The world of mechanical keyboards is vast and more than a little confusing if you’re just getting started. There are so many kinds to choose from that picking a path seems like more trouble than it’s worth. But if you narrow down what you want from a mechanical keyboard, finding the perfect one is possible.
Some people buy mechanical keyboards for the sheer nostalgia of it all, whether to replicate a beloved keyboard from their youth or because they thrive on the old-school sound of clacking keys. Others gravitate toward them because they can fine-tune the typing experience. Mechanical keyboards utilize a mechanism called a switch, which is essentially a metal spring tuned to offer a variety of noises, response times, and travel times. Cherry MX switches tend to be the most common, and they’re categorized by color. (Mechanical Keyboards has a helpful primer on the typing experience of each switch.) You’ll also find manufacturers making their own switches with different names.
And then there are people like me who get into mechanical keyboards because they’re infinitely customizable. I continuously throw money at custom keycaps and desk mats to change around the look of my work area. I always stick with the same base—Cherry MX Browns or their more economical offshoot, Gateron Browns—because of how vital the typing experience they offer is to my day-to-day.
We’re not going to cover customization in this guide because this is all about getting started, but in short you should know that linear switches offer a smooth, direct press that bottoms out at the end of stroke, while tactile or “clicky” switches have a small bump at their actuation point, letting you know when the keyboard recognizes a press.
Many of the keyboard models mentioned in this guide are decidedly mainstream, manufactured by your favorite peripheral makers. These keyboards can be easily found and purchased right now, and aren’t subject to group buys or long waitlists like those frequently making the rounds on Drop or in the Kono store.