As someone who has been writing every day for the past decade (and then some), a keyboard has become an essential tool for my work. It's how I get my voice out to the world, whether it's about Apple and tech or just how I'm feeling about current events. For me, a keyboard is my most important piece of technology, and it has become a part of who I am.
For the longest time, though, I just used whatever keyboard was on my MacBooks through the years, including the god-awful butterfly keyboards from 2015 to 2019. At some point, I picked up a Magic Keyboard alternative from Logitech to use with my laptop, but still, something was missing. It was tolerable, but it wasn't satisfying.
While I'm not sure at exactly what point in my life I heard about mechanical keyboards, it was something that I wanted to check out eventually. I didn't really think much of it back then, and like a lot of other hobbies, I didn't exactly make time for it, nor did I have funds to investigate further. One Christmas, my husband got me a Razer Ornata Chroma keyboard from Target, and even though that one is a mechanical membrane keyboard, it ignited a spark — I love loud, clicky keyboards and RGB. Still, this wasn't a true mechanical keyboard, but I was getting warmer.
Then I got a Keychron K2, my first truly mechanical keyboard. With my Keychron, I've dived into the huge rabbit hole of mechanical keyboards, from learning about cases and printed circuit boards (PCB) to switch types to keycap profiles, and I absolutely love it. This is a niche hobby, but it allows me to express myself through my most important tool.
It's all about the customization
The best part about mechanical keyboards is the customization factor. You can customize pretty much anything you want, whether it's something as simple as the keycaps, something a little more advanced like changing the switches, or you can build an entire keyboard from scratch — it's up to you.
So far, as I've ventured into the mechanical keyboard hobby, I've only changed out the keycap sets on my current boards, mainly my Keychron K2. But since the keycaps are the first thing that someone sees on a keyboard, it's probably the most important, at least for me. As I've spent time on r/mechanicalkeyboards, I've discovered a ton of beautiful keycap sets, only to find out that I've missed my chance to buy them because of the group buy window. However, I also learned that there are plenty of ready-to-ship keycap sets that you can find on Amazon or other online vendors like KBDfans, PimpMyKeyboard, and others. And now that I'm into the hobby, I like to keep track of upcoming group buys in r/mk or on Keycaplendar. It's a little overwhelming, but it's become one of my favorite things to do in my free time.
But since I'm sitting at a computer for most of the day, the keycaps are important for me. I often take breaks from writing and editing, and sometimes I just like to relax and look at my keyboard with the backlights shining through my artisans. It's oddly calming and helps me unwind a little. Plus, I've also enjoyed creating a desk setup with certain colors and themes, so having my keycaps match up with my desk mat, and wrist rest are what I consider to be aesthetic goals. I also just like to have my keyboard and other desk peripherals match up with how I'm feeling, so to spice things up every now and then, I plan on changing my caps (and possibly other peripherals) regularly. And honestly, I have more keycap sets coming in than I do keyboards...I think. But seriously, I love the aspect of dressing up one of my most important tools.
I haven't quite dived into changing switches or building a keyboard from scratch just yet, but I hope to get to that point soon. For now, I am pretty happy just being able to customize how my keyboard looks on the surface. It's all about being able to create a keyboard that fits your own individual wants and needs.
Not all mechanical keyboards are "clicky" and "loud"
I think a big misconception of mechanical keyboards is that people think they're all "loud" and "clicky." Or people may think that because they aren't chiclet keys, each key requires a lot of travel before they're registered as a keystroke. And that's just not the case at all.
Yes, there are mechanical keyboards that are loud and clicky because they use switches that are designed to be that way. The most notorious switch being Cherry MX Blues or similar clones like Gateron Blues. Blues are the loud and clicky switch, and usually require the most actuation force and have the most key travel associated with them. But these are not the only switch out there. I currently use Gateron Browns on my Keychron K2, which are a popular middle-ground, tactile option. This means that they are slightly quieter than blues but still provide a nice, tactile bump when bottoming out (pressing a key down to its full length), but it's not as clicky as blues. There are also Cherry MX Reds or Gateron Reds (and other similar switches) that are linear, which means they are much quieter and require the least amount of force to register a keystroke. Reds are particularly great for gaming since they need the least amount of force and have the least amount of travel, making them the quickest to register.
But there are many other switches out there besides Cherry MX or Gaterons — these are just two of the more well-known ones. There are plenty of other Cherry MX clones like Kailh, Zealios, and more. Some of the more commercial brands, like Razer and Logitech, also have their own Cherry MX clones like Razer Greens, Razer Orange, and Logitech GX switches. There are many different color variations as well, which means they're either linear, tactile, or clicky, with different actuation force and key travel before bottoming out. And on top of that, there are even other switch types out there, such as Topre, which is considered one of the more "premium" switches, and they sound super nice.
Again, switches are just part of the equation. The profile of the keycaps that you use also affects the feel and sound of the switches you use as well. While you may think that mechanical keyboards have more key travel just because of the "taller" keycaps, that also isn't true. While most keycap sets are "OEM" or "Cherry" profile, which means they can be quite tall (depending on the row), there are others like DSA that are a uniform height and honestly much shorter than the aforementioned OEM and Cherry profiles.
I recently ordered a set of gradient DSA keycaps from Drop, and the DSA profile has become my favorite so far. They're a pleasure to type on, and I love the caps' overall look and feel. And since they're shorter than the traditional OEM and Cherry profile, it feels like it's much easier to press a key and have it register the keystroke without too much force. Oh, and they're so satisfying.
Like I mentioned already, I'm still relatively new to the hobby, and there are so many other aspects of a keyboard that you can customize that affect the overall feel and sound. Custom keyboards can have metal plates that add heft; there are dampeners, lubrication that affect the smoothness of switches when pressed down, and so much more. If you don't like mechanical keyboards just because you think they're all "loud" and you don't like clicky keys, that's just a small fraction of what is available out there. Mechanical keyboards are so customizable that there is a very high chance that there is a board for you out there — you just don't know it yet.
Mechanical keyboards are satisfying and allow me to express myself
I know many people just don't see the appeal of a mechanical keyboard, and that's fine. But I love them because they're super satisfying to type on — way better than any laptop or chiclet-style keyboard, yes, including Apple's Magic Keyboards. The sound and feel of a good mechanical keyboard also make me feel even more productive, as I can literally hear my productivity, and that's just something I can't really get with mushy chiclet keys.
Plus, every aspect of a mechanical keyboard can be customized, allowing me to express myself and my interests in my keyboard and overall desk setup. For now, I take pride in changing out my keycaps to match my favorite colors, themes, fonts, and other aesthetics. Plus, artisan keycaps are a thing, and they're fun to collect and show off (although these can be rather pricey).
Do you enjoy mechanical keyboards?
What do you think about mechanical keyboards? Do you prefer using mechanical keyboards, or are you find with default Magic Keyboard and other flat, chiclet keyboards? Let me know your thoughts!
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Christine Romero-Chan was formerly a Senior Editor for iMore. She has been writing about technology, specifically Apple, for over a decade at a variety of websites. She is currently part of the Digital Trends team, and has been using Apple’s smartphone since the original iPhone back in 2007. While her main speciality is the iPhone, she also covers Apple Watch, iPad, and Mac when needed.
When she isn’t writing about Apple, Christine can often be found at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, as she is a passholder and obsessed with all things Disney, especially Star Wars. Christine also enjoys coffee, food, photography, mechanical keyboards, and spending as much time with her new daughter as possible.