I’m not a huge fan of making keyboard reviews but when a company named DrunkDeer contacted me with a “new” hall effect switch I had to know more about it. I warned them that my reviews are brutal and they agreed on sending me a sample anyway, so kudos to them. Not sure they will be equally happy after reading this review…
Here below you find my video review with the usual disclaimer: I’m not a youtuber, I don’t make any money from my videos, they are just for fun (hence the low-key production). Sometimes companies ask me to review their products and if the item looks interesting I’m happy to try it but my opinion is always honest. Subjective, but honest. As always the question I’m trying to answer is: would I recommend this keyboard to a friend? Let’s find out.
Apart from the funky name… what is DrunkDeer? We witness to a lot of one-product-companies in later years. They launch a keyboard on the market on Kickstarter or Shopify and then disappear into oblivion few months later. So it’s important to understand who are the people behind the Inebriated Cervidae.
I noticed DrunkDeer is a registered name (®), that helped me tracking them down. Apparently Drunk Deer is owned by a Foshan Ruige Intl. Trading Co. that also owns a plethora of other interesting names and their business ranges from condoms to breast pumps, from pet food to computer peripherals. I’m not sure what that means for us. Foshan Ruige could be a consulting that helps companies to register their names or they could be just Trademark trolls? I don’t know. It’s a practice I’m not familiar with, but it’s weird and it raises a red flag in my head.
It gets even weirder if you think that just few months ago Hephboard released the H1-Hera, that is a practically identical keyboard: same layout, same switches, same kind of “business plan”; only difference seems to be the aluminum body whereas the DrunkDeer A75 is full plastic. Even their Discord servers feature the same folks.
I asked to the guys at DrunkDeer and they say that they have nothing to share with the H1 Hera and that they bought the trademark from Foshan Ruige (there’s no record of that, but the registry could be outdated).
I don’t want to speculate on this matter, it’s up to you to decide to trust or not this company and it’s only fair to give any new comer a chance. There might also be some cultural clash and what looks weird here could be completely normal in China. But still I can’t shake away that weird tickling at the base of my skull.
Anywho… Let’s talk about the keyboard itself.
The A75 comes in a very low effort box in terms of graphics and packaging design. The name of the keyboard is not even present anywhere on the exterior and the ® symbol is positioned in the wrong place. It could be a pre-release packaging, I hope things will be fixed for the final product, but we are too close to the release date and I feel they should have asked for feedback earlier.
Inside we find the keyboard, the dust cover, a low quality keypuller and 3 additional keycaps for the Windows layout as the A75 comes in Mac layout from the factory. The USB cable and USB-C to A adapter are coincidentally the same that came with the H1-Hera. Overall it looks good, it’s nice and sturdy; it’s all plastic but it doesn’t feel cheap. The problem is that the first sample that I got had a defective left control. Very scratchy and pingy. I contacted them and they sent me a new unit that presented no issues.
Shit happens, we know, but this misadventure maybe outlines a problem with Quality Control. I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about but I think it’s fair to let you know.
Now with two DrunkDeers it starts to look like a party!
By the way, that orange Enter is an eyesore. It’s the color of those safety jackets you use in construction sites. I understand they wanted to represent the north/south poles of a magnet, but still I wish they at least offered a spare black/white alternative in the box.
Not that it would make a difference as the keycaps are pretty bad and the first thing you need to do is to replace them with something that looks and feels better.
Speaking of magnets, the whole point of this otherwise very standard 75% is that it mounts Magnetic Switches. And for a $140 street price with at 30% discount at launch it really makes Hall Effect keyboards affordable for the masses! That is great and I was super excited about it; the market sometimes stagnates on a standard for no particular reason and I applaud the initiative of these guys.
The dream didn’t last long though.
The switch itself is good and I renew my love for Hall Effect, but the keyboard doesn’t make the best of it. It’s very inconsistent with some keys that generate a nasty and audible reverb inside the case. Some switches are fine, especially around D and L, but overall –I’m sad to report– it’s not a pleasing typing experience.
The stand-alone switch is linear, well weighted and butter smooth. I would have liked the silenced version (it has silicone on the bottom of the stem to alleviate the bottom-down), but that’s just a personal preference. The sound is not terrible for a plastic keyboard especially if you swap the keycaps with something better (MT3 wink-wink), but there’s always a ping waiting for you around the corner and personally I can’t really live with that.
I’m pretty sure the problem is the aluminum switch plate and it could have been easily solved with a little more R&D. Someone suggested that lubing the springs helps, so the culprit could be mostly the switch, but I’m not 100% convinced of that. Anyway you can’t remove the switches without re-calibrating the matrix. More about that later.
I don’t understand why these companies don’t send prototypes to enthusiasts way before the release date. This could have been a great keyboard for the price but to me it is worth very little in the current state.
In the video I make various sound tests, I suggest you to check that out.
What’s the deal with hall effect switches by the way?
A standard Cherry MX switch has a couple of metal leaves inside and it’s the physical contact of these two pieces that shorts the circuit and send the impulse for the controller.
A magnetic switch has no metal leaf, it’s a passive component, it doesn’t do anything on its own. The magic happens on the PCB where a hall effect sensor detects the variance of the electrons flow generated by the magnet inside the stem.
The controller reads the hall effect sensor value and you can arbitrarily decide at what stage to generate an impulse. Technically they are analog switches, you could use them like an accelerator in a car game if the software supported that option; but realistically the best feature they grant us is the possibility to decide at what height to place the actuation point.
If you need a super fast reaction you can set the actuation at 0.4mm, if you prefer a more standard key-press you can set the travel up to 3.6mm. Now, that is nice and all but to me it’s just a by-product of what the switch really is about. The real beauty comes from its simplicity. Just a tiny magnet and a spring and you are good to go. I’ve seen a 3D printed version that doesn’t use a spring at all and works entirely on magnets (2 or 3 of them).
This simplicity grants an incredibly smooth travel and a durability that is twice of a standard Cherry MX. So why aren’t they more widespread? Well, there are drawbacks. First of all they are very sensitive to magnetism, so it’s hard to justify them in an industrial environment or in critical applications like at the hospital or an airport. Secondly they need calibration. Each magnet is different from another and the hall sensor is so precise that after you’ve changed a switch you need to recalibrate your keyboard.
That’s is a fairly simple procedure and could be automated but that depends on the firmware implementation and not all manufactures offer a calibration tool (DrunkDeer doesn’t at this time).
But honestly those are not good reasons enough to justify the low penetration of the magnetic switch into the market. If it becomes more widespread it could be quite refreshing, also think of all the room that we have available inside the housing since we don’t need the metal leaves. It could be used to design better clicky mechanism or implement centered backlight… or just make the switch super small.
Sometimes the market just doesn’t want to accept new standards because that would mean making an effort, so I very much welcome the work Wooting –for example– is doing… as per DrunkDeer, well I’m sorry guys but you needed more time to refine the A75. I hope you won’t disappear in two months from release. You have potential, you just need better beta testing.
Looking inside the keyboard we find a well executed PCB that shows once again the simplicity of hall effect. This product at the very least made me willing to build my own magnetic keyboard… gotta add that to the infinite list of projects I have. The PCB also seems bluetooth ready and supports ISO layout.
I’m so angry at DrunkDeer right now. This could have been such a great keyboard and instead they didn’t go the extra mile and just decided to vomit a product into the market. I understand it’s a low-tier keyboard but still it could have been so much better with so little effort.
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to test any configuration tool but they swear it will be available soon enough so at the time of this writing you can’t customize the keyboard in any way. You can change the actuation point with 8 presets and have fun for Christmas with the 1-million RGB effects, but that’s it.
If you pre-order you get a 30% discount bringing the price down to about $100 and of course the A75 is well worth 100 bucks… if you decide to trust the company, that is.
I guess the only reason to get it is if you need a super fast switch and you don’t care about the overall experience. If you are just “magnetic curious” and want to try hall effect switches, I’d say go with better known brands.
In any instance, be very careful and I’d suggest to wait until the keyboard is actually available even if it means losing the 30% discount. Don’t say that I didn’t warn you!
UPDATE: How to fix it
I spent some time trying to find the source of the problem with the A75. I’ve added better foam and tried to stick a vinyl film onto the bottom of the PCB, but nothing seems to actually help. The only thing that has some effect is A LOT of thick lubricant inside the switch and the spring. The pinginess is still not completely gone but definitely better.
Be careful though! The switches cannot be mixed, each switch has to placed back to its previous location otherwise you’ll screw up the factory hall effect calibration.
* please note that the link to DrunkDeer website is tokenized but it’s not an affiliate program, I don’t get any money, it’s just so they know where the link comes from