Why should you buy a mechanical keyboard?
Mechanical keyboards have slowly been breaking into the mainstream for the last couple of years. What was once a niche product is now available with a plethora of new models from peripheral manufacturers. Mechanical keyboards are quickly becoming a popular PC purchase, especially with the programmer, writer and gamer crowds. Are you wondering whether you should make the switch as well?
What is a mechanical keyboard?
If you're wondering what makes mechanical keyboards so special, it's the mechanical switches each and every one of the keys of it uses. Do you remember having the huge IBM keyboards? The one that felt nice to type on with the satisfying click every time you press a key? That's basically what a mechanical keyboard is. Keyboards moved away from physical switches because it's so much cheaper to manufacture them using a plastic membrane to serve as a pressure board for the entire keyboard itself.
So yes, in a way, mechanical keyboards are a bit hipster-ish. Then again, mechanical keyboards have their own advantages over the regular membrane keyboards themselves. Mechanical keyboards don't really lose elasticity like the ones found in membranes and they don't wear out as much. This means that they last longer than membrane keyboards. A lot longer. Even the low-end mechanical keyboards, assuming that they are not cheaply manufactured, can last you years up to 6 million keystrokes on some.
But you're not going to buy a mechanical keyboard just because of that now are you? So why should you buy one?
Why should I make the switch?
Let's be clear here. Mechanical keyboards are a luxury purchase. In terms of basic keyboard functionality, there is nothing a mechanical keyboard can do that a regular membrane keyboard can't. If you're strapped for cash, mechanical keyboards are not the wisest of investments you're going to make. They are expensive, often costing twice or thrice the amount of a regular keyboard, averaging around $100 dollars-ish. But are they worth the money?
As a mechanical keyboard fan, I feel like the best way to tell you whether they are or not is to describe them from a personal point of view so here are a couple of reasons why I made the switch.
1. They allow for a great degree of customization
The first thing mechanical keyboards offer that membrane keyboards don't is the chance to really make your keyboard your own. You can customize your keyboard case, your keyboard connectors, and your key caps. And that's not all. Most mechanical keyboards are programmable meaning you'll be able to directly modify what each key does what, if you have the know how to do so. In fact, there are online companies that allow you to create and customize your own keyboards personally (WASD Keyboards comes to mind). I've written a hubpage on customizing your own keyboard here.
2. The feeling of typing on a mechanical keyboard is like no other
If I'll be asked to give one main reason why I like mechanical keyboards, it's that it feels amazing while you're typing on them. Individual physical switches means that typing rarely feels mushy and that every key press offers a tactile feedback unknown to membrane keyboards. Every key press is like a micro-massage for your finger tips, and if you're already spending much time in front of the computer, that alone is a reason to switch.
As I've said, mechanical keyboards are customizable and that extends to the feels you get. The switches each key uses comes in different types, often color-coded to identify which is which. These range from the linear keys where the switches go straight down (black and red switches) to the tactile keys where switches have 2 points of tactile feedback (brown and blues), to the more obscure Topre/Novatouch switches that attempt to combine mechanical key switches with that of membrane keyboards. Once you've made up your mind about switching to mechanical keyboards, the next thing you're going to be considering will be the type of switch you'll go for. While you can find apt descriptions online, I suggest going to your local computer store and trying the different switches out. The difference of each are night and day.
3. They may make you type faster
Now this part is all anecdotal, but I believe mechanical keyboards also make you type faster especially if you are a touch typist. Because of the nature of physical switches, most mechanical keyboards do not require you to bottom out the key press in order to actuate. Keys actuate at a predetermined and consistent distance for each individual switch. That means touch typing feels more consistent and as you get used to your keyboard's actuation point, you may actually type faster.
Still haven't made up your mind?
LIke I said, mechanical keyboards are a luxury purchase. The first thing you're going to have to consider is that whether it is worth it for YOU to buy a specialized keyboard. Think of how much you spend on the computer. Take into account how much you spend your time typing on a keyboard and think on whether a couple more hundred dollars is worth it to make your experiences much more comfortable.
It's a bit like buying a car. Yes, an old beat-up jalopy can get you where you want to go, but if you have the money to buy luxury car, would you? I mean, you still get there all the same, but sometimes it's how you get there that matters.