This post will cover my first impressions of the Drop Alt keyboard along with lots of pictures detailing my process of unboxing and initially setting it up. If you want some of the background leading up to this purchase, look at the previous post here.
TL;DR I love my new board so much that my primary motivation for these posts is just to have an excuse to type on it.
Now I’m no stranger to group-buy shipping. I know that it takes somethings months. When I first bought the Drop Alt barebones kit, I remember being amused that it was a pre order when the full fat assembled keyboard could be purchased immediately in stock. I mean how hard is it to do less manufacturing? Of course modern supply chains aren’t anywhere near that simple, but It shouldn’t take too long to arrive right?
On of the things about this board that I can’t fault drop too much for is shipping disruptions due to COVID. About a month after ordering, I got an email saying that shipping for the drop Alt would be delayed until mid July. I assumed that this meant the July 16th shipping date of the fully assembled keyboard. Because of this extended delay, and my realization that I didn’t have shine through caps on hand to put on it, I ended up cancelling my order and getting the fully assembled on instead. It was a little more money, but getting the skylight caps and Halo True for $20 more was a pretty good deal. Plus I’d have a usable keyboard when it arrived.
So after the usual painstaking waiting game, I got an email that my keyboard was shipping 4 days early! Of course it still arrived when it would have before, but at least it got to spend some time chilling in Michigan for a few days. It arrived at my apartment building and I got the usual text from the mailroom saying they’d bring it up. When I finally got the package, it looked like it had gotten in a few fights during its layover in Michigan…
Yeah… Definitely not impressed with the state it arrived in. I don’t even know how that happens, it was like it got caught in a machine and torn apart. Luckily, I was able to retrieve the keyboard without any tools…
So overall, definitely not good Drop Alt first impressions. Now the box isn’t anything special to look at, but I don’t have a soft case for the keyboard yet and I was a little bummed that it was clearly damaged in shipping. Especially for a premium product.
Unboxing Drop Alt. Real First Impressions
Having been a little disappointed at the state it arrived in, I forged ahead and opened it up:
When I pulled the black ribbon to lift it up, I was greeted with more clear signs of shipping treatment.
Frustratingly, the package had arrived during the work day so I decided to only unbox it that far and then put it back together so I can properly enjoy setting it up after work. When I was able to come back to it again, I took some more glamour shots to send to some curious friends,
Up until this point, I hadn’t turned the board on. I don’t have any pictures of when I first did because I was just checking to see if all the keys worked and lights came on. I usually use this site to check keyboards just because it amuses me.
Once I had checked that everything worked, it came time to try it out and see if I liked the Halo True 60g switches that I came with. I have to say, I’m not a huge fan. They’re a tad loud and stiff for my liking, and their tactile bump, at least compared to the Zilents I had intended for the board, was very weak. That being said, I’d still use them but I wanted this board to have the feeling of the Zilents.
Before I went and swapped out the switches, I took a few caps off the look around and I opened up the back to get a look at the PCB.
Now I heard about some complaints with the routing of the traces on the board. I’m not even a hobbyist PCB designer by any stretch but I know a few things about it having tried to make my own before. The people complaining were right. I’m gonna steal someone elses image. here to illustrate what I mean:
That’s just plain bad. I’ve used the autorouter on a PCB design tool before, and a pretty crappy one at that, and that’s what it looks like when you turn all the settings down and just say yes to whatever it spits out. Vias everywhere for seemingly no reason, traces that just take crows path to get to the pads, this is just embarrassing on Drops part. A keyboard is a matrix. It has clearly defined rows and columns. So why in the hell are the traces not parallel? It’s not like the traces in a keyboard are so sensitive and carrying such high frequency signals that you need to route them specifically. No! They just decided to make the board ugly out of not caring.
Altering Zilents to Fit
After seeing it in person and being miffed all over again, I closed the case back up and started replacing switches. When I looked up how to do this, I couldn’t really find any guides, people just kinda said do it because it’s easy. And while that’s true, someone writing something up would be nice so here I go.
The Zilent V2 62g that I ordered were PCB mount switches which meant that they have two little nubs on them to stabilize them in the pcb while you solder them. This avoids you soldering them in crooked and forever having a key that’s not straight. The Drop Alt is designed for plate mount switches in mind, these switches slot into the plate to hold them steady and straight and then are traditionally soldered into the board below. Drop could have put two holes in the pcb to make it compatible with pcb mount, but just like the trace routing, they clearly had more important things to screw up.
So here’s my process of snipping off the nubs on the Zilents with flush cutters:
The Technique that I found to work best for my tools were to snip the nub with the end of the cutters, rotate it around almost 180 until the cutters were parallel to the edge of the switch, then rotate the cutters and pry the weakened nub off. This left me with minimal bumps left over that didn’t need any sanding to sit properly against the board.
Removing and Replacing Switches
The biggest pain of the ordeal was actually removing the stock switches from the plate and the hot swap sockets. I was afraid that the included metal tool would scratch up and ruin the finish of the pretty anodized housing if I slipped. The method that I found to work was as follows:
- First use the remover to pop the clip on the side of the switch with the contacts (the bottom on this board).
- Pry up enough to clear the clip on that side only.
- Regrab the switch to pop the second clip and fully remove the switch from the socker.
- blow away the tiny shavings of white plastic from the plate rubbing against the exiting switch.
For some reason, I decided to only replace the alphanumeric keys and later the space bar.
With all the new switches in place, I finally replaced the keycaps and plugged it in again to play around with lighting effects and snap a pic to show my friends again.
This is a great board. I intend on doing a deep dive into programming some more fun functionality into it sometime in the future when I have time to take on another programming project. I have few complaints. The build quality is exceptional. The caps looks great save for some roughness on the edges.
Some negatives that I noticed are the PCB looks like someone spray painted a pile of dog hair to the board and the space bar is horrible. The stabs on the space bar are incredibly loud and I will definitely be modifying them in the future. I also want to lube the inside of the Zilents. The one thing the Halo Trues have over them is that they are much smoother. I also feel like the claimed 60g Halo True switches are harder to press than the 62g Zilents but this might just come down to where on the force curve they measure the weight.
This board serves as a great step into the very high end keyboard world. It’s moderately affordable for what you get, and it offers some areas you can improve it as a project. The space bar really is horrid and I will be researching what people do to silence them soon.