Your Next Keyboard: Why Go Mechanical?
If you're a computer user of, shall we say, "a certain age," you remember a time when a room-filling cacaphony of clicking was synonymous with typing as words appeared...uh, on a sheet of paper. Typewriters were, in a sense, the original mechanical keyboard, and generations of 20th-century office workers and aspiring novelists honed their typing chops on them. But as the hardy, ribbon-based machines gave way to computers, a different kind of mechanical keyboard came to the fore: the battlewagon keyboards of the early days of computing. And they were beasts. They used keys that clicked and rattled, and many of them felt like they would last forever. (Indeed, some of them are still in service.)
That's the appeal of today's mechanical computer keyboards: They feel like products built for the ages, in these days of disposable tech. Even throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, mechanical keyboards were as common a part of computer setups as floppy disk drives—because the people who were creating and using them knew what typing could, and should, be. Sadly, with the explosion of the home PC market in the 1990s and into the early 2000s, sturdy mechanical boards fell out of favor, as manufacturers looked for cheap, mass-market ways of getting tens of millions of people on their machines and online. Typing, that most basic of computing activities, became something you and your fingers had to endure, not enjoy, on subpar gear.
Luckily, the keyboard-quality pendulum has swung back in the other direction over the last decade. Mechanical keyboards are once again viable, even popular, alternatives to the bundled cheapie. They cost more, but they are far more rugged than a run-of-the-mill model. And keyboard makers now make them in lots of flavors to serve most major subclasses of buyers: productivity-minded users (with plain models), gamers (with keyboards replete with LED bling), ergonomically minded folks, and more.
A mechanical keyboard is a bit of an investment, though, so here's what you need to know in order to make the right choice.
Their switches aside, mechanical keyboards have the same feature considerations as other kinds of keyboards. You may want key backlighting, whether of one color or an entire spectrum you can program at your whim. ("Per-key" RGB backlighting, in which you can program each key across the whole RGB spectrum, is the ne plus ultra of key backlighting, but it adds to the cost.) Multimedia controls, whether they're activated by pushing separate buttons or using a Function key to access a secondary ability on one of the standard keys, can make it easy to adjust volume or move backward and forward in your track list while playing music.
Look for convenience features such as a volume dial or roller. (Corsair is well known for nifty volume rollers on some of its high-end mechanical boards.) And dedicated macro buttons can be a real boon for gamers, saving you the trouble of executing tricky key combinations or menu manipulations every time you want to perform a common action.
In any case, whatever you want from a keyboard, you can find a mechanical keyboard capable of making it a reality—with more heft, longevity, and style than you may have thought possible. Mechanical keyboards are back and here to stay, and likely to only get better as more and more buyers realize the benefits they offer to laser-focused typists, hardcore gamers, and everyone in between.