The Drop Studio SHIFT follows in the footsteps of the CTRL and ALT keyboards, though adds some great quality of life improvements and notable upgrades.
Like the CTRL and ALT, the SHIFT has a low profile aluminum case with an acrylic diffuser through the middle of the board. The keyboard is exceptionally sturdy and clean looking without any visible screws on the top or sides of the keyboard. On the bottom, the angled feet have been upgraded with stronger magnets and better design so that they don’t accidentally slide off when moving the keyboard around. After a few days of testing I never had any issue with the feet.
Like previous boards in the family, the SHIFT features 2x USB-C connections on the back, one on either side of the keyboard.
Overall the SHIFT is a very sturdy board that didn’t leave me with any quality concerns.
The SHIFT has a few upgrades over the CTRL and ALT hiding beneath its surface. For starters, there are 60 additional LEDs on the underside of the keyboard, making the glow much brighter and more uniform. It is an immediately noticeable upgrade when turning on the keyboard.
Furthermore, the SHIFT still has per-key lighting and features PBT caps with shine through legends, letting you fully utilize the RGB lighting.
(keycaps may differ in production version)
For me, the 1800 layout is not only a classic with a lot of aesthetic appeal, it also provides quite a bit of improved functionality over a traditional full size keyboard. For starters, the SHIFT is just slightly longer than the CTRL, though provides a full nav cluster and numpad. As someone that uses the numpad a lot in professional software, this layout has become something of a staple for me and one of my favorite layouts of all time.
I did not have time with my sample to program the board, so I will reserve this section until I have more time with one. That being said it should be the same as the CTRL and ALT, which are both quite easy to program, even for a novice.
One of the most notable features of the SHIFT are the Kailh hot swap sockets. These sockets are what allow for switches to be changed without any soldering. Unlike previous methods of hot swappable switches, these seem to be the new industry standard and are very durable and never really give me much issue. If you are careful to check for straight pins on your switches when swapping, you can easily change out the entire board in under 30 minutes.
Overall, the SHIFT is the keyboard I’ve wanted to see out of Massdrop for a while now. The board is feature rich and is a layout that I personally adore. For the price the SHIFT offers a tremendous value if the feature set lines up with your personal taste.
Tl;dr: If you’ve seen a Massdrop Ctrl or an Alt, the Shift is pretty much the same thing but BIGGER! OMG.
This past week I was given the opportunity to review Massdrop’s new self branded board, the Shift! I see they are continuing their tradition of naming these boards after mods on a typical keyboard. I am really curious to see what the next keyboard’s name is going to be.
Let me preface this review that I have no experience with any of Massdrop’s previous boards such as the Ctrl or the Alt, outside of meetups. This is my first Massdrop branded board and any comparisons I make to the rest of the series is done purely on my memories during meetups.
The shift is a low profile hotswap 102 key keyboard made popular by the Cherry G80-1800 series. While it has the flat angled aesthetic, the Shift comes with removable magnetic feet giving it a 5 degree angle. It uses 6061 aluminum, dual USB C connectors, and it’s also QMK powered. When fully built, the board weighs 41.7 oz, or 1182 grams.
The build quality really is no different from Massdrop’s other branded boards. It’s got the same overall design language, and the anodization is consistent across all surfaces. USB ports are not flimsy, and look well supported. No dead underglow or dead backlighting either.
The keycaps are PBT OEM doubleshot shine through. They are fairly thick measuring around 1.2 mm. If you’re used to GMK or Signature Plastics, this isn’t anything to write home about. The legends really look no different than previous iterations. I appreciate that they don’t look too gamery. However, I did find the legends inconsistent. For example, on your typical board, you’ll find that legends on your num row are stacked one on top of the other. Sometimes the @ is on top of the 2, or the 2 is on top of the @. You’ll find this consistency across GMK, Signature plastics or even your typical rubber dome board. On the Shift you have the @ and 2 side by side and this is pretty much followed across the board for all keys that have double legends. However there are three keys where this “pattern” is disregarded and you have legends stacked vertically. Not really a problem, but it irked me.
I’m not a fan of hotswap. Hotswap sockets are very finicky and can often pop off when inserting a switch with enough force. I recommend to support the back when installing switches. On this particular board, the bottom of the PCB is screwed in with 13 screws that it is a very tedious process to get the bottom off in order to do what I recommended.
Another one of my issues with hotswap is that sometimes switches aren’t installed properly. On my review unit, the F11 key actually was not registering because of an improperly placed switch. I would recommend testing every key on your board when you receive it, in fact this should be a standard practice on any board you get. To fix it, simply pull the switch out, unbend the legs, or replace with a new switch.
The Shift has a white PCB and when I first opened this up, I was surprised by the sheer number of LEDs this thing has. Not only does each key have its own LED, there are also LEDs encircling the entire board. That makes a grand total of 160 LEDs. I think this might be the most I’ve ever seen on any keyboard I’ve opened up.
Soldering looks your typical factory soldering. Nothing seemed amiss, no burnt joints, no misaligned components. I compared it to other hotswap boards in my possession and if I’m not mistaken, the Shift’s hotswap sockets look like they are affixed with a little more solder. Looks like Massdrop has paid attention to those popping hotswap sockets I mentioned earlier.
I am not an electrical engineer and I also have little to no experience designing circuit boards. The one thing that I disliked about this PCB is that it looks like the routing of traces which is basically the connections between each component of the board was done based on what worked rather than on making it look beautiful. This looks like a spider’s nest and having a white PCB makes this very very noticeable. To be fair, routing a board to make it look great is a time consuming process which requires a certain skillset to do right. Letting the PCB designer tool automate the process is just so much simpler, and probably a whole lot cheaper. This won’t make the board operate any less efficiently but is simply an observation.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Shift supported USB C to C connection for use with my macbook pro. Both USB C ports work great in this regard.
It is very unlikely that I will be using this combo very often as the board itself is larger than my laptop. I did notice that that just testing every single key using an online keyboard tester was enough to drain my laptop’s battery by 2%. Having the RGBs at full glow probably doesn’t help either. At this rate, I don’t believe my laptop would survive an hour of regular usage with the Shift plugged in.
While this board is QMK compatible, at the time of writing this review, there is no formal QMK contribution. Never fear, Massdrop has consistently contributed QMK support for both their Ctrl and Alt boards and it will happen! Another side note, up till about a month ago, the Ctrl and Alt used different controls and animations as compared with the rest of QMK. Now customers will have access to all of QMK’s lighting modes and I’m fully expecting the Shift to have this too.
The particular unit I received had some strange default keymap formatting. For example, each of the numpad keys were actually mapped to num row keys. The num row keys were as expected until the subtract and addition keys, which were mapped to the numpad’s subtract and addition keys. Please keep in mind that I have a prototype board and this default keymap may very well change with the production units.
I have long been a fan of the 1800 layout. In fact one of the very first custom keyboards I built was a modified Dolch Pac 60. Over the years though, I’ve found that the 1800 is too large for me for practical use, but I still love looking at them and have several in my collection.
In my opinion, the low profile look does not meld well with the 1800 layout. Perhaps that’s just because every other 1800 layout board is high profile and I’ve been conditioned to view that as the norm. I think that the biggest gotcha for me is the space between the num row and the function row. This space is most often just the width of one key. This is true for the Shift as well, however the low profile look somehow makes that space a lot more apparent. It’s a similar illusion for the space separating the numpad. I think a high profile version of this board would have been the better choice aesthetically, however that definitely would have increased its cost.
Judging from what I’ve seen of the Ctrl and the Alt. It seems that Massdrop has a compact keyboard theme going on.I think that rather than using the 1800 layout, the compact 1800 layout should been used instead. I believe that layout is more conducive to a low profile floating key look and will also look great in high profile.
Overall, this is a great board. My biggest issues were really all just aesthetic. I like how the Shift uses QMK, the fact that USB C to C actually works, and that the build quality is top notch. Despite my distaste for hotswap, I appreciate that the Shift provides a good option for people who want to try out all the new switches. I also like how magnetic feet are included in case you don’t like the flat angle. If you like the look, and are currently looking for a semi full sized hotswap board, I would highly recommend this.