Mechanical keyboards are now the norm when it comes to choosing the best typing (or gaming) machine for your desktop PC. But what happens if you're unable to choose a specific model from a brand that ticks all the right boxes? The modding scene has been around for years, and it's starting to become mainstream as more customizable keyboards are released.
Such keyboards allow the swapping of switches and keycaps, as well as other components, to personalize everything to your personal preference. Sometimes it's not possible to choose the best keyboards off the shelf and if that's the case for you, a custom keyboard kit like the Drop CTRL may be just what you require.
I've taken this keyboard for a spin over the past couple of weeks and feel like I'm ready to discuss what makes this such a good choice, as well as where it could be improved.
Bottom line: I'm a big fan of the Drop CTRL. It ticks most of the right boxes, including excellent build quality, a great selection of switches, and USB-C connectivity. It's a solid place to start on your keyboard modding journey.
- Excellent build quality
- Clean aluminum design
- Subtle RGB lighting
- Two USB-C ports (with passthrough)
- QMK support
- Supports three-pin switches
- Taller than competing keyboards
Drop CTRL: Price and availability
The Drop CTRL is available for $270, which may put some potential buyers off. When compared against other premium keyboards, it's not an obscene amount of cash. The Razer Huntsman V2 Analog is listed for around the same price but is designed primarily for gamers without the ability to customize the switches and more.
Drop CTRL: What's good
The Drop CTRL is available as a barebones unit, which is essentially the keyboard without any keycaps or switches. But if you'd rather not hunt down either part alongside buying the keyboard or want something to use out the box, there are a few different configurations available. For review, I'm using the Drop CTRL with Kaihua Box White switches.
The choice of switches available from Drop includes Halo Clear, Halo True, Kaihua Box White, Cherry MX Blue RGB, and Cherry MX Brown RGB. Measuring at 368mm by 140mm and 44mm thick, it's in line with the competition if not a little on the thick side. There's also a high-profile version of the CTRL that comes with a shroud to cover the switch sockets.
The all-aluminum chassis feels premium, weighing in at just shy of 2kg. There's very little flex in the keyboard without applying considerable force. The RGB lighting isn't the brightest but makes good use of the reflective metal to create quite the effect. It's a nice touch to have a secondary RGB strip that wraps around the base of the keyboard.
Removing the keycaps and switches, using the included tools from Drop, reveals the main PCB. It's all interconnected, meaning you don't need to mess around with anything other than the switches, but this does limit the amount of modding that can be done. There's no option for a smoother typing experience through the use of gasket mounting, for instance.
The included Kaihua Box White switches are excellent for typing up thousands of words a day and some gaming on the side. So long as you don't rely on the use of media keys and other physical features found on other keyboards, the Drop CTRL has everything you'll require. There's no onboard memory for storing settings like RGB lighting, but this isn't a gaming keyboard.
Then there's the integrated USB passthrough with dual rear USB-C ports allowing one to connect a mouse or other accessories through the Drop CTRL as opposed to hunting for a free USB port. For software, the Drop CTRL supports QMK and the company's own suite that lets you customize every inch of the keyboard. It's extensive and incredibly intuitive.
Whether you stick with what's included with the CTRL or go your own way with choosing switches, you're going to have a great time with this keyboard.
Drop CTRL: What's not good
The Drop CTRL is an expensive keyboard; there's no other way to look at the price. You'll need to bear in mind that there's no wrist rest included either, which makes the pill harder to swallow and means you'll need an aftermarket solution for the raised keys compared to other keyboards.
It's also showing its age slightly with the use of three-pin sockets. Keyboards released these days include five-pin sockets with support for switches with enhanced stability. It's not a deal-breaker, but worth bearing in mind when shopping around for aftermarket switches. You also cannot swap out the plate, and there's no gasket mounting for a softer typing feel.
Then there's the height of the Drop CTRL, which makes it a little taller than most mechanical keyboards. Finally, the stabilizers for the larger keys aren't great. The spacebar, right shift and enter keys on the TKL model I reviewed are loose and clatter slightly with keystrokes. Again, not a major concern, but something to note if you prefer silence. Some lubricant should help here.
Drop CTRL: Competition
Competition is ramping up for custom mechanical keyboard kits like the Drop CTRL. We've looked at a few here on Windows Central, including the brilliant Akko World Tour Tokyo R2 (3068B). Big brands are also taking notice of the increased activity with custom keycaps, switches, and other features found on keyboards like the CTRL.
Even NZXT launched its own mod-friendly keyboard, which we'll be reviewing shortly. Utilizing its BLD service, NZXT allows you to configure the keyboard of your dreams from the get-go on its website, including a choice of switches, colors, keycaps, and accessories. Then you can customize it further once you have it in your hands.
Drop CTRL: Should you buy it?
You should buy this if ...
- You want a great foundation for a custom keyboard
- You plan on swapping out the switches
- You want a premium typing experience
You shouldn't buy this if ...
- You want the best ergonomics
- You want a keyboard designed for gaming
- You aren't comfortable spending nearly $300 on a keyboard
The Drop CTRL is very well designed. The all-aluminum chassis screams premium craftmanship, and this makes the CTRL an ideal starting place for those looking to customize their own mechanical keyboard. If you want to swap out the switches for something a little more tailored to your preference, this is entirely possible with the Drop CTRL.
A flip side to this ability is cost. Providing the means for hot-swappable switches within an all-aluminum chassis really drives up the price of a keyboard, and the CTRL is no exception. This may put off some who can't justify spending nearly $300 on a keyboard, but if all you care about is quality, this is definitely worth a spot on your shortlist.
Rich Edmonds was formerly a Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.