Over the last decade, mechanical keyboards have seen a surge of popularity. People love the click and the clack sounds that so many modern keyboards have abandoned, but what really makes mechanical keyboards special is the ability to customize them. Users hook them up like the custom cars in Fast and Furious. (In fact you could probably find Fast and Furious keycaps if you really wanted to.) “You can find key caps and cases in all sorts of colors and themes; customize your build to fit your feel and sound preference, and choose a layout and size that fits what you use most,” says Marcia Roberts of Apiary Keyboards, a custom-keyboard builder and Twitch streamer. According to Michael Sickler, the owner of NovelKeys, an online store that sells parts for custom builders and enthusiasts, “There are so many color combinations with keycaps out there, it’s hard to not find the colors that you are looking for. From the desk pads to the cables, almost every interest is covered,” he says. “Why not customize the thing that we spend all day every day using?” says Mechs on Decks co-creator Dave Kendrick, a custom keyboard twitch streamer.
Alexander Medeot, a custom-keyboard builder and Twitch streamer, says that as you dive deeper into the culture of mechanical keyboards they become even more lucrative. “It’s like when Adidas drops like Yeezys, for example, everyone’s running to go buy this keyboard.” He says that getting into mechanical keyboards can be a costly hobby, with people spending anywhere between $150-$250 for “a really good entry-level typing experience.”
Modern keyboards use membranes to register keystrokes. There are rubber domes underneath each key, and while they are quiet and help keep the keyboard profile low (an important factor for laptops, which need to fold to close), they aren’t always that responsive. (If you’ve ever gotten frustrated because letters aren’t showing up when you type, or the spacebar isn’t registering, it’s probably because you’re using a membrane keyboard.) Mechanical keyboards, on the other hand, have a plastic mechanical switch underneath that adds a springiness to them. Your fingers have to push down harder and farther (the distance is called “travel”), but that switch consistently registers your keystroke, giving you a responsiveness that is beloved by gamers and keyboard enthusiasts alike.
There are two types of standard mechanical keyboards: solderable and hotswaps. Solderable keyboards require soldering guns and are for the real pros. “Hotswaps are more like a plug-and-play system,” says Medeot. “They’re very user-friendly,” Sickler adds.
There are also three types of switches: “Linear are smooth switches with no tactile feedback; tactile give you feedback in the form of a bump that you can feel while pressing the switch; and clicky provides an audible click when pressed, along with (typically) some tactile feedback in the form of a bump,” says Sickler. Then there are the stabilizers, also called stabs “which keep longer keys like the spacebar and enter key from wobbling on any key press,” says Roberts. “The keycaps go on top of the switches, and can be customized to infinite proportions,” says Sickler. There’s also the PCB or Printed Circuit board which plugs into your computer via USB. It’s the thing that actually registers keystrokes and conveys the signal you send with your fingers to the computer. Medeot describes it as the “brains of the system.”
Lastly, there’s sizing. Mechanical keyboards are “usually named after what percent of keys they have of the usual full-size board,” says Roberts. The most common is the 60 percent, which includes only the number row, alpha keys, and modifiers, like shift, Alt, or Ctrl. “They are especially popular for people doing custom builds,” says Kaia Dekker of Keyboardio. “These keyboards typically eliminate the Function row (F1, F2, etc.) and arrow keys, as well as the numpad and home cluster. You’ll need to relearn a bit of typing in order to use these.” Sixty-five percent keyboards give you another column to the right for your arrow keys, Medeot says. A 75 percent keyboard has everything except the number pad, and a full layout gives you the numpad, arrow keys, function keys, and modifiers. Everything. While you’ll find ultra-compact 40 percent keyboards, Medeot calls them jarring to use.
Yes, it’s a lot to take in — kind of like watching Tenet backward while someone tries to explain the plot of Inception at the same time. But that’s why we spoke with ten keyboard experts to find the best options available, so that you can get click clacking with as little stress as possible.
Best overall mechanical keyboard
Four out of ten experts recommend the NovelKeys NK65, a 65 percent keyboard that Roberts from Aripay Keyboards calls “the most flexible beginner board on the market. It’s “by far my favorite.” “It has hotswap sockets (that allow you to try different switches without soldering) and, if you want keycaps and switches included, you can wait for their preorder themed editions.” Medeot likes that “you can literally just plug and play whatever switches you want. You still need to go pick up your key caps and switches, which is gonna run you a certain amount of extra dollars, whatever you want to invest in it, but at least you get the base kit.” NovelKeys says the NK65 is so popular that it often sells out. If you can’t find one, he recommends the aluminum NK65 for $90 more and says it’s usually in stock.
Best 60 percent mechanical keyboard
“For $130, you get a case, plate, and PCB, leaving some extra money for caps and switches,” says Kendrick from MechsOnDeck. It has a 6-degree typing angle, silicone feet for keeping your keyboard stable while you type, and it comes in a variety of colors, including aqua, navy, white, and black.
Editor’s Note: The Cannon Keys Bakeneko60 is currently out of stock but should be back in stock soon.
Best budget 60 percent mechanical keyboard
Tiktoker DoseofTech says this 60 percent keyboard is one of the best mechanical keyboards he’s ever tried. It’s waterproof and dust resistant, with LED RGB backlights and durable Gateron optical switches that are easy to remove. It’s also Bluetooth compatible, or you can choose to use a wired connection and not worry about battery life.
Best budget 65 percent mechanical keyboard
Izza Khan, a tech TikTtoker who runs Izzacodes, says switching from her MacBook keyboard to the Keychron K6 made her “feel like I can type at the speed of light — and get the satisfying clickity sound at the same time.” What she likes about the K6 is how easy it is to change out the switches and that you can rest it flat on your desk or set it at a more ergonomic six- or nine-degree angle. And when you pair the keyboard with your computer via Bluetooth, the battery lasts up to 200 hours. (Like the SK64s, it also has a wired option.)
Best budget 75 percent mechanical keyboard
“Using a mechanical keyboard is like playing the bagpipes: great if you’re the person doing it, not so great if you’re anywhere near the person doing it,” says James Lynch, a Strategist contributor who became a mechanical keyboard enthusiast after trying the Keychron K2. It has Bluetooth connectivity and a battery that lasts over a week. “Yes, it’s kind of loud, but now that I’m the one making the noise, I love it — and I am never going back,” says Lynch. “As a writer, my job involves a lot of typing, and I feel like I finally have the right tool for that job.”
Best ergonomic mechanical keyboard
“I had been using the Microsoft Sculpt keyboard for years. I find that a split keyboard really helps me out ergonomically, as it helps keep my RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) at bay,” says Myke Hurley, co-founder of the podcast network Relay FM. “Recently I got into the world of mechanical keyboards and came across the Dygma Raise, which features that same split design (the two halves can also be connected to make a regular style keyboard if you want), but on a full mechanical keyboard.” You can swap in your own switches and “even replace the keycaps with custom sets you may find,” he says.
Best mechanical keyboard for gamers
F. Martin of Arkitechnology, recommends this pre-built mechanical keyboard for gamers. It’s a 60 percent keyboard with RGB lights and the option of a wired or wireless bluetooth connection. The minimal design is supposed to free up space on a gamers desk. It’s also supposed to be relatively silent which means the click and clack won’t disturb your teammates during online games. The Kemove is hot swappable and can pair up to three devices and switch between them seamlessly.
Best mechanical keyboard for quiet typists
“The keyboard is something I’ve spent a ton of time (and way too much money) tinkering on, and I’m constantly changing parts of it to try different things,” says Dan Seifert, our colleague at the Verge. “The board itself is an Epomaker / Skyloong GK68XS aluminum, which has a compact 65 percent layout, hot swappable switches, and built-in Bluetooth support.I don’t like noisy keyboards at all, but this setup is surprisingly quiet — even quieter than the keyboard on my MacBook Air. I have no issue using it during Zoom calls and will probably bring it to the office with me when we return to work there since it won’t disturb others. That will free up space on my desk for another keyboard, giving me a whole new thing to tinker with.”
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