Drop CSTM80 Mechanical Keyboard Review

For some people, a computer keyboard is nothing more than a simple tool, worthy of little thought. For others, a good mechanical or gaming keyboard can elevate their typing experience to the sublime. That’s where something like the Drop CSTM80 Mechanical Keyboard comes in.

The basic idea with the CSTM80 is that you get a perfectly functioning keyboard out of the box that should last indefinitely and provides an elevated typing experience. However, should you want, almost every part of the keyboard is also replaceable, from cosmetics to internals, offering a high level of customization. Although not for everyone, it’s the type of keyboard that can make a believer out of even the most jaded computer user, creating an experience uniquely their own.

Drop CSTM80 – Photos

Drop CSTM80 – Design and Ergonomics

In the box, you get the keyboard, USB-A to USB-C cable, switch puller, keycap puller, and four Mac keys. The keyboard is plug and play out of the box, and works with Windows, Linux, and MacOS. For the latter, you can swap the Windows-specific keys for the equivalent Mac options.

The included black braided cable plugs into the sole USB-C port on the rear of the keyboard. While any standard USB-C to USB-A or USB-C to USB-C cable will work in its place, Drop offers a variety of other options, including differently-colored straight cables and a wide variety of coiled cables. I had no issue with plugging the included cable into a USB-A hub on my Windows 11 desktop PC and immediately making use of the keyboard.

The CSTM80’s case is a rigid polycarbonate, with a polycarbonate switch plate. The case and switch foam are PORON, an industrial polyurethane, with a silicone bottom case patch and gasket layer.

Internally, the switch sockets are hot-swappable, with 5-pin switch support. Screw-in Gateron PCBA-mounted stabilizers help larger keys like Spacebar, Enter, and Shift remain balanced, even when pressed off-center.

The keycap material is ABS with laser-etched, front-facing, and shine-through legends. These work in conjunction with the south-facing RGB LEDs and per-key RGB LED lighting to maximize light distribution. The Cherry keycap profile is paired with Gateron Brown Pro 3.0 switches, although Gateron Yellow KS3 switches are also available. The former is known for their tactile feel, providing a bump for feedback actuation without too much noise and an actuation force of 51g, while the latter is known for their smooth and consistent linear strokes and an actuation force of 50g.

Even at a compact 14.7 x 5.8 x 1.3 inches, the tenkeyless, or TKL, design affords a comfortable layout across its 88 keys. The 6° typing angle is factory set with no clips or other options to change it. Four rubber feet provide additional grip and stability to go along with its impressive 2 lb 12 oz weight.

Drop CSTM80 – Features and Performance

I use a Logitech G915 Wireless Clicky as my daily driver. I love the responsive speed of its keys, but there’s no question the Drop CSTM80 has a decidedly more premium feel when typing. Thanks to its weighted base and Brown switches, it’s a pleasure to type on.

I actually prefer Browns for typing as I’ve had good experience with similar switches in my Hemingwrite smart typewriter, which also features a weighted base. The keys in the Hemingwrite, however, feel a bit more hollow when typing, so it’s definitely a more premium-feeling experience on the CSTM80, no small feat for something 1/10th the price.

With the legend on the front of the keys, rather than the top, there’s a small period of adjustment for those of us used to markings on top of the keys. At the same time, there’s less chance for wear, a nicer effect with the south-facing RGB LEDs, and an ability to apply a secondary label should you not want to replace a keycap entirely.

I would have liked a wireless option to go along with the wired option, but wired is still the most consistent performer and you don’t have to worry about keeping anything charged. Still, for a keyboard about options, having that one additional feature would have further added to its value. As it is, it’s a delightfully compact keyboard with a cable sticking out of it, so you’re really mostly saving space to the left and right.

There’s also not a media key in sight. This is a straightforward keyboard, plain and simple. It has all of the necessary keys among its 88, and not a key more. The matte finish on the keycaps does a solid job of resisting smudges.

Between its weight, materials, and dampening, the CSTM80 is relatively quiet for a mechanical keyboard. The nicely-muted key presses max out well under 80 decibels, with an average more consistently in the 60s, a level typically in the conversational speech range. It still may not be the best choice for a crowded office space, but it’s definitely usable in more environments than your average mechanical keyboard.

While I thoroughly enjoyed typing on the CSTM80, I was a bit less enamored with its gaming performance. I found the responsiveness of this particular switch type a bit sluggish in games like Fortnite. Although I didn’t personally test them, I suspect the Gateron Yellow KS3 switches would be preferable for heavier gaming uses.

Drop CSTM80 – Software and Physical Customization

Since the Drop CSTM80 is usable straight out of the box, you can adjust its various lighting, NKRO versus 6KRO default state, Windows and MacOS swap, and other options direct from FN-based hotkeys. For firmware updates and more advanced configuration options, including changing key binds, LED settings, and layers, you’ll want to use the Drop Keyboard Configurator, available for Windows and Mac. It’s nowhere near as user-friendly as the software from companies like Logitech or Razer, but it has all of the necessary features. One thing of note, though, is that when using the software, I had to reconnect the cable each time to get the keyboard to be recognized, but once that was done I had no issues for the remainder of the working session.

Drop CSTM80 – Keyboard Configurator Screenshots

Where the CSTM80 really shines is with its physical customization. Beyond the keys and switches, these customizations include switch plates, base weights, and decorative cases.

To change out the switch plate or base weight, you have to remove the keycaps, unscrew the back of the keyboard to access the existing plate or weight, remove any additional screws, lift the plate or weight out of the keyboard, align the new plate or weight, and reassemble. Of course, for the switch plate, it’s a bit more involved, as you also need to remove the keys and switches from the existing plate. To change the case, you simply lift up the existing magnetic cover and put on a new magnetic cover.

The switch plates are available in different materials, each with their own advantages in terms of feel. The brass plate is the heaviest and most rigid, offering the firmest typing experience. The FR4 plate is a woven glass-reinforced epoxy resin that’s quieter and lighter than brass. The carbon fiber plate provides a moderate typing feel that mitigates switch ping. The POM plate provides a more muted, deeper, and fuller typing sound, with minimal tactility. The included polycarbonate plate is similar to the POM, but lighter and more flexible.

The stock aluminum base weight included with the CSTM80 is heavy, but there are three heavier options. The heaviest is the brass weight at 16.9 oz, followed by stainless steel with a chromatic physical PVD coating and stainless steel with a mirror polish and black PVD coating, both at 15.6 oz.

The decorative cases are all made of the same polycarbonate material and are intended to match some of the most popular keycap options. Besides the included Black, there’s also Bright White, Camillo Blue, Laser Purple, Shinai Green, Aluminum Silver, and Skiidata Orange. For my own customization, I chose the Aluminum Silver case with brass base weight and all other default options, bringing a slick look and combined weight of 3 lbs 15 oz.

Although the extra costs can quickly add up, there’s no doubt that the physical customization options for the CSTM80 are a real standout. Other than a wireless option, there’s nothing here of note that can’t be physically customized.

This post was originally published on IGN

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