Drop ALT mechanical keyboard review: specs, performance, cost

Home » Drop ALT mechanical keyboard review: specs, performance, cost
Drop ALT mechanical keyboard review: specs, performance, cost


The ALT keyboard comes in a matte black or this matte gray option.






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The Drop ALT Light-up mechanical keyboard offers users nearly total control of every aspect of the typing experience, but is overkill for those more interested in old-school typing.

Some of the more serious games available for the Mac — especially those ported over from Windows — sometimes assume that you’re using a gaming keyboard for best results. Other Mac users may or may not be serious gamers, but do prefer a “mechanical” keyboard for both aesthetic reasons or just for their heavier-handed typing style.

Of course, Apple has been moving in the opposite direction for a long time. Though more recent keyboards from the company have returned a bit more “travel” in the keys than the “butterfly style” of some previous MacBooks.

Being old enough to have used mechanical keyboards often in our student days, we have worked with and been comfortable with either style.

Gaming keyboard maker Drop was kind enough to send their ALT 65 percent-size, tenkeyless illuminated mechanical keyboard. Despite being — of course — a Windows-centric keyboard, we found it easy enough to adapt and enjoyed using it for non-gaming tasks just as much as we did raiding tombs or moving through alien lands.

It comes out of the box with your basic configuration and a few re-arranged buttons, but if you read directions carefully, you can “flash” the QMK firmware of the keyboard to install alternate key mappings. Regrettably, we couldn’t find one to put the control, option, and command keys in the “right” place for an Apple keyboard user.

First impressions

Because of its reduced size, the keyboard is more compact and lighter than some gaming keyboards, despite being built very solidly for superb durability. This makes it portable, with a weight of only 700g/1.5 lbs.

It features two USB-C ports at the top, though disappointingly, it only comes with a 54-inch USB-C to USB-A cable. The spare port can be used as a low-powered hub up to 4W, just enough to attach a trackpad or mouse.

As a quick test, we grabbed a USB-C to C cable and plugged it into an iPad Pro. Naturally, it worked fine, making it a fun but clicky alternative to Apple’s Magic Keyboard.

Yes, it even works on an iPad Pro —  with the right cable

Yes, it even works on an iPad Pro — with the right cable

As is par for the course with these sorts of keyboards, the keycaps and switches can be removed and replaced, and the tools to do so are nicely included in the box and of good quality. The keycap remover even has a hidden Phillips head screwdriver, so you can disassemble this thing down to the PCB board if you so desire.

For those looking to customize the hardware itself, it should be mentioned that you can order it with Cherry MX, Kaihua, or Halo Clear or Halo True switches if desired. In addition to the standard keyboard, a “kit” version of the bare keyboard is available for those bringing their preferred keycaps and switches.

The ALT is what it says it is: a mini-me version of Drop’s full-size CTRL keyboard with fewer keys. As with the CTRL, the Drop ALT features full USB n-rollover for no ghosting when multiple keys are pressed together.

Touch typists may be divided about what we think of as one of the most significant minuses to this keyboard: the character markings are all but invisible when the keyboard lighting is turned off, making turning on the lighting effectively mandatory. This isn’t always desirable.

Luckily, if you have an overhead light, there’s enough shine on the keycaps to see character markings. A card is also included that guides users through the use of the right-hand function key and modifiers so you can control the brightness, change patterns, color schemes, and so on.

Without direct overhead lighting, these keys are pretty hard to see if the built-in lighting is turned off.

Without direct overhead lighting, these keys are pretty hard to see if the built-in lighting is turned off.

Features

So let’s get to the lighting — it’s your standard per-key RGB array, with some animation effects like “breathing” and “striping,” which can be further modified by brightness and speed. There aren’t too many patterns by default, but many more can be configured using the QMK-based key configurator web page Drop provides.

The default patterns range from single colors “spotlighting” their way across the keyboard to a gentle “breathing” pattern and color choices at various brightness levels. In addition, the lighting strip around the bottom of the keyboard can be set for a different color or pattern than the keys themselves.

One of our favorite features of the keycaps that come with the unit is that they are the higher-quality, more expensive PBT double-coated keycaps, which are much more durable — and, importantly, don’t develop a “greasy shine” over time like the cheaper ABS plastic keycaps. It would be nice if Apple could use this material for its flatter keyboards.

As for travel, this keyboard has a total travel of four millimeters/0.16 inches, which should satisfy most gamers, and the response time is fast. However, if you plan on using this keyboard a lot, we’d recommend buying a wrist rest to go along with it, as one is not included.

The build quality of the Drop ALT keyboard is impressive for a compact mechanical keyboard. CNC-machined aluminum layers on the top and bottom of the board are “sandwiched” by a plastic layer that acts as a light diffuser, and the unit, from the keys on down, feels as though no expense was spared.

The side view really shows the build quality, keycaps, and switches.

The side view shows the build quality, keycaps, and switches.

Although the ALT is highly customizable, first-time customizers will want to track down a tutorial in the QMK firmware procedures and feel confident in “flashing” your keyboard if you want to set up custom keymappings. Drop’s own website for this is adequate but doesn’t seem to have been updated in a while.

The company offers a one-year warranty included, with the option of purchasing a three-year extended warranty for an extra $35. In addition, you can order the keyboard with a matte-black finish or a matte-gray finish.

This is a gaming keyboard you would take to a gaming convention or friends’ houses, but it’s a bit too “clicky” and colorful to be toting around to the coffee shop. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the games we played on it and just regular typing on it.

There is a certain nostalgia for the days of the early PC and Apple keyboards that had this level of travel. We didn’t have any trouble switching back and forth between the ALT and our current MacBook Pro and iPad keyboards.

Before you order, remember that tenkeyless keyboards and the more compact size of the ALT means it may not work as well as the company’s CTRL keyboard for some games. That said, the ALT is one of the most impressive mechanical keyboards we’ve ever seen in the compact form factor for build quality, highly customizable design, and attention to detail.

Of course, we still haven’t been able to memorize the various FN+[key] customization controls fully. Novice users may be disappointed by the arcane QMK flashing procedure when custom software could have been developed for this instead.

Drop ALT Mechanical Keyboard – pros

  • Solid build quality
  • Keycaps that stand up over time
  • Fast response and good travel
  • Tools included to easily replace keycaps and switches as desired

Drop ALT Mechanical Keyboard – cons

  • QMK reprogramming may be intimidating
  • Default light patterns are pretty generic
  • Key characters are hard to see when lighting is off

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Where to buy the Drop ALT Mechanical Keyboard

The retail price of the ALT keyboard is $180, but it is frequently available at a discount.

Both the ALT and the larger CTRL keyboards, along with “bare bones” versions for those with their own keycaps and switches, are available directly from the Drop website, as well as their Amazon Storefront.



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