Massdrop X 0.01 Z70 Mechanical Keyboard Review

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0.01 (zero point zero one) has teamed up with Massdrop to bring this 65% collaboration to life. With a floating key design the Z70 looks slick, understated but every bit as capable as its competitors.

Is the Z70 the right keyboard to choose over the Pok3r or Tada68 keyboards? Compare and find out below.

Sold via Massdrop, this keyboard isn’t readily available. Massdrop is a group buy website that offers deals on products, like the Z70, from time to time. You’ll have to subscribe to Massdrop to be notified when the next Z70 drop is on.

Massdrop offer the Z70 as an assembled board or kit (-$10). Switch choices are either Cherry, Gateron, or Zealios (+$60).

0.01’s Z70 is available on Massdrop.com

Details

ProsCons
CNC aluminium caseKeycaps wear incredibly fast
Floating key designSplit Backspace
PBT keycapsSplit spacebar positioning is off centre
Dedicated arrow keys3u spacebars x2
Partial navigation clusterDoesn't wake Windows
Split spacebarFn key problems
Bright backlightKey chatter
Fully programmableProgramming tool only available on Windows
Right-angle detachable USB-C cableNon-standard layout
NKRO
Mac compatible (to an extent)
Highlighting the split Backspace and the positioning of the new Backspace key

65% layout has part of the navigation cluster and arrow keys. The Z70 also features split Backspace

A new take on the 65% layout

An established keyboard designer, 0.01 has design experience from his time with Varmilo, and this experience shows when looking at the Z70. Design elements from various 60% keyboards have been combined to create a hybrid 65% keyboard.

Ergonomic elements grace this keyboard, as well as split Backspace, and split a spacebar. Arrow keys sit to the bottom right of the keyboard and surrounding keys have shrunk in size in order to adjust. Instead of the conventional six key navigation cluster, 4 of the more utilised keys sit to the right of the Z70.

Glowing shot of the Z70 showing off its profile

An ergonomic layout

While this is a step in the right direction to better ergonomic support it may take some adjusting to fully appreciate the layout. Backspace is now the \| key which makes it smaller and puts it lower than what I’m familiar with. In place of the Backspace key are the \| and `~ keys.

Some people may be familiar with a split Backspace setup but for me I tend to stay with the conventional ANSI layout. It’s what I grew up with and it’s what feels natural to me when typing. I could try and relearn a better layout, however, my muscle memory instinctively knows the location and size of the Backspace key and it’s hard to go against it. Especially when I switch between keyboards quite regularly.

There’s also the split spacebars which are not found on conventional keyboards. Preference for one spacebar over the other lies with the user. Some users solely use the same thumb for the spacebar and this means the other half is wasted space. Split spacebars are desirable as they can trade pinky for thumb usage of certain keys. And thanks to the ability to reprogram the Z70 this unused space can have more purpose.

Fully programmable improvements

So, rather than fight muscle memory I opted to reprogram the Z70. I changed the \| and `~ keys to be Backspace and change the Backspace to be Delete. Now, this isn’t the best solution but for me it’ll do for my time with the Z70. This solution is only makeshift as it does help but doesn’t restore my full typing functionality.

Programming the Z70 is easy. It’s all performed via a Windows program (at least at the time of writing) and every key can be reassigned or removed to suit your needs, like what I did. Adding keys to Fn layers is a breeze, as well as moving the Fn key entirely to somewhere better. There’s the ability to program macros as well as open programs.

Side on view of the Z70

USB type-C port

Commendations

I’m a fan of moving forward with cable connectivity. Ideally there’d be no cables needed in a perfect world, however, with the slow adoption of USB-C for devices means an abundance of cables. Although not the best cables, the Z70’s cables are right angle and sufficiently do the job.

LEDs on the Z70

More impressive in the dark

Stay frosty

Despite only having 3 modes (on, off, breathing) the LED’s of the Z70 really do shine. They’re not your standard white. These are Frosty White LEDs which means they’ve got a slight blue tinge to them. Complaints from other users that the LEDs are too bright and cause difficulty seeing the keys do exist, though you can turn down the LED brightness.

showcasing the different right hand side of the Z70

Different than your average 60 or 65% keyboard

A case for good aesthetics

When I look at the Z70, I think it’s a great looking piece of equipment. Its simple design is composed of the black (or silver) aluminium case, and floating keycaps with simple font. The black looks stunning and the case is really a sight to behold.

I am a big fan of the left side position of the USB-C port, this allows for the keyboard to rest completely against something without protrusion, however, you may have an entirely different experience.

Different side view angle of the Z70

Gripes

Split spacebar on the Z70 is not good. It’s not just the implementation of the split spacebar but also the keys used for the split. The problem lies in the sizing, the two 3u keys used to make up the spacebars. Here’s KBC’s Poker’s keysizes.

key sizes of KBC's Poker

 

Keycaps are generally measured in units or u for short. Alphas and numerical keys are 1u, |\ are 1.5, and so forth. Notice how you don’t see any 3s on those layouts. That’s because no keys are 3u and 3u keys are seldom used (Filco Minila has a 3u spacebar). 3u keys are very far from standard and barely any keycap manufacturers cater to this size.

Split spacebar positioning on the Z70

While the theory behind it is solid, 0.01’s execution of the split spacebar is flawed. Having the split of the spacebar between the H and J keys means my right thumb position sits in the chasm rather than on the spacebar. I let a few people rest their hands on the Z70 and perform a typing test, only to have them also make note of this awkward placement.

Keycaps

This wouldn’t be a problem if the keycaps were decent. But they’re not. They’re terrible. They don’t look bad but at the rate they wear, they will. The keycaps are PBT which won’t shine over time and won’t wear like ABS. If you’re a fan of PBT blanks then you won’t have a problem with the Z70’s keycaps due to how fast the letters will rub off.

I’ve actually got 2 of these keyboards. Here’s a picture of one that I tried for the day and haven’t continued to use.

Wear of Backspace key after a day of use on the Z70

1 day of use left the keycap looking like this

At a glance they look fine, the font isn’t gamer-y nor is it over the top. It’s over time that keycaps start to show their true colours. Unfortunately that isn’t much time.

The profile of the keycaps are OEM.

First round flaws

Though this is a first round of keyboard there are just a few things that need refining. I’ve had a few instances of key chatter on the Backspace which does have the potential to be problematic and irritating. Key chatter is when a keyboard registers one press as multiple. Eg, pressing “A” and getting “AA”.

Also, I’ve experienced issues with the certain Fn combinations. Things like volume keys working sporadically (usually after I’ve woken up the computer and started doing something that requires volume). There’s also difficulty with the keyboard working after waking Windows, simply unplugging and replugging the cable back into the computer brings the Z70 back to life.

If you’re on a Mac and you want to reprogram the Z70, you’ll need to find a computer with Windows.

Z70

Price

And that leads me to my biggest problem, the price of the Z70. With a final drop price of $159 I expect a keyboard on par at least with the Pok3r or Tada68 keyboards. Both of these keyboards are cheaper (the Tada68 with the aluminium case is $160) with features as good or better than the Z70, and when compared to these two more refined keyboards it’s hard to justify the price.

All of these keyboards either have or offer aluminium cases. The Z70’s weight is a bit over 500g, while the Pok3r is 800g, the Tada68 is 618g with the stock case, and with the aluminium case it’s 1.4kg. Though the Z70’s aluminium case looks good it lacks the weight to give it that premium feeling.

It’s not just the premium quality that these two keyboards offer. It’s the reliability of these keyboards that makes them better than the Z70.

Pok3r

White Pok3r

60% keyboard

Pok3r vs Z70

BetterWorse
CheaperNot fully programmable
More reliableNo dedicated arrow keys
Premium aluminium caseNo dedicated navigation cluster
Easier programmingOnly Cherry MX switch option
Programming doesn't require a computerNo split spacebar
LEDs with more modes and even RGB
Double-shot ABS keycaps on LED models
PBT keycaps on non LED models
DIP switches to change between keyboard profiles
No split Backspace
No 3u keys
Standard layout

With the option for LEDs and even RGB LEDs, there’s a wide range of options when it comes to choosing a Pok3r. Colour options is black or white and pricing varies from $130 to $140 for non-backlit and RGB models.

Its case is superior, the programming doesn’t require software (though one is coming), keycap offerings are either printed PBT or double-shot ABS. There’s even DIP switches on the back to change keyboard profile, or swap keys around. It works straight out the box with Windows, Mac, or Linux machines.

Get the Pok3r in white 

Get the Pok3r in black 

Tada68

Tada68

65% keyboard

Tada68 vs Z70

BetterWorse
Significantly cheaper without caseNo preinstalled LEDs
More reliableOnly Gateron switch options
Aluminium case if one of the bestNo split spacebar
Website based programming allows any OS to programNo floating key design
Significantly better PBT keycapsNon standard layout
No split Backspace
No 3u keys

With a price tag the same as the Z70, the Tada68 gets you an excellent aluminium case. This thing is hefty and well worth the money. Combined with the Tada68 this whole unit weighs roughly 1.4kgs. Otherwise the base model without the heavy aluminium case is sub $100 and well worth the money.

Programming is all done via a website so there won’t be any OS compatibility issues. Keycaps are thick PBT which are much better than the Z70’s. The Tada68 does lack LEDs, however, they can still be added with a soldering iron afterwards.

Get the Tada68 on AliExpress

So which keyboard should you buy?

Get the Pok3r if you don’t need dedicated arrow keys, and the Tada68 if you do.

Get the Z70 if you’re willing to stick out the first iteration in hopes of the future. Those of you who preference a split Backspace and spacebar should look into the Z70 as well.

Looking for more information on compact keyboards?

Have a look at my Best Cheap Compact Keyboard List

 

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Last update on 2018-12-15 at 22:14 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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