If you usually buy whatever keyboard seems affordable, what you have is probably a membrane keyboard — a device whose keys bounce back up not through the action of a spring, but through the elastic resistance of a sheet of molded rubber under the keys. Rubber keyboard actions are cheap to make, and for this reason, are in near-universal use. This wasn’t how keyboards were always made.
Back when keyboards were substantial input devices with keys that offered feedback in the form of clicky sound and feel, they contained complex mechanics. Each key was designed with its own spring-loaded switch under the key cap. Such precision constructions were expensive, and the design approach lost ground to inexpensive rubber.
Today, a few high-end manufacturers and discerning users keep the design alive, and mechanical keyboards, as they are called, are making a comeback with demanding users such as gamers leading the trend. Whatever kind of user you may be — gamer, Excel warrior or writer — it makes sense to look at one of these keyboards before you pick the membrane variety. You may find that it answers a need that you never knew you really had.
But should you pay five or ten times more than you usually would? What do you get for the money?
You get productivity and satisfaction
It’s hard to make a sheet of rubber do anything precise. This means that with membrane keyboards, the feel of the keys as they go up and down, is anything but exact. There is also the problem that these keys do not lend themselves well to anything other than center presses, especially once they become slightly worn with use. The longer keys tend to produce annoying resistance when pressed off-center.
With mechanical, spring-loaded keyboards, each key is equipped with its own spring, and is tuned for a specific amount of resistance. It may not seem like much when you think about it, but the absolute certainty that your fingers feel with each press can help with productivity. Typing on a mechanical keyboard comes with fewer typos. For gamers, the exactness and feedback can aid in surefootedness.
They may cost you, but they stay with you forever
Mechanical keyboards are heavier, and they stay put in more ways than one. Not only do they resist sliding around when used, they are built to last. You can easily expect one of these to last a couple of decades. You couldn’t try that with a membrane keyboard; you’d probably see the membrane disintegrate in a couple of years.
You get to choose your actuation point
You could never get to specify the click actuation point on a keyboard that didn’t use detailed mechanics. Since mechanical keyboards feature a precision switch on each key rather than a squishy bit of rubber, it is possible for the manufacturer to design it to actuate at any specific point in its travel range.
For writers and office workers, it’s possible to find a model that uses switches that only actuate when they are all the way down. For gamers, who need quick, staccato keypresses, keys that feature mid-travel actuation make more sense. Knowing where exactly a press will register can both aid productivity and feel good.
You get to pick the click and touch that you need
Some people like keys that offer a satisfying audible click, and others like silent keypresses. Some prefer a light touch, and others, greater resistance. Mechanical keyboards are built for different levels of audible click and different levels of key resistance. You get the gift of customization.
There’s a great deal that mechanical keyboards make possible. Before you make up your mind which way you should head, it would make sense to do your research. Trying out a few keyboards at a local specialty retailer can make a great deal of sense.
Cameron Parkinson enjoys sharing his knowledge in his articles. He works at a computer store and so knows what he’s typing about being surrounded by a multitude of products day in and day out.