Keyboards are an essential tool now that most of our work has shifted online. However, I'm pretty sure everyone’s experienced unproductive hours of slow toil as you try and think your way out of a creative rut. The cheap unrefined feel of membrane keyboards can amplify that feeling, making your unproductive day at work even worse. Are they really that bad?
Mechanical keyboards, on the other hand, claim to provide a smooth, streamlined, and consistent user experience that increases typing speed and enjoyment. Switching to a mechanical keyboard has numerous advantages over the cheaper version, not least because they last far longer. However, the main draw of mechanical keyboards is their flexibility to be customised to meet specific workplace demands.
First and foremost, keyboard layout matters. The model you'd most likely be looking at in shops such as Challenger or Harvey Norman for all your IT needs is the full-sized 104-key keyboard.
These keyboards come with function keys (F1-F12), arrow keys, and a number pad. Oftentimes, we don't really use the arrow keys or the number pad as there is already a row of numbers on the keyboard. However, the number pad may be useful and the most convenient for those that deal with a lot of numbers on a day to day basis, and plugging said numbers into an Excel sheet.
For those who spend hours on their desks, however, the ergonomic keyboard – split boards with half the keys on each side – could maximise the comfort, ease and productivity of office work.
Going smaller comes the tenkeyless keyboard. These keyboards are also known as 80% keyboards. These keyboards are the same as the full-sized keyboards but they don't come with the number pad, thus it's worth considering if your work is more suited to typing words rather than numbers.
60/65 Percent Keyboard
Want to go even smaller? The next keyboard would be the 60% or 65% keyboard. These keyboards typically do away with the Function (F1 - F12) keys, arrows, and other utility keys (Home, Delete, Print Screen, Page Up and Page Down). Now, you might think that the lesser keys a keyboard has, the cheaper it would cost. But that's not always the case. Some keyboards have different types of switches as we'll go into below, and keycaps that can affect the cost of the keyboard itself.
On the other hand, 65 percent keyboards drop the Function (Fn) keys and most other keys that are deemed not essential, but they almost always keep the arrow keys. This is important if you're navigating between cells on Excel or you casually play games that require the use of the arrow keys.
40 Percent Keyboard
If you're looking for something more portable, it’s worth considering the 40% keyboard. As per its name, it only has 40% of the standard keys, choosing to leave out the numbers on the top row compared to the 60% keyboard.
Switches & Their Colours
Whether you prefer satisfying clicky keys or working in silence, mechanical keyboards have switches that cater to your every need. Cherry produces the most popular switches, colour coding each switch type depending on its characteristics.
There are three main categories of switches: linear, clicky and tactile. Linear switches (Cherry MX Red and MX Black) have the most basic operation, moving simply up and down.
Linear switches are known for their almost silent and smooth action. When a key is bottomed out, the plastic on plastic impact results in noise, not the switch itself. This can be annoying after some time.
Cherry MX Reds are a light linear switch often targeted by gamers, especially when performing rapid, repeated keystrokes. Generally not ideal for work that requires heavy typing as the light actuation force and lack of feedback can lead to more frequent typos for users who are not used to a linear switch.
MX Blue switches are known for their distinct click sound that can be clearly heard when the switch is fully pressed down. These switches can also come with a mild tactile resistance that must be overcome to actuate the switch and register a keystroke.
Clicky switches are the main preferred switch type among heavy typists. Those wanting a quiet keyboard for the office should probably steer clear, to avoid annoying your colleagues.
However, tactile switches (MX Browns) have a tiny bump as you push the key down. These give your typing process definition, confirming the success of a keystroke and greatly enhancing your overall typing experience. To me, MX Browns are my go-to switches for a productive day in the office.
Brown switches are generally preferred in offices than MX Blue Switches as the noise generated from the clicky keys can lead to grumpy colleagues around you. No one likes to work in a sea of clicky noises anyway.
Most boards have relatively cheap ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, a type of plastic) keycaps, with the key names printed or lasered on. These might get shiny after prolonged use and the lettering may wear off after some time.
PBT (Polybutylene Terephthalate, another type of plastic) keycaps are the best type of keycaps - according to me that is. So if you want the best and the most durable for your office, go for PBT. The texture of these keycaps are rougher, which results in better finger grip for lesser chances of slipping and making typos.
This article goes in-depth into the major differences between ABS and PBT keycaps!
Don’t shy away; keyboards are underappreciated investments that will give back for years in productivity. Read our other articles here.