Drop’s new DCX keycaps: Delight is in the Attributes

Earlier this year, keyboard specialist Drop revealed its new lineup of DCX keycaps. They’re not flashy, but they deliver simplicity with style.

But rather than concentrating on making flashy, colorful designs like most aftermarket keycaps, the first three sets to utilize the new DCX profile are relatively understated, with easy black-and-white designs or a tiny choice of primary colors.

That’s because the focus here is on bringing the tiniest details right in the expectancies that Drop’s sets might be able to compete straight with GMK’s — a German manufacturer generally seen as the producer of some of the best-quality keycaps around. GMK produces keycaps in the “Cherry” profile (which refers to the overall shape of the keycaps), while “DCX” refers to the profile of Drop’s keycaps.

Let’s compare Drop’s new black-on-white DCX keycaps instantly with a set of white-on-black keycaps created by GMK. Both are marketed by Drop, but its DCX keycaps begin at $89 for a base kit, while GMK’s cost $110.

The cylindrical name guides how both sets of keycaps are scooped from left to right.

At first glimpse, the two sets look very comparable. Both are created of thick ABS plastic, double-shot (their tales are made from a second piece of plastic for counted durability), and have a so-called “cylindrical” structure. This name can be confusing because the overall shape of the keycaps is relatively square, but look at them from the front, and you’ll see that they’re concave, as though you could place a cylinder vertically across each keycap. Also, like GMK’s, Drop’s keycaps reportedly have slight fit issues with north-facing switches.

The standard sets of both keycaps also include a variety of extra keycaps that you won’t find on a standard US keyboard, like the minor left shift and the giant enter key you’ll see on my UK keyboard in these images. There are also a couple of different size options for bottom-row keys to cater to the variety of keyboard layouts in use today.

Look closer, however, and the differences start to become apparent. For starters, Drop is using different wording on its bottom row. There’s still no Windows key, but Drop has gone with “Super” in a nice nod to the keys historically found on Linux computers, rather than “Code” on GMK’s sets. The fonts of the two keycaps are also subtly different: GMK’s lettering looks slightly bolded compared to Drop’s. But I don’t think either is necessarily “better” here — whichever you like more will come down to personal preference.

There are other areas where Drop’s keycaps have a slight edge. Across the keycaps, the sizing of the lettering and symbols is far more consistent. The sizes of the caret (aka the little “^” hat) and tilde (~) symbols have been reduced significantly to be much more additional in line with the other characters on their respective keys. So, too, has the sizing of the arrows on the tab key been adjusted. As a result, everything looks a lot neater overall.

As you’ve only been typing on these keycaps for a day, it’s hard to get too many firm conclusions about how the plastic might wear over time. Out of the box, it has a superior finish, but since it’s ABS, it’s reasonable to assume it’ll evolve at least some shine as it smooths down with use. Bear in mind with these comparison shots that the GMK keycaps you are comparing them to have been in more or less constant use for a year and a half, hence the extra glossiness.

None of DCX’s features offer a night-and-day improvement compared to what’s available from GMK. And as it currently stands, you still have many more options for different color schemes if you go down the GMK route. That’s the main problem with DCX: there’s only a minimal number of color schemes available.

They might be high-quality, but they don’t offer the colorfulness and fun that draw many people to aftermarket keycaps. Of course, it’s fun to obsess over the details of a black-and-white set of keycaps, but at $90, it’s not a purchase you recommend for anyone outside of the truly obsessive.

But if Drop can keep up this level of quality as it builds out its range of DCX keycaps, and if it’s able to do so while keeping them more affordable and more readily available than GMK’s sets, then they’ll start to become very easy to recommend.

Drop is an American e-commerce company based in San Francisco, California.

Drop uses data and insights from the community to develop and find products that feed their interests in audio products and mechanical keyboards. The Drop community can also learn, share, shop with others, and participate in product development through polls, discussions, and interest checks. Drop changed its name from Massdrop in April 2019.

Drop founders Steve El-Hage and Nelson Wu met in Toronto, Canada, where El-Hage was studying economics at the University of Toronto. The two had grown up using online forums to explore their hobbies but believed these forums had many shortcomings, including disorganized meetups and unreliable group buys. They thought combining their forum experience with their interest in bulk buying could create a site that would better support enthusiast communities. So the pair moved to Silicon Valley, where they started Massdrop in 2012.

Drop sold products exclusively from existing manufacturers. Users were able to purchase as a group and influence the types of products sold, planning to provide a collaborative environment through participation in polls, community discussions, and posts.

The company has since introduced exclusive enthusiast-targeted private label products under the Drop name.

Past products include the Massdrop x Sennheiser HD 6XX headphones, Massdrop x Sennheiser HD 58X headphones, Massdrop CTRL Mechanical Keyboard, Massdrop x Sennheiser PC37X gaming headset, and Massdrop x Koss ESP/95X, among others.

In September 2014, Drop raised $6.5 million in a Series A round led by Mayfield Fund with additional investment from previous backers Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, First Round Capital, and Cowboy Ventures. In August 2015, the company secured $40 million in Series B funding led by August Capital with additional investment from Mayfield Fund, First Round Capital, and Cowboy Ventures.