Thursday, September 29, 2022

Drop’s latest mechanical keyboards are love letters to The Lord of the Rings

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Just under a year after Drop released a few keycap sets themed around JRR Tolkien’s Elvish and Dwarvish languages Under the spell of the Ringthe seller of mechanical keyboards is following it up with two full-on keyboards. There is a gray Dwarvish board and a green Elvish counterpart, both of which come fully assembled and ready to go out of the box. Both are selling for $169, with pre-orders opening today, and Drop hopes to ship both in early October. I’ve been trying out the Elvish version for the past few days.

Aside from the keycaps themselves, which feature plain Latin characters in addition to their fantasy equivalents, both keyboards also feature small Tolkien-esque artwork above their arrow clusters. But I like that there are no visible or obnoxious logos Lord of the Rings surf. Instead, there are a few simple wordmarks visible on the bottom of the keyboard (alongside a pair of flip-out feet for height adjustment), but nothing you’ll see during normal use.

Select keys have illustrations instead of Elves.

The keycaps themselves use the so-called “Training” designs, which explains the presence of traditional Latin legends. That means you don’t have to literally learn Dwarfs or Elves to use these keyboards, but the bad news is that the fantasy symbols replace the secondary legends most keyboards use. So it’s easy enough to distinguish the “4” key from the “3” key, but sometimes I forgot what I needed for “#” and what “$” was.

In addition to the lettering, the keycaps also feature some artwork on some of the larger keys. On the Elvish model, this includes an Eye of Sauron on the escape key, the broken sword Narsil on the enter key, and a small Ring of Power in place of the left Windows key. In the box with the keyboard, you also get a few extra free brown keycaps, including a space bar with Elvish letters (it’s the inscription of the One Ringin case you were wondering).

Extra keycaps included in the box.

The keyboard in its default configuration.

By the way, the designer of the keys, Matt3o, outlined what the letters on the other keys mean in a blog post last year. Here are a few highlights:

  • Print Screen = write a book
  • Page Up / Page Down = cebi am (jump up) / cebi dad (jump down)
  • Backspace = gwo dan (go back)
  • Shift = ortho (increase)
  • Remove = geli (shine bright)

The keycaps are generally nicely made. They use the MT3 profile (in other words, their shape) that Matt3o developed and that Drop now sells in different color schemes. MT3 has a long retro look, with sculpted keycaps that fit nicely with the contours of your fingers as you type.

My only personal complaint about the design is that there aren’t raised notches on the F and J keys to help your index fingers find them without having to look. Instead, the idea is that they are slightly more concave than the keys around them so that your fingers can feel them. The design generally works, but in the few days I’ve been using it, I found myself making more of a conscious effort to feel the keys than on keyboards with small notches. However, that may change over a longer period of use.

A press photo of the Dwarvish version.
Image: Drop

Among the keycaps, the keyboard itself is similar to the ENTR model which Drop has been selling for years. But the company has added a number of upgrades to increase the price premium of the Lord of the Rings fashion model. For starters, the new special edition keyboards come equipped with Holy Panda X switches, while ENTR keyboards are typically only sold with linear Gateron Yellow or tactile Halo True switches. Holy Pandas are seen as a more premium switch that is heavy yet smooth, with a large tactile bump. They generally give a solid feel to typing on the keyboard. The keyboard itself isn’t hot-swappable, though, so you’ll need to whip out a soldering iron if you ever want to replace the switches at a later date. That’s a feature increasingly available on more affordable keyboards like Keychron’s Q1.

Oh, and in case it wasn’t clear from these images, the keyboard is just wired instead of wireless. You get a somewhat standard white detachable USB-C cable in the box with the Elvish model, and Drop’s press images suggest the cable is black on the Dwarvish model.

Their LOTR-themed designs won’t suit everyone, but the premium components found in Drop’s latest keyboards won’t make them feel like a cheap attempt to cash in on the Lord of the Rings franchise prior to launch. the premiere of Amazon’s new TV show next month. Both the Dwarven and Elvish versions of the keyboard are now available to pre-order via Drop.

Photography by Jon Porter / The Verge

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