Custom Keyboard Spotlight: Massdrop Laser ALT keyboard

By Ryan Whitwam

A colorful custom board without the soldering.

Buying a fancy custom mechanical keyboard is often a multi-step process that involves selecting hardware and keycaps, then waiting months for everything to show up. Massdrop has an interesting deal right now that includes a custom board and a hot keycap set: the Laser ALT keyboard. There's just shy of a week left for this drop, and it includes everything you need. There's still a wait, but at least everything will arrive at the same time.

The ALT first showed up on Massdrop a few weeks ago as a rather dull silver keyboard. This second drop is themed to match the GMK Laser keycap set, which Massdrop sold several months ago. A new round of keycaps is being produced specifically for this keyboard, which comes in either purple or pink.

I've talked about GMK keycaps in the past—they're double-shot ABS with thick walls that make them feel solid, and the legends are sharp. Laser has a "Cyberpunk" theme with purple, blue, and hot pink. You don't have to purchase the keycap add-on with the Laser ALT, but it seems like kind of a shame to skip it. It's just a $70 upgrade to get the caps, but you only get the caps to cover this small-ish 65% board.

The layout of this board is very similar to the Input Club WhiteFox. So, you don't have a dedicated f-key row or a number pad. This keyboard isn't a kit like many others, so it's ready to use out of the box. There's still plenty of opportunity to customize it, though. The ALT uses Kaihua hot-swap switch sockets, which I've used on a few other keyboards. You can pull out a switch and plug in a different one in just a few seconds. Yes, that means no soldering required.

The keyboard accepts and Cherry-style switch with a "plate mount" housing. That just means there aren't stabilizing pins on the bottom. If you do have those on a switch, you can clip them off without damaging the switch.

This board is fully programmable via the QMK firmware. This open source software runs on various keyboards like the Zeal60. QMK is extremely powerful, but a little confusing to use at first. The firmware lets you change the key layout, function layers, and control the lighting. The Laser ALT has full per-key RGB lighting. You'll want to use switches that are transparent or have light pipes to get the full effect.

Of course, this keyboard does not exist in its final form yet. No one knows how good it will be, but it has all the makings of an exceptional custom keyboard. If you don't want the keycaps, the base model is just $140 without switches. You can add those to your order for a bit extra, or buy them someplace else. Completely decked out with keycaps, the Laser ALT is a bit over $200—a very good value in the world of mechanical keyboards. If you like bold colors, I can't think of a better option right now. Massdrop expects the board to ship in November. As with all group buys, delays are possible.