App & Software Review

Drop CTRL V2 review: the keyboard gateway drug gets a glow-up

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Drop’s authentic CTRL was simple to advocate as an accessible entry level into the world of premium mechanical keyboards. The retailer was a comparatively early adopter (by mainstream requirements) of hot-swap switches, making its personal model keyboards nice for hobbyists who wished to have the ability to swap out their switches with out having to do any soldering. It was solidly constructed, QMK-programmable, and packed to the gills with RGB lighting.

However the world of mechanical keyboards strikes quick, and the CTRL V2 (together with the extra compact ALT V2 and bigger SHIFT V2) is Drop’s try and catch up. It has hot-swap sockets which might be suitable with a greater variety of switches, upgraded {hardware} that makes it sound and really feel a lot better to kind on, and extra programmability choices. 

It’s, in different phrases, an amazing replace to the unique CTRL design. However it additionally prices $200 absolutely assembled, which brings it slap-bang into competitors with . Drop has its work reduce out if it needs to compete with an organization firing on all cylinders.

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Drop’s new lineup of V2 keyboards consists of 5 fashions throughout three totally different layouts, that are both accessible barebones (i.e., with out switches or keycaps) or absolutely constructed at a complete of 10 totally different costs. The three layouts are the compact 65 p.c ALT V2, the bigger numpad-equipped SHIFT V2, and the numberpad-less (also called tenkeyless) CTRL V2. Then, the ALT and the CTRL are additionally accessible in extra high-profile case choices, which successfully conceal the switches inside the case moderately than leaving them uncovered. All advised, this implies costs vary from $140 for a barebones ALT V2, rising to $250 for a completely constructed SHIFT V2. 

The precise mannequin I’ve been testing sits proper in the course of the lineup. It’s the absolutely constructed CTRL V2 with a low-profile case, which has an MSRP of $200 — although, as of this writing, Drop is taking preorders for it at a reduced worth of $179 (orders are as a consequence of ship later this month). It’s accessible in a alternative of both black or area grey (I’ve the previous) and comes with both tactile Holy Panda X Clear or linear Gateron Yellow switches (I’ve the latter).

The CTRL V2 has a easy, stable building. Its aluminum case is sturdy, with little or no flex to it, and there are a few magnetic ft included within the field to prop it up at a six-degree angle. You’ll be able to flip these ft round to get somewhat extra raise, take away them fully to make use of the keyboard flat in your desk, and even organize them so the keyboard tilts downwards away out of your arms (aka “damaging tilt”). 

The keyboard’s angle with its magnetic ft hooked up.

The magnetic ft detach if you’d like a flatter typing floor.

There are additionally various mounting spots in case you desire a “damaging tilt.”

The absolutely constructed model of the keyboard ships with a reasonably understated set of two-tone grey keycaps created from sturdy PBT plastic, with doubleshot lettering that’s each proof against put on and likewise does an amazing job letting the keyboard’s RGB lighting shine by way of. It’s not probably the most colourful or thrilling of coloration schemes, but it surely works properly as a default possibility. 

Across the prime of the keyboard, there’s not one however two USB-C ports. You should utilize both one to connect with your PC (good for cable administration) and use the opposite to attach an extra accent. The extra USB port was capable of cost my cellphone or output audio to a headphone DAC. Though choosing USB-C is nice for future-proofing, it does imply you’ll have to make use of an adapter if you wish to plug in a USB-A accent. Drop says the port helps a most information switch fee of 480Mbps and between 2W and 4W for charging, so don’t count on this to fast-charge your cellphone or immediately offload all of your photographs from a thumb drive. This can be a wired-only keyboard, with no wi-fi capabilities.

Drop has optimized the design of the CTRL V2 to take advantage of its RGB lighting, and there’s each good and unhealthy information right here. The excellent news is that by way of a mixture of north-facing switches, the aforementioned shine-through keycaps, and a case with extra lighting on its sides, the RGB lighting is much extra seen than on Keychron’s competing keyboards, the place you’re successfully simply seeing no matter mild bleeds across the edges of the opaque keycaps.

You get a great quantity of RGB mild by way of the keycaps.

Some great benefits of north-facing switches.

Getting this high quality of RGB lighting comes with a slight compromise. North-facing switches (the place the RGB mild is on prime of the swap, proper beneath the shine-through legend) may be higher for RGB lighting, however they’ll even have compatibility issues with some aftermarket Cherry-profile keycaps. When you’re after good RGB lighting, it’s a tradeoff you may be prepared to make. 

Extra annoyingly is that beneath sure circumstances, the keyboard’s lighting can emit a faint, high-pitched buzz. I skilled this when plugging the keyboard into the exterior Thunderbolt dock I exploit with my laptop computer, and the way audible the buzzing was different based mostly on how brightly the LEDs have been shining and even what coloration they have been set to (saturated colours like pink have been worst, however a pure white was silent). The buzzing fully disappeared after I plugged the CTRL V2 instantly into my MacBook utilizing a third-party USB-C-to-USB-C cable. 

Once I requested Drop about this, spokesperson Jyri Jokirinta advised me that the keyboard handed Drop’s personal high quality management checks in addition to third-party testing. “With a mean noise stage of 17 dBa, the V2 keyboards needs to be imperceptible when used at most typing positions in a typical house or workplace setting. Most space noise ranges sit between 30 – 40 dBa,” Jokirinta mentioned.

I wouldn’t say the buzzing I skilled was a dealbreaker, particularly because it solely cropped up beneath such particular circumstances. However it’s one thing to pay attention to and pay attention out for.

Help for 5-pin switches is a good high quality of life improve.

Across the prime of the keyboard, you’ll discover not one however two USB-C ports.

One of the consequential upgrades for hobbyists that Drop has made to its V2 keyboard lineup is that its PCB now has an additional two holes per swap to help 5-pin switches (the commonest pin format). Whereas it was doable to make use of 5-pin switches on earlier Drop keyboards, you needed to snip off their two additional plastic legs to get them to slot in its 3-pin sockets, a tedious course of. There’s not likely a lot else I can say about this improve — you get a swap puller together with a keycap puller within the field, and swapping out the switches is as simple as ever.

The opposite customizability improve Drop’s keyboards have gotten is upgraded QMK programmability, together with official help for the highly effective VIA configuration software program. Weirdly, regardless of Drop’s advertising for its V2 keyboards making a giant deal of their help for VIA, the choice to make use of the software program is somewhat buried. To make use of it, you first need to obtain Drop’s personal configuration software program (accessible for each Mac and Home windows) and use that to flash the VIA-compatible firmware to the keyboard. To Drop’s credit score, it’s a seamless course of as soon as you understand what you’re doing, however it could be good if Drop’s configuration guide made the method clearer. As soon as the firmware is flashed, VIA works nice for all of your format tweaking, macro making, and brightness customizing wants.

Though these are all welcome modifications, the upgrades Drop has made to the sound and typing really feel of the keyboard are those that you simply’re going to really feel every day. Due to a mixture of higher stabilizers (the construction put in beneath longer keys just like the spacebar to cease them from wobbling) and extra sound-dampening foam, the CTRL V2 feels far more premium to kind on in comparison with Drop’s earlier keyboards. There’s no metallic pinging or extreme rattling, only a nice, crisp and clear typing sound, and the Gateron Yellow switches in my pattern had the best steadiness of smoothness and weight.

The Drop CTRL V2 feels higher to kind on in comparison with the corporate’s first-generation keyboards, however for my cash, it’s not the best-feeling keyboard at its worth level. Drop’s keyboard makes use of an integrated plate construction, which arguably supplies a much less premium typing really feel than the gasket-mount approach used within the likes of , which may be had for $184 (although on condition that Drop presents free delivery on US orders over $99 and Keychron doesn’t, it’s seemingly that the costs of the 2 keyboards can be roughly equal for a lot of US patrons). I haven’t personally used the Q3, but it surely makes use of the identical building because the Keychron Q1, which I feel is unbelievable to kind on.

By way of typing really feel, I feel Keychron has the sting at this worth level and matches the CTRL V2’s different options like 5-pin hot-swap, VIA programmability, and an aluminum building. Drop’s CTRL V2 has the slight edge within the RGB division because of its shine-through keycaps, but it surely doesn’t fairly take the price-to-performance crown.

That mentioned, the price-to-performance ratio will get extra interesting should you’re an proprietor of both of Drop’s current SHIFT, ALT, or CTRL keyboards. For between $55 and $75, the corporate will promote you simply the upgraded circuit board for its new keyboards (which is able to get you help for VIA and 5-pin switches), and there’s additionally the choice to purchase the sound-dampening foam and upgraded stabilizers. When you’re not afraid of somewhat keyboard DIY, it’s a extra inexpensive method of getting a a lot increased high quality keyboard and one I wouldn’t hesitate to advocate in case your current Drop keyboard is feeling somewhat lengthy within the tooth.

Along with the RGB up prime, you additionally get RGB across the sides.

The keyboard comes with a alternative of linear or tactile switches.

In comparison with Drop’s first-generation keyboard, the CTRL V2 is a way more trendy and aggressive proposition. Help for 5-pin switches is, at this level, a function that you need to be capable to take as a right on hot-swappable keyboards, and programmability utilizing VIA offers you an enormous quantity of management over how the keyboard capabilities. Except for the LED buzzing I skilled (which actually is a ache if it crops up together with your setup), there’s actually little to fault the CTRL V2.

The one situation, actually, is the competitors. On the CTRL V2’s premium worth, it’s competing in opposition to Keychron’s very succesful gasket-mounted Q-series lineup, which I feel has the sting in typing sound and really feel. But when higher RGB lighting and a helpful extra USB-C port are vital to you, Drop’s CTRL V2 lineup is properly value contemplating.

Pictures by Jon Porter / The Verge

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