Mechanical Keyboard vs. Chiclet Keyboard

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What Is A Chiclet Keayboard?

chiclet keyboard

A chiclet keyboard / chewing gum keyboard is a category of keyboards that uses keys in the form of small squares or rectangles with straight sides and rounded corners. In most cases, the gaps between the keys are filled with perforated bezel. The keyboard uses thin, clean-cut keys that are slightly spaced apart. The chiclet keyboard is popular in laptops, netbooks, and is used prominently in Apple MacBooks.

Chiclet keyboards are also known as island keyboards or simply island keyboards.

The chiclet keyboard gets its name because of the style of the keys used, which are similar to chiclets, an American chewing gum brand. The underlying technology used by chiclet keyboards is very different. In many cases, the keys of the chiclet keyboard are part of the support membrane and tend to deform when touched to complete the electrical contact. Some chiclet keyboards avoid the upper membrane and spacer layers and have a conductive coating on the underside of the keys.

Chiclet keyboards have several advantages. One of the main advantages is that the keys have a slightly larger surface area than molded keys and therefore have less chance of hitting the wrong keys. The overall look and feel of a chiclet keyboard is more space-saving and flatter than a traditional keyboard. Chiclet keyboards are also much easier to maintain and clean than other keyboards.

There are critics of the chiclet keyboard. In some situations, the typing speed is slower overall because there’s no texture to guide the fingers. For the same reason, some claim that chiclet keyboards fatigue the user in the long run and are less responsive compared to other types of keyboards.

The super-flat keyboards look smart. And they also have one advantage due to their design: They are particularly quiet. This is due to the very short stroke of the keys. I have also heard from some frequent writers that they can type much faster with flat keys. But this is not true for our test team, which prefers the feeling of a correct pressure point and more stroke. Technically speaking, the rubber dome mechanism is also often used in chiclet keyboards.

With regard to Apple keyboards, the term “butterfly keyboard” is often used. This is how the American manufacturer describes the technology used to transmit the tip signal. Under the keys, above the sensitive mechanics, there is a thin silicone layer, which is supposed to reduce the penetration of dirt. In these models, however, the keys are so flat that the stroke is almost completely missing. You don’t get any feedback when typing even if you press the key deep enough to trigger a signal. This takes getting used to, but it is also very popular among many frequent typists.

Rubberdome Keyboards And Scissor Switches

In contrast to mechanical keyboards, the switches on rubber dome keyboards do not consist of a metal spring, but of small plastic funnels or a rubber mat that conduct electrical signals. The advantage of these keyboards lies in the acquisition costs. The rubber switches are much cheaper to manufacture than the mechanical switches. But over time the typing feel on the rubber domes changes. The life span is also significantly shorter than with mechanical keyboards. The number of keystrokes here is about five million, but you can be pretty sure that even the three millionth will not feel as good as the first. When buying a keyboard, you should definitely pay attention to the “Anti-Ghosting” note. Only then can the keyboard handle multiple keystrokes at the same time. This is especially important for gamers, who often have to press several keys at once.

A special variant of the rubber switches are the scissor switches. Simply put, the keys are attached to the base by plastic levers. In cross section, this would look like an X or even like a pair of scissors that close when pressed and open when lifted. The rubber funnel sits in the middle. This mechanism is mostly used for keyboards that are built into laptops and is a bit more expensive due to the construction.

Mechanical Keyboards

Despite their high price, mechanical keyboards remain very popular among insiders. Why is that and how exactly do these keyboards work?

Basically, there are two types of computer keyboards: the cheap ones that come with millions of PCs, and the really good keyboards. The latter are mostly mechanical keyboards. To explain why they are so popular with many developers, gamers, and writers, we will first explain what’s the difference to the more common membrane keyboards work.

The disadvantages of membrane keyboards

Membrane keyboards have, as the name suggests, three plastic membranes on top of each other. They are located below the actual key. If the top and bottom layers touch, an electrical circuit is closed and the keyboard sends your keystroke to your computer.

The disadvantage: You have to press the keys down completely to make your input visible. Since there is no perceptible or audible trigger point, you usually have to push the keys all the way down (bottoming out), which is tiring for your fingers in the long run. In addition, such keyboards can only withstand an average of five to ten million strokes before they fail. Mechanical keyboards can withstand up to 50 million keystrokes.

Another disadvantage mainly affects gamers who want to press different key combinations. With membrane keyboards, problems can occur if you press more than two keys at the same time. With mechanical keyboards the problem does not occur. Here you can usually press as many keys as you want at the same time. The technical term for this is “N-Key-Rollover” or short NKRO.

Noticeable and optionally with acoustic feedback: That’s why professionals love mechanical keyboards

For many fans of mechanical keyboards, there is one major advantage over membrane keyboards: You can feel when you have triggered a key. And you don’t have to press it all the way down. With the Cherry MX switches installed in many mechanical keyboards, the individual keys register your input when you press them down just two millimetres.

With some of the most popular Cherry MX switches, you will also hear a click at this moment. So you get a tangible and audible feedback when you press a key. So you always know exactly that you have hit the button. For many users it is exactly this kind of feedback that leads to a subjectively more satisfying typing experience.

Mechanical keyboards: The most important switch types explained

If and how the tactile and audible feedback of your mechanical keyboard turns out depends on the switches in your keyboard. To give you a small overview, we now present the most important switch types of the German manufacturer Cherry. There are other switches – for example from Alps – but they play a much smaller role on the market.

Cherry MX Blue Switch

cherry mx blue switch
Cherry MX Red. (source: Lethal Suqirrel / Geekhack)

Anyone who wants a decent audible and tactile feedback when pressing a key will reach for a Cherry-MX-Blue switch. You can clearly feel the switch point, and this switch also gives a rich clicking sound. This is precisely why this Cherry MX switch has many fans. In an open-plan office, however, this can sometimes be disturbing.

Cherry MX Brown Switch

cherry mx brown switch
Cherry MX Red. (source: Lethal Suqirrel / Geekhack)

Keyboards with a Cherry MX Brown switch produce a slightly quieter clicking sound than those with blue switches. Nevertheless, they have a clearly noticeable switching point. This is why frequent writers, but also gamers, could very well use such a keyboard. It promotes the fast and agile movements used in most video games today. Whether it is a quick action shooter or a racing game, this keyboard is well suited for it.

Cherry MX Clear Switch

cherry mx clear switch
Cherry MX Red. (source: Lethal Suqirrel / Geekhack)

With the Cherry-MX-Clear switches, you need to apply a little more pressure than with the brown switches to press a button. This switch is not particularly common. But of course there are still keyboards that use this switch. This keyboard is well suited for people who have well trained fingers regarding keyboard typing, and do not fatique easily. A lot of writers and typists enjoy the ‘heavier’ feedback resulting from the more solid type action

Cherry MX Black Switch

cherry mx black switch
Cherry MX Red. (source: Lethal Suqirrel / Geekhack)

The Cherry MX Black switches are purely linear switches. They therefore do not offer a noticeable switchover point. Therefore, they are especially popular with players of first-person shooters, who like to push their buttons all the way down anyway. They are also quite quiet. But if you write a lot with your keyboard, you might rather have less fun with this switch.

Cherry MX Red Switch

cherry mx red switch
Cherry MX Red. (source: Lethal Suqirrel / Geekhack)

This is a probe form of black switches, also linear switches, but an actuating force of 45 grams is sufficient. Cherry-MX-Red switches are not very widespread compared to the brown or blue switches. As the required force is only 45 grams, this type of keyboard is very well suited for a broad group of diverse users. Whether it is for casual gamers, writers or regular users, just surfing the internet or preparing a Powerpoint Presentation on their computer.

Which switch should I choose for my mechanical keyboard?

Unfortunately we can’t tell you which switch is the best for you now. In the end, it all depends on your own preferences.

In fact, you don’t have to buy a bunch of different keyboards to find out which switch you prefer. Some keyboard manufacturers offer so-called sampler kits. These kits contain keys with the common Cherry switches. The prices move in the range of 15 Dollars and upwards. If you plan to pay more than 100 Dollars for a keyboard, you can save yourself a lot of disappointment with such a sampler kit.

The Code Keyboard / WASD Keyboards

WASD keyboard
Fully customizable Keyboard by WASD (Source: WASD Website)

The Code Keyboard is a mechanical keyboard built by WASD and stack-overflow founder Jeff Atwood specifically for developers. It offers a backlight and can be switched from QWERTZ to Dvorak or Colemak via DIP switch. Mac users can also swap the Alt key with the Command key. Of course, you also have the choice between different Cherry-MX switches.

WASD Keyboard also offers you the possibility to create your very own keyboard via a web editor. If you want an individual keyboard without changing the keys yourself, you should have a look at the US site.


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