Choosing a Mechanical Keyboard

What Are Mechanical Keyboards

I have to admit that I didn’t really know what a mechanical keyboard was a few months ago. I knew that my Logitech Cordless Wave keyboard was starting to give up the ghost after about 4 years, and I knew I needed something better.

I started doing some investigation, and discovered that most computer keyboards in use today are ‘membrane’ keyboards, while some older keyboards have physical switch mechanisms under every key, so when you press a key, parts are moving (light pressing a lightswitch). There’s some info on the different types here.

The main difference is that most keyboards in use today use a membrane which is a flat panel. When you press a key, the key moves down a lot without doing anything, then right at the end it touches the panel and activates the key press. So to press a key, you have to move it all the way down, and you get little to know feeling as you press the key.

Mechanical keyboards on the other hand, as soon as you start to press the key, a mechanical switch is starting to be pressed so the nature of the switch governs how the key press feels and at what point it activates the key press (the actuation point). You can get different types of switches, so you can get different types of feeling.

Key summary: Mechanical keyboards are more reliable, feel better to use, have more flexibility in the type of key press you get and last a lot longer. Plus, they’re usually more expensive so are better made and can possibly have the keys removed for better cleaning.

Choosing a Mechanical Keyboard

Deciding which mechanical keyboard to buy most likely depends on your requirements and taste. I do mostly office work so getting one which is good for typing is essential, while good for gaming is not such an issue for me.

I wanted one that would be fast to type on, and I quite like the idea of blank keycaps.

Naturally, I looked at the Das Keyboard. It looked nice, and I figured I’d go for one. Then I started reading some forums for good alternatives to the Das and found out about Filco keyboards.

Filco also do a keyboard with blank keycaps (Filco Ninja Majestouch-2, Tactile), but this one has the printing on the front of the key instead which is quite neat. The printing is still there if you need it, but is not obvious when you look down (to train you to touch type better), doesn’t get worn off everytime you touch the keyboard and according to some sources, is better made and has a better finish (matt rather than polished).

Keys from Front

After deciding which keyboard to buy, I also had to decide which type of key switch to get. This post covers the main ones. I ended up choosing between brown and blue switches, and decided to go for brown, as although my typing noise may not be an issue most of the time, having a super loud keyboard may be annoying when there are other people in the room. I have to admit that even with brown switches, it’s still pretty loud!

Once I’d decided to buy – great, just click the button and I’ll have it within a couple of days. Sadly, no. I found out that this company is the sole European distributor for Filco and they were out of stock for 4 months! They told me that because they had no stock, no one else would have any stock because all other people were dependent on them. Dang and darn.

What’s It Like?

Well, 4 months later is today, and at 8am on a Saturday morning, I was awoken by the postman with a delivery!

It’s pretty nice.

Keys from BackIt’s a very matt black finish, which has an almost soft texture. Unfortunately it’s the type of lovely texture that I feel won’t stay like this for very long. I think it will become smooth quite soon which is disappointing. It’s similar to the back of the HTC One X in case anyone had one!

It feels like an incredibly well made piece of kit. It’s sturdy, feels strong and has big almost sticky rubber feet to ensure it doesn’t slide around on the desk. The cable is thick and feels quality. It even comes with a Filco branded velcro cable tie. The kind with hidden latches that you can’t feel, so the whole strip is double sided velcro, and it is cleverly designed to be removable. This little touch makes me feel that these guys have really over-engineered this keyboard down to the last detail. Nice.

Filco Cable Tidy

The most important part though, is how does it feel to type on? Most of the reason I’m bothering to write this post is to test it out!

Generally, it feels good. I’m hoping that it will help to reduce typing errors, and therefore increase my typing speed. I already feel like I can go very quickly on it when I get into a roll which is good. My Logitech was starting to suffer from slightly sticky keys (not sticky as in spilt orange juice, but sticky as in the key press action was becoming worn) and I was starting to miss keys that I was hitting but weren’t actuating. This one doesn’t feel like that obviously because it’s new, and I’m hoping it will last better.

The matt finish feels great, although it will be interesting to see how it wears. As mentioned above, it also feels quite loud. No doubt a fair bit quieter than the blue switches, but in a quiet room with no other noise, you can’t be typing without anyone noticing! It’s definitely not laptop quiet.

I’ll possibly update this post in the future with more complete thoughts on the typing experience, but so far so good. I’m still getting used to it, but assuming that as I do, my typing will improve significantly.

Only downside so far, slightly disappointing that they don’t have any sort of ergonomically designed keyboard so I’m back to being stuck with a straight one and already I can feel my wrists straining to get used to it. Disappointing after using an ergonomic one for years.

Other slight downside is that I think I’ll miss the media keys that are commonplace on consumer keyboards, particularly volume keys. It would be nice if Filco added some of those, although perhaps I can set up some hotkeys to do that.

3 thoughts on “Choosing a Mechanical Keyboard

  1. I too went from a Logitech wave to the Filco Ninja Tenkeyless and wow what a transformation! The wave was very good for a non mechanical keyboard and I definitely found that the wave shape of the keys helped with wrist pain, but the difference in typing feel (actually needs far less pressure to actuate the MX Brown keys and you don’t have to hit the bottom of the travel), the extra speed all make it a much better experience even without the ergonomic wave shape and I’ve had no pain since switching.

    One other thing I did get was the filco leather wristwrest which is really top quality and has made using the majestouch even better so I would recommend that if you’ve not already got one.

    Finally on the media keys, I know what you mean – I had the power key always set to lock my machine which I missed along with volume etc… but I found AHK (AutoHotKey) that is fantastic for writing scripts to create your own hotkeys. Now my scroll lock key (which I’ve never used!) is my lock key.

    1. Thanks for the info. I might check out the wrist rest from Filco.

      I was also thinking of getting the plain keycaps to help stop me looking at the keys for those odd ones like – and ]!

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