What is a Mechanical Keyboard and Why Do You Need It?

What is a Mechanical Keyboard?

Simply put, a mechanical keyboard uses individual switches for each key rather than a rubber membrane dome layer on top of a circuit board. There are a variety switches available on the market for modern mechanical keyboards, with the most popular produced by Cherry. Different types of switches offer a different tactile feedback for the user. Some switches are linear – which means there is no resistance when the key is pressed. Others offer a tactile bump or click when pressed. This gives the user a form of sensory feedback when he is typing. Types of switches are usually graded by color, with some popular ones being Cherry MX Blues, Reds, and Browns. We will get into the difference between these in a bit.


So why are Mechanical Keyboards a great investment?

Programmers, Software Developers, IT professionals all spend a lot of time behind a computer. The amount of actual typing time may vary by profession, industry and position. Personally, I can estimate anywhere from 2-4 hours of hand-to-keyboard contact per day. This includes everything from coding, writing emails, chatting with my team on Slack, writing documents, and searching the web. On average this is about 60 to 80 hours per month that your hands are pressing buttons.

Taking this into consideration, wouldn’t it be best to ensure comfortable and efficient typing? As a writer would invest in a great pen, or an artist would invest in a good set of oil paints, why not invest in a great keyboard? As far fetched as it may seem, typing on a nice mechanical keyboard can be motivational.


Advantages of a Mechanical Keyboard


It just feels really good to type on

That clicky and satisfyingly tactile feel just cannot be felt on normal membrane keyboards. It makes typing fun and addictive. There’s something oddly fantastic about hitting a key that is purely mechanical and simultaneously hearing and feeling the mechanism working together.


Mechanical keyboards last longer

While there’s a lot more moving components involved, quality mechanical keyboards with great build quality and reputable switches can last a lifetime when properly maintained. Switches made by Cherry are guaranteed to be fine for 50 million keystrokes. There really is no comparison to a thin film of formed rubber over a circuit board.


Customization!

After getting into mechanical keyboards, I discovered an entire community and market of keycaps. Mechanical keyboards allows replacing the keycap with aftermarket sets. These come in a variety of colors and designs. Keycaps are usually molded in different choice of plastics, each offering a different feel. Additionally, keycaps come in different profile shapes. There are even kits available to build your own mechanical keyboard.


Different Layouts

QWERTY is the most popular layout everyone uses. When Christopher Sholes invented the typewriter in 1868, legend has it that he designed the QWERTY layout to slow down typists. This was to prevent his machine from jamming.

There are other keyboard layouts that are designed for typing and not for the mechanisms of a typewriter. A mechanical keyboard allows you to try different layouts as you can easily swap around the keycaps, or by having blank keycaps. There are a lot of keyboard layouts available with various studies done on the effect they have on typing speed.


Interest factor

It’s nice to demonstrate a mechanical keyboard to people and see their reactions. I also like seeing the eye opening look on someone’s face when they type on a mechanical keyboard for the first time.


Disadvantages of a Mechanical Keyboard

As with anything there are certainly some disadvantages. I can think up the following that may stop someone from getting a mechanical keyboard.


Cost

A good mechanical keyboard is a solid investment that may cost a lot more than a regular run of the mill membrane keyboard. While cost is certainly a consideration, durability should be as well. A mechanical keyboard with solid build quality and Cherry MX switches (guaranteed 50 million typing strokes) should outlast a couple low end membrane keyboards. With that in mind, a mechanical keyboard can be considered an investment that pays off.


Weight

Lets face it. Mechanical keyboards are heavy. Good ones weigh 2 pounds. Most mechanical keyboards contain a metal plate beneath the switches, with a fairly good durable outer casing. In this regard, weight is co-related to durability and may not be such a bad thing. A good hefty mechanical keyboard feels premium to me.


Noise

This is subjective and can depend on the type of switch on the keyboard. I’m currently using one with Cherry MX Browns at work and no one is complaining. My Cherry MX Blue keyboard, however, is another kettle of fish. Because blues are both tactile and clicky, it will be heard across the room in an office.


Bluetooth

While they exist, Bluetooth enabled mechanical keyboards are rare. Why is this? My reasoning is that mechanical keyboards are already a very niche market. Bluetooth mechanical keyboards will be a niche market within a niche market – something with companies may not care about pursuing.