Mechanical keyboards are expensive, especially when compared to typical membrane based keyboards. A high quality mech with solid build quality, durable PBT keycaps and switches from a well known brand (Cherry, Matias, Topre, etc.) will generally set you back in the neighborhood of $150. Over the past couple years a barrage of low-budget mechanical keyboards have hit the market. These boards are very economical, but they typically cut a few corners with build quality. They usually make use of MX style clone switches, not genuine Cherry switches. You’re also not paying a premium for the name brand.
This type of product has made mechanical keyboards a more viable option for the budget conscious crowd. The Drevo Gramr 75% mechanical keyboard I’m reviewing today is one of those economical options. Let’s test this cheap mechanical keyboard and see if it’s possible to provide good build quality, attractive design, reliability, and performance for under $50.
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What’s In The Box
My Drevo Gramr arrived in a very plain black box. The top only has two graphics and no specs or other marketing imagery. The Drevo company logo is located front and center. At the bottom right is a graphic with the name of the keyboard.
The bottom is even more bare. A sticker has been attached to one side of the box that indicates the color of the keyboard case and what type of switch comes installed.
The packing material was subpar at best. The keyboard had about half an inch of clearance on both sides between the keyboard and cardboard dividers. Due to this free space the keyboard wasn’t held securely in place, so it could easily shift around in the box. The board was placed inside a thin plastic bag with no padding material. The only thing it had to protect it were a couple layers of cardboard and the dust cover. Luckily it wasn’t damaged. Drevo definitely needs to rethink their packing materials and make some improvements so the board is better protected from the abuses of shipping. A simple bubble padded bag would be adequate.
The contents inside include the keyboard, plastic dust cover, plastic ring keycap puller tool (blue), two stickers, and a paper leaflet with operating instructions on both sides.
A couple worthwhile accessories. The keycap puller is just a cheap plastic ring type, but it works in a pinch if you don’t have a better wire puller. The dust cover is also a cheap inclusion, but one that does it’s job well and fits over the keyboard perfectly. I appreciate little throw-ins that provide value like these do. The creature sticker, however, is just weird.
Drevo Gramr Layout, Features & Aesthetics
The Drevo Gramr is a 75% compact form factor mechanical keyboard with 84 keys in ANSI layout. Due to this form factor not all keys are of a standard size. It has a short right shift (1.75u) and the right Alt, Control, and Fn keys are 1u instead of 1.25u. This could present somewhat of a challenge when searching for replacement keysets should you decide to upgrade the stock keycaps. As for physical dimensions, the Drevo Gramr weighed in at 1 pound 10.4 ounces and measured approximately 12.5 inches (length, left to right) by 5 inches (depth, front to back).
The 75% form factor of the Gramr makes very efficient use of little space with smart key arrangements. The functionality is practically identical to a TKL mechanical keyboard, but the overall footprint isn’t much larger than a mini keyboard with 60% form factor. This form factor will be appealing to enthusiasts wanting a compact mechanical keyboard without having to sacrifice dedicated arrow keys and the function row.
If you’re a fan of function layers and media shortcut keys the Drevo Gramr has you covered. Keys F1-F11 are all shortcut keys under the secondary function layer. F1 opens My Computer, F2 your web browser, F3 is calculator, F4 opens your media player, F5 is Previous, F6 is Next, F7 Plays/Pauses, F8 is Stop, F9 Mutes, F10 lowers the volume and F11 raises the volume.
The Gramr has a lock for the Windows key (Fn + F12) so you can disable it during gaming, for example, to prevent exiting to the desktop if you press the Windows key by mistake in the middle of a game. The “`~” key also has a function layer that locks all keys on the keyboard. When that function is enabled only the LED for that lock key lights up, so if you accidentally disable all they keys you’ll know exactly what’s causing it instead of thinking your mechanical keyboard has just died.
One of my favorite features of the Gramr is a staggered number pad hidden under a function layer. To enable the number pad you must press Fn + NmLk. The number pad cluster can be identified by the side printed legends on the front of the keycaps. The numpad is convenient to have on such a small keyboard. If you ever have to do heavy data entry it’s much quicker and easier than dealing with a number row.
According to the instruction sheet the Drevo Gramr has options for 6KRO and 24KRO. You can switch between these two settings by pressing Fn + Insert (6KRO) and Fn + Home (24KRO). The Gramr would make a fantastic mechanical keyboard for PC gaming. In my testing I was unable to create a situation where a keystroke went unregistered or input the wrong character, even while pressing more than a dozen keys at once.
The Drevo Gramer has four rubber feet/pads for sitting on a flat surface and two additional flip-out riser feet with rubber tipped ends to increase the incline of the keyboard should you desire a steeper angle. The flip-out feet raise the back end of the keyboard about one inch. The rubber pads are reasonably large and thick, providing excellent traction when placed on a smooth surface such as your desk.
In my testing the Drevo Gramr was very stationary, staying in place even during intense gaming sessions. It didn’t inch forward or slide around at all under normal amounts of force, a problem I experienced with the Redragon K553-RGB due to its tiny, rounded feet.
The Drevo Gramr’s USB cable is a little over 5 feet long; that should be plenty of reach to route around an average sized desk. The connector is gold plated to protect against oxidation/corrosion and insure a reliable connection over the life of the keyboard. The sheathing is braided in two-tone black with small red accents down the entire length. I’m happy Drevo went with a braided cable. In my experience they are more durable and less prone to snagging. Also just looks better with a more “premium” feel than standard rubber sheathed cables.
Unfortunately it’s hardwired, meaning the cable isn’t detachable or user replaceable. My PC setup actually has a black and red color scheme, so it matches well. If the red and black combo doesn’t fit in with your system then tough luck. You’re stuck with it. Going with a more neutral all black cable might have been the better decision if not giving users the ability to easily replace with their own custom cables.
A cable gutter system is located underneath. It gives you the option of routing the cable three ways: Left side, right side, or out the center of the back. A clear piece of plastic is friction fit over the cable at the point where it enters the keyboard. I presume this part is used to hold the cable in place and prevent it from putting pressure on the internal connection. Too much pressure from a hanging cable over time could weaken the connection and lead to a failure, so this is a smart addition by Drevo.
Visually the Drevo Gramr is a looker. There are no gaps between any of the keys, so other than the outer case is has none of the bezels normally found separating certain key clusters on TKL and larger sized keyboards. This form factor leaves no room for distracting logos or badges to be placed on the top of the case. In fact, the product sticker on the bottom is the only thing that identifies this as a Drevo made mechanical keyboard. A compact, elegant design with no wasted space.
Drevo Gramr Backlighting Options
The Drevo Gramr features single-color (white) LED backlit keys. It has five built in modes and the ability to program five custom lighting profiles. Pressing Fn + Left Arrow allows you to switch between four of these modes.
One mode is the default all keys lit. The second is a reactive pattern that has no keys lit until one is pressed, then a vertical wave of light radiates outward from the key pressed. The third mode is a snaking pattern that begins at the top left and gradually moves down the board. The last mode accessed using Fn + Left Arrow is single key reactive, meaning no keys are lit up until a key is pressed. Once pressed, only that specific key lights up for a brief moment then turns back off.
The final built-in profile is a breathing mode. It can be toggled on or off using Fn + Right Arrow. The LED brightness can be adjusted with Fn + Up (higher) or Down (lower) Arrow keys. Including completely off there are eight levels of brightness. The brightness of the four lock keys can’t be adjusted. If disabled they remain unlit. When enabled they light up at what appears to be medium brightness.
Five total custom profiles can be saved to the 2-6 keys. To create your own custom lighting profiles you simply press Fn + 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6. The corresponding number for the profile you selected to edit will begin blinking, indicating you can now choose which keys you want lit up in that profile. Simply press a key to enable or disable the LED backlight. Once you have the lighting customized to your liking it needs to be saved by pressing Fn + the number of the profile (2-6) again. Pressing Fn + 1 will toggle through the saved custom backlight profiles.
After spending some time fiddling with the board I do have a couple complaints with the Gramr’s backlighting system. First, the LED brightness is inconsistent. The max brightness varies between keys. The lower right side of my Drevo Gramr is noticeably brighter than the rest of the keys. This could just be a production fault limited to my specific keyboard, but it’s worth mentioning.
Second, when using a custom profile one of the 2-6 number keys will always stay lit to indicate what profile you’re currently using. For example, if you wanted custom profile 3 to only have backlighting enabled for the WASD keys, you can’t. The 3 key would be lit up as well, which kind of defeats the purpose of a custom mode if you can’t set it up exactly to your preferences.
This particular Drevo Gramr mechanical keyboard I’m reviewing came with MX compatible Outemu Black switches. A heavy linear switch with actuation force of 65g. Linear switches have no tactile or audible feedback. Just a smooth, uninterrupted key press until bottoming out. The box indicates the Drevo Gramr is also available with Outemu Blue (clicky), Red (linear) and Brown (tactile) switches. Outemu switches have transparent housings, a feature that helps accentuate LED lighting used for backlit keys.
These heavy linear switches may only appeal to a small niche of mechanical keyboard enthusiasts. I personally found them to be a little tiring for prolonged gaming sessions in contrast to a light linear switch, such as Cherry MX Reds. Also wouldn’t call them a great switch choice for pure typing performance. Of course this is all very dependent on your own personal preferences.
Despite not being a big fan of heavy linear switches, I was pleasantly surprised by the smoothness and overall feel of the Outemu Black switches. Extensive testing with Switch Hitter revealed absolutely no key chatter and the actuation force is extremely consistent across all the switches. I came away with a generally positive experience, much like with the Outemu Blue switches in the Redragon K533-RGB I previously reviewed. If you prefer a heavier switch in your mechanical keyboards these Outemu Blacks won’t disappoint. That being said, long-term durability is still in question as the build quality doesn’t seem quite up to par with Cherry’s standards.
Buying a low-budget keyboard usually means getting less than ideal stock keycaps. It’s the same story with the Drevo Gramr. Thin ABS keycaps (sculpted, OEM profile) that will be prone to shine with prolonged use. They also carry the same ugly legend font we found on the Magicforce 68. I guess it’s supposed to appeal to the “gamer” crowd, but I’ve yet to come across anyone that actually prefers these gaudy typefaces over a more standard Sans-serif font such as Helvetica.
Thankfully it’s not all bad. The keycaps are doubleshot, so no worries about the characters fading or wearing off completely. They have a nice matte texture that’s on the rougher side. Not smooth like many cheap ABS keysets. The secondary legends for the function layer are side printed on the front using the pad printing method. They use a light blue color that’s easy to read. Homing bumps are located on the F and J keys so touch typist can easily find home row and position their fingers correctly without looking at the keyboard.
The larger keys make use of Cherry style stabilizers to support the keycap and keep it level. They actually feel responsive. Not near as mushy as some boards I’ve tested with Cherry stabs. Rubber covers have been fitted over what are normally large, open gaps under the spacebar to prevent debris from accumulating inside the keyboard. May even help dampen the “rattling” noise common on stabilized keys. That’s a nice touch.
When taking into account that a really nice set of keycaps alone would cost more than this entire board, I think these are decent enough for a budget mechanical keyboard. Being doubleshot with a nice matte texture makes them better than most other stock keycaps found on mechanical keyboards in this price range. I still hate that font though.
Case & Overall Build Quality
The Drevo Gramr’s case is made up of a top and bottom shell, both plastic. The plastic case itself seems a little thin and hollow. The switches are plate mounted to an aluminum backplate. This solid piece of metal provides most of the structural rigidity for the keyboard, granting a solid rigidity it would otherwise lack if the switches were PCB mounted without a backplate. The Gramr has only minimal flexing and the board feels fairly solid in hand. Not the sturdiest mech in the world, but should be resilient enough to take years of abuse as a daily driver.
Interestingly, this appears to be the same case used for the Keycool 84 judging by the internal branding. However, the Drevo Gramr uses lower quality keycaps and different switches than the higher priced Keycool model. I’m not certain if they have the same PCB or not. It’s possible the Drevo Gramr is just a rebranded Keycool 84 with cheaper parts. I don’t own that particular mechanical keyboard so I can’t say for sure.
As a cheap mechanical keyboard the Drevo Gramr is a winner. It provides incredible value for the money with nice visual appeal, decent switch selection, doubleshot keycaps, backlit keys, convenient cable routing system, fantastic rubber feet to keep the whole board in place and high functionality all while maintaining a very compact form factor. Considering the price, the only real complaints I have with the keyboard itself are the font Drevo has chosen for the legends and the hardwired USB cable. They could have corrected both of those issues without raising the price too much, if at all.
The Gramr’s keycaps are thin ABS and it uses cheaper Outemu MX compatible clone switches, but those are compromises Drevo had to make to reach this price point. Other than the Magicforce 68, there isn’t much competition for the Drevo Gramr in the category of low-budget mechanical keyboards with a small footprint. If you’re looking for a inexpensive, compact mechanical keyboard with functionality comparable to larger boards and not having any luck with your search I suggest you consider the Drevo Gramr. It may be the answer to your problems.
- Quality mechanical keyboard without breaking the bank.
- Doubleshot keycaps provide legends that won’t wear or fade with use.
- Pleasing aesthetics with no branding visible on the top or sides of the case.
- Braided USB cable is sturdy with plenty of length.
- The Outemu Black linear switches are smooth and consistent.
- Cable routing gutter allows the cord to exit out from three directions (top middle, left, or right).
- Plastic dust cover is a minor inclusion, but it’s useful in reducing the amount of required cleaning.
- Handful of non-standard sized keys will be a minor annoyance if upgrading from the stock keycaps.
- Cable is hardwired, not user replaceable.
- Thin ABS keycaps that will develop “shine” over time.
- Awful font choice for the legends.
- Inconsistent backlight brightness.
- Lesser known/trusted Outemu switches (MX compatible clone).
- Packaging is underwhelming and padding materials were lacking.
This concludes my review of the Drevo Gramr 75% mechanical keyboard. For anyone interested this mech is available in either a black or white model with four switch types (Outemu Blue, Black, Red and Brown).