Whether it’s working or gaming, a lot of us spend a hefty amount of time typing on our computers. Paying $70+ for a keyboard may sound bizarre to some people. When you’re spending a significant part of your day typing, it makes sense to treat yourself to the right equipment. So what are the benefits of using a mechanical keyboard?
When you buy a mechanical keyboard you’re paying for an improved typing experience, build quality and the freedom to customize. There are also less obvious benefits such as ergonomic advantages. People who type for many consecutive hours will love the ergonomics of the mechanical keys. Some people buy mechanical keyboards for the looks alone. Whether you want lights or no lights, a simple or creative design, 15 extra buttons or 15 fewer buttons. The point is that you get to choose.
Satisfying typing experience
All mechanical keys feel great to type with. Tactile keys provide a crisp responsive feedback to each keystroke. Linear keys are smooth and easy on the hands. Mechanical keys offer very fast response times, this is great for increasing your typing speed or keeping up with the action in competitive games.
Membrane keys have to be pressed all the way down to confirm. Whereas mechanical key switches have the actuation point halfway through the press. This early actuation point allows you to type a lot faster. Your spending half as much time pushing down the key. With tactile switches you also get an audible and tangible queue for when to release the key. If you’re typing thousands of words a day, shaving off milliseconds for each keypress is huge.
How much force needed to press down each key depends on which switches you buy. The less actuation force the key has the faster you should be able to type. Although the easier a key is to press the more likely you are to press one accidentally. Some people prefer keys with higher resistance to help them avoid typos.
Key switches are everything when it comes to keyboards. A keyboard is only considered mechanical if it has mechanical switches. Mechanical key switches are responsible for the satisfying typing experience you get when using a mechanical keyboard. It’s important to be aware of the different types of switches to choose from. Each key switch type has its own individual qualities.
The most popular key switches are the Cherry MX switches. Each of their switches are named by a color, a popular choice being the Cherry MX Blues. Each color has its own set of properties resulting in a different typing feel. These properties being tactile switches, linear switches, and the actuation force.
A tactile switch has a bump you feel while pressing down the key, this bump represents the actuation point. The actuation point is the exact point the computer will register the keypress. Tactile keys are great for increasing your typing speed thanks to the queue they provide. It’s these tactile bumps that are responsible for the clicky noise people associate with mechanical keyboards.
Linear switches don’t have any bumps to represent the actuation point. The result of this is that they are always quieter than tactile switches. These keys still provide a smooth typing experience. If you like the idea of owning a mechanical keyboard while keeping the noise down, linear keys are perfect.
The weight represented in grams refers to the force needed to press down the key. The average key switch usually requires 45g to press, the higher and lower ends being 25g and up to 70g.
If you want a tactile feel and don’t mind the noise then you could go for the Cherry MX Blues
Maybe you want a quieter switch with no tactile feel so you buy the Cherry MX Reds
Perhaps you make a lot of typos, a switch with a higher actuation force could solve that problem
These examples highlight the advantages of getting to choose from a range of different key switches. This, in my opinion, is the main benefit of using a mechanical keyboard.
Mechanical keyboards come in a few different sizes also known as the layout. Some of these layouts are exclusively found with mechanical keyboards. Keep in mind the keys always remain the same size. It’s adding or removing extra keys that changes the size and layout. An example of extra keys being the function keys across the top of a keyboard. The sizes are referred to as percentages, a “60% keyboard” being 60% the size of a regular keyboard.
Full size (regular)
Most regular membrane keyboards have full size layouts. This is what everyone’s used to typing with so it will be the comfort choice for many.
A full size keyboard comes with the function keys across the top, the number pad on the right, arrow keys and all of the navigation keys.
Tenkeyless (TKL / 80%)
More compact than the full size keyboard, the “Tenkeyless” layout cuts out the numpad completely, hence the name ten-key-less.
Image credit: u/Will_26 on Reddit
It’s an extremely popular layout as most people have no use for the numpad keys. It still includes the function keys across the top as well as the arrow keys and the navigation keys. This layout is my personal favorite!
The 60% layout
A great compact layout almost exclusive to mechanical keyboards is the 60% layout. Like the name suggests it’s 60% the size of a regular keyboard. It’s missing the function keys, arrow keys, navigation keys, and the numpad.
They look super cool but can take some getting used to. They include an FN key which when held down will turn the regular number keys into function keys. Some 60% keyboards also have a macro to turn the 3 bottom right keys into arrow keys. 60% is a small practical layout that’s easy to buy. It’s lightweight and perfect for traveling.
If you spend a lot of your time on your computer it’s nice for it to look fresh. Choosing a design or customizing your own is a really fun part of buying a mechanical keyboard. The most customizable part of the keyboard is the keycaps. You can buy custom keycaps separately and swap them with ease. Custom keycaps allow you to be as imaginative or unimaginative as you want. Each person will have their own personal preference.
Being able to choose the layout, color, backlighting, and keycaps gives you complete freedom in creating your ideal keyboard.
You get what you pay for. Mechanical keyboards are extremely well built. They’re designed to last significantly longer than membrane keyboards. Mechanical key switches are said to last for up to 60 million key presses. Membrane keys tend to last for 5 to 10 million presses. Unfortunately, mechanical keyboards will take more water damage than membrane keyboards. Thankfully the keys are replaceable and easy to buy in separate sets.
The cable that plugs a mechanical keyboard into the computer is often detachable, meaning it can be replaced if broken. Some mechanical keyboards have braided cables which make them more durable. In my experience, most of my broken electronics were caused by the wire breaking. You don’t want to throw out a product because of a broken wire.
This tells us that a mechanical keyboard can last up to 10 times longer than a membrane keyboard. Spending $60 for a keyboard that lasts 60 million presses, instead of a $20 keyboard that lasts 5 million presses, should pay off long term.
Mechanical keyboards are not perfect. Along with their many benefits, they also come with some disadvantages. You should consider these before making the switch from membrane to mechanical. Placing O rings onto your keys can also dampen the volume.
Loud – Depending on what type of switches you use, mechanical keyboards are often a lot louder than membrane keyboards. Using linear key switches instead of tactile switches can solve this problem.
Heavy – Mechanical keyboards are often heavier than regular keyboards. This can be annoying if your moving you’re computer set up a lot. This also depends on what layout the keyboard is. A 60% mechanical keyboard is about the same weight as a full size regular membrane keyboard.
Expensive – You will be spending a minimum of $50 if you buy a mechanical keyboard. The price can go into the hundreds depending on what you’re looking for. Regular keyboards, on the other hand, are extremely cheap and easy to find.
Thick design – Mechanical keyboards are generally quite thick due to the way the keys are designed. If you prefer thin keyboards like the ones that come with Apple computers or laptops then this may be an issue.
Mechanical keyboards offer freedom and customization allowing you to pick the perfect keyboard for your needs. They are built with precision and are said to last up to 10x longer than membrane keyboards. Most importantly they feel great to type with.
If you spend a lot of time using your keyboard and are not put off by the price, then I highly recommend upgrading to a mechanical keyboard!