/>
X
Why you can trust ZDNet ZDNet independently tests and researches products to bring you our best recommendations and advice. When you buy through our links, we may earn a commission. Our process

'ZDNet Recommends': What exactly does it mean?

ZDNet's recommendations are based on many hours of testing, research, and comparison shopping. We gather data from the best available sources, including vendor and retailer listings as well as other relevant and independent reviews sites. And we pore over customer reviews to find out what matters to real people who already own and use the products and services we’re assessing.

When you click through from our site to a retailer and buy a product or service, we may earn affiliate commissions. This helps support our work, but does not affect what we cover or how, and it does not affect the price you pay. Neither ZDNet nor the author are compensated for these independent reviews. Indeed, we follow strict guidelines that ensure our editorial content is never influenced by advertisers.

ZDNet's editorial team writes on behalf of you, our reader. Our goal is to deliver the most accurate information and the most knowledgeable advice possible in order to help you make smarter buying decisions on tech gear and a wide array of products and services. Our editors thoroughly review and fact-check every article to ensure that our content meets the highest standards. If we have made an error or published misleading information, we will correct or clarify the article. If you see inaccuracies in our content, please report the mistake via this form.

Close

Drop DCX keycap set review: Clean lines for a mid-range price

One of the most recognizable names in mechanical keyboard group buys is expanding its in-house mech key products with an entirely new keycap profile of its own design. Let's take a look at this worthy successor to established key profiles like OEM, SA, and DSA.
michael-gariffo
Written by Michael Gariffo, Staff Writer on
Pros
  • Perfect legends and clean, monochromatic aesthetic
  • Packaging keeps caps organized and installation easy
  • High-end doubleshot quality for mid-range prices
Cons
  • Non-doubleshot spacebar allows unintended light through
  • Mac users need a $25 add-on set for correct modifiers
  • Might feel too slick for some users

I've found most typists don't think about their keycaps all that much. However, that tends to change the second they try out their first truly great – or, for that matter, truly terrible – set. The little plastic bits where our fingers land can make or break the typing experience of $10 bargain-bin keyboards and $500, custom-built, artisanal mechanical keyboards alike. 

Today most boards ship with OEM-profile keycaps. However, enthusiasm for mechanical keyboards has helped expand the availability of after-market sets in the SA profile, a taller profile with spherical indentations, and DSA a flatter variant that shares SA's spherical indent. 

Now, Drop is hoping to make a case for a completely new keycap shape with its DCX profile caps. This new profile attempts to take the OEM shape and optimize it for the needs of modern mech keyboard users, while also providing a clean, high-quality aesthetic. Let's take a look at whether or not Drop's latest attempt to disrupt the mech key market justifies leaving behind more traditional profiles and its $99 asking price. 

replace-this-image.jpg

Drop's DCX set in the Black-on-White colorway installed on a Drop ALT keyboard

Michael Gariffo

Specifications

Profile Drop DCX
Supported board sized Full-sized+
Mac keys included? No (available as $25 add-on)
Stem profile Cherry MX
Material Doubleshot ABS
Available colorways Black-on-White, White-on-Black, Dolch, Genesis, Deep Space, Key-Man, Camillo
Accents or novelties? Multiple enter keys, one escape key, alternate F and J keys
ISO or ANSI Both
Other add-on sets Non-standard spacebar set, Mac modifiers

Typing test video

This test was done using a Drop ALT on a leather desk mat. The ALT has Zeal PC Tealios that I've personally lubed and filmed, and the board itself has been band-aid modded to soften the sound of the stabilizers, and the original stabilizers were replaced with after-market Cherry OEMs.

Build quality

The underside of Drop's DCX keycaps in Black-on-White colorway

The black layer inside actually shows through on top as the legend (letter, number, or other character) for each each key

Michael Gariffo

Drop's DCX keycaps are what's known as "doubleshot." This means that each key consists of two layers: an outer layer in the key's main color, and an inner layer in the color of the key's legend (the letters, numbers, or characters it represents), which is inserted into an identically shaped hole in the outer shell. This is a common construction method for higher end keycap sets because it makes it impossible for the legends to wear off. More on keycap types can be found in the guide linked below.

More: Mechanical keyboards: A comprehensive guide

However, the process of creating the ultra-tight tolerances needed to slot those full-thickness legends into their outer shell is an expensive one. This is why most cheaper boards and cap sets continue to rely on printed legends that can wear off.

keycap-legend-printing-examples-cropped.jpg

Left to right: A HyperX keycap with opaque printing over translucent ABS to provide shine-through legends, a doubleshot Drop X MITO Pulse SA keycap, and a NovelKeys Cherry Taro keycap made of blue PBT with black printing.  

Michael Gariffo

The DCX set's double-shot legends are just about perfect. Each looks clear, crisp, and well-placed. Drop claims each inner layer fits into its outer shell with a tolerance of 0.05mm. While I can't verify their measurement, I can say any gap is undetectable to my eyes or fingertips. 

This dual-layer build creates a thicker, more solid-feeling key than you may be used to. This helps deaden unpleasant pings from key springs and provides a more satisfying sound and tactile feel. They may not be as thick as sets from GMK that cost several hundred dollars, but they're noticeably denser than just about any single-layer set I've tried. 

More: The 5 best mechanical keyboards: From mini to macros

Unfortunately, there's one exception to this: the included spacebars. Where every other key uses two layers (a white outer layer and a black inner layer and legend, in this colorway), the space bar instead uses just a single layer that's barely thicker than the other keys' outer layer. Because of this, the space bar allows unintended light to shine through well enough that you can make out the stems below the cap, as you can see in the image below. 

Drop's DCX Keycap set on a backlit Drop ALT

This was taken on my personal Drop ALT keyboard with the brightness set to 75%

Michael Gariffo

While this isn't a shine-through set, and wasn't specifically designed to be used with backlit keyboards, this is still problematic. Many boards obviously use backlights, from rainbow-flavored gaming boards to serious business models. 

Drop's DCX Keycap set on a backlit Drop ALT

The keycaps provide a nice, subtle overlay to even my garish taste in backlight colors, aside from the one aforementioned flaw

Michael Gariffo

Drop's well aware of this. That's Drop's own well-lit ALT being used in the images here. So, I'm not sure how it let this one flaw slip through in what was otherwise a very well-made set. For what it's worth, the White-on-Black variant of this same set is unlikely to suffer from this same problem due to the darker ABS plastic used. 

Typing feel

Speaking of ABS plastic, it provides a smooth, almost silky feel to these keycaps. That's going to be something of a love-it-or-hate-it aspect of them. If you prefer the rougher, grippier feel of keycaps made of PBT plastic, you might think these are too slick. However, if you prefer a smoother texture, I can say these are one of the best-feeling ABS sets I've used. 

More: HyperX Alloy Origins Core keyboard review: Amazing build, terrible keycaps

Importantly, even after a week of average use, the set showed no signs of picking up the kind of gross shine some cheaper ABS caps can develop way too fast. It proves that ABS can be just as long-lived as PBT, if done right. 

The DCX Profile

A comparison of the three major key profiles

Drop's DCX profile closely mirrors the OEM set at the top, with the height of all rows reduced by about the same amount.

Michael Gariffo

To put it plainly, it feels very similar to the OEM keycaps you're likely used to. This can be good or bad, depending on your perspective. 

On the negative side, it's not revolutionary, nor does it provide any benefit to your typing speed. I found myself typing pretty much identically, as far as speed and accuracy go, on these keycaps as I did on my usual OEM set. 

On the positive side, there's no adjustment period. Unlike switching to SA's super tall keys, or DSA's totally flat caps, DCX provides a comfortably familiar typing experience that you immediately feel at home with. 

More: Keychron K8 review: A satisfying, sub-$100 gateway to mechanical keyboards

So, what's different about these keycaps then? First and foremost, they're shorter than OEM keys. This provides a feel that's closer to what you'd expect from a low-profile board, or something halfway between the typing experience of a discrete keyboard and a laptop. It also creates a sense of the keys being slightly faster, even if that sensation doesn't necessarily translate into actual words-per-minute. 

Drop's DCX Keycap set in its package

Each row of the excellent included packaging has a little paper tray that can be lifted out to make it easy to transfer and sort keycaps

Michael Gariffo

The only other differences detectable to this writer's hands were extremely minor: a barely different angle here, a slight variation in how sharp the edges of the cylindrical indent was there. Drop's own promo materials call the DCX profile "both familiar and undeniably unique." I'd say that's an absolutely fair and accurate description.

Bottom line 

The big question here is, does the DCX keycap set justify its $99 price tag? For mech keyboard enthusiasts, this product's clear target demographic, the Drop DCX sets provide a middle ground between the plethora of cheaper, less well-made $50 sets and small-batch, several-hundred-dollar GMK sets. 

This refers to both pricing and quality. I've never felt a $50 set that matched the thick, satisfying sound profile these doubleshot caps do, but I've also never seen a GMK set with a spacebar thin enough to let unintended light let shine through. 

A secondary tray from Drop's DCX keycap set

Some of the included accent (reversed colorway) keys, alternate sizes, and alternate legends that ship with this set

Michael Gariffo

In this way, the DCX keycaps from Drop are much like the company's mechanical keyboards: a great, mid-range entry point to the mechanical keyboard hobby. Upgrading from your bog-standard keycaps to this set will give you a clear idea of if the impact keycaps can have on your typing experience is worth optimizing for you.

For me, the Drop DCX keycaps are a worthwhile, though not perfect, option for users seeking a clean, monochromatic aesthetic. That said, I can't recommend enough that Drop take a look at that issue with the space bar. 

More: The 5 best gaming mechanical keyboards: Fast and Accurate

Aside from this one flaw, the DCX sets wholly justify their asking price, especially with the full and complete range of caps provided. Things like shortened modifier keys, color-swapped accent keys, and alternate legends all increase the value proposition to a point where the DCX base set is all most people need. The only exception would be Mac users, who will want to opt for the $25 set that includes Mac-specific mod keys. 

If you're looking to dip your toes into the deep end of the mechanical keyboard pool without straying into high triple digit costs for just your keycaps, the Drop DCX profile offers a great entry point. 

Alternatives to consider 

If you like this aesthetic, but prefer something closer to an SA profile, these are a great option. They're a little more expensive, but still quite cheap as GMK sets go. 

An even cheaper set than the DCS caps opts for PBT plastic and a more standard OEM profile instead. While I haven't tested this specific set, I've found Glorious' GBPT sets to be shockingly well-made for their cost, in general. It's also available in a whole rainbow of colors.

And now for something completely different...as least as far as its colorway goes. This other DCX set is a lot flashier with its space-inspired colors, but it still provides the exact same quality and new profile. 

Related

Keychron Q5 keyboard review: Greater functionality for a greater price
keychron-q5-keyboard-1

Keychron Q5 keyboard review: Greater functionality for a greater price

Office Furniture
Glorious Aura keycaps review: Best pudding caps I've ever used
replace-this-image.jpg

Glorious Aura keycaps review: Best pudding caps I've ever used

Gaming Accessories
Motorola Edge 30, hands on: A very thin mid-range phone with a 144Hz AMOLED screen
Motorola Edge 30

Motorola Edge 30, hands on: A very thin mid-range phone with a 144Hz AMOLED screen

Smartphones