Custom mechanical keyboards are distinctive. The keycaps are often a selection of different colors, shapes and heights. The owner swears that the mechanical switches are something special, and they are all housed in a beautiful chassis, topped off with the perfect level of stabilizers, lubrication and mufflers.
Drop, which sells parts to keyboard enthusiasts, knows that not everyone has the time, patience, and skill to create their perfect board. The line of prebuilt keyboards — from the $500 Paragon series to the more viable Expression series and, in the middle, the Signature series — aims to provide customers with that hand-assembled, custom keyboard experience without any DIY. -self know-how.
The Drop Signature Series Islay Night keyboard is arguably the most unique option of the seven added to the series last week, as it’s a “60 percent keyboard”: no function row, no numpad, and no arrow keys. That makes it a no-starter for many consumers, and the board’s $349 price tag is sure to kick it off even more buyers’ lists. But if you’re willing to splurge on a small keyboard, the Islay Night is a top-notch way to take part in popular mechanical keyboard trends like hybrid switches and diffuse RGB without having to build. And you can also pay a subtle tribute to Scotland.
Drop Signature Series Islay Night Keyboard
Using arrow keys? This is not for you
Named after the Scottish island of Islay, this keyboard sits on a bit of an island itself. If it’s not clear by now, you don’t pay for key counting with the Islay Night. It doesn’t have a numpad, but if you don’t spend a lot of time with numbers or spreadsheets, that might be fine. Dropping the numpad will give you extra desk space, a win for minimalists, small desk owners, and gamers with frantically moving mice. But 60 percent keyboards take the “little keyboard” to another level by dropping all navigation keys, including the arrow keys.
You can still enter the arrow keys by holding down the diamond key on the right, which serves as Fn, and †[[† †† †or †† The placement is intuitive. I couldn’t tell you which keys double as arrows from my head, but I can find them without looking at the keyboard for more than a second. But in no way will this ever be as simple as having dedicated arrow keys. If you still insist, I don’t blame you. Sixty percent keyboards aren’t just “not for everyone”; they are not for most people. Drop offers other ready-made keyboards with arrows (but no full-size options).
You can also access F1-12 and the other navigation keys by holding down the diamond/Fn. You can even switch between RGB presets and control the volume with the powerful diamond key, but you’ll need to remember the settings or bookmark this page. The keycaps don’t have handy side-printed legends like some 60 percent keyboards do.
By default, the only real Ctrl key you would expect is Caps Lock, although Drop includes a Caps Lock key cap in the box if you choose to reprogram. In addition, “Command” is proudly written where Windows users expect Ctrl, but it works the same way.
The keyboard layout is based on the Happy Hacking Keyboard (HHKB) layout, which is specially made for coding. The HKKB form factor aims to eliminate “any unnecessary, hard-to-reach key”. The nearly symmetrical layout, cylindrical step design and relocation of the ‘Control’ key help your fingers feel at home in the ‘Home row’ and reduce travel distances for your fingers and hands, reducing finger and wrist fatigue or stress-related injuries are reduced.” But “unnecessary” in the eyes of the beholder. I think arrow keys are quite important for navigating and editing long documents. And some of the keyboard shortcuts I use often, like Ctrl + Shift + V, felt unnatural on the Islay Night.
The entire keyboard is reprogrammable, but you do have to get started with it. QMK open source firmware isn’t as simple as dedicated peripheral apps, like Razer’s Synapse or Corsair’s iCue; it has a less polished UI and you’ll have to flash the keyboard yourself. But to make the transition less painful, the Islay Night comes with a Caps Lock keycap in the box.
DIY worthy design
Drop’s Islay Night is built in the Drop + Tokyo Keyboard Tokyo60 case, a combination of two pieces of CNC machined aluminum pieces angled at 5 degrees. The whole is surprisingly heavy and compact. Don’t worry about this little clacker shifting during aggressive typing sessions. Dark emerald green beveled edges provide a flawless and unique finish that is protected by anodization. The keyboard has a standard one-year warranty, but you can add three years for $50.
Unfortunately, the quality of the case makes the simple but detachable rubber USB-C to USB-A cable an afterthought.
An acrylic diffuser adds a limited amount of RGB. Preset RGB settings provide static and moving colorful effects that complement the dark green of the case. Unlike some gaming keyboards, where every key and even the base and palm rest are coated in RGB, the LEDs here emphasize the keyboard’s natural beauty rather than drown it out with a blinding glow. However, there is a space on the north and south sides of the perimeter that interrupts the flow of light.