Find out all you need to know about buying a new keyboard!! Read this article. Read it!
I’m sure you know what a keyboard is. In this growing age of technology, it’s almost impossible to not have used a keyboard of some sort. They’re in ATMs and every single working phone built after 1983. Virtual keyboards are implemented in modern smartphones and on fridges. Soon enough even our toilets will have LED screens with messaging capabilities on it.
NCIX doesn’t sell ATMs or interactive toilets; we sell physical computer keyboards. I am here to enlighten you about the types of keyboards we have and what they’re used for using updated information of the year 2017. This is the 2017 keyboard buying guide.
Maybe a couple years in the future we really will have toilets with keyboards. When that time comes, I’ll think back to this very moment and regret not selling the idea.
Types of keyboards
NCIX stocks two broad categories of keyboards available for purchase. The first type is specialized for gaming, and thus aptly named as gaming keyboards. The second are the terribly descriptive “regular” keyboards. You’re probably wondering what the difference between the two are. That will be explained throughout this article. I first need to begin on a very important topic: mechanical keyboards.
Seeing as mechanical keyboards make up most of our keyboard stock, I feel I should touch on this first.
When you say, “gaming keyboard” to a gamer, they automatically assume you mean a mechanical keyboard. What is mechanical keyboard? Well, ordinary keyboards have rubber domes underneath the keys with a carbon center attached to a hard stick thing. When you do press on the key, the stick thingy pushes down and completes a circuit, registering a keystroke. The rubber dome part makes the keys feel grossly squishy/mushy and weird to press. This is where mechanical keyboards differ.
Mechanical keyboards don’t use rubber domes, and instead has mechanical switches. I tried to explain what a mechanical switch is, but my draft ended up being too long and way too convoluted. So, I’m using a GIF instead. As they say, a (moving) picture is worth a thousand words. In this particular case, it’s worth 96.
Every mechanical switch can be grouped into 3 categories:
Linear — Consistent and smooth.
Tactile — There is a little bump half-press.
Clicky — There is a little bump half-press followed by a “click”.
With each keystroke, mechanical switches provide an unmistakable feedback. With how the mechanism is set up, you don’t need to fully press on a key for it to register. This allows for faster typing and rapid key actuation, giving an advantage when even the slightest delay might mean failure. The feeling of a mechanical switch is very satisfying, for lack of a better word, and hard to explain. It is something you must try for yourself.
The most popular mechanical switches are produced by Cherry GmbH, a German computer peripheral-device maker. Branded Cherry MX, they also own the monopoly on mechanical switches. Their switches are referenced by their physical colour, with each colour denoting the switch’s characteristics. Cherry has around 12 types of switches, but I will only cover the 4 most common ones.
Cherry MX Blacks are linear switches, meaning they simply move up and down without any special clicking or feel to them. Of the 4 common switches, the Blacks are the hardest to press down, making them unideal for typing. They are good for real time strategy games, when their high weights prevent accidental key presses.
Cherry MX Reds are essentially the same as MX Blacks, but needing lower force to press. The MX Reds have been marketed for playing games, as their lightness allows easy double taps and rapid actuation.
Cherry MX Browns are tactile, non-clicky switches. As the name suggests, they provide tactile feedback when you press them down, but without an audible “click”. They are considered a middle ground between gaming and typing.
Cherry MX Blues are the best for typing. They are tactile, clicky switches, meaning in addition to a tactile feel, they provide the “click” when pressed down. Gamers might find it hard to play with MX Blues because of the difficulty to quickly double tap.
Cherry is the most popular mainly because they are the first mainstream manufacturers and had established their reputation through years without true competition. In recent years, they no longer are the sole mechanical switch makers. Other companies such as the Chinese Kaihua/Kailh and the Canadian Matias have started producing third-party switches.
Gaming peripheral manufacturers, such as Logitech and Razer, have also created their own brand of mechanical switches to use exclusively in their own products. Logitech created Romer-G switches while Razer produced an entire family of theirs. SteelSeries and Cooler Master also have their own branded products.
All these mechanical switches perform excellently and are proven to be perfect quality-wise. Cherry MX switches may be globally known as the most popular, but other companies have created products that are essentially on the same level as Cherry’s. In the end, it’s up to you and how you like the feeling of the switches.
I need to make things clear. Not every gaming keyboard is mechanical, and not every mechanical keyboard is for gaming. A mechanical keyboard is closely associated to and often assumed to be gaming keyboards simply because manufacturers market them as such. There are rubber dome keyboards made for gaming as well, albeit quite rare in these modern times. But I still haven’t answered the question from before: what makes a gaming keyboard? The biggest factor is quality.
With gaming keyboards, all the components are created with reinforced materials to withstand intense gaming sessions and other forms of wear (Cheetos fingers, for example). In addition, extra accessories, buttons and the accompanied software all help classify a keyboard for gaming. While it varies from manufacturers and models, gaming keyboards generally have programmable keys to be used inside and out of games. More on this later.
Higher-end models will include backlit keys and features such as gaming mode. And if you’re talking about a mechanical gaming keyboard, their switches have an estimated lifetime of 20 – 60 million keystrokes, a substantial increase from the 5 million of rubber domes.
Another benefit is something called Key Rollover. This describes how many keys can be pressed at the same time. Depending on how the keyboard is connected, it can support 6 keys at a time or a theoretical infinite number. This can be useful when emulating musical instruments (like a virtual piano) or when playing simulation games (flight simulator).
But truth be told, anything can be considered a gaming keyboard. If it’s a keyboard and you can play games with it — gaming keyboard.
10 KeyLess (TKL) keyboards are usually only found as mechanical gaming keyboards. This is a special form of mechanical keyboards that removes the numpad and leaves you with a smaller, more compact keyboard. Many professional players like this design because it allows for a more natural position when using it with a mouse. The keyboard doesn’t take as much space so the two can be placed closer together, relieving a bit of stress on the shoulders, elbows, and wrists. Not to mention, the keyboard is lighter as well, making it easier to carry around. Actually, that might be a lie. I’ll have to make sure.
Watch the below video to learn more about 10-KeyLess keyboards.
Full-sized gaming keyboards feature special keys called macro keys. They can usually be identified with a letter followed by a number (G1 or T6 etc.), although not all models have them. Used mainly for games, each macro can store a series of keystrokes, allowing you to execute a combination all at once. This is particularly useful for real time strategy games such as StarCraft II, where speed and reaction time are essential to win. Macros aren’t only used in games, they can be useful in everyday tasks to reduce repetition. Spreadsheets, for example, can be filled very quickly provided you have the right macros set. In fact, Excel has their own built-in macro system for you to use. I personally have my macros set to spam annoying messages at my opponents. There is more than one way to win :).
That covers most of gaming keyboards. The appeal of those keyboards, mostly mechanical ones, is something many people can’t resist. The flashing lights and mechanical keys are just too tempting. But, I understand that not everyone can afford, or even want a gaming keyboard for themselves. Perhaps you feel you have no need for something so expensive when all you’re doing is casual typing. That’s perfectly fine. This next section is probably what you’re looking for then. The following boards don’t possess fancy macro keys or 15-million different backlighting colours. They’re not made to withstand intense gaming sessions but are instead, affordable and casual everyday keyboards used for simple tasks.
Before I continue on, I want to take this time and elaborate on what I said about not all mechanical keyboards being gaming keyboards. There are certain manufacturers that create mechanical keyboards for typing enthusiasts. Usually, these boards are fitted with Cherry MX Blues but sometimes they might not even have Cherry MX switches. One particular keyboard is a beautiful creation by Azio — the Azio MK Retro.
Other examples are Ducky keyboards and even Cherry’s own mechanical keyboards. Both aren’t made for gaming, although you can if you wanted. There’s always a connotation when it comes to mechanical keyboards that it’s only reserved for gamers, and it was something I wanted to address. Not all mechanical boards are for gaming. In fact, at NCIX, literally everybody is typing away at a one.
But I digress. Non-gaming mechanical keyboards are expensive compared to rubber domed keyboards and is a luxury many don’t wish to partake in. Luckily, NCIX also stocks regular old keyboards for more modest users. One type is a wireless keyboard. These are exactly as their name suggests —they’re not wired. Don’t assume this means every keyboard in this category is small, light, and extremely portable, it doesn’t work that way. We have a mix of wireless boards from super-tiny mini keyboards for tablets and small devices, to heavy and bulky mechanical ones. For those looking for something super-simple, the Logitech K360 is probably the plainest we have.
Ergonomic keyboards are made for people who sit in front of computers and type for hours on end. People like me. Except I use a mechanical because I have been converted years ago. These boards allow a more natural typing position and reduces strain on elbows, wrists, and shoulders through modified keys and/or board shape. Some models split the keyboard in half, while others provide angled keys. I’m sure you’ve seen keyboards with these unnatural wavy shapes — those would be ergonomic keyboards.
Have you ever wanted to shut off all effort for the day and just sit in front of the computer? I do that very often actually, so I can personally attest that computer chairs get uncomfortable quickly. The natural course of action is to change locations. For most people it’s the couch, for me it’s the bed. But the problem is you can’t control the computer anymore. So, when an episode of Game of Thrones is finished, I’ll have to stand up and select a new one — that is something nobody has time for.
That’s where the magic of multimedia keyboards come into use. Most of our multimedia boards are wireless or use Bluetooth to connect, making it perfect for faraway lounging. Certain brands come with built-in trackpads and a whole array of media controls. These convenient keyboards are not only for computers, but are compatible with smart TVs, game consoles, and even tablets.
Physical bilingual keyboards are rare, and bilingual gaming keyboards are even more so. In fact, manufacturers don’t make separate bilingual gaming keyboards, the very few that exist are in gaming laptops. I thought these were worth a mention because they can be useful if you consistently type in another language. Most commonly, that language is French, because we’re primarily situated in Canada. There are other bilingual keyboards out there, you just need to find them.
In case you’re unfamiliar, bilingual keyboards add extra keys and alternate character selection to an ordinary keyboard. For example, for French keyboards, all the accented characters are present on the keyboard with a special key to “select” them. As such, this can be very useful if you ever find the need to type in French. First, you’ll need to know the language, obviously.
Ordinary keyboards do not have any customization potential. Mechanical ones are the only boards with any real customization options, and many enthusiasts take pride in decorating their board with unique keycaps. Many specialty stores sell premade or custom-made keycaps, if that’s something you’re interested in. For keyboards without mechanical switches, you don’t have this sort of luxury. Rubber dome keyboards are considered expendable. As a result, there aren’t any rubber dome keycaps on the market — nobody needs them.
For gaming keyboards, the door for unique personalization swings open and flies off the frame. Most medium to high-end gaming laptops (which are all mechanical) come with the manufacturer’s corresponding gaming software. These programs act as the user’s customization hub for that brand’s line of products. For example, Logitech’s Logitech Gaming Software allows compatible devices to sync RGB lighting. It also has access to DPI settings for gaming mice, and macro key settings for gaming keyboards. Key remapping is also available.
In The End…
It’s about preference, as it often is with technology. You don’t need a gaming keyboards to play games, and you don’t necessarily have to play games with a gaming keyboard. Consider your budget and your needs, and decide from there. Don’t overspend for fancy features you’ll never use. The best keyboard is one that feels the most comfortable for you, and has the features you can make the most of. Of course, you can choose to ignore my advice and do as you wish, because I’m not the boss of you. But before you leave and never look back, I’d like to let you know it is my opinion that every person should own a mechanical keyboard. If, for some reason, you’ve sworn that you’ll never buy one, at least visit a NCIX store and test out the switches. Maybe you’ll convert.