key assignments. The front cover of the box is little more than a photo of the keyboard while the back has a basic list of the specifications, all set against a brown-burgundy background that doesn’t quite scream the highest of tech. Enclosed in a padded sheath inside, little else but paperwork and a mini-CD containing the control centre software accompany the keyboard.
As with Element’s high-end headset, the keyboard comes with a braided cable with a gold-USB connector - fantastic in both feel and function, hopefully avoiding the problems that wear and tear can afflict on the plastic equivalent. The fact it’s wired also means that there shouldn’t be a problem with lag.
The dimensions of the keyboard itself are 493.3mm (L) x 211.4mm (W) x 34.8mm (H), raised a little more with the optional stands underneath. It’s large enough to accommodate a few extra keys without overwhelming a desktop, as some other options are wont to do. The Element logo, glowing a variety of colours (more on that later) is located centrally, straddled by pre-set keys that take you to the My Computer, your homepage, email, internet search and favourites, with media functions including volume and playback controls on the right hand side. Below these, the F-keys are grouped in batches of four, with alternate functions available for use if needed. To the left of the standard QWERTY keyboard are G-keys, programmable Macro keys that complement the adjustable ten at the top of the board. A key, marked with the Element logo once more, allows users to select from one of five customisable profiles, changing the central logo light in the process to allow for differentiation.
Visually, there’s no mistaking that this is a gaming keyboard - the very fact that it lights up will alert you to that fact. It’s less ostentatious than others, however, with more of a subtle underglow to the keys and a few carefully placed transparent slits running between the keys and wrist rest at the bottom. Aside from the backlit logo, the lighting is subtle enough that it’s actually hard to notice it. Perhaps some will favour this - less of a distraction - but for those looking for a mini-light show beneath their fingers, this isn’t quite on that scale. The key designs also use a font that is a little difficult to read at a distance, aided a little by the blue backlight.
The Thorium 300 is different from some gaming keyboards in that it doesn’t use mechanical keys, instead choosing the plunger option. For the price this is absolutely fine- the keys feel responsive albeit with not that much in the way of haptic resistance. What’s more of a problem are the proximity of the macro profile keys to the left of the main keyboard - they are close enough that there’s a good chance you’ll hit them instead of Ctrl, Caps or Shift. The Escape key is in an equally tight position, right next to the key that changes the profiles themselves.
In terms of NKRO (N-key roll over), the Thorium 300 happily accommodates seven simultaneous key presses around the all important WASD area, however this is reduced in most other areas of the board, usually maxing between three and six keys. While the lack of NKRO is something to be considered, the budget price of the Thorium 300 goes someway to accommodating for the fact. Happily, there were no instances of ghosting present at all.
The software bundled with the Thorium 300 is also serviceable but less than flashy. Included on a mini-CD, the software doesn’t look spectacular, allowing you to assign keys and program Macros to those aforementioned profiles. It does the job, but a few more customisation options would have been helpful. It sounds like sacrilege, but the option to turn off the backlighting would have been appreciated, especially given it doesn’t particularly stand out with bright screens. One benefit is that the Windows key is lockable and the upload speed can be selected from 125Hz, 250Hz, 500Hz and 1000Hz. For a keyboard on a budget, this will do nicely.
Essentially, it is this price point that allows us to forgive the Thorium 300 its sins. It isn’t the flashiest gaming keyboard on the market but neither is it an unwise purchase. When we tested its capability on a few games - Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm, Borderlands 2 and Company of Heroes 2 - it worked brilliantly. For the very low price point, this makes for a brilliant entry level gaming keyboard, offering just the right amount of customisation and macro support. Yes, the keys do feel a little bunched together on the left hand side and yes the wrist rest isn’t all that comfortable, but it holds up under stringent tests, even if the innards aren’t quite top of the line. At under £20 on Ebuyer, this is a great purchase on any budget.