Your keyboard is your point of connection to your computer, and it is thus important to have one that works well with your fingers. Mechanical and membrane keyboards differ not only in how they function fundamentally but also in how they perform for users. Today, we settle the mechanical keyboard vs membrane debate once and for all, by looking at the pros and cons of each type.
What are Membrane Keyboards?
Membrane keyboards are the more common type. They consist of a thin membrane (as the name suggests) that presses on a circuit layer when you press a key, and the circuit registers accordingly. Each key has a pressure pad which allows it to make contact with the circuit layer.
Membrane keyboards can further use two types of key designs. The first is a flat key, which is the kind you would see on a microwave oven, for instance. Flat keyboards still have pressure pads, but they provide no physical feedback, which is important for typing and such.
The second type is a dome switch keyboard. It uses domes made of either silicone or rubber to simulate a spring structure similar to that of a mechanical keyboard. When the domes are pressed down, they collapse and complete the circuit.
Pros of Membrane Keyboards
Dome switch keyboards provide a certain amount of physical feedback that imitates the typing experience provided by a mechanical keyboard while being more portable than mechanical keyboards themselves. Since membrane keyboards are made of plastic, you can easily carry one around if you feel so inclined.
Membrane keyboards are much quieter than mechanical ones. This is important because high-speed typing or gaming can get rather loud, but some users do enjoy the sound. Lastly, membrane keyboards are much more affordable than mechanical ones with the same features, because they are made with common materials and use more matured technology.
Cons of Membrane Keyboards
Membrane keyboards can require a bit more effort to use, the keys can feel mushy to some users because you need to press on them harder than regular, mechanical keys. Key rollover is higher with membrane keyboards for this reason; sometimes if a key is not pressed down completely, it will not be registered as a hit and that letter will not be typed. This is a big problem for fast typists because they then have to go back and re-type more often.
Membrane keyboards can also wear out quicker than mechanical ones despite having a long technical lifespan, which means that they will still work after years, but the keys might feel a lot mushier. Keycaps are not removable for membrane keyboards, which makes it harder to clean these keyboards.
What are Mechanical Keyboards?
Mechanical keyboards use actual switches to send in typing signals. There are different kinds of switches out there, and each performs differently (but more on this later).
Each key in a mechanical keyboard has its own switch; which further consists of a base, a spring, and a stem. The keycaps on mechanical keyboards are both removable and exchangeable. Mechanical keyboards provide the most physical feedback.
Pros of Mechanical Keyboards
The biggest pro of mechanical keyboards is the customization potential that they offer. Remove and replace keycaps to your heart’s content until you have your dream keyboard. Mechanical keyboards take a lot longer to wear out because they do not have a membrane layer that changes their physical feel over time.
Higher tactility with mechanical keyboards can benefit both typists and gamers; you do not need to press a key down completely for it to be registered, and you will not lose time because of this the way you would with membrane keyboards. This will also save you some physical fatigue, especially if you work long hours on your computer.
Mechanical keyboards have a much better key rollover, and some even allow you to press multiple keys at the same time. Lastly, the removable keycaps of these keyboards make them much easier to clean.
Cons of Mechanical Keyboards
Mechanical keyboards are much heavier and thus much less portable than membrane ones because they use heavier and more expensive materials and technology. Naturally, this makes them less affordable as well, although the price depends on the kind of switch used as well. Mechanical keyboards are quite loud, but this also varies with different key types.
Not All Mechanical Keyboards are Created Equal
Mechanical keyboards are very versatile because, along with the customization potential they offer, the use of different kinds of switches can change your entire experience.
In generic terms, switches can behave in three ways: they can be linear, which means that they have a consistent and smooth keystroke; they can be tactile, meaning there is a bump felt in the middle of the keystroke at the actuation point; or they can be, simply, clicky, which means they have a bump as well as a sharp click sound when pressed down.
Switches are also differentiated in terms of color; blue ones are the most common, and the best ones for everyday use. You can even find mechanical keyboards with blue switches at prices comparable to those of membrane keyboards.
Some switches provide quicker keystrokes essential for gaming keypads and keyboards; such as the Cherry MX Red and the Cherry MX Black (the former being lighter than the lighter) while others are designed to be quieter for use in office settings; like the Cherry MX Silent Black. Some switches are also designed to offer the perfect middle ground for average users, such as the Razer Orange or the Cherry MX Brown.
As a general rule of thumb, remember that mechanical keyboards work better in more permanent and intensive setups, whereas membrane keyboards are more suited for places that require a simpler and more lightweight use. For instance, membrane keyboards are good to use for light office work and in home entertainment centers. Similarly, they work well when traveling, or in conjunction with phones or tablets.
Mechanical keyboards are better suited for tasks like writing, programming, and, of course, gaming. The durability of these keyboards combined with their tactility and key rollover make them an essential choice for any serious gamer.
Which One Should You Choose?
The perfect fit for you depends on your use. Casual PC users can afford to stick to membrane keyboards, but power users will find that mechanical keyboards are better for them.