Mechanical keyboards have been around for several decades now. So, what makes them so popular among gamers and coders alike? And why haven’t the sleeker and more affordable membrane keyboards introduced in the early 1990s made them obsolete?
Mechanical keyboards feel good because they are more responsive and accurate than membrane keyboards. They’re typically built with higher-quality materials, giving them a better feel and overall user experience. These features make them more expensive overall but also increase durability.
- Why Do Mechanical Keyboards Feel So Good?
- 1. Mechanical Keyboards Are More Responsive
- 2. Mechanical Keyboards Are More Accurate
- 3. Mechanical Keyboards Are Faster
- 4. Mechanical Keyboards Are More Durable
- 5. Mechanical Keyboards Are Easier To Repair and Clean
- 6. Mechanical Keyboards Are Easier To Customize
- 7. Mechanical Keyboards Look Better
In this article, I’ll explain the key features that make mechanical keyboards so much fun. By the end, you’ll gain a better appreciation of what all the fuss is about and be able to decide if you want to look into them further, even for non-gamers or Mac users.
Why Do Mechanical Keyboards Feel So Good?
1. Mechanical Keyboards Are More Responsive
The primary difference between mechanical and membrane keyboards is the way keys are activated for each device.
All of the advantages of mechanical keyboards discussed in this article stem from this distinction.
The limited space between keys and switches in a membrane keyboard means that keys have to be pushed all the way down to be engaged. Only in this fully engaged position will a keystroke register.
The keycaps on a membrane keyboard are also usually slimmer, and they are not mounted on springs. Because of these key design features, the response of keys in a membrane keyboard is linear, they move from off when disengaged to on when fully pushed down.
On the other hand, mechanical keyboards usually have taller keys and more tactile switches. Moreover, the switches are mounted on springs.
This design choice means that keys activate switches in a mechanical keyboard well before fully engaging.
The different switch styles used by mechanical keyboards also offer different types of feedback to the user.
Some switches require more force to be engaged, while others require less. Some types of switches make no sound, and others make different clicking sounds at various stages of engagement.
- Linear switches move in a linear progression from the “off” to the “on” position without changing speed en route and may not make a sound. They are the least customizable type of mechanical keyboard keys and most like membrane keyboard keys.
- Tactile switches provide some resistance midway through a keystroke to let users know precisely when a keystroke has been registered. They can be particularly useful for those that like to type quickly.
- Clicky switches provide tactile resistance and a “clicking” sound as feedback when a keystroke has been registered. They are great for those who rely on sonic cues to know when keys are engaged.
The variety of switches available for mechanical keyboards means every user can find one that fits their preferences best.
Ultimately, this means that users can put together the most responsive keyboard for their preferred style.
Whereas the mechanism of the more affordable membrane keyboards is built for the average user, most individuals will have specific preferences and tendencies.
They may use particular apps and programs, be right or left-handed, and type with one or ten fingers. Moreover, some people exert much more pressure when typing, while others have a softer touch.
Thus, the sense of feedback individuals get from a membrane keyboard will not be as good as the responsiveness they get from a mechanical keyboard.
A more responsive keyboard improves speed and accuracy. But it is also good in itself, i.e., it is more pleasurable to the touch, especially when working (or playing) for long hours.
This “fun” aspect of mechanical keyboards is the main reason they’re widely loved by everyone from typists to coders and gamers today.
While it is hard to quantify, you can immediately tell the difference when you use a mechanical keyboard. Over time, these differences will only feel more significant.
2. Mechanical Keyboards Are More Accurate
The variety of switches and keycap styles available for mechanical keyboards means that every user can find a combination that gives them the desired feedback.
The keys’ superior tactile and sonic response on them means they get a more accurate sense of the keys they’ve engaged as they type.
Moreover, the mechanical design of the switches and keys means users can engage more keys faster.
This is because users do not need to fully engage a key to register a stroke on a mechanical keyboard.
Similarly, users can engage multiple keys simultaneously because the switch is spring-mounted. The keyboard will accurately register each key in the order it was engaged. This function is known as N-key rollover.
By contrast, engaging multiple keys simultaneously on most membrane keyboards will not usually work as intended. Often, only one or two keystrokes will register.
Thus, the excellent responsiveness of mechanical keyboards also translates to greater accuracy when working at speed. That’s why users can expect to consistently make fewer errors when engaging keys at the highest speeds using one instead of a membrane keyboard.
Almost all keyboard users, from coders to typists and gamers, value these capabilities.
3. Mechanical Keyboards Are Faster
As you might have noticed, many of the benefits mechanical keyboards offer are interrelated.
Thus, their responsiveness and accuracy inevitably mean that they are also, on average, faster to work with.
This does not mean they will not allow slow typists or inexperienced gamers to operate at the same levels as top professionals overnight.
However, the excellent responsiveness and higher levels of accuracy of mechanical keyboards mean that accomplished users will consistently be able to work or play at the fastest speeds they can hit.
When typing out hundreds of pages of manuscripts or thousands of lines of code, the ability to work faster and closer to the speed of thought is a great advantage. Most users would value it.
Speed is also highly appreciated by gamers. As connectivity has gotten better, games have gotten even faster in recent years.
The most proficient gamers today execute several commands each second. Greater responsiveness and higher accuracy help them perform at the top speeds required to compete at the highest level.
The increased speed of mechanical keyboards also has advantages for less proficient users. Practicing on a more responsive and accurate device can help such users pick up speed over time.
They are also usually more comfortable to type on. They have a little bounce and do not need to be fully engaged to register keystrokes. As a result, they cause less fatigue when engaged continuously for long periods.
The keys on a mechanical keyboard are also usually made of better-quality plastics, such as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) or polybutylene terephthalate (PBT). These not only make them last longer but also make them more satisfying to use.
The pleasant touch and feel of mechanical keyboards and their greater responsiveness and accuracy make them much faster. Again, this is a feature valued by all users.
4. Mechanical Keyboards Are More Durable
As I mentioned, the keycaps on mechanical keyboards are usually made of higher-quality plastics, such as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) or polybutylene terephthalate (PBT).
On average, they also tend to be bigger and bulkier than membrane keyboards. Thus, they are also usually sturdier than their membrane counterparts.
In addition, the physical switches on mechanical keyboards are mounted on springs, allowing them to withstand more wear and tear. Again, this means they are usually more durable than membrane keyboards.
Often the keys on a mechanical keyboard will be good for hundreds of millions of keystrokes. So, although they are more expensive than membrane keyboards, they make up for their increased cost.
Investing in an excellent mechanical keyboard usually makes sense for those using keyboards for hours on end.
Some users also type or use keys more aggressively to achieve faster speeds or better performance. The wear and tear they put keys through makes investing in a mechanical keyboard a financially sound decision.
5. Mechanical Keyboards Are Easier To Repair and Clean
A mechanical keyboard is easier to dismantle. The keycaps, switches, and casing can all be easily taken apart. This makes it easier to clean regularly.
Unlike many other electronic devices, mechanical keyboards are also relatively easy to repair for the same reasons.
Broken keys or those with symbols that have become erased over time can easily be replaced with new keys. Similarly, when damaged, springs, stabilizers, and other parts can be replaced.
A mechanical keyboard is modular. Each key is made of multiple parts working in tandem on every keystroke. If one or a few parts need to be replaced, it is possible to replace single keys and switches without having to replace all of them at once.
Mechanical keyboards are also relatively simple devices. The only electronic component they contain is a printed circuit board or PCB.
All the other parts are easy for inexperienced users to fix using the most basic tools.
In contrast, many membrane keyboards are difficult to fix. Even if only a single key fails, users may have to spend significant money fixing a membrane keyboard, as you’ll most likely need to replace the entire keyboard.
Since you have to replace the entire thing regardless of how many keys are bad, it’s a significantly more difficult process overall and even harder to do without professional help.
Thus, although membrane keyboards are more affordable than mechanical keyboards, they may need to be replaced sooner.
This can make them more expensive than mechanical keyboards in the long run.
6. Mechanical Keyboards Are Easier To Customize
Because mechanical keyboards are easy to take apart and comprise modular parts, they are also easier to customize.
There’s also a greater variety of options available regarding switches and keycaps that customers can choose from. These options cover everything from functionality to appearance.
You can choose keys and switches for their tactile response or based on how they sound. Some people prefer keys that offer more resistance, for instance. Others may prioritize finding the most satisfying clicking sound from their keys as they work.
You can also choose different colored keys to help distinguish different keyboard sections, thus serving a visual and functional purpose.
For instance, video editors may like to have their playback controls a different color from their keyframing commands.
Finally, you could also change keycaps just for appearance and build a keyboard that looks as cool as you want. You can select the color of individual sets of keys to your preference. You can also choose to use backlights made of various colored LEDs.
Mass-market keyboards are standard products built for an average user. But every computer user is different. They use their devices for very different purposes, and even those using the same apps or programs may use them differently.
By offering greater customizability, mechanical keyboards allow users to set up keyboards that are perfect for their specific needs and to express their own unique aesthetic preferences.
There is a very vibrant online community of mechanical keyboard enthusiasts. So, if you don’t have ideas for customizing your keyboard, do not worry. You will always find the help you need.
7. Mechanical Keyboards Look Better
Many users also prefer the bulky retro aesthetic of mechanical keyboards.
The association is purely nostalgic for many, but engineers and designers also appreciate the design philosophy behind them.
It recalls an era when a technology’s functions were more apparent in its design, and tools were built to last.
Mechanical keyboards are easily customizable. So, individual users can tailor them to their specific aesthetics, distinguishing them from more typical mass-market products.
Mechanical keyboards came and went, then came back again over the decades. This alone is a true testament to its popularity winning out.
Programmers, gamers, and typists all seem to favor the satisfying touch of them.
Could it be that the sensation forms a more personalized bond with computers?
I remember my dissatisfaction when I bought and used a membrane keyboard. That was the first and last time I ever owned another membrane keyboard.
My conclusion is there must be some innate gratification built into us that responds to the tactile response of a mechanical keyboard. Wouldn’t you agree?