The Filco Majestouch Tenkeyless – One of the more popular mechanical keyboards on the market (photo courtesy of Filco)
Aren’t all keyboards mechanical? Technically, yes — but there has been a new movement as people recognize the benefits (tactile, aural, and aesthetic) of “mechanical” keyboards.
You see, your traditional $10 desktop keyboard that comes from your IT department is usually constructed with a “rubber dome”. If you remove the key cap, you’ll see a rubber dome (crazy!) membrane over the activation area.
This creates a mushy feeling keyboard that requires a lot of force to actuate. “Heavy” keys are the harbinger of repetitive stress injuries (RSI) like carpal tunnel syndrome.
Enter the mechanical keyboard.
The classic mechanical keyboard is the IBM Model-M. The old school grey keyboard that is known for it’s loud “click-clack” sound as you type — the sound of a mechanical key actuator.
IBM Model M mechanical keyboard – a clickity-clacking classic (photo from Wikipedia)
Now you have an entirely new series of mechanical keyboards being manufactured by a slew of companies such as Filco, Leopold, Steelseries, Topre, Happy Hacking, etc.
These keyboards use mechanically actuated switches (usually made by Cherry or Realforce) that feel great while you are typing and create a very pleasing (or annoying, depending on the tolerance of your officemates) clicking sound.
Most of these mechanical switches introduce a tactile click, meaning you will feel a slight threshold of force about 2/3 of the way down where the key itself actuates before hitting the bottom — great for touch typists and showing off how quickly you can type.
If you have tolerant officemates (or people living in the same household — I’m grateful my S/O puts up with my keyboard nerdery) this is a great option to reduce cramping/stress on your hands and increase the pleasure you may derive from typing.
If you don’t have tolerant officemates, there are variations of the Cherry switch that aren’t as loud, as well as modifications you can make to the keyboard to dampen the sound (although some would argue you are making it feel more like one of the gross rubber dome keyboards).
Mechanical keyboards are huge in gaming circles, but there are significant advantages for the home/workplace:
- Lower force required reducing hand cramping + repetitive stress injuries
- Tactile feedback allowing for higher WPM for touch typists
- Pleasing click-clack sound
- Many variations come “tenkeyless” without a numeric keypad
I personally prefer tenkeyless models — these are keyboards without the numeric keypad. Why? First of all, I don’t work in accounting and I know a lot of people can enter numerals just as fast without the numpad; second, if you infrequently use it, it takes up a lot of desk real estate and screws up the ergonomics/placement of your mouse.
We’ll discuss desk layout/ergonomics in a separate post, but having your elbow angled out all awkwardly while reaching for your mouse due to the width of your keyboard is a real problem.
If you’re looking for a mechanical keyboard, you can start looking at a few different places for information and inventory:
- Amazon.com carries Filco keyboards (Filco tenkeyless are my personal favorite, but a bit pricey)
- EliteKeyboards.com used to carry Filco keyboards but now carry Leopold brand keyboards. They are slightly different from Filco in the way some keys are mounted, and have a distinctly different key feel to them even though they use the same Cherry switches
- Steelseries and Razer both make gaming centric mechanical keyboards
- There is a whole subreddit (/r/mechanicalkeyboards) dedicated to mechanical keyboards, modifications, and associated fetishism
I own both a Filco Tenkeyless at home and a modified Leopold Tenkeyless at work (it has an o-ring mod to dampen some of the bottoming out sound).
Give it a try — everyone I know who has tried one of mine has remarked about how much more pleasing typing is. While a lot haven’t made the plunge into mechanical keyboard-ville, if you’re serious about your typing you should definitely consider it.