The Mechanical Keyboard Rabbit Hole
At any given moment, I’m about three steps away from getting way into mechanical keyboards.
It’s perhaps the quintessential rabbit hole of a hobby for gaming geeks like me…at least, if you’re not already into headphones, haha.
A few things keep me away from the terrifying chasm of buying too many keyboards.
I’m not that much of a mechanical Switch elitist. I do generally prefer Cherry switches for their name, their reliability, and their wide number of options…but in the last few years the clone switches have improved. In fact, the current keyboard in my house is an older Razer Blackwidow Chroma TKL. It has Razer Green Switches, and apart from a couple of secondary keys not having perfectly uniform response/being a little wiggly on their stabilizers, it has a great core typing experience and build quality to it.
Believe it or not, I also enjoy the feel of membrane keys, even after years of using mechanical keyboards every day. It might be because I spent so many years typing on them growing up and in school, but I don’t mind the slightly squishy feel of domes at all. I’ve contentedly typed out pages upon pages across membrane keyboards, even in recent years on laptops. I quite enjoy the feel of the keyboard on my Dell G5 and had a great time typing stuff on an old Acer CB100 series Chromebook.
As long as the rubber dome has a little bit of a snap to it, I’ll happily use it.
Durability is a big issue with rubber domes. I’ve killed a number of membrane keyboards over the years but never successfully killed a mech. My first Cherry keyswitch board was a Corsair Aluminum Beast that still resides in the back part of my dad’s office, and still performs just as well as it did when I first got it at a Best Buy years ago. That was during the Big Bang of mechanical keyboards into the mainstream spaces I frequented.
The launch and subsequent sales explosion of Razer’s Blackwidow lineup back in late 2010 suddenly shoved the mechanical switch back into the spotlight, and the market shows no signs of slowing down. One of the fun things about Mech Keyboards is the insane number of options/amount of customization that’s possible. You can get a board for just about any tastes. You can get so many different types of switches, different lighting packages, different sizes, different keycaps.
That choice is a double-edged sword though, and it plays into the trend of increased consumer confusion so common in modern technology marketing. I recently applauded Apple for simplifying their computer lineup, but that trends against the norm. Right now, peripheral companies like to have a billion different choices with a billion different little differences at a billion different price points. You’ll spend time sorting all of this out, and it’ll make you feel “more invested” in the product and in the choice you end up making…when they could have just had three really excellent tiers of product and cut out all the crap in-between.
Does Cherry really need to have so many different options of key switch, or is it just a way for you to develop an over-refined sense of taste that compels you to want multiple keyboards?
Each time you buy a new keyboard, your brain then wonders what else is out there and whether the other options you spent so much time carefully ticking off actually had something to offer…and before you know it, you want a new one again. The same thing happens with headphones.
I’d probably have a whole closet full of keyboards instead of just my current Razer Blackwidow Chroma if my desk were bigger. My biggest gatekeeper keeping me out of the nightmare hobby is that I use a stupid desk with a stupidly small keyboard tray. It would be fine if it just had a keyboard on it, but using a keyboard and mouse on the tray practically requires that I use a TKL model if I want the proper ergonomics. I’ve frequently considered getting a different desk, or a secondary surface to place nearby for mousing, but I’m sunk-cost-fallacied into this desk from having it for over a decade.
The wildest thing I’ve seen the keyboard industry do lately is produce cheaper keyboards with membrane switches using the same design languages and frames from the more expensive mech models. “Get a taste of real keyboards, but with rubber domes.” It’ so bizarre. I did really like the Razer Ornata…but I also don’t know why it needed to exist when competing companies could produce a fully mechanical model for the same price.
Another false choice to add to the pile.
I’ve been surprised by the general lack of mechanical switches in laptops, the very place where their durability would be quite useful. While a few gaming models have implemented them, rubber domes still seem to rule the day there. And we’ve all seen the trouble Apple’s gone through in trying to implement custom hybrid designs into their portables.
Keyboards are often overlooked even though they’re increasingly the main text creation tool of the modern world. They’re a means to an end. As long as they work, they work. And yet, their tactile nature and the large amount of space they take up means they’re ripe for over-design and exploitation.
I might still buy a new one soon. It’s been a while. That makes it okay, right?