Top 5 Best Hot-Swappable Keyboards: 2021 In-depth Guide and Review


If you are someone who enjoys mixing things up often and is constantly on the lookout for ways to make their keyboard better, chances are you have at least given some thought to purchasing a hot-swappable keyboard.

Hot-swappable keyboards are perhaps the easiest keyboards to mod as they are designed to be as flexible and customizable as possible. I think anyone who is keen enough to buy a nice mechanical keyboard should look into hot-swappable as their main keyboard because you are very likely going to want to swap things, such as your switches, out often.

If you aren’t quite sure what a hot-swappable keyboard is, how it works, or why you might want one, you are in the right place. This article will cover all of that and more before finally giving you a list of what I think are the 5 best hot-swappable keyboards on the market and why.

I would not be surprised if you settled on one of these 5 for your next keyboard as they offer unparalleled opportunities for cool customizations that anyone can make. Trust me, it makes keyboard modding easier than you previously thought possible.

Top 5 Best Hot-Swappable Keyboards: 2020 In-depth Guide and Review

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What is a Hot-Swappable Keyboard?

A hot-swappable keyboard is a keyboard that has a slightly different printed circuit board (henceforth referred to as PCB). Now, normally the PCB is directly connected to the switches which are in turn connected to the keycaps. The keycap is pressed by the user, the pressure depresses the switches mechanisms, and then the switch makes contact with the PCB which it is attached to and a signal is sent from the keyboard to the PC to let it know that it has been pressed.

Your computer then displays the output. Simple, right? The problem is if you want to swap the switches for a new set you will need to take apart the keyboard and then remove each switch one by one. This process is tedious, it takes ages and you will find that it ends up costing you too because you need to desolder the old switches and then solder the new ones into place. It can honestly take hours, if you want to do it very cleanly it’ll take a full afternoon at least.

Soldering is tedious and the process can be pretty mind-numbing. Not to mention that the odds of you burning out, breaking, or just losing one of the switches is pretty high. Especially for a beginner. So, what can we do? That’s where the hot-swappable keyboard comes in.

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Hot-swappable keyboards give the ability to pop the switches in and out without the use of a soldering iron. All you need to do is open the keyboard up and then pop the old switches out and clip the new ones back in. The process goes from taking hours with a soldering iron to 10-15 minutes.

I truly do believe that hot-swappable keyboards are the way to go, especially for newer mechanical keyboard owners. They are always a safe bet. That’s not to say that experienced users shouldn’t use them. The benefits are just going to be less pronounced.

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Using a Hot-Swappable Keyboard

ProsCons
Easy to useCan’t install half plate
Fast to swap out switchesConnection is less stable
Hard to mess upLimited on switch choice
Beginner friendly

What are the Benefits?

The first benefits are obvious. Of course, they are easy to use. That’s the whole point. But. I don’t think it’s always just how much of a difference that makes if you haven’t actually tried to change out the switches yourself you can’t fully grasp just how damn annoying it can be. It’s not fun, it’s not easy, and you’ll probably break something.

Being able to swap the switches easily is great. Especially if you like to do it often. I think that’s the biggest benefit in that regard if it takes you a few hours to swap the switches with a standard keyboard but you only do it once a year (if that) then it’s almost like you could argue what’s the problem. However, if you like to swap switches often then the benefits are much more pronounced.

For example, some switches are far better for gaming but are not quite so good for typing. Some switches are loud and give good feedback which you might like in the comfort of your own home but when it comes to working in a shared workspace at the office it’s no longer socially acceptable to hack away at your cherry Mx blues. You would perhaps prefer some nice silent reds.

You will also find that you do save money in the long run because you simply just won’t need to buy any of the tools to modify the keyboard. No solder, no soldering iron, no electrical current testers to ensure you haven’t broken any of the switches, and no replacement switches. You also completely remove the risk of ruining your PCB. The risk is small to start with but not non-existent.

What are the Drawbacks?

Hot-swappable keyboards are great, I like them and I think most people new to the world of owning mechanical keyboards have a lot to gain from them. That being said, they aren’t perfect and there are some pretty major drawbacks that you absolutely should be informed of before making your purchase.

First of all, there is counterintuitively less flexibility in some regards. For example, you can’t install half plates on a hot-swappable keyboard because the PCB isn’t even exposed let alone positioned in such a way that you could install a half plate. Furthermore, because there is that extra mechanism between the switch and PCB the connection isn’t quite as stable. It isn’t unstable by any stretch of the imagination, but it isn’t quite as good.

Additionally, some people simply don’t intend to swap their keyboard switches out all the time. They find a set they like the sound/look of and stick with them for the foreseeable future. If you are such a person, you are far better off picking a keyboard and then choosing its switches and spending that few hours to install them properly.

The connection is better and they are far more secure. Most often you will find it’s beginners who are drawn to a hot-swappable keyboard simply because they feel more confident swapping switches or making other minor modifications on one. Which is fine! That’s the whole idea behind the hot-swappable so you shouldn’t feel bad for making the most of it.

Are Hot-Swappable Keyboards Right for me?

This next small section feeds directly off the pros and cons segments so a lot of the specifics are the same. However, it’s important to consider a few things when choosing a hot-swappable.

If you are buying a keyboard simply because you like the look and sound of it and it just happens to be hot-swappable, don’t. There are better keyboards out there for a lower price simply because they aren’t hot-swappable.

I would really only encourage you to buy a hot-swappable keyboard if you truly believe that you will be swapping the switches often. I’m talking about a couple of weeks at max between each swap. Otherwise, just bite the bullet and go with the standard keyboard.

If you are in the market for an end game, last you 5 years, the perfect keyboard type build then I’d suggest that you perhaps up your budget for it and go for a standard build.

The 5 Best Hot-Swappable Keyboards

Price comparison chart for all 5 keyboards:

KeyboardPrice Comparison
Drop Ctrl$$$$$
Input Club K-Type$$$
Drop Alt$$$$
Keychron K6$
Glorious Modular$$

Per Amazon rules, I can’t disclose exact prices. This is a visual representation of the price compared to each other. The more “$” means a higher price comparatively.

There aren’t a huge amount of hot-swappable keyboards on the market, even fewer that I would consider being valid options for anyone let alone a keyboard enthusiast. That being said, there are some great ones if you know where to look and there is only going to be more and more as time goes on.

The clear benefits are a real selling point for many people, hopefully, the bigger name brands start to push hot-swappable product development so we can see some more innovation. Especially regarding the stability of the connection between switch and board. Here are what I think are the 5 best hot-swappable keyboards on the market right now.

Drop Ctrl

If you have spent some time looking at hot-swappable keyboards online the Drop Ctrl being first on my list shouldn’t surprise you. It’s a pretty darn good keyboard, being hot-swappable aside, it’s of very high quality and fun to use.

When you purchase your Drop Ctrl you’ll find that there are a few options available to you at point of purchase. The first is, which switches do you want? There are heaps of options so you better spend a good hour or two weighing up your options.

I would recommend the cherry Mx blues as I enjoy the feedback and they are comfortable to use. The next question is, do you want some more expensive keycaps? That’s up to you, they cost a fair bit but for some people, it’s worth it.


Related article: PBT Keycaps vs ABS Keycaps


Features

The Drop Ctrl has a lot of great features to back up its hefty price. Here are it’s best features:

  • Can choose switches.
  • Can choose keycaps.
  • Programmable.
  • USB-C capable.
  • Tenkeyless (no NumPad)
  • Comfortable to use.
  • Very durable – metal plate base.

Final thoughts

I like this keyboard, it does everything well and most importantly it hasn’t made being a hot-swappable keyboard it’s only real benefit. The hefty price tag (upwards of 200 bucks) can turn some people away but hear me out.

A set of cherry Mx blues can cost you fifty dollars, so getting them included with the keyboard instead of having to buy them basically cuts your expenses by 25%. Something to consider.

This keyboard is fun to use and very reliable, it would serve anyone well. Especially new keyboard owners, you will have never used anything like this.

If you’d like to learn more or read more reviews, check it out on Amazon.


Input Club

INPUT CLUB K-TYPE Keyboard kings hot swappable keyboards
Image by: u/CandiedChaff

The input club is another tenkeyless keyboard, no NumPad. It’s matte colors and simple layout are what draw me to this keyboard, it has a good aesthetic and seems even at first glance to be pretty well made. When you start looking at the specifics you can see why this keyboard is so popular.

RGB lights, quality keycaps, even programmable macros, and functions have been made easy to use. This keyboard does get a little caught up trying to do everything rather than just a few things well, but you can’t fault them for trying.

Features

Here are the most notable of the many features of the Input Club:

  • Tenkeyless.
  • PBT Keycaps.
  • Average stabilizers.
  • RGB backlight.
  • Detachable feet (stand).
  • Programmable.
  • Great look and feel to it.

Final thoughts

The input club is great. It does everything pretty well, that being said it has fallen into a common trap of trying to do too much and ultimately neglecting some areas.

The stabilizers are okay, at least there are stabilizers, but they aren’t the best. They will, over time, start to deteriorate and key wobble will become more and more apparent.

The keycaps themselves are pretty good except the backlight is so powerful almost comes through the caps which isn’t necessarily a major issue but it’s definitely something you should be aware of.

If you’d like to learn more or read more reviews, check it out on Amazon.


Drop Alt

The Drop Alt is the younger cousin of the Drop Ctrl. The biggest difference is that it’s a compact model (65%) and designed to be sort of a “lite” version of its predecessor. Which I think is great, because what this keyboard does is offer many of the same great features in a smaller frame making it far more portable and convenient.

Of course, it doesn’t do quite as much but it still does enough. If you were on the fence about the Ctrl maybe the Alt is more your speed. The same customizations are available to you (with the same pricing) with a few added bonuses. For example, you can choose to purchase this keyboard in either high or low profile.

Features

The Drop Alt has tons of great features, here are the most notable ones.

  • Choose your switches.
  • Choose Keycaps.
  • Choose profile.
  • 65%.
  • Smooth finish (looks great!)
  • USB-C detachable cord.
  • Lower price.
  • Far more compact.

Final thoughts

I think this keyboard is great, I like how they have managed to fit so many of the features of the larger model into this one. That being said, it’s not perfect.

As with any compact keyboard, you are going to lose some functionality. However, with the Drop Alt, they tried to combat this by cramming some of the keys closer together. Which almost works but not really.

It looks a little off and the positioning takes some getting used to. But it gets the job done, so you could argue it’s worth it. That’s a matter of preference though undoubtedly.

If you’d like to learn more or read more reviews, check it out on Amazon.


Keychron K6

The Keychron K6 made it onto this list because not only is it a high-quality hot-swappable keyboard but it is also a wireless keyboard, that’s right, you don’t have to rely on USB cables just to have a hot-swappable. You wanted portability and ease of use, you got it!

The Keychron is slightly larger than the Drop Alt but smaller than the Ctrl, it’s a 75% keyboard that lacks very little functionality so no worries there. It has a high-quality backlight and does all of this for just under $70 so it is also arguably our best budget option. Which is great!


Related article: Keychron K1 vs K2 vs K4 vs K6


Features

The Keychron has many great features, here are just some of them:

  • 75% layout.
  • Comfortable to use.
  • Wireless or wired available.
  • Bluetooth up to 10m.
  • USB-C charging (very quick).
  • Looks great – smokey grey by default.
  • Multiple switch options.

Final thoughts

I think as a budget keyboard goes this one is pretty great, I would recommend it to someone even if they aren’t sticking to a tight budget if they wanted a wireless keyboard.

I like that you can work wired or wireless. I think the flexibility says a lot about what they are trying to do here. But, as always, this keyboard isn’t perfect.

Its battery is a little dull, that’s a very nitpicky complaint but there you are. And the options of switches on purchase are kind of average in my opinion, but there are options and that should be commended. Besides, this is a hot-swappable keyboard – swap the darn switches yourself!

If you’d like to learn more or read more reviews, check it out on Amazon.


Glorious modular mechanical gaming keyboard

Last, but not least, we have the Glorious Modular mechanical gaming keyboard. I love this option, it’s on the list as more middle of the pack choice if you aren’t comfortable shelling out 200 bucks. But, that being said, I still think it’s awesome.

I’m a sucker for the typical gaming keyboard look, the black finish, the RGB backlight, the works. This keyboard doesn’t disappoint. I genuinely believe that this keyboard goes toe to toe with any of the other despite being cheaper and a little smaller.

Features

The Glorious Modular Mechanical Gaming keyboard has a fair few features you will want to be aware of:

  • It’s modular – making customizations is super easy.
  • 13 Key switches available.
  • RGB lights.
  • Programmable Macros.
  • Double shot keys.
  • 60% keyboard.

Final thoughts

This keyboard is on the list as a mid-range option but does pretty much everything that the higher end ones do too. It’s great, it does what you need it to, it doesn’t work as an office keyboard but that’s to be expected when you buy a keyboard with gaming in the name. Out of the switches available, you are bound to find one set you like, if you don’t, simply swap them out.

If you’d like to learn more or read more reviews, check it out on Amazon.


Build Your Own Hot-Swappable Keyboard with a Hotswap PCB

If none of these choices interest you, don’t worry there is one last option. Many people on the Mechanical Keyboard Subreddit have taken it upon themselves to custom build their own hot-swappable keyboards that look amazing.

It’s not too hard to build your own mechanical keyboard, and the cost could be cheaper then a prebuilt if you wait for discounts and participate in group buys.

A group by is basically a community coming together to buy a product that would probably not be worth it to the vendor if enough people didn’t purchase it. Because of this, you can usually get the item at a decent discount.

A few great websites for finding group buys are:

You can also join the Reddit group and leave a message asking if anyone is participating in a group buy. Everyone there is super friendly and would be happy to point you in the right direction!

Conclusion

Hopefully, you now fully understand what hot-swappable keyboards are and whether or not you might want them. I fully back any of the choices in this list but if I had to pick one it would be the Drop Ctrl. It may cost a pretty penny but you are getting one hell of a good keyboard. Whatever you decide, good luck!


If you want to see more of my product reviews, check out my Guides and Reviews category!


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