The first time I went around to buy a keyboard I didn’t give it much of a thought. All keyboards are the same, right? Specially when the only differentiating feature they may have is an extra row of multimedia buttons.
Turns out I couldn’t be more ignorant. Not all keyboards are the same, particularly in the inside. Enter the mechanical keyboards.
What is a mechanical keyboard?
Depending on your age, you may have grown up during the era of 3’5 diskettes, 4 megabyte hard drives, 8-bit color depth CRT monitors and MS-DOS. Not that long ago, during a radically different time where graphic interfaces were almost non-existant, the keyboards used to have a mechanical switch under every key, but as manufacturing innovations came to fruition and Windows 95 came to be, each home around the world wanted a personal computer, so naturally a keyboard would have to come attached.
The issue at the time is that manufacturers realized that it would be much cheaper to build a single ‘switch’ (instead of 100+ individual switches) and replace the circuitry of keyboards just so a rubber membrane could be put on top and ‘activate’ the keystroke upon pressing of the uni-switch, in turn pressing the rubber membrane and activating the keystroke. Voilá, with this invention, keyboard manufacturers slashed their costs by orders of magnitude, increasing their margins by a lot, and became prepared to mass-produce cheap and essential peripherals for the upcoming computer boom.
The mechanism of a membrane keyboard (Picture from Wikipedia.org)
And thus, mechanical keyboards were somewhat displaced from the market by their membrane counterparts. But their features were not easily forgotten, and people were quick to pick up on the attractives of the mechanical keyboards. So much that there are entire communities focused around this particular hobby with tailor-made components.
What makes a mechanical keyboard attractive and why you should consider buying one: features and characteristics
When looking for what makes a mechanical keyboard attractive, one might look for, amongst others:
- Longer lifespan: most of the switches used in the assembly of one of these keyboards may last for tens of millions of presses, with an average of 50 million keystrokes.
- Durable against all aggresion: heavy usage (like, FPS or MOBA games, for example) does not wear out the keys. As time passes, you can still type as if the keyboard was just taken out of its box, brand new.
- Key responsiveness threshold can be adjusted: you can tweak the threshold at which the keystroke is registered (say, all the way down of the key, mid-way, etc.). This allows for better configuration depending on the strength of your fingers.
- Easier to clean / harder to accumulate dirt or dust: Many mechanical keyboards have wider spacing between the keys, as well as greater height between the base and the key itself. This allows for a greater cleanliness as the dirt that usually accumulates inside these spaces can be easily removed with a simple airshot device or by straight up blowing air.
- This DOES NOT MEAN you should go and spill liquids or drinks onto the keyboard, unless it’s “spill-resistant”. Be mindful of the hardware and take care of it, regardless of how much tougher than a regular keyboard they may be.
- Characteristic ‘clicky’ sound: for some people this is one of the landmarks of a proper mechanical keyboard, as the twitch sound upon press is, in their own words, ‘as satisfying as it gets’.
Different sizes: mechanical keyboards boast of one feature that their membrane counterparts do not. They are available (in most cases) in different sizes, depending on the amount of keys that possess. There are 3 (three) main formats, namely:
- Full-size keyboard: The usual size shared amongst all keyboards, with 104-108 keys including numeric pad on the right side.
- “Tenkeyless” keyboard (TKL): these keyboards lack the numeric pad, and are thereby smaller in width. One of the advantages of these keyboards, anatomically speaking, is that the lack of a number pad allows for shorter distance between the keyboard and the mouse, thereby bringing the mouse closer to your body, which in turn reduces strain on your shoulders, arms, neck, and back. Some examples of tenkeyless keyboards can be the Filco Majestouch 2.
- 75% keyboard: fundamentally this trimmed down version of the tenkeyless lacks, on top of the numpad, the Insert/Home/PgUp/PgDw/Del/End keyset (but usually are accesible via a function key or ‘Fn’ key). Arrow keys are usually included. Example of a 75%’er is the Vortexgear RACE 3.
- 60% keyboard: known as the most compact and smaller, these keyboards lack numpad, the Insert/Home/PgUp/PgDw/Del/End keyset as well as the arrow keys. For an example of a 60% keyboard, see the Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional2.
What disadvantages might mechanical keyboards have: issues and difficulties
The reported disadvantages of a mechanical keyboard by owners across the globe seem to be:
- Price: mechanical keyboards are usually more sophisticated that mass-produced office keyboards with rubber domes, and obviously the greater cost of the components and more detailed assembling is carried into the total sale price. For this reason the average mechanical keyboard price might range between 50 USD to 150 USD (whereas you can grab any run-off-the-mill keyboard for roughly 9 USD on Amazon)
- Weight: despite being the same size (on average) of membrane keyboards, the internal components and materials turn the mechanical keyboards into heavier pieces of peripherals. This is seldom an issue, barring the occasions in which the keyboard must be transported elsewhere.
What mechanical keyboard should you buy according to…
…the usage you might give it:
This keyboard is ideal for light usage, office-like. If you want the best mechanical keyboards for office work, see below for a selection we put together for you.
Ahh, that feel when arriving home after school or work, taking a refreshing shower, putting on your comfy clothes and firing up your computer to play a few rounds of your favorite game. Playing a competitive videogame often makes the case of what makes the difference, the tools or the welder. Can you frag more often and efficiently with a proper keyboard and mouse, or is the hardware irrelevant to the player’s skill? We advocate for the former, moreso considering that even the PROs (professional players) use top-notch peripherals. We have selected 3 (three) mechanical keyboards that most “gamers” recommend.
Heavy writing and typing
Sometimes the individuals in most dire need of a proper keyboard are those that, well, spend a great deal of their time typing and writing in front of a computer. If the task of writing several thousands of words per day is ahead of you, the only thing you want is to be able to concentrate in the content and the crafting of the words, effectively turning into a typing machine yourself, without any strain in your fingers that may cause you to lose focus. For this reason, we have picked 2 (two) keyboards that will suit the needs of those with a gift for creating written content.
…your budget for shopping:
We know that a mechanical keyboard, as mentioned in the introduction, is bound to be more expensive than a regular (i.e. membrane) one. That being said, buying a mechanical keyboard does not require you to save up for several months, as many manufacturers create models with great durability and features at budget prices. We have sorted through countless brands, reviews, replicas and manufacturers and put together a small list of the best keyboards by price range, in three (3) price ranges: less than $50, between $50 and $100 and over $100.
Best mechanical keyboards under $50 (budget picks):
- Redragon K552 KUMARA: This keyboards is just under 40 dollars and brings all the necessary features to the table without skimming in quality. The color lights can be switched on and off and its tenkeyless layout makes it one of the best options for those who want to get their feet wet in the mechanical keyboard universe.
- Eagletec KG010-N: When browsing across the vast ocean of the internet shopping websites, one may find the task of searching for a proper mechanical keyboard at a good price much like the search of a needle in a haystack, but fortunately we have done the heavy lifting for you. This relatively-unknown keyboard is an absolute best for the price and the reviews speak for themselves. Boasting a blue switch and made off industrial aluminum, the Eagletec often sells out SO fast that people line up to buy it. Link: EagleTec KG010-N Blue Switch No Backlight
Best mechanical keyboards between $50 and $100 (best price/features ratio):
- Cooler Master MasterKeys S PBT (Tenkeyless): This version of the MasterKeys keyboard is a bit under $90 at the time of this writing, and it is available in blue, brown and red switches. All-black, simple and professional appearance and smaller size (tenkeyless) brings a touch of sophistication to your desktop for a really small price. We have tried this one and we loved it!
- Logitech G413 Carbon: No matter the color or the backlight, this model from Logitech stands its ground against a lot of competitors from a plethora of brands. The switch type is proprietary (named Romer-G) but the price/quality ratio is unbeatable.
Best mechanical keyboards over $100 (most features for professional users):
- CORSAIR Strafe RGB MK.2: This may be considered THE mechanical keyboard for gaming professional players from across the world and games (DOTA2, Fortnite, PUBG, CoD, HALO, etc.). Red switches and backlit with color lights.
- Cooler Master MasterKeys 750: This keyboard is a gamer’s delight. Brown cherry for better touch and responsiveness and magnetic wrist rest pad (to avoid strain) and a minimalistic and slim design makes for an excellent keyboard. Did someone say, ‘its time to replace my current keyboard?’.
- Das Keyboard Model S Professional: A perfect pick with the utmost quality, just a few dollars over 100. This keyboard will stand the abuse of writing an entire book series with it, and make it pleasant all the way through.
Wrap-up, conclusions and winner picks
All in all, we are in love with these gadgets. For those that spend a sizable amount of time in front of a computer, entering data, programming, writing or simply playing games, these keyboards will be a godsend. We really encourage our readers to try one of these and get back to us to tell their experience. It is not even necessary to buy a keyboard (although we have laid out a good number of options for you to try wink wink nudge nudge ), you can always try these on a store.
Take a look at the table below. We have gathered all the aforementioned keyboards and presented their characteristics in a sort of feature matrix.
…and the ‘best mechanical keyboard for gaming award’ goes to:
The keyboard used by Ninja (Fortnite professional player). Need we say more?
…and the ‘best mechanical keyboard for typing and writing’ award goes to:
Probably the most battle-tested, well-reviewed, best-selling keyboard. Whether you are a heavy or light user, this keyboard will improve your typing tenfold and relieve your wrists and fingers from strain. A no-wrong choice.
As always, leave us your comments below. Have a good one!