June 23, 2024

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Drop Sense75 review: A $350 keyboard without the $350 quality

Drop Sense75 review: A $350 keyboard without the $350 quality

Drop has become a popular retailer of keyboard components like keycaps, but it also has a range of fully bundled models for anyone who wants something that works out of the box. These include Entry $99And 200 USD CTRLAnd $250 transfer. Its latest model, the Sense75, is a little different.

With its gasket-mounted design, thick double-shot DCX keycaps, and compatibility with VIA keymapping software, the Sense75 lives up to the latest buzzwords as a premium keyboard for discerning enthusiasts. And its starting price—$349 for the fully assembled version in black—leaves little doubt about the kind of customer Drop is targeting here.

That’s a lot to spend on a keyboard, and it gives you the right to scrutinize every last detail in Sense75. But from the scrutiny the keyboard is completely unable to hold up.

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With its subdued colors, the Sense75 can almost pass as a desktop keyboard when its RGB is disabled, but that’s only half true really. After all, the Sense75 offers a familiar mix of current mechanical keyboard design trends, including a 75-percent layout, gasket-mounted design, and of course the increasingly standard-issue size knob. Feature parity isn’t a bad thing, but it also means the Drop has a leg up if it wants to differentiate itself from competing keyboards like the GMMK Pro and Keychron Q1.

I’ve been using the fully assembled black model of the Sense75, which Drop sells for $349, but there are two different versions available. The fully assembled white version of the keyboard sells for $399, and it’s also available as a bare bones model without keys or keycaps for $249 in black or $299 in white.

That’s expensive, considering the Keychron Q1 has an identical design and nearly identical features—including a gasket mounting system, RGB lighting, and hot-swap sockets—but it only costs $180. With keycaps and switches (it’s our current recommendation for the best premium keyboard). There’s an argument that the Drop keyboard includes as standard the kinds of premium aftermarket components you might use to upgrade your Keychron keyboard, though admittedly only if you want the specific components Drop offers.

There is only one option to switch here – Holy Panda X.

Close-up of the Sense75's volume dial.

Obviously, the keyboard has an audio tweak.

Visually, the Sense75 compares well to the Keychron Q1. Its appearance is clear and well thought out, and like the Keychron, there’s no distracting branding across the top of the keyboard. Around the volume dial, there’s no awkward box like you see on most Q-series boards from Keychron. At just over 3.1 pounds (1.42 kg), the keyboard feels heavy and solid, and I struggle to point out one rough edge. I am a huge fan of this clean look.

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This simple design extends to the Sense75’s RGB lighting. Most mechanical keyboards offer some type of RGB lighting at this point, which usually shines up (and often through) their keycaps. But while the Sense75 has both per-key RGB lighting as well as an external light strip, its keycaps are completely opaque, and its external lighting points downward, meaning you can’t see evidence of either when they’re off. Great news for RGB haters.

As standard, the keyboard comes with a set of Drop’s DCX keycaps, which Retails for $99 as a standalone set. I wrote about the Drop’s keycap design last year, but the short version is that it represents the company’s attempt to compete with GMK, which produces what many enthusiasts believe is the gold standard for aftermarket keycaps. This means that the Drop keycaps use high-quality, thick ABS plastic and a double-shot construction with cool crisp lettering. Enthusiasts will spot small inconsistencies (editor Nathan Edwards immediately noted that the letters on the left Shift key roughly read “Shift”), but they’re much better than the Keychron’s arrow keycaps and are among the best you’ll find on an off-the-shelf keyboard.

Sense75 keyboard.

The keyboard’s DCX keycaps are among the best.

While Keychron keyboards (even the more affordable $100 K-series models) come with Mac and Windows keycaps in the box, the Sense75 comes with only Windows keycaps. If you want your keyboard to have the Command and Option keys instead of Alt and “Super” (the Drop version of the Windows key), you can spend An additional $25 for accessory Mac keycaps. The process of actually flipping the keyboard between Windows and Mac compatibility modes is handled using a keyboard shortcut rather than the simple hardware switching that Keychron uses. But unless you need to switch between the two operating systems on a regular basis, it’s rare.

A big advantage of the more affordable Keychron Q1 bundled over the Sense75 is that it’s available with three different types of switches. The Sense75 has only one switching option: Drop’s Holy Panda X switches. There’s no choice of linear, clicky red or blue switches, or less tactile brown tones. Arguably, this is the point of Sense75’s barebones version. But if you were to buy the stripped-down version of the keyboard in black ($249) plus a set of white-on-black DCX keycaps ($99), you’d spend the same amount as the fully-assembled model with no cash left over for the switches. Doesn’t seem like a big deal.

Meanwhile, if you were to buy the stripped-down version of the Keychron Q1 and then add the Holy Panda X switches and Drop DCX keycaps included as standard with Sense75, you’d be looking at $365: $161 for keyboard, $99 for keyboard. keycaps, and $105 for keys. (That last number is a bit misleading, though, because Drop is the sole seller of Holy Panda X keys, which sell for $1 each and only in packs of 35, which means you have to buy three packs to cover the 75 percent plate. That’s almost Comically hostile to the user, but there are a lot of great switches available for a lot less money.) This setup gives you a very similar keyboard for a lot more money, plus a full set of switches and keycaps that can always be repurposed for a keyboard in the future.

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Keyboard with two keycaps and one key removed.

Drop includes a high quality keycap and key puller in the box.

Sense75 keyboard with RGB lighting is on.

Underglow RGB lighting means the light strips are not visible when it is off.

In fairness to the drop, if you had to pick just one set of keys to ship with a keyboard, you could do a lot worse than the Holy Panda X, and its large, tactile bump feels great here. There’s a lot you can’t get with brown or linear keys, and in addition to the aluminum shell and plate, the keyboard feels chunky and solid to type on without any of the high-pitched pinging sounds you can sometimes get from metal cases, thanks to the gratuitous use of foam wet.

However, along with the Keychron keyboard, the Keychron Q1 is much better. Although they’re both gasket-mounted, meaning their switchpads are sandwiched between strips of squishy foam to give them a bit of give and bounce as you type, the Drop Keyboard doesn’t have nearly as much flex. It gives the Sense75 a more solid feel compared to the Keychron which doesn’t quite scream “gasket”.

The PCB-mounted stabilizers (the mechanism that sits under the long keys to keep them from vibrating) are also a tad rougher than the Keychron’s out of the box. While the Q1’s spacebar has a nice pop sound, the Sense75 vibrates in a way that doesn’t exactly scream “$349 keyboard.” Overall, this means that the typing experience only ends up feeling “okay” rather than “awesome,” and I prefer the feel of the Keychron’s sub-$200 Q1.

Sense75 in profile.

The Sense75 case is heavy and thick.

In addition to the lack of switching options, there is also no option to get the keyboard in European ISO format. This is an ANSI- (read: US) only board. Sense75 switches head south for better compatibility with aftermarket keycaps, and 5-pin PCB sockets for maximum compatibility. Opening the keyboard is relatively easy, with only six screws on the underside of the case to loosen.

Sense75 also supports resetting, but it’s kind of Strange thing that is set up. The good news is that you can use VIA’s excellent software to remap keyboard keys, set up macros, and adjust keyboard lighting. The bad news is that you will need to flash special firmware that supports VIA on your keyboard before it will support the VIA app. That’s because the stock firmware for the keyboard is designed for use with Drop’s configurator, which is not currently compatible with Sense75. Support is due to start next month, but I wasn’t able to test the functionality as part of my review.

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One final note about accessories: In the Sense75’s box, you’ll get a slide switch, a switch, and a USB-C cable alongside the keyboard. Pullers are nice. The key puller has a much larger grip than the Keychron, which makes it easier on the hands if you ever want to remove dozens of Sense75 keys. But the keyboard’s detachable USB-C cable is an oddly long 100cm (about 40in), and I had to use an extension cable to make it look tidy with my desk setup. For comparison, the cable included with my Keychron Q2 was 180 cm (about 70 inches) long.

The underside of the Sense75 keyboard.

The No Drop sign is kept on the underside of the keyboard.

RGB bottom lighting on Sense75.

Sense75 is available in black and white.

The Drop Sense75 is in an awkward part of the mechanical keyboard market. It’s not that it’s the most expensive keyboard ever sold. But with a starting price of $349, it competes primarily with DIY models at home, where there is an expectation that most people will do a certain amount of tinkering and tweaking to get the exact sound and feel they want.

Meanwhile, Keychron’s Q1 offers very similar specs to the Sense75 for under $200, and I think it’s a better typing experience to book. Admittedly, the Q1 stock keycaps aren’t anywhere near as beautiful as the Sense75, but with the money saved, you can buy a set of Drop DCX keycaps—or GMK, MT3, or any aftermarket keycap set—and still have money left over. Or if you’re willing to sacrifice build quality but still want VIA programmability, you can spend less than $100 on the Keychron’s V1 (our current pick for the best keyboard available for most people). Or you can get a wireless keyboard from Epomaker or Ajazz for under $200.

With its slick design, high-quality stock keycaps, and RGB bottom lighting, the Sense75 looks just as nice as the price point would suggest. But the combination of rough stabilizers and a hard gasket means it never ends up feeling good, and hobbyists will likely still have some tinkering to get exactly the feel they want. The Sense75 works out of the box, but I wouldn’t say it feels or acts like a $350 keyboard out of the box.

Photo by John Porter/The Verge