"Every human being has their drug," my father once told me. "So it's only a matter of time before they find out what this is."
I thought I was immune to this - I'm well-above my thirties, and - apart from a hobby that became a profession - I never had a material hobby.
In 2020, I started making optimizations to my desk. Since I was locked in my house doing remote work, I had to make some changes to my daily work. I changed my office lighting, re-programmed my hands to touch-type without moving my fingers too much (that was insane), and decided to change my keyboard.
I always loved a good keyboard; I just never saw the point of having an excellent keyboard. My Magic Keyboard was enough for my work - it is light, small, portable, and high-quality. In addition, its Bluetooth never caused me any issues.
Until one day, I decided to optimize my way of writing. I was always able to type without looking at my keyboard and be fast at that. I was not using all 10 of my fingers, however. I sit in front of the computer for more than I can admit, well beyond my 9-5 job, which put a strain on my wrists, and I have observed that I can't write so fast past the first few hours of the day. So I figured that I could write the same things I wrote while tiring my hands less at the same time). After giving it some thought, I decided to learn proper touch-typing and change my keyboard. The coronavirus pandemic gave me more reasons to do this, as working remotely makes fast typing increasingly more important (more chats, more emails).
The way I learned to touch-type and rewired my brain to forget what it knew and accept a new way of typing is a discussion for another post. What played a more important role was the change of the keyboard.
I began my mechanical keyboard venture by searching for a low-profile keyboard. Low-profile keyboards are very thin keyboards. I wanted to simulate the arm position and the feel that I was used to for so many years. Also, I didn't want to use a wrist-rest, so a low-profile keyboard made sense.
My first mechanical keyboard was a Logitech G915 TLK with brown switches after watching tons of videos about low-profile mechanical keyboards.
Immediately when I laid my hands on it, I understood the difference and the price point. Mechanical keyboards are always more expensive than rubber-dome ones, and the G915 is on the higher end of the prebuilt mechanical keyboards. However, when I listened to the sound of the keycaps on top of n aluminum case, I could justify the hefty price tag. Of course, the keyboard has more than just a good typing feel, but this is not a keyboard review. It's only fair to say that this is the keyboard that introduced me to the world of mechanical keyboards, and as far as first experiences go, this is one of the top-notch.
Which made me thinking: What more is there? That sweet "clack" sound. If I change the switches or find a keyboard with another case, what's going to happen? How is that going to sound?
I started watching even more videos, with different keyboards, different switches, trying to understand the difference between keyboards, their components, their sound... As it turns out, there is a huge community investing time in this. Not only are there different keyboard types and switches, but there is also the world of custom mechanical keyboards, with keyboard prices that can go as high as a few thousand dollars (Yup. For a keyboard).
Oh boy. There it was, getting hooked into the world of mechanical keyboards. My wallet was screaming at me: "Don't you even dare, there are things more important in life!". And I was like, "should I get one with a clicky or linear switch"?
The world of mechanical keyboards
After deciding to invest time into buying a mechanical keyboard, I immediately noticed how much more expensive those keyboards are compared to a traditional rubber dome keyboard. Although one might argue that the "Traditional" keyboards are the mechanical ones, since rubber domes came later in the picture, to the discomfort of those who remember how good keyboards felt like. The price tag is justified. The case is usually made from higher-quality plastics or metals, and the mechanism underneath the keycaps (the switch) is total - meaning more distinct components and much higher quality. A set of decent switches for a 110-key mechanical keyboard is worth 30-40 dollars on average, so you get the idea.
Despite their price tag, most people investing in mechanical keyboards have more than a couple of them. And they do use them regularly. However, some factors are decisive in the choice of a mechanical keyboard. Those are:
- The size of the keyboard
- The feel of the switches and the typing feel of the overall keyboard in general
- The overall sound of the keyboard
- Extra features depending on the buyer (LED lighting, wireless capabilities, portability, etc.)
The size of the keyboard
Mechanical keyboards come in different sizes, like 100% (with the number pad), TKL (without the number pad), 60%, 65%... It all depends on whether you want to lose a few keys to make space on your desk. For people performing data entry, I believe a 100% keyboard is a must as they make heavy use of the numeric keyboard. On the other hand, for programmers such as me, the extra space on my desk is critical since I am switching from my keyboard to my mouse very often, and I appreciate my hand having to move less while doing so.
Mechanical switches and typing feel
This is the most important factor for most of the typists out there.
There are many kinds of mechanical switches out there. Still, if we want to use as few and generalized categories as possible, we can differentiate the mechanical switches into three categories: Tactile, Linear, and Clicky.
Clicky switches are the ones that make the loudest sound, as a distinct click accompanies every press - there is also a very distinct tactile feel in your finger notifying you that the keypress was registered. Clickies are usually considered the best for typists, as it gives better feedback on each keypress to the fingers and brain. In addition, they are usually considered to be the most addictive since they have this distinct clicky feel. On the other hand, if high-pitch sounds seem annoying, clickies should avoid those - the same goes for when working inside an office.
Linear switches are on the opposite side of the aisle; they have no click sound and no tactile bump. Instead, the key is pressed from top to bottom without giving any feedback about if the key was actuated or not. Linear switches are best for gamers that need fast, speedy responses with no keypress resistance whatsoever. Due to them being more silent, they may be better suitable for the office as well. However, they are more prone to over-sensitivity, making typing not ideal, as more mistakes are bound to happen due to the lack of a distinctive feel about the switch's actuation point.
Tactile switches fall somewhere in between. They have a tactile bump, so the fingers and the brain know when a key was registered. But they lack the click that blue switches have, creating a more silent experience. As a result, to some people, brown switches generally feel a little more "mushy" than the other two categories. They are an excellent choice, however, and are my favorite pick.
To help the user distinguish the type of switch companies are producing them in different colors. The most prominent and common color schemes are Blue (clicky), Red (linear), and Brown (tactile), given after the color scheme of Cherry - a company producing keyboards, switches, and keycaps, and it is a well-established player in this field. However, those colors are not absolute. Not all vendors follow this approach (Razer releases clicky switches in green color) and other variations of those switch types (black, orange, silents, etc.).
Although a major reason why mechanical keyboards are not in every office is cost, there is another one: sound. Some companies outright ban mechanical keyboards in the workplace due to their loud nature. Of course, not every keyboard is the same. But it is an indicator that the sound of mechanical keyboards a decisive factor when choosing one.
In every review of a mechanical keyboard on YouTube, there is almost always a section where the reviewer makes a sound test - that is, typing some text to let the viewer know how does it sound, how a mechanical keyboard sound is a testament to its quality.
Apart from the switches, there are other parts of a keyboard contributing to its sound signature, like the build material (plastic, aluminum, etc.), dampening materials that may be present inside the keyboard, the keycaps, etc., whether there is a lubricant applied to the switches and the stabilizers...
Generally, the more expensive keyboards have better materials and build quality, which results in better sound output. They do tend to come at a higher price point, though.
As with the typing feel, the sound of the keyboard is also a very personal preference. Some people like the silent sound output of the linear switches. Others like the clicky sound. I prefer the tactile switches and remain somewhere in between (I love the blue switches, too - but since it annoys people around me and divorces are really expensive, I prefer not to use them very much).
Custom Mechanical Keyboards
From the above points, I believe it's evident how much of a personal choice a keyboard can be. Depending on your situation and typing style, you can choose a loud or a silent keyboard or choose to use more than one at specific times of day or needs.
Trying and buying many mechanical keyboards from Razer, Corsair, or Logitech is not the best long-term solution if you search for a tailor-made typing feel. Prebuilt keyboards are generally cheaper, but they cannot be changed after they are bought, and this can get really expensive, really fast.
Enter the world of Custom Mechanical Keyboards, where you can tailor a keyboard to match exactly your situation and typing style. Custom mechanical keyboards vary in price from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand.
There are many levels of customization one can make to his/her keyboard. For an infinite number of customization options, one can order all required parts from a website like NovelKeys or KBDFans: Switches, Stabilizers the case, the keycaps, etc., assemble everything on their own. This can get very expensive depending on the components ordered. It can also get very time-consuming as you will be responsible not only for the assembly of all parts but also for lubing them - which is a very tedious process. But in the long run, it pays off by providing you with the ability to change whatever you want without getting a new one. Want different switches? Get new ones, and replace them, and keep the rest of the keyboard intact. Want a typing experience with a thicker sound? Add dampening foam inside the keyboard. Want a more stylish appearance? Get new keycaps. Just make sure that the components you order are compatible with each other.
If you feel that this is too much, some budget options provide a limited number of customization that cover most cases that a user may need, like hot-swappable switches, and make it easy to open up the keyboard and make simple alterations, like adding a dampening foam. An example of this is the GMMK keyboard (trivia: this is also one of the most widely available and budget-friendly keyboards out there)
You may ask yourself, "why should I take my chances and alter what a company has already built using a standardized assembly line?". That's an honest question, which can be answered because there are some things that those big companies rarely make, like lubing the switches. Here is an example of a Logitech G Pro X, before and after lubing the switches
This result was achieved only with lubing - imagine if more things were done like adding dampening foam or changing the keycaps to a higher quality plastic.
So here I am after less than a year since I bought my first mechanical keyboard, and I am completely hooked. According to my father, I have found my drug, and it's a damn expensive one.
Since obtaining my first mechanical keyboard in 2020, I have also bought a Sharkoon Purewriter with blue switches, a Keychron K1 for my wife (in retrospect, I used her more as an excuse to buy the K1 ), and a Logitech G Pro X, with hot-swappable mechanical switches. My main driver for the day is my G915, which is wireless, low-profile, and relatively quiet. But I am switching it with the Sharkoon sometimes. No reason, just for a change.
I also managed to learn proper touch typing. I was a relatively fast typist, already hitting 65 words per minute. I rewired my brain to start using all my fingers while typing, and I dropped to 25 words per minute (so painful), and after a few months, I have reached 85 words per minute while at the same time moving my fingers much less - thus resulting in less tiring. It was a painful process since it required daily exercise to get back to speed to where I was. If I hadn't used a mechanical keyboard, I would have dropped the effort. The mechanical keyboard made typing so addictive for me that those few months passed quickly. I make fewer typing mistakes too.
Since my conversion to mechanical keyboards, every time I touch my Magic Keyboard, I feel the urge to stop using it immediately. And the most disappointing thing is that the Magic Keyboard is one of the better keyboards out there and has accompanied me for a few years, so at least it's tolerable. I cannot even begin to think what would happen if I was obliged to use a cheaper rubber-dome keyboard.
I am not really sure if my new hobby is in my best interest to continue having it (it's terrible for my wallet). But it's certainly more addictive than any other of my hobbies.
- https://novelkeys.xyz/ - mechanical keyboard parts
- https://kbdfans.com/ - mechanical keyboard parts
- Switch And Click - I trust this website and their YouTube channel very much. Every review I have seen is extremely down to Earth, and they are very thorough with their reviews.