19.9 C
Washington

The best mechanical keyboards to buy right now

Date:

Share:


It’s hard to beat the tactility, durability, or good looks of a mechanical keyboard, but there are a lot of options out there, and not all of them are created equal. Here are our top picks, including both wired and wireless models ranging from compact keyboards with laptop-style layouts to full-size keyboards complete with numpads — from budget to… not so budget.

While there’s nothing wrong with more typical membrane keyboards like Apple’s popular Magic-branded devices, many prefer mechanical keyboards for their more tactile typing feel and superior durability. There’s also a sizable enthusiast community of people who like to modify and customize them to get their look and feel just right, which means they can be a fun hobby as well as a simple PC accessory.

Most of the keyboards below use a 75 percent layout, which is a compact form factor that maintains a function row and arrow key cluster, like most laptop keyboards. It’s a great place to start unless you really want an attached number pad or know you prefer a different layout. Nearly all of our recommendations also come in other layouts, which we’ve linked where possible. 

While any keyboard can be used for gaming, this guide focuses on the best keyboards for typing and general office work, so input latency and responsiveness weren’t major deciding factors. If you’re after a keyboard specifically for gaming, check out our guide to the best gaming keyboards.

The best wired keyboard for most people

The Keychron V1 is the best entry-level wired mechanical keyboard. It has hot-swappable switches, full remappability with VIA, great build quality, RGB backlighting, and double-shot PBT keycaps for under $100.

Connectivity: USB / Keycaps: Double-shot PBT / Hot-swappable: Yes / Available sizes: 60 percent, 65 percent, 75 percent, TKL, 1800, Full size, 65 percent Alice, 75 percent Alice / Available layouts: ANSI, ISO / Switch options: K Pro Red, K Pro Blue, K Pro Brown / Battery size: N/A / North- or south-facing switches: South-facing

The Keychron V1 is the best entry-level wired keyboard. Starting at just $84 for a fully assembled model, it’s one of the more affordable options on this list, but it feels almost as nice to type on as keyboards that cost twice as much, and its build quality is lovely and sturdy. It sounds amazing, with no discernible stabilizer rattle, and its 75 percent layout offers a nice mix of compactness without sacrificing too many important keys. 

For such a low price, the V1 is packed with features usually found on enthusiast keyboards. It offers hot-swappable switches with south-facing RGB backlighting, and its switches and stabilizers feel nice and smooth. It’s fully programmable: you can remap every key using the intuitive and powerful VIA software on top of QMK — which works on Windows, Mac, and Linux and lets you do everything from moving keys around to programming macros directly into the keyboard itself.

The Keychron V1 is the best mechanical keyboard for most people. This is the volume knob-equipped model.
Image: Jon Porter / The Verge

The V1 comes with durable double-shot PBT keycaps. You get a choice of Mac and Windows keycaps in the box, and a switch on the back of the keyboard lets you toggle between layouts instantly. You can get it with a volume knob for an extra $10 (pictured) or save $20 and buy a bare-bones version without keycaps or switches. Our sample came with Keychron’s own tactile K Pro Brown switches, but there are also clicky and linear options.

If you like the design of the V1 but don’t like its layout, Keychron has over half a dozen other models in the V-series range. There’s the more compact V2 (which has a 65 percent layout that omits the dedicated function row), the even more compact V4 (with a 60 percent design that omits the arrow keys entirely), and larger keyboards like the tenkeyless V3, full-size V6, or Alice-layout V10.

The best premium Bluetooth keyboard

$199

The Keychron Q1 Pro is a great premium keyboard, with a full aluminum chassis, gasket-mounted plate, and the flexibility of Bluetooth in addition to the hot-swappable switches and VIA compatibility of the more affordable V-series.

Connectivity: USB, Bluetooth / Keycaps: Double-shot PBT / Hot-swappable: Yes / Available sizes: 60 percent, 65 percent, 75 percent, TKL, 1800, Full size / Available layouts: ANSI, ISO / Switch options: K Pro Red, K Pro Brown, K Pro Banana / Battery size: 4,000mAh / North- or south-facing switches: South-facing

The Keychron Q1 Pro is an excellent pick for anyone who’s prepared to spend more for wireless connectivity and a more premium typing feel. Like the non-Pro Keychron Q1, it has a sturdy aluminum construction, built-in volume dial, excellent typing feel, and is fully customizable. But it also includes Bluetooth to connect it to your laptop, phone, or tablet.

That not only makes it a great step up from Keychron’s V-series keyboards but also we think the Q1 Pro is worth picking over the wired Keychron Q1. That’s because it offers everything the wired Q1 has plus the flexibility of Bluetooth for a relatively small $20 price premium. But if you don’t need wireless and you’re happy with a “good” rather than “great” typing feel, then many of the Q1 Pro’s most compelling features, like VIA programming, hot-swappable switches, and per-key south-facing RGB backlighting, are also available on the V1 above and Keychron’s other V-series boards. 

Use the keyboard wirelessly, with its RGB lighting disabled, and the Q1 Pro can happily go for over a month without needing to be recharged. But turn on its backlighting, and that battery life drops to around a week. The reliability of the Bluetooth connection was flawless in my testing — I didn’t experience any dropouts during a month of use.

Keychron’s Q1 Pro (pictured) is a wireless version of the already-excellent Q1.
Image: Jon Porter / The Verge

In addition to its sturdy aluminum case and wireless connectivity, the other advantage the Q1 Pro has over the V1 is its gasket-mounted construction, which gives it a more premium typing feel. By effectively suspending its polycarbonate switch plate and PCB between gaskets, the keyboard has a substantial amount of flex to it. That might not sound preferable, but it gives the Q1 Pro a much more satisfying typing sound compared to what are known as tray-mounted keyboards like the Keychron V series. Replacement switch plates are also available in different materials if you want to further customize how the Q1 Pro feels and sounds.

Keychron’s Q Pro lineup isn’t available in quite as many different sizes as the company’s wired Q or V series, but as of this writing, it covers the major bases. Sizes range from the compact Q4 Pro through to the full-size Q6 Pro.

Other potential considerations are that the Q1 Pro’s battery life is only great if you turn off its RGB lighting. It’s also very heavy compared to some of the other wireless keyboards on this list, which means it’s not a great pick if you plan to use the keyboard while out and about. Finally, there’s no 2.4GHz wireless USB dongle option if you prefer not to use Bluetooth.

Read my review of the Keychron Q1 Pro.

An excellent wireless 75 percent mechanical keyboard

$100

The Epomaker TH80 is a well-equipped wireless mechanical keyboard. It’s customizable and feels good to type on while also being relatively affordable.

Connectivity: USB, Bluetooth, 2.4GHz dongle / Keycaps: Dye-sub PBT / Hot-swappable: Yes / Available sizes: 65 percent, 75 percent, 96 percent / Available layouts: ANSI, ISO / Switch options: Gateron Pro Red, Gateron Pro Brown, Gateron Pro Black, Epomaker Budgerigar, Gateron Blue, Gateron Pro Yellow / Battery size: 3,800mAh / North- or south-facing switches: South-facing

For a more affordable wireless mechanical keyboard, we really like the Epomaker TH80. The TH80 feels fantastic to type on, supports Bluetooth connections to up to three different devices, and also includes a 2.4GHz wireless USB dongle if you don’t want to mess around with Bluetooth pairing. We also like that it has separate Mac-specific keycaps in the box and that it’s relatively light and portable compared to the Q1 Pro.

More recently, Epomaker has released a Pro version of the TH80 called the TH80 Pro, although it costs the same at $99.99. The new model is almost identical to the original TH80 but has a slightly bigger 4,000mAh battery and functionality improvements like the ability to automatically recognize whether it’s connected to a Mac or Windows computer.

Like the Keychron V1 and Q1 Pro, the Epomaker TH80 is a 75 percent keyboard with hot-swappable switches and a volume knob. It has a plastic case and steel switch plate, and while it doesn’t feel quite as high-end as Keychron’s Q-series keyboards, it’s got nice crisp PBT keycaps in MDA profile, smooth stabilizers, and a typing feel that’s on par with the slightly cheaper wired-only Keychron V1. Our review sample came with linear Gateron Pro Yellow switches, but other linear and clicky options are available.

The Epomaker TH80’s layout can be remapped with software that works on both Mac and Windows computers. It’s not as slick or powerful as the VIA app used by Keychron’s boards but still lets you remap every key (aside from the Function key) with alternative keys or macros. (By contrast, VIA lets you move the function key, too, or add additional function keys for different layers.)

The Epomaker TH80 is a good affordable wireless option.
Image: Jon Porter / The Verge

The TH80 doesn’t have secondary functions printed on its keycaps, so you’ll need to keep its manual on hand to remind yourself what they do. And while it features per-key RGB lighting (with south-facing LEDs), keeping the backlighting on in wireless mode absolutely tanks its battery life. I got just two and a half days of use over Bluetooth with the keyboard’s RGB lighting set to maximum compared to eight workdays with the backlight off before I had to plug it in to recharge. Either way, you get much better battery life out of the more expensive Q1 Pro.

Although the TH80 comes in our favorite 75 percent layout, Epomaker has a larger version with a numpad as well as a smaller 65 percent model. If you’re on a tighter budget, the Royal Kludge RK84 is a little cheaper without compromising too much on typing feel, though its software is Windows-only and its layout is a little more smushed.

We also really liked using the Iqunix L80 Cosmic Traveller. It’s more expensive at $189, it’s not easily remappable, and it has a loud color scheme that won’t be to everyone’s taste. But it feels phenomenal to type on, with plate-mounted Cherry-style stabilizers that don’t have a hint of rattle and up to 200 days of battery life over Bluetooth with the backlight off.

An almost full-size wireless model

$140

The Ajazz AK966 is our pick if you want a full-size wireless keyboard that includes a numpad.

Connectivity: USB, Bluetooth, 2.4GHz dongle / Keycaps: Dye-sub PBT / Hot-swappable: Yes / Available sizes: 1800 layout / Available layouts: ANSI / Switch options: Kailh Cream / Battery size: 10,000mAh / North- or south-facing switches: South-facing

The $140 Ajazz AK966 is our pick if you want a wireless keyboard with a numpad and don’t want to spend $210 on Keychron’s Q6 Pro. It uses an 1800 layout, which means it has most of the keys of a full-size keyboard, albeit in a layout that squishes them together a little to reduce its overall footprint. This larger layout also corresponds to a larger 10,000mAh battery, which is rated to offer up to 1,200 hours on a single charge (though, once again, you’re going to want to disable its RGB lighting to get this sort of longevity — with RGB on, rated battery life drops to around 50 hours). 

The AK966 has a nice crisp typing feel and stabilizers that feel smooth and don’t rattle. Its construction isn’t quite at the level of Keychron’s Q series since Ajazz’s keyboard has a plastic case, but it feels noticeably nicer to type on than the cheaper Epomaker TH80 and Keychron V1. The AK966’s keycaps are PBT, with legends that are nice and clear. Once again, there are no secondary functions printed on its keycaps, so be sure to keep its manual on hand so you know its keyboard shortcuts. It also has a volume knob.

The Ajazz AK966 is a great pick if you need a full-size wireless keyboard with a numpad.
Image: Jon Porter / The Verge

Although it includes Mac keycaps in the box, with a key combination to let you hop between Windows and Mac layouts, Ajazz’s software — for customizing the AK966’s layout, configuring its lighting, or recording macros — is only available on Windows. We don’t think that’s a deal-breaker given its 96 percent layout includes basically every default key you’d want as standard, but it’s worth bearing in mind if you can’t live without dedicated keys for Home, End, or Print Screen — or if you’re used to customizing particular keyboard shortcuts. The keyboard is also only available with linear Kailh Cream switches, so if you prefer clicky or tactile switches, you’ll have to buy them separately. That’s also not a deal-breaker since the board is hot-swappable.

A more affordable wired 65 percent keyboard

Although it can’t match the typing feel of some of the more expensive keyboards on this list, the LTC Nimbleback is a feature-packed, affordable pick.

Connectivity: USB / Keycaps: Not disclosed / Hot-swappable: Yes / Available sizes: 65 percent, 75 percent, Full size / Available layouts: ANSI / Switch options: Blue, Brown, Red (unbranded) / Battery size: N/A / North- or south-facing switches: North-facing

At less than half the price of some of the other keyboards on this list, the $55 65 percent LTC Nimbleback punches well above its weight. It’s very full-featured for its price, with shine-through RGB lighting and hot-swappable switches, and it even has a built-in USB hub with a pair of USB Type-A ports to plug extra accessories into your computer.

As you might expect given the price difference, the LTC Nimbleback’s construction isn’t as solid as the Keychron V1’s, and it doesn’t feel as nice to type on as many of the picks above. Its switches feel slightly less smooth and more scratchy with each press, there’s a slight rattle to the stabilizers on larger keys like the space bar, and it sounds a bit hollow overall. It’s also made of plastic, and while it is reprogrammable, its companion software is only available on Windows. But the LTC Nimbleback’s typing feel holds its own against more similarly priced competitors, including the $60 Keychron K6.

Don’t be put off by its low price. The LTC Nimbleback is a great affordable 65 percent keyboard.
Image: Jon Porter / The Verge

The LTC Nimbleback is available with clicky, linear, or tactile switches (we had the latter). If the model listed here looks a little too small for your liking, there are also 75 percent and full-size versions available

A good low-profile wireless mechanical keyboard

$110

With hot-swappable switches, the NuPhy Air75 is our pick for the best low-profile keyboard.

Connectivity: USB, Bluetooth, 2.4Ghz / Keycaps: PBT Dye-sub / Hot-swappable: Yes / Available sizes: 65 percent, 75 percent, 96 percent / Available layouts: ANSI / Switch options: Gateron low-profile Red, Gateron low-profile Brown, Gateron low-profile Blue / Battery size: 2,500mAh / North- or south-facing switches: North-facing

If you’re after the tactility of a mechanical keyboard but prefer a low-profile design that’s similar to a traditional laptop keyboard, there’s an increasing number of options available. Of these, we think the $110 NuPhy Air75 is the best. It feels great to type on, is equally at home on Mac or Windows, and connects either over Bluetooth or an included 2.4GHz wireless USB dongle. We used the keyboard with linear Gateron Red low-profile switches, but it’s also available with tactile or clicky options.

The NuPhy Air75 is a great pick if you prefer a laptop-style typing experience.
Image: Jon Porter / The Verge

Unlike the more expensive Logitech MX Mechanical Mini, it’s also hot-swappable, which we think gives the NuPhy Air75 a slight edge. Hot-swappable sockets aren’t quite as important on low-profile keyboards given there simply aren’t as many low-profile switch options out there — and there are several different mutually incompatible low-profile switch types — but it’s still a nice feature to have, and NuPhy sells compatible switches.

There’s one very good reason to consider the more expensive Logitech MX Mechanical Mini, and that’s battery life. In my testing, the Nuphy Air75 ran dry after around a week of use, while Logitech’s had enough juice for two even with backlighting on (this extends up to a lengthy 10 months with backlighting off). Logitech’s low-profile mech is also available with a larger full-size layout (great if you need a numpad). 

A split ergonomic option

Top-down shot of kinesis freestyle pro.

$179

The Kinesis Freestyle Pro is a great split keyboard option, which allows you to keep your arms in a more neutral position while typing. It’s not hot-swappable, but it has an easier to learn layout and more affordable price than other ergonomic options.

Connectivity: USB / Keycaps: Not disclosed / Hot-swappable: No / Available sizes: Split / Available layouts: ANSI / Switch options: Cherry MX Brown, Cherry MX Silent Red / Battery size: N/A / North- or south-facing switches: North-facing

They’re very much a niche option, but plenty of people swear by split keyboards, which are designed to let you type with your hands further apart and your shoulders in a more neutral position. Of these, we recommend the Kinesis Freestyle Pro

It doesn’t have hot-swappable switches, which means you’re stuck with the Cherry MX Brown or Cherry MX Silent Red switches that it comes with unless you’re willing to do some soldering. But at $179, it’s relatively affordable by the often exorbitant prices of split keyboards (the ErgoDox EZ Original starts at $325, for example, while the ZSA Moonlander is $365), and it has a layout that’s much closer to a traditional keyboard than a lot of other ergonomic options. It means there’s less of a learning curve if you’re coming from a standard keyboard layout. 

That’s not to say there aren’t hot-swappable ergonomic options out there. We really enjoyed the ZSA Moonlander, for example. ZSA’s Oryx configurator software offers a ton of options to create highly customized layouts, and optional accessories like an angled stand and tripod mounting kit mean you can tailor the keyboard to your exact needs. It also offers hot-swappable switches, which we normally consider an essential part of a modern keyboard, but we don’t think that justifies the price premium for most people. But at $365, the Moonlander is, by some margin, the most expensive keyboard on this list, and its columnar layout and thumb clusters take a lot of getting used to. (Though ZSA does allow you to return the keyboard within 30 days of when you get it.) 

A well-used Kinesis Freestyle Pro of four years, our pick for the best split keyboard for most people.
Image: Jay Peters / The Verge

If you absolutely must have the most customizable ergonomic option available, then the ZSA Moonlander is a great pick. But most people who just want a more ergonomic keyboard with a familiar layout will be satisfied with the Kinesis Freestyle Pro.

Additional reporting by Jay Peters.

Update August 4th, 11:19AM ET: Updated with new layout, to add more size options for Keychron, and to mention Epomaker TH80 Pro.



Source link

Subscribe to our magazine

━ more like this

Biden pledges ‘ironclad’ support for Israel as U.S. forces join in intercepting Iran-launched drones

President Joe Biden and his national security team monitored Iran’s aerial attack against Israel on Saturday as U.S. forces joined efforts to down...

Markets flash early signs of risk from wider Mideast war as crypto prices sink after Iran launches wave of drones at Israel

Cryptocurrency prices fell Saturday evening after Iran launched a wave of drones at Israel, marking an early indication of the turmoil that could...

Police arrested four people over $300,000 of stolen Lego kits

Los Angeles citizens can rest easy knowing that a criminal theft ring is no longer stalking the city’s retail stores to feed a...

U.S. vows to support Israel’s defense as Iran launches drone attack

Iran launched drones toward Israel late Saturday, the Israeli military announced, and Iran’s state-run media reported that dozens had been fired. The Israeli army’s...

Housing is unaffordable for too many Americans, and tighter land-use regulations mean higher costs, Atlanta Fed president says

The housing affordability crisis has no easy solutions, but research has shown a tight correlation between tougher land-use regulations and higher costs, Atlanta...