What is the best mechanical keyboard for my purposes?
April 8, 2016 9:04 AM   Subscribe

I'm in the market for a mechanical keyboard to attach to my work laptop so that I don't have to deal with its crappy keyboard when I'm at my desk. What should I get? Requirements within.

I do a lot of typing at work, and right now I do it all on my laptop which has a fairly crummy keyboard. I'd really like to upgrade to a nice mechanical unit, so that when I'm not out an about I can have a real keyboard to type on. However it's kind of a forest of mostly-very-similar products out there right now, so I don't really know where to start looking. That's why I'm here!

I've got probably $120 max to spend on this, and I'd prefer to spend $100 or less. What I'm looking for is something that's durable, has good key feel, isn't too loud, and has a 10-key pad on it. The "enter" key should be a rectangle, not an L. I prefer a stiffer key, and one that provides crisp feedback when it activates. A USB port or two would be really nice, and if there were some way my new keyboard could have a trackpoint, that would be fantastic—but I don't know if that even exists, so I'm not tied to that feature.

I'd also like it to look sleek and professional, rather than being some 'roided-out gaming thing with multicolored keys and crazy angles—something that takes up as little space on my desk as possible, basically. I don't want multimedia keys or whatever they're called, just the normal ones.

That's basically it. I don't care too much about things like detachable cords and n-key rollover, though those are certainly nice features. I don't need programmable keys, though I might use them if I had them. I'm not against having a backlight, but neither am I willing to pay extra for one. My preferred color is basic black, ideally in a matte or satin finish rather than glossy.

What do you recommend, O Hivemind?
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The to Technology (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Check out the Reddit mechanical keyboard buying guide.

Go out to some stores and see how the keyboards feel if you can. Not sure if you live near an excellent electronics store like F.Y.E., but the last time I was at a F.Y.E. there were maybe 10 mechanical keyboards on display that you could test out.
posted by gregr at 9:23 AM on April 8, 2016

I have a Das Keyboard that meets your requirements except the trackpoint. Mine is a Model S Professional with Cherry Brown switches, which isn't too loud; my spouse's keyboard has the Blue switches and you can definitely hear the difference.
posted by neushoorn at 9:28 AM on April 8, 2016

I will second on the Das Keyboard, love it, love the company that made it. I use their 4th generation 'professional' model.
posted by deadwater at 9:42 AM on April 8, 2016

Das Keyboards look nice, but they're out of my price range. The ones that fulfill my requirements start at $140. My budget is really $100 as mentioned above, with $120 being my hard limit.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 10:04 AM on April 8, 2016

Get a Unicomp Keyboard - it is the modern version the the classic IBM Model M, meets all your requirements, and costs under $100.
posted by fimbulvetr at 10:17 AM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sorry to threadsit (I'm going to walk away for a while after this) but I've had Unicomps in the past and they are crazy loud. Definitely too loud for my office. Also, if I recall correctly, they are pretty huge. But the main problem is the loudness. So to slightly clarify my rather ambiguous "not too loud" criterion above, my new keyboard has got to be considerably quieter than an Unicomp.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 10:26 AM on April 8, 2016

I use a Das at work, but I didn't want to spend quite as much on my home machine-- so I got a Tt eSPORTS POSEIDON Z RGB LED BROWN SWITCH Mechanical Gaming keyboard which is currently at $82.

You can turn off all the lighting gimmicks-- the brown switches are nice (I have blue at work) and it feels like a solid keyboard in all respects.
posted by Static Vagabond at 10:39 AM on April 8, 2016

Make up you mind about cord or wireless. I had a Bluetooth keyboard which was a bit of a bother because it lost the connection now and then and the re-link process seemed more involved than necessary.
posted by SemiSalt at 10:49 AM on April 8, 2016

Filco keyboards meet most of your requirements, except the price, which is around $140. They are generally black with normal looking keys, have the standard layout with F1-F12 and, depending on the model, a ten-key number pad. I had a matte one before, now I have a slightly shiny one. The shiny one feels a little nicer and doesn't stand out. My old one lasted around 7 years before one of the keys started acting funny.

If you get a standard US layout you'll always get the rectangular enter key. UK, Japanese and other layouts have the L-shaped one. I look for words like US-ASCII or 104-key to make sure a keyboard doesn't have an L-shaped enter key.

If you want a crisp feel, you need something like Cherry blue switches. They have an audible (and tactile) click just before they get pressed fully. Having something that's both tactile and quiet isn't possible. Switches without the click are more quiet but are still audible. I use Cherry blacks which have no click. I've heard someone typing on a Matias Tactile Pro (similar to blues) and they're loud.

If you get something with a USB port it will often use 2 ports on your laptop so that it can get enough power for its own ports. Just get a hub, plug the keyboard into that and plug the hub into your laptop.
posted by nevan at 10:58 AM on April 8, 2016

+1 for Filco. I use this model and it's nice-looking, small, solid-feeling, and stays in place as I type. The Cherry browns are a nice compromise IMO -- not too loud but still satisfying. Sorry that it's a little out of your price range, though.
posted by value of information at 1:49 PM on April 8, 2016

as with everyone else, I'm struggling a bit to find models that meets your combo of needs and are in your price range (for instance, I would hands-down recommend the Matias Quiet Pro but it's $50 more than you want to spend.).

Echoing what others have come up with, you're likely stuck with Cherry MX Brown switches at your price point, and since you want a numberpad, a lot of the tenkeyless models are out. So maybe this Rosewill model?
posted by namewithoutwords at 3:38 PM on April 8, 2016

I love the Lenovo Trackpoints.
posted by at at 5:45 AM on April 9, 2016

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