Best Hot-Swappable Keyboards
Mechanical keyboards are some of the most customized PC parts, thanks to a wide range of customization options. Some keyboard hobbyists even personalize their switches to create their custom-built units. Many users prefer a hot-swappable keyboard since it’s a much cheaper way of trying out new switches and incorporating them into your current slate.
Experienced mechanical keyboard addicts who want to experiment between different switches but don’t want to swap the whole keyboard will benefit from hot-swappable keyboards. You can even try out separate controls for various keys to help you be more efficient with typing and other computer-related tasks.
The Best Hot-Swappable Keyboards for 2021
For those who are new to this sort of thing, hot-swappable keyboards have special sockets on the PCB (which is the circuit board within the keyboard) that allow you to click switches into place and pull them out. Unlike factory keyboards, you won’t need a soldering iron during the entire process. However, there are several tools you might need, such as a keycap and switch puller.
Hot-swappable keyboards are ideal for users who want a completely customizable mechanical keyboard due to their modularity and compatibility with a wide variety of switches and most aftermarket keycaps.
Below are some of the hot-swappable keyboards you should look out for:
1. Drop CTRL Mechanical Keyboard
If you want to get into the custom mechanical keyboard hobby, the Drop CTRL Mechanical Keyboard is a perfect starting point. This ten-keyless gaming keyboard has a total of 87 keys with hot-swap switches and programmable macros. It has numerous customization options, an RGB LED backlighting, and a detachable USB-C cord.
Most importantly, it’s hot-swappable, which means you can pull the switches out and put some new ones without any soldering involved. It also has a unique floating keycap style design which allows you to see all the switches through it.
The keyboard also has three elevation angles– flat, low, and high. Moreover, it’s compatible with Cherry MX, Kaihua, and Halo key switches. The body of the board is made of a sturdy aluminum frame with an RGB strip beneath. This keyboard also has six magnetic rubberized feet, which helps it get more stability.
Moreover, its double-shot PBT keycaps are aesthetically pleasing. You can customize its program macros and RGB lighting by going to DROP’s online keyboard configurator. Use the tool on this website to customize the elements of your keyboard and save them to your keyboard’s memory.
Drop CTRL also comes with different accessories such as a switch puller, keycap puller, and two extra magnetic feet that snap into the bottom of the keyboard if you want to change the typing angle. There are also two USB-C connectors, each on the left and right sides.
However, the Drop CTRL mechanical keyboard also has its downsides. For instance, you can observe a bit of key chattering when you’re typing fast, and there are occasions that the spacebar will input more than one time.
Its manufacturer also produces the Drop ALT Mechanical Keyboard, the smaller 65-percent version of the CTRL.
- Key Count: 87 keys
- Case Angle: 6 Degrees
- Dimensions: 14.5” x5.5” x 1.4”
- Weight: 32 oz.
- Solid aluminum metal chassis
- Multiple rubberized feet provide excellent stability
- Clean and convenient 87-key layout
- Customizable RGB lighting
- Convenient dual USB connectors
- More expensive than other mechanical keyboards
- Some key chattering when typing fast
- No braided cable
2. Keychron K8 Mechanical Keyboard
Some people don’t want to spend too much on their keyboard or are just new to this customization hobby. If you fall into these individuals, then the Keychron K8 is the perfect mechanical keyboard for you.
The Keychron K8 is a tenkeyless mechanical keyboard that is highly portable, has wireless capabilities, RGB lights, and is compatible with Mac or Windows. It has a large 4,000 mAh battery that allows it to function remotely for up to 70 hours, depending on its usage.
Whenever you order the Keychron K8 Mechanical keyboard, you will also get a USB-C cable, a few extra keycaps, a switch puller, and a keycap puller. The pullers are great tools that will assist you whenever you want to change the keycaps.
The tenkeyless layout means it doesn’t utilize a number pad, but it does have an arrow cluster, function row, and navigational keys. One disadvantage of the Keychron K8 is that it does not have a gaming mode. Hence, it can’t disable Alt + F4, Windows, Alt + Tab, and other key combinations that exit or interrupt your in-game experience.
The RGB backlighting on the Keychron K8 is excellent. By pressing the ‘Light Bulb’ button on the top right of the board, you can cycle through different presets.
The Keychain K8 can be connected via Bluetooth 5.1 or through a USB-C cable in terms of connectivity. The keyboard can connect up to three devices, and you can switch between them by using the Function plus 1, 2, or three buttons.
Unfortunately, Keychron doesn’t have its software for their keyboards. Thus, you need to use outside software, like Karabiner for Mac or Sharpkeys for Windows, if you want to remap your keys.
Moreover, there aren’t many extra features on this keyboard. It uses media hotkeys instead of macro-programmable or dedicated media keys.
- Key Count: 87 keys
- Case Angle: 4-12 Degrees
- Dimensions: 14.1” x5.1” x 1.7”
- Weight: 32 oz.
- RGB LIghting has over 15 effects
- Portable and can connect up to three devices at a time
- Compatible with both Mac and Windows devices
- Neat looking aluminum bezels
- Great typing quality
- Sturdy build
- No wrist rest
- Keycaps have small legends
- Keyboard height is on the taller side
3. Glorious Modular Mechanical Keyboard
If the CTRL and ALT keyboards seem a bit pricey for your budget, you can try the Glorious Modular Mechanical Keyboard (GMMK) brand. Its mid-range keyboards are known for offering tons of features without breaking the bank.
During its release, this was the world’s first modular mechanical keyboard. It uses SIP sockets or modular switch housings which can be unplugged and replaced with mechanical switches. You can even do this procedure even when the keyboard is connected to a PC or laptop.
This hot-swappable keyboard comes in three sizes– full, TKL, and compact (60-percent). Its board is made of sandblasted aluminum plate, while its keycaps are composed of Doubleshot ABS plastic. There is also a chrome trim that goes around the edges of the keyboard for a sleeker touch.
GMMK uses Gateron brown switches, which are quiet and excellent for typing. You can also change the switches into Cherry MX and Kale. It caters to many PC and laptop users such as programmers, typists, and gamers.
However, one of the disadvantages of the GMMK is it doesn’t have a wrist rest included, although you can buy one from the same manufacturer.
The default red-colored ESC key stands out and makes it look slick. Not including the basic version, you also have the option of getting 13 different key switches. Meanwhile, its fold-out feet can help you properly angle the board to your liking.
- Key Count: 61, 87, and full keys
- Case Angle: 6 Degrees
- Dimensions: 17.2” x5.1” x 1.5”
- Weight: 34 oz.
- Available in three different sizes
- Fully customizable RGB backlighting
- Has its customization software
- Light yet high-end mechanical keyboard
- Impressive build quality
- A bit bulky and non-ergonomic build
- Latency is fairly high
- It doesn’t have storage for switch remover
4. EPO MAKER S71 Optical Keyboard
For those who are looking for an ergonomic hot-swappable keyboard, then the ultracompact EPO Maker S71 is the right one for you. It has the footprint of a 65-percent keyboard, but surprisingly it does have its number pad.
Its casing is mostly plastic coupled with an aluminum backplate to make it sturdier and prevent any flex. On the top left side of the keyboard is a USB-C port, a convenient location. This keyboard doesn’t have any kickstand, but it in itself already has an acceptable angle. The S71 uses the EPO Maker GSA profile keycaps, and the legends are dye sublimated which can prolong its lifespan.
However, the EPO Maker S71 is not for everyone. The keeb layout is not something you will typically see in most keyboards in the market. Some of the non-letter keys, such as the tab, caps, and shift, are slightly smaller than your standard layout. Hence, if you are familiar with the standard keyboard, trying this one out might lead you to hit the wrong keys unwillingly.
That being said, some typists and programmers might find adapting to this keyboard a bit challenging at the start. But, if you are a gamer, then this would be less of an issue for you.
Another unique feature of the EPO Maker is its optical garron blue switches. It offers different options such as optical blue, black, red, and brown. The main difference between mechanical and optical switches is that the latter actuate via the covering of light rather than metal striking one another.
On another note, the keyboard has two stabilizers– a 6.5u spacebar and a 2u backspace. It has four layers and has software for editing the RGB pattern. You can download the software on EPO Maker’s website.
- Key Count: 71 keys
- Case Angle: 6 Degrees
- Dimensions: 14.4” x 5.8” x 1.85”
- Weight: 27 oz.
- Unique ultra-compact layout with Numpad
- Very responsive keystrokes are great for gaming
- Keyboard layout needs a bit of getting used to
- Only hot-swappable with other optical switches
- Getting aftermarket keycaps is difficult if not expensive
5. Royal Kludge RK 61 Mechanical Keyboard
If you want to get into the keyboard customization hobby, but don’t want to dole out massive amounts of cash, then the Royal Kludge RK 61 is a perfect fit. It costs about a quarter of the Drop CTRL but still offers a decent number of features such as backlight LED lights and wireless connectivity.
Meanwhile, the Royal Kludge RK61 uses Doubleshot ABS keycaps which are only 0.9 mm thick. Since the material for the legends is made from different materials, it will not fade away just as fast. However, it will get shiny at some point simply because that’s the quality of ABS plastic.
While the layer implementation in this keyboard is unique in its use of the Fn key, beginners won’t find it challenging to transition to its design.
This keyboard has quite a few stabilizers, such as in the shift, enter, and backspace keys which are all good. However, the stabilizers on the spacebar have a distinct rattling.
In terms of typing, the RK red switch does provide a smooth experience, although not as comparable as that of Gateron Red. The keys have decent down travel and quite crisp. However, the spacebar key might be a bit ratty. Meanwhile, its lightweight actuation force is certainly a welcome feature for gamers using the board on wireless or wired mode.
This keyboard has 17 different lighting effects, which you can toggle by pressing FN plus backlash. You can also change to a single color for all the keys by pressing FN plus the greater than key.
The Royal Kludge RK61’s battery life is rated at up to 10 hours of continuous use with power-saving mode. Its backlight will automatically turn off after three minutes of idle time. It has a USB-C cable and Bluetooth for connectivity.
Overall, the Royal Kludge RK 61 does what you’d expect from a hot-swappable keyboard despite being a budget compact keyboard.
- Key Count: 61 keys
- Case Angle: 5 Degrees
- Dimensions: 11.4” x4.0” x 1.5”
- Weight: 18 oz.
- Affordable price
- Lightweight and ultra-compact
- Borderless layout
- Efficient typing thanks to curve key structure
- Very responsive when executing in-game commands
- Requires a bit of a learning curve for hotkeys familiarization
- Spacebar has some rattle when struck hard
- Keys produce a loud audible click
Why Use a Hot Swappable Keyboard?
Mechanical keyboards are way better than the factory keyboards that PCs or laptops come with out of the box. Not only do they have better typing quality, but these keyboards also come with tons of features and are highly customizable.
The hot-swappable feature of a keyboard is also a welcome feature for customization since it lets you swap keyboard switches by using only a puller. In doing so, you can pull out different switches and plug them into other keyboards for a more personalized end product.
Moreover, the hot-swappable feature also allows swapping switches four or five times faster than the time it would take to customize a traditional mechanical keyboard. Below are some of the advantages of using a keyboard with Hot Swappable features:
- Ability to quickly and easily combine compatible switches to build a personalized typing experience.
- Faulty switches can be easily replaced.
- It enables you to update switches which give you more options for your initial purchase decision.
Things to Consider When Buying a Hot Swappable Keyboard
When buying a hot-swappable keyboard, you shouldn’t just settle for just any product. While the market for these PC accessories is limited, there are several things you should look out for to ensure you are getting your money’s worth.
There are several types of hot-swappable keyboards, such as tenkeyless (TKL), 60-percent, 75-percent, and full. TKL and 75-percent have the same number of keys as a full board, less the Numpad keys. Meanwhile, the more compact 60-percent boards don’t have the Numpad keys plus the dedicated arrow keys and a few more keys.
Mechanical keyboards use several materials that dictate whether they will have a low or expensive price. Hence, it would help if you ensured that the keycaps and the PCB casing reflect their price tag. In most cases, if you want to keep a particular keyboard for years to come, go for double-shot keycaps. If you are buying plastic keycaps, the more expensive PBT has better build quality than its ABS counterpart.
Hot-swappable keyboards often have tons of features that you might consider having or not having on your custom build. Some of the more common attributes include macros, adjustable kickstands, and RGB lighting. Often, the more features a keyboard has, the more expensive its price tag gets.
If you plan to swap the switches soon, you need to make sure that it is compatible with MX-style switches. Some of the most popular MX-style switch brands are Oetemu, Cherry, Kailh, and Gateron.
Value For Money
Hot-swappable keyboards could range anywhere from $50 for the budget models to a few hundred dollars for the more premier brands. You should consider how much you are willing to shell out and resell the switches if they don’t work out.
Ready to Swap to Hot-Swappable Keyboards?
Choosing the best hot-swappable keyboards is a fun process since it allows you to customize your board based on your needs and personality. It’s perfect for those who don’t have the time, space, or equipment to solder their keyboards.
Which of the hot-swappable keyboards are you planning to get next? Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment below.