Picture the scene: you’ve just found the perfect set of keycaps for your mechanical keyboard. They’re available in the layout you need, they’re made of nice thick plastic, and their legends look beautifully crisp. But wouldn’t it be great if you could also change your keyboard’s case color to match them?
Drop’s pitch for its lineup of CSTM keyboards is that they make changing your keyboard’s color even easier than swapping keycaps. Think of it like a hot-swap socket, but for the top of its case. First in the lineup was last year’s tenkeyless CSTM80, and now Drop’s following up with a smaller 65 percent CSTM65, which is available preassembled with a choice of Gateron Brown or Gateron Yellow switches for $129 (though it’s currently discounted to $99) or $79 barebones (currently $69).
Fundamentally, I will never say no to more keyboard customization options. Yes, almost everything goes with black, but pairing an ultra-colorful set of keycaps with the standard black case that most keyboards come with can make the keycaps look exactly like the aftermarket modification that they are. Color matching them with a keyboard case opens the door to a more intentional and off-the-shelf look.
That’s not to say there haven’t been options for changing keyboard case colors before. At the affordable end, there’s basically no limit to what can be achieved with a bit of planning, sandpaper, and spray paint. And at the premium end, there are custom keyboard manufacturers like Mode that offer a variety of different case colors at checkout and will sell replacement cases if you want to change colors down the line.
Drop’s pitch is that its magnetic approach is a lot less hassle than getting out the paint or having to unscrew a keyboard case. Instead, you just unplug the CSTM65’s USB-C cable (because yes, this is a wired-only keyboard) and then lift off its top case. The whole process takes a couple of seconds once you know what you’re doing, and the magnets are strong enough to hold everything together unless you specifically want to detach them — I was able to pick the CSTM65 up by its top case and wave it around without it falling apart.
After trying out a couple of different case options, I eventually settled on a bright white color for a fun, contrasty look with the CSTM65’s stock black keycaps. I’d also be tempted to try out a white set of keycaps with this case for a clean, bright look, even if I’d worry about it starting to look grimy over time.
But the big issue, really, is that there aren’t a huge amount of case colors to choose from. Drop lists nine designs on its website as of this writing — seven plastic ($25 each) and two aluminum ($59) — and unlike switches or keycaps, you can’t get them anywhere else, so those are your options. As just one example, my own favorite keycap color scheme is the fantastically ’90s 9009, which I’d love to pair with the beige-est keyboard case I could find. Drop sells top cases in hot orange, bright blue, deep purple, and even mint green, but beige seems to have been a little too niche to make the cut.
Beyond the swappable cases, the CSTM65 gets a lot of the fundamentals right. Its switches are hot-swappable and have 5-pin sockets, so basically any aftermarket switch is going to work here. Meanwhile, a gasket-mounted construction keeps its typing feel that little bit softer and more pleasant compared to a stiffer, more traditional tray-mounted construction. By default, you can remap its keys using Drop’s own keyboard configuration software, but it’s relatively simple to flash it with VIA-compatible firmware if you want to remap its keys using that app instead. It’s also nice that the keyboard’s switches are in a so-called “south-facing” orientation, which means you should be able to put whatever keycaps you want on this keyboard without them having any compatibility issues with the switches.
Out of the box, the result is a keyboard that’s pretty nice to type on. There’s a small amount of rattle from the screw-in factory-lubed PCB-mounted stabilizers , and the stock ABS keycaps are a little on the smooth side for my liking, but beyond these minor quibbles, I liked what I felt and heard. Here’s a typing sound test:
It’s slightly unusual to see shinethrough legends on the front of the keycaps rather than the top, but it means the south-facing LEDs can shine through nice and clearly. I had my reservations about this positioning, but in practice, it was a nonissue; you can see the letters just fine from a standard sitting position. And yes, you get both Mac and Windows keycaps in the box and can switch between layouts with a keyboard shortcut.
But for all the talk of customizability, it would be nice to see Drop sell more versions of the CSTM65 at checkout. Your choice, basically, is to either buy it bare-bones and bring your own keycaps, switches, stabilizers, and top case, or you can buy it preassembled in all black with one of two switch options. Where’s the option to get this thing preassembled with an aluminum case or colorful keycaps or perhaps buy it as a discounted bundle with the other components you need, and which Drop sells?
At its eventual retail price of $129, the Drop CSTM65 is a little more expensive than the likes of the 65 percent wired Keychron V2 ($84, though currently discounted to $69) or even the wireless V2 Max ($94). But if how a keyboard looks is just as important to you as how it feels and sounds, then Drop’s price premium might be worth considering for the added flexibility and convenience. Because, really, can you put a price on keyboard aesthetics?
Photography by Jon Porter / The Verge
Correction February 8th, 4:30PM ET: An earlier version of the story listed the incorrect price for the Drop CSTM65. We regret the error.