Diving into the world of mechanical keyboards is a thrilling experience. Creating custom builds, in particular, can easily become a rabbit hole for keyboard enthusiasts. However, it can be a daunting task, especially if you’ve never been a “do it yourself” kind of person. That’s where the hot-swappable keyboard market comes in. Through these, you get the benefit of customization without having to solder switches yourself. Which models are the best? Let’s find out.
What Is a Hot-Swappable Keyboard?
If you’ve never heard of a hot-swappable keyboard before then you might be wondering what it is. What is a hot-swappable keyboard and what makes it different from regular keyboards? Simply put, a hot-swappable keyboard is a model that has specialized sockets.
These special sockets allow people to pull out the switches and easily replace them with different ones without soldering/desoldering. This decreases the risk of failure and damage and makes the customization process much easier. As a result, even beginner keyboard tinkerers can easily replace their switches anytime.
With that said, can you convert a keyboard to hot-swappable if it wasn’t in the first place? It depends. Most keyboards aren’t convertible and there are only a select few instances wherein you can make a keyboard hot-swappable. However, most of the time you cannot convert a regular keyboard into a hot-swappable one.
10 Best Hot-Swappable Keyboard Models
- Compact 65% layout
- High-quality build
- Complex software
- No function keys
The best hot-swappable mechanical keyboard for those who want a compact layout is none other than Drop ALT. Through it, you gain access to several customization features that aren’t always available on mechanical keyboards. For example, the keyboard has a full N-key rollover, per-key RGB lighting, and a detachable USB-C cable.
As for the switches, the Drop ALT comes in multiple different switch options. These include the Cherry MX Blue/Brown, Halo Clear/True, and Kaihua Box White/Box Silver. Moreover, the keys can come in either high or low profiles, depending on your preference.
Speaking of keys, they’re made of Doubleshot PBT plastic so they’re both beautiful and durable. The typing experience is also great (although it will depend on the switches you use). It’s generally responsive, fast, and light to the touch.
Finally, the hot-swappable keyboard is also both durable and lightweight. Its frame is made of aluminum and the model has detachable magnetic feet, allowing for better ergonomics. However, it is quite expensive and goes for roughly $200 on Amazon.
- Functional TenKeyLess (TKL) layout
- High-quality build
- Complex software
The Drop CTRL is widely considered the best hot-swappable keyboard – and we can see why. After all, the model has all the features you might need from a hot-swappable keyboard. For example, it has several customization options and provides fully programmable macros. The keyboard also comes with a detachable USB-C cable, RGB lighting, and a variety of switch options.
Its compatible switches are the same as the Drop ALT. These include the Cherry MX Blue/Brown, Halo Clear/True, and Kaihua Box White/Box Silver. Apart from the selection of switches, you can also choose between high and low-profile versions depending on your needs. Alternatively, you can purchase just the body without switches/keycaps if you want to head straight into customization.
Like the Drop ALT, the build quality on the Drop CTRL is high-quality. It’s made of sturdy aluminum, and the keys are made of Doubleshot PBT plastic. The feet are also rubberized and magnetic, allowing for adjustable positions and better ergonomics.
Perhaps the only difference between the Drop CTRL and the Drop ALT is the layout. The Drop CTRL is a hot-swappable keyboard TKL, whereas the ALT features a 65% size. This makes the CTRL much more functional as it retains the function keys and commands keys in place.
Moreover, it’s much easier to transition to compared to the ALT because the layout is more reminiscent of full-sized keyboards. It also costs about the same as the ALT on Drop’s website.
- Highly programmable
- Compact 60% size
- N-key rollover
- Hard to get used to the layout
- Not as sturdy
If you’re looking for a hot-swappable keyboard with a 60% layout, then we recommend the Epomaker SK61. It’s not often that hot-swappable keyboard models come in this size. After all, most people like larger sizes that are easier to get used to.
Nonetheless, if you need a tiny keyboard, the Epomaker is the best one to use. That’s because its switches are not only hot-swappable but its keycaps are also made of PBT. They’re high-quality, durable, and aesthetically pleasing as well. Apart from these, the hot-swappable keyboard also comes with RGB backlighting as an additional perk.
Furthermore, the keyboard itself provides a light typing experience. The keys are fast and responsive, and you don’t need to press too hard to register a stroke. However, the experience will vary depending on the type of switches you use.
Speaking of which, the switch compatibility is fairly decent as well. The hot-swappable keyboard can come with linear black switches or more tactile blue ones. There’s also internal flash memory that can hold up to three different profiles.
Finally, the keyboard is one of the few that’s highly compatible with macOS. Hence, it’s the better choice if you’re someone who uses Mac computers. It’s also inexpensive, coming in at less than $70 on Amazon.
- Good software
- Good build quality
- MicroUSB connection
Are you looking for a full-size hot swappable keyboard that’s as versatile as Drop’s selections? Then look no further than the Glorious GMMK. It’s high-quality and versatile, providing you with a selection of 13 different switch options, including Cherry MX Red ones. Moreover, the keyboard itself – specifically the plate – is highly durable and is made out of sandblasted aluminum.
Apart from this, the GMMK is unlike other keyboards on this list in that it comes in multiple sizes. You can choose from three, specifically: full-sized (100%), TKL, or 60%. As a result, you can gain all of the GMMK’s features regardless of your limited desk space.
In addition, the Glorious GMMK features macro programmability and sports full RGB lighting. It’s certainly tough to beat, especially considering it’s only half the price of the Drop CTRL and ALT.
However, do note that this hot swappable keyboard has its downsides, such as the ABS plastic keycaps. Sure, they’re Doubleshot so they’re more durable than regular ABS keys. Nonetheless, they will appear greasier over time compared to their PBT counterparts.
- Customizable RGB lighting per key and on the sides
- Full-sized layout
- Durable build
- Macro programmable
- Non-detachable cable
- Not portable
If you’re looking for a hot swappable keyboard equipped with the best RGB lighting, we recommend the Hexgears Impulse. That’s because, unlike most RGB keyboards, this one shines its RGB lighting on multiple sides.
For one, its RGB light shines through on a per-key basis, allowing for more versatility and uniqueness in its design. In addition, the Impulse’s sides have RGB lighting, so it lights your entire desk space not just through the keys. The RGB is also customizable (although the method for it is a little hard to wrap your head around).
Apart from the RGB, this hot swappable keyboard also comes in a full-sized layout. Hence, you get the benefit of having the Numpad and all the peripheral command keys you want. The keyboard also features durable pudding PBT keycaps and is compatible with several mechanical switches.
However, the drawback to the Impulse is that its braided cable is non-detachable. Hence, you can’t throw it in a backpack to travel with as easily. Not that you’d want to, of course, as the design and size itself are large and bulky. Nonetheless, if you’re okay with its drawbacks, the Hexgears Impulse is not too expensive and only costs $100 on Amazon.
- Ultra-compact 60% size
- USB-C and Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity
- Mac and Windows compatibility
- Learning curve because of the tiny layout
- No dedicated navigation keys
- Plastic case
The Kemove Shadow & Snowfox is a compact 60% hot-swappable keyboard that’s perfect for those with tiny desk spaces. By default, it comes with different Outemu switches such as the black, blue, brown, and red switches.
Now, we know that those switches aren’t the best in terms of quality. However, the keyboard does make up for it in that it’s hot-swappable and compatible with other brands. Moreover, the keyboard provides other advantages like the durability of its aluminum frame and the Doubleshot PBT keycaps. Of course, the case itself is made of plastic but there’s little-to-no flex to it despite that.
Apart from this, the keyboard is unique in that it’s compatible with both USB-C and Bluetooth 5.0. Hence, you can easily pair it with devices other than your main computer anytime. The wireless connectivity (on top of its compact size) also makes it great for portability.
However, the downside to the compact nature of the 60% layout is the high learning curve. That’s because 60% models come with no navigational or function keys by default. Hence, you’ll have to rely on pressing the FN key and additional layers to input any kind of navigational commands. Nonetheless, it’s the perfect option for tiny workspaces and those who are on a budget.
- Compact 65% layout
- Optional aluminum bezels
- Mac and Windows compatibility
- 5-pin sockets
- Bluetooth 5.1 connectivity (up to three devices at once)
- No proprietary customization software
- Missing keys
- ABS keycaps
The Keychron K6 is, by far, one of the best hot-swappable 65% keyboard models out there. That’s because it comes with several customization options that aren’t present in most keyboards.
For example, the keyboard allows you to choose between Optical and Mechanical switches. This lets you have more control over the typing experience you want (and the variety of switches to choose from). The keyboard also comes with 5-pin sockets so it’s compatible with both 3-pin and 5-pin switches.
Apart from this, the hot-swappable keyboard also gives users a choice between aluminum or non-aluminum bezels. Hence, you can choose to cut down the cost or spend a little more for durability and better aesthetics.
In addition, the keyboard supports over 18 RGB backlighting effects. You can also remap keys or program macros – but it’ll take a third-party software to do so. Furthermore, the hot-swappable keyboard is compatible with both Mac and Windows. The brand even sells different modifier keycaps allowing you further control.
Finally, the affordable hot-swappable keyboard also comes with Bluetooth 5.1 connectivity. It can even connect to three devices at once so it’s great for multitasking and switching workspaces. However, do note that the K6 only comes with Doubleshot ABS keycaps. Hence, while the legends are pretty, they can become greasier and shinier over time.
- Bluetooth 5.1
- Long battery life
- TKL layout
- Windows and Mac compatibility
- Aluminum frame
- Optional RGB backlighting
- ABS keycaps
- Thick design
- No dedicated software
If you’re looking for the best keyboards that are hot-swappable with a TKL layout, we suggest the Keychron K8. It has most of the best features you’ll ever need in a keyboard. For example, the keyboard features both wired and wireless (Bluetooth 5.1) connectivity. Hence, you can switch between multiple computers (Mac or Windows) anytime.
In addition, the K8 comes with a 4,000mAh battery built-in – that’s a lot, even for smartphone standards. Rest assured you can use this keyboard for at least 72 hours wirelessly without needing to charge.
Apart from this, the Keychron K8 also comes with 5-pin sockets, allowing for easy customization. However, your choice of default switches is limited to only Gateron Optical ones (Red, Brown, and Blue). Moreover, the keys on the K8 are high-profile and made of ABS plastic so they aren’t exactly ideal. Nonetheless, if you’re looking for a reliable but affordable option, it’s certainly a good choice.
- Compact 60% layout
- Wireless (Bluetooth 5.0) and wired connectivity
- PBT keycaps
- Per-key RGB
- Budget option
- Provides only Redragon switches by default
- Learning curve with the tiny layout
The best budget hot-swappable keyboard on the market is none other than the Redragon Draconic K530. It’s hot-swappable, affordable, and has Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity (up to three devices at once). Moreover, the 3,000mAh battery can keep it going even over long periods.
Apart from this, the hot-swappable keyboard is great for gaming as it has full rollover features built-in. It also has smart dual-function keys that supplement the lack of dedicated function and arrow buttons.
However, the K530 does have its downsides. For example, it only ships with proprietary Outemu switches. Hence, you have to swap those out when the product gets to you if you want a better typing experience. Nonetheless, it’s the perfect choice for those who need a compact and affordable hot-swappable keyboard.
- Great RGB lighting
- TKL layout
- Detachable USB-C cable
- Onboard memory
- No dedicated software
- Not as durable
If you’re specifically looking for something with impeccable RGB lighting, we recommend the Womier K87. That’s because the RGB truly shines through almost every part of the keyboard including the keys and even the case. However, do note that there’s no dedicated software that will help with customization. As a result, the 18 lighting effects it comes with are all you’ll ever get.
Like other hot-swappable keyboard models, it gives you a choice between several different switches by default. These include the Gateron Blue, Red, Yellow, Brown, and Speed Silver. The keys that ship with the keyboard also feature Doubleshot PBT plastic so it’s highly durable and reliable.
However, do note that the build quality isn’t the most durable. Moreover, the lack of dedicated software makes it a little harder to use. Nonetheless, if you need something fairly affordable and aesthetically pleasing, it’s certainly a decent choice.
What to Look for When Buying a Hot-Swappable Keyboard
The design of a hot-swappable keyboard is a crucial part of the decision-making process. After all, you’re going to use the keyboard every day, so it might as well be pretty to look at. As such, the design of the keyboard – its size, weight, shape, colors, etc. – should all be taken into consideration.
Apart from aesthetics, the hot-swappable keyboard should also be well-built. You’ll want something durable, especially if you’ll be swapping switches on the PCB often. This means looking out for Doubleshot keycaps, PBT keys, and better ratings overall. Of course, better durability also means a higher price, so you’ll have to balance those things as well.
The biggest consideration you might want to watch out for is the size or layout of the hot-swappable keyboard. That’s because size and layout determine functionality and what you can and cannot do with a keyboard.
For example, full-sized layouts are the most beneficial to those who crunch numbers as part of their daily routine. On the other hand, a TKL, 75%, or 60% layout will suffice for those who don’t need a Numpad. Smaller keyboards are also especially useful for people who want to save space and don’t have a large desk.
Apart from this, portability is also a key consideration as some people want something that can be used while traveling. This makes thinner and smaller keyboard layouts the better choice.
A plain jane hot-swappable keyboard might be enough for some people. However, you generally get more bang for your buck if the keyboard has extra features. For example, a keyboard with RGB lighting is more compelling for someone who likes having backlighting as they type.
On the other hand, someone might value programmability or dedicated macro keys for extra gaming functionality. Still, others might want good ergonomics, adjustable kickstands, and wrist rests to come along with their model. Moreover, people have different preferences regarding wired and wireless connectivity.
Regardless, it all boils down to the value a hot swappable keyboard will offer you. After all, a lot of these models cost a lot of money. Hence, it’s better to get a keyboard that at least offers some quality of life improvements.
Customization and versatility are the reasons why someone would opt for a hot swappable keyboard over a regular one. However, if your hot swappable keyboard isn’t compatible with many switches, then it defeats the purpose of the hot-swappable feature.
As such, you should certainly take switch compatibility into account when shopping for a hot swappable keyboard. It would be better if it were compatible with a wide variety of switches, like Cherries, Gaterons, Kailhs, etc.
Benefits of Using a Hot-Swappable Keyboard
Are hot-swappable keyboards good? What are the benefits of using a hot-swappable keyboard over a regular one?
Firstly, the most obvious benefit you’ll gain from a hot-swappable keyboard is easy customization. Through hot-swappable keyboard models, you won’t have to worry about desoldering or soldering switches just to replace them. If your switches wear out over time, you can easily swap them out without qualms. You won’t need experience, special tools, or anything else.
In addition, having a hot-swappable keyboard means you can “revamp” your setup whenever it feels like it’s getting old. It’s a great way to add some changes to your setup without having to purchase an entirely new model.
Apart from this, having a hot-swappable keyboard also allows for more control. You get to control the typing experience more based on the kind of keys you choose. If you get a hot-swappable keyboard kit, you can push that versatility even further by selecting your desired frame.
Try out a Hot-Swappable Keyboard Today!
The hot-swappable keyboard space has been growing steadily for the past few years – and it’s no surprise why. After all, customizing your desk space has become more rewarding especially since the onset of quarantines and work-from-home setups. The nature of these keyboards is also great for beginners because you don’t need professional experience to customize your workspace. All you need is to follow simple instructions, choose the right compatible switches and keys, and you’re ready to go.