Best mechanical keyboards (update: December 2016)
For some they evoke warm memories, like the sound of a summer's rain tip, tip, tapping on a tin roof. For others they produce torturous noise akin to cockroaches skittering their way through an ear canal. But as with black licorice, few people are moderate in their opinions of mechanical keyboards: They either love them or hate them.
(To get a sense of the lovely cacophony of three mechanical keyboards typing away, click on the small speaker symbol in the bottom right corner of the screen.)
Updated: Check out our best mechanical keyboard of 2016 guide for a slew of new boards.
Table of Contents
I fall in the "love them" camp. I credit my good taste not just with having grown up with typewriters, but because of my first experience with a computer keyboard. It came from Atari's odious pack-in controllers included with the 2600 cartridge Programming. The twin rectangular paddles slipped together to form a square keyboard made up of a number of bubbles imprinted with letters. To type you had to carefully depress a bubble, applying just enough pressure to type one letter and not multiples of that letter.
When personal computers came out, many of them included mechanical keyboards — that is, keyboards that used a switch to convert the tap of a keystroke into a letter on a screen. King among these boards was IBM's fabled Model M. But as personal computers evolved, the keyboards used with them devolved. This was likely driven by the desire to reduce costs on a peripheral. A number of de-innovations stripped keyboards of their mechanical nature by the 1990s.
The '90s saw the rise of a variety of slimmer, lighter, cheaper keyboards, including the membrane keyboard, scissor-switch and dome-switch keyboards, and capacitive keyboards, all of which gradually, quietly supplanted the mechanical keyboard for most inattentive users.
I used these sub-nominal keyboards for many of my early years as a personal computer user. Once I shifted from the TRS-80 and its built-in keyboard to the early IBM PCs to the sort of PC that required either a new purchase or an included, often cheap keyboard, I unknowingly switched away from mechanical.
But recently I had a moment of clarity. I mentioned to a friend that I was going through two or three keyboards a year, the keys having been pounded into submission and no longer working. My friend asked about mechanical keyboards. After a bit of research I realized that I had somehow shifted from the keyboards I loved to keyboards that I not only hated, but also the keyboards that couldn't stand up to my typing.
For those of you who find yourselves in the same camp as me, but perhaps without that clarity, here is a rundown of some of the available mechanical keyboards out there. This is by no means meant to be a full representation of mechanical keyboards, nor even of the companies that produce them. Think of this as an entry into the world of mechanical keyboards. I've provided a bit of information about each, including the sorts of switches they use, how much they cost and what they feel like, having used each for a few weeks to a month. There are also videos in each entry showing me using them so you can see how they operate, and also, more importantly, hear the sound.
While the feel of a mechanical keyboard is important, you new initiates may be surprised to find that the sound of a key being depressed, from a deep clack to a high-pitched ping, is what really wins over fans of a particular model or switch.
Before we get into the comparisons and my write up of each keyboard, a little more detail about the switch, the driven force behind the loved and loathed mechanical keyboard.
A mechanical keyboard is a keyboard that uses a mechanical switch under every key. There are four major types of mechanical switches. Perhaps the most well-known is the Cherry MX switch made by ZF Electronics (formerly known as Cherry), though both Logitech and Razer have their own switches based on the design of the Cherry. The other mechanical switches are the buckling spring switch found in the early IBM Model M keyboards, the ALPS and the hybrid Topre switches.
The Cherry MX switches, which have been around since the mid-'80s, consist of a keystem resting on a spring that is housed inside a small square of plastic, which also houses a pair of metal contacts. When a key is pressed, the stem pushes down on the spring, which in turn allows the two contacts to touch, closing the switch and signaling to the computer that a key has been depressed.
Cherry MX switches currently come in at least seven types, each signified by the color of the stem. Each type varies in the amount of pressure needed to trigger a key depress, how clicky the switches are and whether you can feel when the switch has been closed without having to press the key all the way down (known as "bottoming out").
The most common Cherry switches are the black, blue, red and brown.
Cherry holds a prestigious place in the hearts of many mechanical keyboard aficionados, but that hasn't stopped other companies from trying to replicate the company's success.
Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan talked to Polygon last year about his desire to create Razer's own take on the Cherry switch.
He said he believes that Razer is one of the largest supporters of the mechanical keyboard today. That level of support, he said, eventually led to Razer's decision to re-examine the beloved Cherry switch.
Eventually, the company decided to team up with a Chinese manufacturer to release a new Razer switch with just a few tweaks.
"But those tweaks are immense," he said at the time. "We moved the actuation point by 0.3 millimeters, such that, for the pro gamers, it will be much, much faster.
"These are the kinds of things we do from time to time that we are really proud of. We just like to tinker and iterate on things."
Logitech too decided it was time to reinvent the Cherry switch, but the company's reasoning was much more specific.
"Everyone loves mechanicals," Doug Sharp, Logitech's product manager for keyboards, said. "But they haven't changed in 20 years and we wanted to develop something new.
"Our theme at Logitech is winning through science."
So the company reexamined the switch and found a way to deliver what it believes is the same feel with the added benefit of piped-in lighting.
While mechanical keyboards often include an array of lighting options, they typically light the keys from under the keycap. That means the light shines up and around the key, lighting both the letter and the space around the square of the keycap.
Logitech's switch is a pipeline cut through it that allows light to shoot up straight through the switch and into the keycap, lighting only the letter and nothing else.
The switch, like Razer's, also has a shorter actuation distance, meaning you can type faster and react quicker, if your fingers are up to the challenge.
Logitech also released a software development kit for its new keyboard, the Orion Spark. This means that anyone can program effects and new uses for the board's lighting. That could include things like a board that turns red in Counter-Strike GO when you have run out of ammo or are about to.
While I measured the decibel levels for many of the keyboards, keep in mind that I did this in my home and didn't use professional equipment. So those numbers are best used in conjunction with the videos provided for each and as a loose comparison tool.
The NovaTouch TKL sells itself as the "ultimate typing experience." What differentiates this particular keyboard from others on this list is that it's not a pure mechanical board. Instead of relying on mechanical switches, the NovaTouch makes use of hybrid capacitive switches (also popularly used by Topre). What that means is that the housing and stem for the keycap sit on top of an electrostatic layer of material, which is held above a steel-plated printed circuit board by a spring. When a button is pressed, the electrostatic layer hits the PCB, which detects the key. Cooler Master says the result is a faster, quieter mechanical keyboard designed to be easier on the fingers. As with Cooler Master's other board on this list, this one is also a tenkeyless, meaning it has no number pad on the right side to extend the board's length.
True to the company's promise, the NovaTouch TKL is one of the quietest keyboards among the batch we tested. It was only louder than Razer's Blackwidow Chrome Stealth board. And if you want to make the board even quieter, it comes with a set of O-ring sound dampeners that can be affixed to each key's stem.
While the board does feel more responsive than the others we tested, it also lacks the tactile bump you find in most traditional mechanical boards. That means you don't feel when the key hits the activation point; instead, your finger's first sensation is the solid stop of bottoming out. I can see how some might appreciate how smooth this makes the keystroke, but if you're used to the tactile bump of a switch, it can feel a little odd.
The NovaTouch feels trapped between two keyboard camps.
Among the keyboards we tested, the NovaTouch was the most basic model. This is a keyboard with no extra ports, no lights, no bells or whistles. That doesn't make it a bad keyboard, just a very focused one. And even with this spare approach, it does offer some subtle neat additions. The board's braided cable, for instance, can be unplugged from the board itself. It also comes with not just the full set of O-rings for the keys, but a handy steel wire key puller to help install them. The board also has the ability to tweak the repeat rate of the keys, up to eight times their normal speed. Perhaps the best news for fans of customizing their keyboards is that the NovaTouch stems are Cherry MX-compatible, meaning you shouldn't have any trouble finding replacements for those keys.
While the NovaTouch is a solid entry in the keyboard space, ultimately it feels like a half step toward a Topre board and a full step away from a switch board. The hybrid capacitive technology just doesn't deliver the same feel and, yes, sound of pounding away at a mechanical with switches. But it also doesn't nail the feel of a high-end Topre. That might be because the switches are essentially Topre with a Cherry MX stem. It does still promise a high life cycle of keystrokes, higher even than Cooler Master's QuickFire Rapid-I, and you can affordably replace the keycaps. But for me, the board feels stuck in the middle of two camps.
Quickfire Rapid - i
Where Cooler Master's NovaTouch is one of the quieter keyboards we looked at for this comparison, the Quickfire Rapid-i was one of the loudest. That's not really because of the keyboard design as much as it is because of the particular Cherry MX switch we elected to get with this board. You can buy this board with a blue or brown switch. The louder of the choices is the blue, which has switches known as clicky switches. And boy, does the Quickfire live up to that.
The benefit of the blue switches is that along with the tactile bump common to a Cherry MX switch, you get a distinct, louder click when you hit the actuation point on a key. Unfortunately, the blues also require more force than the browns to press, meaning players won't typically be as fast using them. I didn't notice a distinct difference in typing speed or reaction time while using this board, but I certainly noticed the difference in sound. Where the NovaTouch had a solid clack to it, the Quickfire's clicky blue switches resulted in a constant cacophony of clicking. Broken down, it was the triple sounds of the quick click of the button actuating, the clack of the key bottoming out and the final sharp and less noisy click of the key rebounding. It's not unpleasant, at least not to the user. In fact, I grew to like the white noise it churned out as I burned through a story, or played a round of Call of Duty.
The only thing I found wanting was multicolored keys.
The Quickfire Rapid-i, while still adhering to the basic look of the NovaTouch, actually has a few extra features built into it. Like the NovaTouch, it is a tenkeyless board and includes a removable, braided cable. It also has the same option to crank up the repeat rate of the board, up to eight times the standard. It doesn't come with sound-dampening O-rings or even a key remover, but it makes up for that by including a basic selection of key lighting. The LED lights are placed directly above each key's stem. The board features five brightness settings for the white LED backlighting and five modes. The modes include lighting the keys up as you type with them, or having them slowly fade to black after typing. It also features a "breathing mode," which pulses all of the keys slowly; a mode that lights all of the keys; a mode that only lights the W, A, S, D and arrow keys; and a mode that lights the keys in the row and column of the key you are typing. The board's built-in memory also allows players to record and save their own preferences for keyboard lighting. The M1 to M4 keys, which match up with the F9 through F12 buttons, allow you to switch between the memory banks on the fly.
While the Quickfire Rapid-i may not have all of the bells and whistles of some other mechanical keyboards, it does a great job of delivering on the functionality it does include. The only thing I found myself wanting from the keyboard was multicolored keys. And unlike some other high-end mechanical gaming keyboards, this is the sort of board you wouldn't be embarrassed to use at work.
Das Keyboard has a passionate, loyal following among mechanical keyboard enthusiasts. And there's a reason for that. The Das Keyboard Professional 4 is a sleek beast of a keyboard. This latest iteration features an anodized aluminum top panel, an underbelly designed to minimize resonance and a footbar that both raises the board by 4 degrees and acts as a magnetic, detachable straightedge. The board even has a fancy laser-engraved aluminium label.
I'm not a big fan of media controls on my keyboards because I think they tend to get in the way and take away from the allure of a piece of accessory designed for one thing and one thing only. That said, the Das Keyboard's approach to a media hub is both functional and aesthetically alluring. The top right corner of the board includes pause/play, next track, previous track, sleep and mute buttons. But the real attraction is the oversized volume knob, which includes a bezel-cut ring of red aluminium that matches the blood red of the company's logo. The board also has two USB 3.0 ports worked into the back right edge.
Now onto the thing that most will find most important: How does typing feel on this keyboard? The Das Keyboard Professional 4 can be purchased with either blue or brown Cherry MX switches.
This board is a beauty, but it's not a "gaming" keyboard.
As I mentioned in my impressions of the Quickfire Rapid-i, the blue switches are clickier, louder switches. This time I decided to check out the browns. The decision reaffirmed what I kind of already knew: I'm a much bigger fan of the browns than the blues. The brown switches are designed to have a soft, tactile bump, when compared to the blue's clicky approach. As someone who spends not just their working hours on a keyboard, but a lot of non-working time hammering away at a board, I prefer the smoother feel of typing with browns than with blues. I also like the sound, which I think is much closer to white noise versus the blue's clickity-clackity noise.
This keyboard is a full board, with the side numberpad, unlike the two from Cooler Master. The board's keycaps are solidly mounted to the switches and come with a redesigned Das Keyboard font, meant to provide ease of reading. Surprisingly, I didn't notice any of the ping common in mechanical keyboard spacebars during my time with the board. While the Das Keyboard Professional 4 is a pleasure to use, it's worth noting that this board doesn't have the bells and whistles you'll find in a lot of "gaming" mechanicals. There are no macro keys, no way to change the keystroke speed, no backlighting. There isn't even a way to lock the Windows key when gaming. That said, this is the sort of board you'd be proud to use at work.
Of all the mechanical keyboards I tested, Logitech's G910 Orion Spark certainly felt the most experimental. This is a keyboard that uses Logitech's own Romer-G switches, includes a dock for a smartphone or tablet, and has over-the-top RGB illumination. The board also comes with two palm rests, a slew of programmable G-keys and separate media controls. Logitech is looking to deliver the Rolls Royce of gaming mechanicals with this board, but it may be too much for some.
The Orion is absolutely packed with functionality. There are extra keys seemingly everywhere. A row of five macro G-keys runs down the left side of the board. Above that are four diminutive memory keys. Above the function keys are four more G-keys and on the top right of the board is a Gaming Key (which disables the Windows button) as well as an on/off button for the LED lights and play, stop, track back and track forward buttons. Below those, but above the number pad, are a mute button and a cylindrical volume control. At the center of the board's top edge is an ARX dock, a blue dock that slides out of your board to hold a phone or tablet in place. A glowing 'G' logo is located above the left-side G buttons and a G910 logo is built into the wrist pad, which also glows. Finally, the WASD and arrow keys have been laser-etched with a special pattern to improve illumination and make those specific keys easier to find. It is a busy keyboard, and that's with the lights off.
The Orion offers a smooth, fast typing experience in a gaudy package.
And those lights, those lights may be the main reason you buy this board. One of the big benefits of Logitech's G-Romer switches is that each one includes a small cylinder that allows the LED light to shine through the keycap and only the keycap. Most other boards with lighting tend to light up around the key and through the top of the cap. The Orion's effect is impressive, and incredibly controllable. It does require using the board's software, but I found the controls to be very easy to use and a lot of fun to mess around with. The controls allow you to select zones to control and program key colors based on games or other programs; you can even program each key individually. There are also five lighting effects: breathing, star (random keys that light up and fade away), color cycle, color wave and key press. The software is also used to create macro commands, analyze your typing and create game profiles.
While the lighting effects are impressive, the most important element of any mechanical keyboard is, of course, the switches and typing. The keycaps themselves are shaped with a slight, open-bottomed rectangular indentation, designed to help guide your fingers to a key's sweet spot. The switches feel a bit like the Cherry MX browns but with the added benefit of not bottoming out as much as the browns do. This is likely because the Romer-Gs have a lighter actuation point and a switch stem designed to soften that moment when you fully depress a key. The Romers also have a shorter actuation point. That means you don't have to press down as much for the key to register. And it's noticeable. Between the new switches and the keycaps, the Orion feels like a smoother, faster typing experience than, say, the Das Keyboard with brown switches. Of course, it also looks like the sort of keyboard you should take to Mardi Gras, not work.
Blackwidow Chroma Stealth
As with Logitech's Orion keyboard, Razer's Blackwidow Chroma Stealth forgoes Cherry to use the company's own switch. Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan told me last year that the company decided to use its own switches because it sells so many mechanical keyboards. The Razer switches, which come in a clicky green and silent orange, are designed to have a shorter actuation point than typical switches, making it a faster board. As with the Orion, the Chroma Stealth is a backlit LED board that can be customized. But Razer's board isn't as loaded up as Logitech's.
While you may not get every bell and whistle that comes with the Orion, the Chroma Stealth has a lot going for it. The keyboard includes five programmable macro buttons, function keys that double as gaming buttons, a macro record button and two brightness controls. The keyboard also has a USB pass-through port on the right-hand side as well as plugs for headphones and microphones. What's most telling about Razer's mechanical, though, is what it doesn't have compared to Logitech's. There's no massive palm rest, no laser-etched keys, no dock, no oversized logo (though there is one muted Razer logo at the bottom). The result is a keyboard that packs a lot of gaming options into a design that looks like it's fit for an office.
An option-packed mechanical with a relatively subtle design.
As with the Orion, the Chroma Stealth's lighting is controlled through an app. While Razer's Synapse software has a lot of neat features, it's not quite as user-friendly as Logitech's. The program is broken down into three major sections: keyboard, macros and stats. You can open a Chroma Configurator in the keyboard section and then go to town customizing your board's lighting. The board includes six effects: breathing, reactive, ripple, spectrum cycling, static and wave. And you can assign an effect to each key if you feel like it, same with colors. This would create a pulsing, nauseating rainbow of clicking and clacking, but it shows the power of the board's customization. The software also includes some pretty deep heatmap tracking for both keyboard and mouse use. You can see not just keystrokes, but keystroke distance.
The Chroma Stealth's keys and switches take a bit to get used to, especially coming off of the Orion's. The keycaps are pretty straightforward, no indentations or noticeable surface treatment. The switches feel a bit stiffer than a board like the Das Keyboard with the Cherry browns. And they don't have the same soft landing as the Origin's Romer-Gs. I could definitely feel the difference in the shorter actuation between a brown and a Razer orange. It's almost immediate with Razer's orange, and there's a little bit of give with the browns. Razer's switch also has a deeper, slightly softer sound to it than a brown. I found it hard to choose between the orange and the brown. It felt like choosing between a slightly harder, more reactive key and one that has a bit more play but is gentler to type on. I did find that Razer's Chroma Stealth was one of my favorites among the bunch. Not just because its switches were a solid stand-in for the Cherrys, but because it offered a lot of options without being ostentatious. That's a rare find in gaming boards.
Ryos MK Pro
The big selling point for Roccat's Ryos MK Pro keyboard is the number of different ways the company sells the board. It is, they say, "eye-watering." What that means is that Roccat has 15 different language layouts for this particular model, and four different Cherry MX switch types to choose from: blue, black, brown or red. We went with the browns. The Ryos, which has a healthy array of lighting options, also comes armed with two 32-bit ARM processors. One of those handles all of the per-key lighting to ensure lag-free button responses.
The MK Pro is one of those gaming boards that will never pass for anything but. It has an oversized, built-in wrist rest with the logo punched into the center; jacks for microphones and headphones in the top left corner of the board; and two USB ports in the top right. The integrated media hub uses the function keys, which prevents the board from being too over-the-top visually, but it's still a desk hog.
"The single-color backlighting puts this behind other top tier gaming boards."
One of the big draws for the Roccat is its backlighting. The MK Pro features individually backlit keys with a slew of customizable lighting modes and the ability to use the board's own SDK. The result is a plethora of built-in lighting options as well as the ability to do just about anything you can imagine with lighting, like using your entire keyboard as a health gauge or buttons as cooldown indicators. The one thing the lighting can't do is deliver anything but the color blue. It's a strange choice to make for a keyboard with so many options and such processing power, but the MK Pro is a single-color keyboard. The board also has my favorite built-in mode, which has the board's lights randomly twinkling when your computer goes to sleep.
The keyboard's keycaps are slightly indented and have a smudge-proof surface. The board has five macro buttons along the left side of the board as well as three "thumb" buttons under the spacebar. Typing on the board and its Cherry brown switches felt similar to the Das Keyboard with the same switches, though the keys themselves felt like they had a bit more wiggle than the Das' did. While the board isn't as over the top as the Orion, it's still a big gaming keyboard and may not be a good fit for you if you're looking for something that can serve two purposes in the office or at home. Its array of features is nice, but the single-color backlighting and lack of physical media controls left it feeling like a gaming keyboard with a missing bell and whistle or two.
Razer Blackwidow Tournament Edition Chroma
Razer's relatively recent Blackwidow Tournament Edition Chroma was designed with one very specific thing in mind: portability. To achieve that, the folks at Razer remove the number keypad, programmable Macro keys and the USB and audio pass-through ports found on the right edge of the bigger, non-Tournament editions of the board. The TE still comes with the Razer switches, either in noisy green or silent orange, designed to have a shorter actuation point and resulting in a slightly faster typing speed.
The Tournament Edition also includes a detachable braided cable and a handy little case for carrying your smaller board to events. It's a minor thing, but I sort of love it. The Razer board still has backlit LEDs that can be customized to do just about anything. While the standard Blackwidow boards already featured a diminutive palm rest and toned down branding, the TE version has an even smaller palm rest. That is to say, it's basically non-existent at this point. This is a keyboard not just designed to travel, but also not to take up too much of your desk space.
If I were to carry a board with me, this would be the one.
As with the other Blackwidow boards, the Chroma Tournament Edition's lighting is controlled through an app. Razer's Synapse software has a lot of neat features, but continues to not include the support or intuitiveness of Logitech's software solution. Synapse is broken down into three major sections: keyboard, macros and stats. You can open a Chroma Configurator in the keyboard section and then go to town customizing your board's lighting. The board includes six effects: breathing, reactive, ripple, spectrum cycling, static and wave. And you can assign an effect to each key if you feel like it, same with colors. This would create a pulsing, nauseating rainbow of clicking and clacking, but it shows the power of the board's customization. The software also includes some pretty deep heatmap tracking for both keyboard and mouse use. You can see not just keystrokes, but keystroke distance.
Razer's keycaps are pretty straightforward, no indentations or noticeable surface treatment. The switches feel a bit stiffer than some of the other boards I checked out. There's a noticeable gap between the clicking actuation point and the key bottoming out. That means light, fast typists can type a bit faster without the pounding delivering of bottoming out. The switch has a distinct, sharp click that will be music to the ears of some mechanical keyboard fans. While I'm a big fan of the Tournament Edition, I don't travel enough to make this my regular board. If I were to carry a board with me, though, this would likely be the one.
Corsair K70 RGB
Among the most requested keyboards to include in our mechanical keyboard guide when it first hit, were the ones from Corsair, and no wonder. After checkout out the Corsair K70 RGB board it quickly became my new favorite mechanical among the bunch. For those unfamiliar with the K70, it features a black anodized brushed aluminum body, soft, sleek detachable wrist rest and clean design lines.
While the board manages to pack in plenty of features, it also delivers a board that fits in nicely with a work desk. That means no oversized wrist rest, no gaudy emblems or crazy board design. The jet black board features physical buttons for light dimming, a Windows button lock and even a mute button and physical scrolling bar to control volume. There's also a stop, play/pause and skip forward and back buttons for media. Everything else on the board looks like a standard layout.
The big change, and bigger selling point for me, is that this new K70 features Cherry MX RGB key switches. That means that every key gets the satisfactory feel of a cherry switch and crazy light-up combos of multi-color LED per-key backlighting. The end result is a board that feels fantastic, keys that offer that delicious Cherry feel and lighting that can do things like turn your board into the Bat signal or a scene from Pac-Man.
The K70 RGB sleek, aluminum-brushed look, and straight-forward design is my new favorite.
The board also leans heavily on the relatively new Corsair Utility Engine to help those into lighting effects design some impressive light shows. The program, which is relatively easy to use, allows you to change the color and brightness of any key on the board. You can also cycle through colors, controlling speed and palettes and customize the direction, duration and velocity of waves and ripples. Finally, the program allows you to create reactive typing. Toss in the ability to layer these effects and tie them to programs and you can essentially do almost anything with CUE. Of course, Corsair boards aren't the only ones that can do this. (Logitech's Orion Spark has a neat effect that turns your keyboard into the flashing red and blue of police lights when you're being chased in GTA), but CUE seems a bit easier to use and there are a lot of people making neat profiles for it.
The K70 keycaps aren't anything special. They do the job, but if you're really into lighting effects they also seem like the first thing you're going to want to replace. (White seems like the right choice here.) The Cherry switches behave exactly as you would expect too, that is, they're wonderful. Cherry's relatively new LED switches provide better built in lighting, but Logitech's Orion still beats everyone with its design that delivers the light directly through the keycap. The standard just places the LED at the top of the switch. That means the per-key lighting still glows out from under a keycap. Not a biggie, unless you're a lighting perfectionist.
That said, while I remain an ardent fan of Logitech's Orion, its somewhat over-the-top keyboard design continues to put me off. The K70 RGB, with its sleek, aluminum-brushed look, and straight-forward design, now punched up with strong lighting effects, is my new favorite.
Corsair Strafe MX Red
As enamored as I am with Corsair's K70 RGB, I'm not nearly as big a fan of the company's Strafe board. It seems to cut a lot of options out to come in at a lower price point. Gone is that slick, brushed aluminum case. Gone too are the physical media buttons and nifty volume control. There are also only red lights on this model, no RGB LEDs. And the oversized lights used to signify that caps or num lock is selected gives the board an unnecessarily chunky look.
Strafe does have one oddly compelling thing going for it besides the lower price: It includes extra sets of textured keycaps for FPS and MOBA players. True, you could just go out and pick up some new keycaps for very little money, but it's neat to see them packaged with the board. And I like the design of the textured caps. Shooter players simply pull out the W, A, S and D keys and push in the replacements. MOBA fans get keycaps for the Q, W, E, R, D and F keys. The keycaps are all grey, instead of black, and feature a hard plastic tread design that makes the keys a bit grippier and easier to identify in the dark. The keys are also angled in toward one another, making it feel like they might be a bit more responsive.
As with the K70 RGB board, the Strafe makes use of Corsair's CUE software to program lighting. You can still program each key independently, but keep in mind you're stuck with no lighting and red. There is the option to change the intensity of lighting for each key and that's augmented nicely with the board design, which features a red base under the keys which helps augment the red lighting. CUE automatically recognizes which board you have plugged in and includes a couple of standards for easy set-up. The board includes six lighting effects, mostly a mix of the standards, which means things like a wave, rain, pulse and lighting up as you type. My favorite among the bunch, and the most fitting for the single color, is the visor effect, which gives your board the look of an old-school Battlestar Galactica Cylon.
I'd save up for the more expensive model and get everything I want in a board.
At just under $110 and with included single-color lighting and two sets of game-style specific keycaps, the Strafe could be a solid mechanical starter board for gamers. The Cherry microswitches still deliver and the wealth of customization and Macro creation options will likely satisfy those not as worried about rainbow lighting. That said, I'm not a fan of the board's design and construction. It feels like a stripped down version of K70. Given the option, I'd save up for the more expensive model and get everything I want in a board.
Hori Edge 201
Founded in 1969, Hori has long been known as a company that produces high-end controllers for hardcore gamers. While the company is likely best known for its fighting sticks, over the years Hori has been steadily expanding into other areas. Most recently that expansion brought to the market a new gaming mouse and mechanical keyboard.
The Edge 201 has a fairly straightforward design accented with a beautiful, silver-gray aluminum frame. The frame gives the keyboard a distinct look, but also improves its durability and lightens its overall weight. The black keys seem to float on the surface of the frame because of the stark contrast in colors. It’s a nice effect without being overbearing or gaudy. The board features the standard keyboard design, with a number of added features tied to the function keys across the top of the board. Those keys can be used to record or activate macros, adjust the brightness of the lights or turn them on or off, control the media on your computer, and enter gaming mode. There are no extra ports built into the board. It does come with a removable wrist rest and tiny side kickstands that can be used to slightly increase the pitch of the board.
The board features blue lighting delivered by LEDs placed into the top of the Hori microswitches. Because they’re single-color and relatively basic, the fact that they aren’t centered on each key doesn’t make a huge difference. Free software allows you to add a few custom effects, program the board as a whole or one key at a time, and add the Gaming Mode feature, which won’t work until you’ve installed the software.
Hori’s custom microswitches don’t seem to make any noise when they activate. In fact, even with the keycap removed, I can’t feel the actuation point on the keys. This incredibly light touch makes for smooth typing, but also means that you may tend to stamp down each key as you type. The result, at least for me, means that the noise I hear isn’t the typical chatter of a mechanical, but rather the thud of key meeting aluminum. It feels a lot like a Cherry MX Red switch with just a smidge more resistance and a lot less drop.
The short switches, coupled with the slimline keys, make the Edge 201 the thinnest mechanical keyboard on the market. That means the board feels much more stable as you type, with not a single vibration or wiggle.
This is a solid first entry for Hori, a board that may not offer all of the bells and whistles some gamers have come to expect from their mechanicals, but proves that Hori can deliver the foundations of a mechanical.
SteelSeries Apex M800
SteelSeries’ first mechanical keyboard is an impressive creation that, of all the boards I tested, is the only one to significantly change the way I type and play. Which could be a good thing or bad thing, depending on how easily you adjust to typing.
The Apex M800 is a wide board that includes six programmable macros running down the left side of the board and an oddly shaped space bar that is double the height of a standard and a bit thinner. The back of the board includes two USB plugs, one on each side of where the braided cable exits the M800.
Like all of the best lighting systems for mechanical keyboards, the M800 features mechanical switches with a sizable hole in the center for an LED. In this case, the LED itself is dropped down a bit, reducing even further the bleed of each key’s colors. What that means is that the board can deliver a range of crisp colors to each key, while the board itself (the tiny space between keys) gets very little color splash. The color is extended to a relatively small rectangular logo in the top right corner of the screen and — a neat addition — to the sides of the board which each have swipes of adjustable coloring.
While the software management for the keyboard is intuitively designed and allows for slick creations in very little time, the board currently doesn’t support the ability to import gamer-created templates. That’s not a deal breaker, but it’s something I hope SteelSeries adds down to the line. Other boards do offer this and the result is a myriad of crazy, useful, intoxicating color waves and macros.
The most noticeable thing that SteelSeries brings to the mechanical keyboard world with the M800 is its own take on the microswitch. Instead of relying on fan-favorite Cherry switches, SteelSeries M800 uses its own QS1, and boy, does it make a difference. The body of the QS1 has a squatter design than typical microswitches, which means the keys feel a bit shorter. The switches also have a surprisingly short actuation point. Combined, that means your fingertips have to travel less up and down, making key presses much faster, once you get used to them. When I first started typing with the M800 I quickly noticed the difference. It was a strange feeling, like someone had cut the keys down to stubby little nubs. But the presses still felt good and the sound, while a bit quieter, was still satisfying. Overtime, I became used to the shorter keys and started to really like them. But then came the squeak.
I got into mechanical keyboards for a number of reasons: They last longer, they remind me of my days on the old 8088 and TRS-80 and I love the thundering sound. That sound can’t be overstated. It’s like white noise when I’m writing and helps soothe me into a place where I can find my voice. Interrupt it with something annoying and I’m bound to spend way, way too much time screwing around with the board to figure it out. (That’s what happened with the G410 Atlus Spectrum.) In this case — about a month into using the board — some of the keys, a lot of keys, started to develop this weird squeaking noise, like the board had to be oiled, or like it was made of tiny little mice screaming out with each punch of a key. The thing was, it wasn’t constant and seemed to move around a bit, so I still can’t figure out where it’s coming from exactly. I suspect it might be coming from the tight fit of the keycap on the switch. If I remove the key from the switch after I find it squeaking, it tends to go away for awhile, only to return later. I can’t say for certain what causes it, but I can certainly say that it’s as annoying as a mysterious drip of water in the middle of the night or the sound of something scurrying around inside your walls. Its drives me nuts.
It’s unfortunate about the squeaking because I was really surprised by every other element of this board. It seemed to vastly improve my reaction time and typing speed and it delivers a fashionable board that can be, on command, lit up like a Christmas tree.
Logitech Atlas Spectrum
Logitech’s G901 Orion Spark was one of my favorite keyboards when this guide first went up early last year. But I had some reservations, chief among them were the oversized design and how gaudy the big keyboard looked.
Logitech’s G410 Atlas Spectrum seems like a board specifically designed to deal with those concerns. The tenkeyless board strips away the overabundance of logos and branding (you’ll only find a single, small G410 located on the wrist rest) and shrinks the overall size to deliver a compact version of the spectacular Orion Spark.
And you still get a lot of the Spark’s great features, including the programmable RGB backlighting, the Romer-G mechanical switches and the ARX dock for your smartphone.
I was genuinely excited when Logitech announced the new, compact gaming mechanical; it seemed like an answer to all of the reservations I had with the Orion. But then I tried it.
The Atlas Spectrum removes the G-keys that run down the left side of the Orion, as well as the four smaller memory keys that run above the board. As someone who doesn’t usually use macro keys, I thought their absence only added to the sleek design of the board. The Atlas also removes the physical media controls that pack up the right side of the board, and of course, the number pad. Media can still be controlled with seven function buttons tied to the top right seven keys of the board. It means holding in the function key before tapping the right button, but it also slims down the board quite a bit. Where the Orion has an ARX dock that slides out of the board to hold your phone or tablet in place, the Atlas has a smarter, smaller version of the dock. Instead of remaining affixed to the board, it comes out completely, allowing you to set up your smartphone or pad anywhere you’d like while using the free app. This is a great design change for folks like me, who use their keyboard on a pullout tray under their desk. Where the Orion's ARX dock is blue and stylized to stand out, the Atlas dock is black and almost invisible when not in use.
All of these changes, while removing some substance, increase the style of the board. But there are also changes that seem to just decrease the value, and likely the cost of the board.
One of the things I really like about the Orion is its keycaps. Each keycap is shaped with a slight, open-bottomed rectangular indention, designed to help guide your fingers to a key’s sweet spot. For some reason, the Atlas doesn’t include this feature. While the WASD and arrow keys do still include the laser etching to help them stand out a bit more, the loss of that subtle design touch is evident when typing.
The biggest problem, though, is a real deal breaker for me. The keyboard’s design change somehow introduced a melodic pinging to every letter you type. Examining the board, keys and switches carefully has convinced me the sound happens when the key bounces back after a keystroke. Tapping the underside of the board also produces this annoying, high-pitched ring. For an aficionado of mechanical keyboards, having a board that overlays the bass rumble of a keyboard’s clacking with a jittery ringing is pure hell. It almost makes me understand why some people don’t like mechanical keyboards. It’s also a huge disappointment.
The lighting effects for the board are just as impressive as what you’d find on the Orion The Atlas uses the same program to let you create your own festive, pulsing, sweeping colors.
I am so put out by the ringing of this board that I’m likely to take it apart after writing this review to see if I can fix it, or at least figure out what the designers did to introduce so noticeable a flaw. On the off chance I have a board that is somehow defective, I’ll make sure to update this review. But until then, I simply can’t recommend picking up the Atlas.
Update: After hearing about the issues I was running into with the Atlas Spectrum, Logitech representatives asked if they could send me a second board, because they said they had no reports of those problems.
After spending another few days with the new board, I'm sad to say I still hear the slight ringing. I do want to note, however, that I am a heavy typer. I messed around with the new board and the old board, and I noticed the sound only when I was typing at my normal speed. When I just poked at the board or tapped a single key, it wasn't there. That said, I'd absolutely check out the board for yourself in person before paying for it, just to make sure you don't run into the same issue.
Logitech Orion Spectrum
They finally nailed it, at least for me.
Where Logitech's G910 Orion Spark was too much board for me (especially in the over-the-top branding and shaped wrist rest department) and the G410 Atlas Spectrum was a bit too under-designed for my taste, Logitech's G810 Orion Spectrum is just right.
The first thing you're going to notice about the Orion Spectrum is just how normal it looks, especially for a gaming keyboard. Like other more traditional mechanical keyboards (WASD, Das Keyboard, Coolmaster), outwardly the Orion Spectrum has a standard 104-key board and rectangular layout. There's only one G logo in the top left corner of the board, and the model number is stenciled on the side.
The board doesn't even have a wrist rest or the ARX smartphone dock found with both of the other boards.
What it does have are the programmable RGB backlighting and the Romer-G mechanical switches. It also retains those well-designed media buttons and the snazzy volume roller bar found on the Spark. While it doesn't have any of the programmable, stand-alone G-keys that run down the left side of the Spark, it does allow you to customize button macros on the F1 through F12 keys.
As with the smaller Atlas Spectrum, the Orion Spectrum uses standard, smooth keycaps. I asked the Logitech folk about this, because I was a big fan of the Orion Spark's laser-etched "performance facet keycap" design. It turns out I was in the minority. The facet design gave each keycap a slight indentation, essentially creating a sweet spot for the keys. It was a nice touch and was designed to help reduce mistypes while touch typing. But apparently a lot of people didn't like them — so many, that you can now buy an entire replacement keycap set for the Spark that gives it the more familiar cylindrical feel. So Logitech decided to go with standard keycaps for the Orion Spectrum.
The good news is that the Orion Spectrum doesn't carry over the issue I found with the Atlas Spectrum: a strong melodic pinging that I noticed with every letter I typed.
This board also makes use of the fantastic Logitech Gaming Software to control the RGB lighting built into the board's Romer-G switches. The Orion Spectrum, like the other two RGB Logitech boards, can auto-detect supported games and lets you create your own color layouts, reactive colors and effects. The software can also sync up your board with other supported peripherals like the G502 Proteus Spectrum mouse and G633 Artemis Spectrum. The result is a full set of gaming gear that glows and pulses in sync to whatever color profile you've created.
I had hoped that the smaller Atlas Spectrum was going to be the perfect mix of style, lighting and features for me, but it turned out to be a disappointment. Fortunately, the Orion Spectrum turned out to be exactly what I was looking for: a board with an outwardly subtle design that is packed with the sort of features and lighting effects that transforms it whenever I launch a game.
WASD is known for making high-quality, infinitely customizable mechanical keyboards. When ordering your keyboard, you have the option of changing the color of individual keycaps or even having your keycaps custom-printed. But what people are really looking for when they order a WASD board is solid design.
WASD's Code board is meant to be the ultimate take on a mechanical keyboard stripped of needless bells, whistles, logos and color, boiled down to its very essence to deliver exactly what you need in an instrument for word creation.
The board even has its own interesting history.
Jeff Atwood, software developer and blogger at Coding Horror, reached out to WASD owner Weyman Kwong about creating what he thought would be a "truly great" mechanical keyboard. The result is the CODE, named after the Charles Petzold book of the same name. Atwood describes it as a clean, simple, beautiful mechanical keyboard.
The CODE keyboard has four Cherry microswitches to choose from, and all of the keyswitches are mounted to a steel backplate. That backplate adds a bit of weight to the board, but gives it a solid, inflexible feel as well. The board also has a dual-layer PCB designed to reinforce the solder joints and maintain that solid feel when typing.
While the CODE doesn't feature RGB lighting, it does have white LED backlights. The steel backplate is painted white to help strengthen the glow of the lighting, and you can switch between seven levels of intensity, including off.
The board itself is disarmingly unobtrusive. Just a deep black, slightly textured rectangle with three small lights to denote Caps Lock, Scroll Lock and Num Lock. There are no logos, no markings, nothing on the board's surface to distract from its monolithic design.
Despite the simple design, WASD did manage to pack in some neat features. The back of the board has a row of DIP switches that allow you to switch between QWERTY, Dvorak, Colemak and Mac modes, and tweak what the Caps and Scroll Lock keys do, among other things. The board also has media controls built into function commands.
Personally, I like the incongruity of a subtle case aesthetic married to robust, flashy RGB lighting support, but if you aren't into multicolored lighting, then this is one of the best mechanicals I've come across in some time.
The WASD Code has obviously been built with care and designed with an eye toward the sort of minutiae that only a longtime mechanical keyboard user would think or care about. This is a tool for typing, an instrument designed for long use that will surely grow on the user.
Fnatic Gear Rush
Last year, record-setting esports team Fnatic quietly bought up established PC peripheral maker Func and launched an Indiegogo campaign to roll out its own line of branded keyboards, mice and mats.
The team said in the campaign that it's not simply rebranding Func's existing products, though the keyboard is a modified version of what Func sold. The goal, Fnatic said in its campaign, is to create great esports hardware.
What that means for Fnatic is simplicity, comfort and reliability: "It's exactly what you need to perform and nothing else," the team said in the Indiegogo pitch.
Earlier this month, Fnatic sent me a Cherry MX Brown version of its Fnatic Gear Rush board. I've spent some time playing and writing with it to get a sense of what it has to offer and how it compares to the many other mechanicals out on the market.
Despite the fact that (or maybe because) it is tied so tightly to an esports team, the Gear Rush is a fairly nondescript board by all outward appearances. The board has a smooth black plastic finish with no extra buttons, and the only bit of branding is the Fnatic symbol and the word "Gear" in grey above the number pad.
The board doesn't have the same heft or stiff feel as the singularly focused WASD board. And its components feel a bit cheaper. That said, the board held up well to the hammering of my typing. I was surprised to find that the detachable wrist pad showed signs of palm wear after only a day's use.
As with the WASD, the Rush doesn't have any extra keys. Instead, it uses the function key to assign five macros and multimedia buttons to existing keys. You can also adjust the brightness of the red LED lights with buttons, turn them off completely or turn on a shifting effect.
Like the hardware, the software for the board is pretty stripped down, allowing you to create macros and set up five profiles.
This is a no-frills board, missing the substantive design and components of keyboards like the Das Keyboard or the WASD Code, but also not really offering much in the way of interesting add-ons, like RGB lighting or an interesting design.
Don't get me wrong. It's not bad. It seems like a solid entry-level gaming board, but not something that really has much to differentiate it from the sea of competition. I also struggled to find how Fnatic's Gear Rush was any different from Func's KB-460, despite the fact that the Indiegogo campaign says it's a modified version. From what I can tell, the only change between the KB-460 and the Rush is the branding found in the top right corner and on one keycap.
Razer's Mechanical Keyboard Case for iPad Pro
Razer has a number of quality mechanical keyboards out on the market, most of which use the company's own in-house designed Green Switch. But the company’s latest board may be its best to date … if you happen to own a 12.9-inch iPad Pro.
The company’s new Mechanical Keyboard Case for iPad Pro [12.9 in] may not have the most creative name, but it brings a solid frame, steel kickstand and backlit, mechanical keyboard to Apple’s largest tablet.
And it’s surprisingly good.
The case is the first to feature Razer’s new ultra-low-profile mechanical switch first announced last month. The switch uses chiclet key caps and features both actuation and rest points, despite its incredibly thin design. Presses on the keyboard register at 70 grams force, typical for a standard, full-sized mechanical.
I found that typing on the keyboard did take a slight bit of adjustment, but it felt better than using the standard keyboards you get on most laptaps, and certainly better than the membrane boards you find with most tablet cases.
The keyboard includes extra keys to bring the iPad to the home screen and to switch between on-screen keyboards, media keys, a Bluetooth key, screen and keyboard brightness keys, and a button that turns on a tiny LED to show you how much battery life you have left. There is no number pad.
While the board doesn’t deliver the same deep clicks and clatter you might be used to from most mechanical switches, it does offer a sort of chittering sound that I found oddly satisfying … and I’m sure deskmates will one day find immensely annoying. There’s very little drop in the board and resistance is negligible, which may be a deal-breaker for fans of big, deep switches. Surprisingly, Razer also included individually lit keys. Granted, there are no color options, but you can select between 20 brightness levels. Given the option between this and just about any other board for the iPad, it’s an easy win for the Razer.
That said, there are a few minor annoyances I found in the overall design of the case. First, the case doesn’t include any way to charge or receive a charge from the iPad. That means having to remember to charge both independently between use. The board's battery is meant to last about 10 hours on a single charge with maximum brightness. If you turn off the lighting, you’re able to get 600 hours out of a charge, according to Razer. Over my two or so days with the keyboard - using it with different brightness settings and sometimes with no lighting - I didn’t have to worry about charging at all.
The case easily breaks apart into two distinct pieces. The keyboard uses a flexible, magnetized spine to connect to the iPad case. Once connected, the two seemed to hold together fairly well, though if you were to pick up one half, it would likely leave the other half behind.
The keyboard half is slightly padded and very light, with a sizable built-in, but not raised, wrist rest. There are also small tabs on the right and left of the case to help hold it in place when you have the whole thing put together and closed up. The keyboard half is also where you’ll find the power button and the micro USB charge port.
The iPad half of the case is a sturdy construction with nearly full-width cutouts on the top and bottom edges and smaller cutouts on the back and side edge for the camera lens and the volume controls. What it doesn’t have is a cutout for the iPad Pro’s Smart Connector. That’s the thing that allows for quick, easy charging without the need to fiddle with cords. Unfortunately, that magnetized connector is buried under the steel edge of the case’s own spine used for holding the keyboard.
A large steel, hinged kickstand takes up about half of the back of the case. It takes a little fiddling to get it to close completely after use, but once in position it does a fine job of staying in place. Taken apart, the iPad case also has the second half of the hinge, which juts out a bit from the side and sort of makes it look like you’re walking around with a screen you just snapped off a laptop.
Despite the look of the the thing when detached, I found it just as easy to use reading comics, watching TV and generally fiddling with the touchscreen.
What the case could have used is a holder for the Apple Pencil. A smaller form factor would have been nice too, but I’m not sure that’s possible with the heft of the thing. Put together and closed, it looks like you’ve got a slender laptop sitting on your desk. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just a reminder of the sheer size of the iPad Pro itself.
My biggest annoyance with the case is the fact that it kills off the ability to get any use out of Apple’s Smart Connector. If there were a factor, beyond the cost of the case, to make me decide against this keyboard, that would be it.
As you can probably see by the write-ups for each device, a mechanical keyboard is a personal decision. While there are some clear features that you may be looking for in a board, like how sleek it is, whether it has a built-in wrist rest, a braided cable or physical multimedia controls, the key decision will ultimately rest on how the board sounds and feels. There is no right or wrong answer. Personally, I really like the Cherry brown switches. I also found Razer's switch to be capable, and quite enjoyed Logitech's switch. I actually liked Logitech's switch the best and there latest board, the G810, is my current favorite.
And that's the sort of process you now need to go through. Go out, find a mechanical keyboard that fits you and make your fingers happy.
Make sure to bookmark this page (is that even a thing anymore?) to keep up on all of Polygon's mechanical keyboard updates and reviews.