best mechanical keyboard lead

Mechanical keyboards — in which every key uses an individual physical switch to send information to your computer, rather than activating a contact on a membrane as in a modern laptop keyboard — have been growing in popularity as gamers, developers, writers and a growing number of enthusiasts have pushed back on the thinner-is-better aesthetic of modern computer design, looking to the past for a typing experience that’s bigger, louder and easier on the fingers.

We spent the last few months of workdays typing, navigating and otherwise putting 50 (yes, it’s too many) popular and not-so-popular mechanical keyboards through their paces (we also wrote this very article using the relevant products under review). We found a whole bunch of great models, so regardless of your typing style, we’ve picked out the best mechanical keyboard for you.

A note: Manufacturers offer keyboards in a wide variety of layouts (which we’ll get into below), but where multiple layouts were available we focused on 75% keyboards — the layout you’re familiar with from laptop computers.

Best mechanical keyboard overall

Quiet, stable and simple to customize and configure, the Keychron Q1 was the best built and most comfortable to type on out of all the keyboards we tested.

Best wireless mechanical keyboard

With most of the luxurious feel of the Q-series at a more affordable price, plus Bluetooth for wireless connectivity, the Keychron K8 Pro is a great introduction to mechanical keyboards — and may be all the keyboard you ever need.

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Best low-profile mechanical keyboard overall

If you prefer a low-profile model, the comfortable, feature-packed, wireless Keychron K3 Version 2 is a vast improvement in feel over membrane keyboards and fits into any desktop setup.

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A more luxurious low-profile mechanical keyboard

With comfortable, high-quality keycaps and well-thought-out features, the NuPhy Air 75 is a great choice for the design-minded typist looking for a low-profile mechanical keyboard.

Best full-size mechanical keyboard

The Akko 3098 has a comfortable 96% layout that packs the performance of a full-sized keyboard into the footprint of a tenkeyless model. With comfortable keycaps, wireless connectivity and hotswappability for easy maintenance and customization, it's a great value.

Best full-size low-profile keyboard

With a full complement of keys in a minimalist frame that doesn’t take up too much room on your desk, easy-to-use software and cross-platform compatibility, the Cooler Master SK653 is a big improvement over low-profile membrane keyboards.

Best compact 60% mechanical keyboard

The diminutive Anne Pro 2 may have a minimalist layout, but intuitive shortcuts to navigation keys and important functions mean you won’t miss having a bulky keyboard on your desk. Wireless connectivity, long battery life and simple-to-use software make it a complete productivity package.

Best splurge full-size keyboard for connoisseurs

The Realforce R2 gives you the legendary pillowy feel of Topre switches in a full-size layout for an incredibly luxurious typing experience that you can fine-tune to your preferences.

Best splurge wireless mechanical keyboard

Long a favorite of programmers, the HHKB layout is pared to the essentials, but offers the incredible typing feel of Topre switches and the fastest-pairing, most stable Bluetooth connection of any keyboard we tested.

Best all-around keyboard for gamers

Most gamers don’t swap out keyboards when it's time to get to work, and the SteelSeries Apex Pro — our favorite gaming keyboard — is also perfect for typing, courtesy of its unique adjustable Hall effect switches.

Best portable mechanical keyboard

Designed to perch atop your laptop’s keyboard, the Epomaker NT68 feels gimmicky at first, but is actually a pleasure to use as intended. A Smart Cover-like case that doubles as a tablet or phone stand lets you work anywhere with any device.

Best ergonomic split mechanical keyboard

Rather than simply splitting a traditional keyboard layout in half, ZSA has recognized that an ergonomic keyboard needs to be a blank slate, and the Moonlander provides an unrivaled amount of software and hardware customizability. The learning curve is steep, but if you can’t get what you want out of traditional keyboards, you’ll want to give it a try.

Best mechanical keyboard overall: Keychron Q1 (Knob version)

$189 From $179 at Keychron

The Keychron Q1 mechanical keyboard

Keychrons’s Q-series keyboards are so comfortable and quiet to type on, so easy to configure to taste and so solidly built that unless you’re an enthusiast who is after something specific from a custom build, we really don’t see any reason to spend more on a mechanical keyboard. In fact, after trying more than 50 keyboards over a six-month period, the 75%-layout Q1 was the one we kept returning to — it was simply the most pleasant to use in every respect.

The Q1 (along with its siblings, the 65% Q2 and the TKL Q3, which are equally good if you prefer larger or smaller layouts) is rather different from the rest of the Keychron lineup. A weighty anodized aluminum housing, along with a gasket-mounted switch plate (neoprene pads isolate the plate from the housing itself) and smooth, noiseless screw-in stabilizers makes the Q-series keyboards not just luxurious-feeling and sure to stay put on your desk, but significantly quieter than any other Cherry MX-compatible mechanical keyboard we tried. The Q1 (and Q2) are unique among the keyboards we checked out in that they are so well damped that you won’t annoy your family and colleagues even if you prefer clicky switches.

The Q-series comes with a redesigned set of very comfortable PBT keycaps and your choice of Gateron G-Pro switches, which we found very smooth in operation; the combo made for an effortless typing feel during our testing.

We spent many hours with the stock setup of the Q1, but given that these are meant to compete with custom keyboards (you can buy a barebones housing to build as you see fit), we also tried a wide range of switches and keycaps in both keyboards, in heavy and light spring weights, and in linear, tactile and clicky flavors. The heavy build and gasket-mounted plate really isolate the switches, showing off the characteristics of each type more clearly than other keyboards since you’re feeling the switch, not the keyboard — if you’re into experimenting or just very persnickety about your switches, you can really feel the difference here.

More practically, Keychron’s Q-series keyboards are the only models we found that are actually quiet enough to use with clicky switches around other people who aren’t mechanical keyboard enthusiasts. You may still get some stares in an open-plan office, but you are unlikely to alienate housemates or family members.

Keychron keyboards share an easily accessible physical switch for cross-platform compatibility, and use the modern USB-C connector for wired connections.

While this wasn’t a major factor in our reviewing, if you feel like remapping keys, assigning macros or tweaking the backlighting, you can do so using the open-source QMK configuration software. We did this using the VIA editor, and found it fairly easy to edit and load your own layouts. VIA and QMK are not as straightforward as some of the configuration packages offered by gaming keyboard manufacturers, but it’s nice to have the ability to change things up.

There are a few downsides. Foremost is that the Q1 is wired-only, since the thick anodized aluminum housing doesn’t allow for a Bluetooth connection. Keychron does use an up-to-date USB-C, at least, unlike some other high-end keyboards, which use antiquated mini-USB connectors. And in keeping with the enthusiast aesthetic, the Q series doesn’t ship with shine-through illuminated keycaps, so the RGB lighting (which is “south-facing” to allow for the widest compatibility with custom keycaps) is there more as an ambient effect than as an aid to seeing legends in the dark. And the housing doesn’t have adjustable feet, though we have no complaints with the slight angle over several months of use.

Best wireless mechanical keyboard: Keychron K8 Pro

From $89 at Keychron

The Keychron K8 Pro mechanical keyboard

if you want a quiet, elegant mechanical keyboard and don’t care about wireless, the Q1 is better than anything else in its price range, but if you don’t want to spend that much, the K8 Pro is the best option under $100 and it has Bluetooth.

While they aren’t quite as luxurious as the Q series, Keychron’s K-series keyboards offer the best balance of typing comfort, useful productivity and convenience features, affordability and wireless connectivity of any mechanical keyboard we tested. They’re also easy to find direct or at mainstream online retailers, making it the most accessible way for the curious to get into mechanical keyboards.

With the K8 Pro, Keychron has brought some of the high-end features introduced with the Q-series semi-custom keyboards — comfortable PBT keycaps, dense damping foam for quieter performance, south-facing RGB lighting for wider keycap customizability and full programmability via the open source QMK firmware and VIA software tool — back to the company’s affordable core offerings. The K-series was already hard to beat for value, and this new configuration makes it not just a great first mechanical keyboard, but maybe the only one you’ll ever actually need.

We tried various other K-series models, from the basic (white backlighting, plastic case) to the fully spec’d (RGB lighting, aluminum outer housing), and found them all to be a pleasure to type on. The smooth Gateron G Pro switches are smooth and tactile, and the backlit doubleshot ABS keycaps that come with most models rare solid under the fingers, with easy-to-read legends both lit and unlit. (The PBT keycaps on the K8 Pro aren’t shine-through, but they’re much more pleasant to type on and we still preferred them overall.)

Connecting to and switching between Bluetooth hosts (via Bluetooth 5.1, it supports up to three) was quick, and connections (with an iPad, Surface and a MacBook Pro) have been stable over the months we’ve used the keyboard. As with all Keychron boards, you can switch Bluetooth on and off and choose between Mac and Windows modifier key layouts via a pair of hardware switches, so you’re set to work with any device on your desk with a minimum of fuss.

Battery life is in keeping with Keychron’s claims of up to 240 hours. With the backlight off, we got a week out of the K8 in regular use without any falloff in functionality, and got through an entire long workday with the backlight on full blast. The K8 charges via USB-C and you can use it wired as it’s charging. Keychron’s keyboards default to an auto-sleep mode that occasionally led to sluggish Bluetooth reconnections; disabling it gave us better results and didn’t noticeably impact battery life.

There are a couple of minor downsides. The K-series casing is fairly tall, with keycaps standing more than an inch proud of the desktop. Touch typists who float above the keyboard will be fine, but those who like to rest their palms on a surface while typing may want to look into a wrist rest (Keycron sells wooden rests in sizes to match all of their keyboards).

Best low-profile mechanical keyboard overall: Keychron K3 Version 2

From $74 at Keychron or $79.99 at Amazon

The Keychron K3 v2 low-profile mechanical keyboard

This pint-sized, low-profile model is yet another great, versatile keyboard from Keychron. As is usual with Keychron keyboards, you get pretty much everything you can think of in an everyday usability: simple, switchable cross-platform support, your choice of smooth hot-swappable switches, multi-host Bluetooth, backlighting (in your choice of white or RGB) and very legible, comfortable shine-through keycaps, all at a very affordable price.

If you’re looking for the long travel of traditional mechanical switches, this probably isn’t what you’re looking for. But if you want a significantly more comfortable typing experience but prefer a keyboard that’s closer in profile to an Apple Magic Keyboard or other chiclet-keyed membrane device, it’s very hard to beat Keychron’s low-profile models at their reasonable price.

The slightly rounded chiclet keycaps (used on all of Keychron’s low-profile models) have a flat profile, but are more comfortable than the flatter models used by Epomaker on the NT68 low-profile or Hexgears on the X-1, and quieter than the low-profile PBT keycaps used on NuPhy’s low-profile models. Since a low-profile keyboard like this is a lot more portable than a traditional mechanical, it’s more likely to be used around other people, thus we looked for quieter models.

You might want to consider a fairly heavy-feeling switch if you plan to use a low-profile keyboard like this. We felt that red linear switches were just too light, and went on to try a range of low-profile optical switches in our low-profile test units, starting with more traditional Brown and Blue switches, but settling on Banana and Mint (you can order all of these stock with the keyboard from Keychron), which have a smooth feel with a fairly heavy tactile feedback (akin to full-size MX Clears or Halo Trues) which we felt made up for the relatively short travel and gave us a more comfortable feel overall.

A more luxurious low-profile mechanical keyboard: NuPhy Air 75

From $109.95 at NuPhy or $129.99 at Amazon

The Nuphy Air low-profile mechanical keyboard

The NuPhy Air 75 is a stylish and feature-packed device, with USB-C, Bluetooth and 2.4GHz dongle-based connectivity, PBT keycaps and a case that doubles as a mobile device stand for use on the go. It’s a compelling package that looks and feels nicer than the Keychron low-profile keyboards. For most people it will not be worth $50 more than the corresponding Keychron K3, but if you want better typing feel from a low-profile model and want something cool for your desk setup, it’s a good choice.

NuPhy’s a fairly new company, though they have demonstrated good customer support and have offered frequent firmware updates streamlining function key performance and extending battery life. Alternate sets of low-profile keycaps are available from the company, which is nice since high-quality low-profile caps are somewhat difficult to come by compared to their full-size siblings.

We didn’t love the stand/case so much, and suggest you just skip it. If you’re looking for something to take on the go with an iPad and want a Smart Cover-like case/stand with it, you will be better served by the Epomaker NT68. The NT68 also worked better perched atop a laptop keyboard in our experience; the NuPhy’s bigger footprint made it more ungainly in that application. The heavy PBT keycaps are also a little loud for café use, in our opinion.

Also, while you’ll pay considerably less for the keyboard itself ordering direct from NuPhy, shipping is likely to be expensive if you’re in the US and prices are roughly equivalent with ordering via a retailer once all is said and done — so if you want one, just order it from whoever has it in stock. You won’t be missing a deal.

Be aware that in a marked contrast from the slick, grown-up styling of the keyboard itself, the box and other packaging materials feature a garter-clad manga-style female mascot, rendered in eye-melting colors, so you might not want to have the box sent to your office.

Best full-size mechanical keyboard: Akko 3098 B/N

From $99.99 at Epomaker

The Akko 3098 96% mechanical keyboard

The Akko 3098 isn’t strictly a “full size” keyboard. But its 96% layout gives you almost all of the functionality of a larger board without taking up so much precious desktop real estate (its footprint is about the same as a tenkeyless keyboard) and letting you keep your mousing hand closer to your body, which is more comfortable over a long workday. It’s a layout we think most people who need a number pad will really appreciate.

Akko’s slightly exploded layout separates the navigation arrows and numpad with just a sliver of open space that makes a big difference when locating those keys by feel. It’s a noticeable improvement over the 96% layouts used on other Epomaker-distributed models and the Keychron K4 (which we otherwise liked a lot). The supplied keycaps are great, and the board is hot-swappable if you want to experiment with different switches down the line, though the house-brand tactiles are very smooth and pleasant to use.

Plus the Akko 3098 is well-built, comfortable and very sensibly priced, and it has great connectivity options with multi-host Bluetooth and 2.4GHz wireless on board (there’s a 2.4GHz dongle in the box) as well as a USB-C port.

The best full-size low-profile keyboard: Cooler Master SK653

From $139.73 at Amazon

The Cooler Master SK653 low-profile mechanical keyboard

Surprisingly, there aren’t many low-profile 100% keyboards out there that give you a typing experience that’s any better than you’d get from an Apple Magic Keyboard or a Logitech MX, but the Cooler Master SK653 manages to hit all the points we looked for — USB-C connection, cross-platform compatibility, support for multiple Bluetooth hosts and enough programmability to keep most users happy — in a slim package that doesn’t eat up too much of your desk. In our testing, it was pleasant to type on, quick to connect and switch wireless hosts and easy to set up like we wanted.

As you’d expect from a product with a gaming heritage, you get the full programmability of a gaming keyboard in a unit that is sedately styled enough for any office and supports modern wireless/USB-C desktop setups. It’s a little more expensive than some other low-profile mechanicals, but it’s built better and feels better than the competition. It’s also a lot more compact than most 100% keyboards (its footprint isn’t much bigger than an Apple Magic Keyboard’s), leaving you more room on your desk.

The TTC-supplied switches (available in Red, Blue, and Brown varieties with the usual attributes) didn’t feel appreciably different to me than the corresponding low-profile Gaterons — you’ll get what you expect should you order, whether you like clicky, linear or tactile behavior. The low-profile switches are, as usual, not as comfortable to type on as full-sized models, especially if you have a heavy touch. The keyboard itself is a little bit pingy, especially in the full-size 653 layout (the smaller 622 is a tad more solid-feeling)

I got to try this board in Red, Brown, and Blue TTC switch variants, all three of which performed as you’d expect if you’re at all familiar with their Cherry-branded equivalents.

Cooler Master offers MasterPlus, a simple-to-use, very complete configuration tool that gives you fine-grained control over lighting and lets you set up macros, build user profiles and do substantial remapping. It’s one of the most accessible software solutions we encountered, though it is only available on Windows.

Our only hesitation in recommending the SK653 comes from one design decision we found annoying: the charging indicator LED is located on the caps lock key, while the caps lock indicator lamp is located in the usual spot for full-size keyboards, all the way on the other side of the keyboard above the navigation cluster and numpad. If you’re not used to it you may find yourself confused now and again.

Best compact 60% mechanical keyboard: Anne Pro 2

$89 $79 at Amazon

The 60% layout Obinslab Anne Pro 2 mechanical keyboard.

The Anne Pro 2 has long been a favorite of compact-keyboard enthusiasts, and it’s easy to see why — out of all the 60% keyboards we tested, it has the most intuitive function and navigation key shortcuts, making the minimal complement of keys immediately usable without consulting the manual.

Our main gripe with most 60% keyboards is that without dedicated arrow keys, you typically need to hold down a modifier to access the arrows, which obviates any ergonomic benefit of being able to reach all the keys without moving away from the home row (that’s the point of the minimal layouts — maximum efficiency).

On the Anne Pro 2, on the other hand, everything just works. When the “tap” function is enabled, a short press of the right FN, menu and CTRL and right Shift keys turns them into an arrow key cluster (they work as legended with a long press), providing the smoothest workflow of any of the 60% keyboards we tested. And if you get lost, alternate functions are discretely marked on the forward-facing sides of the solid-feeling stock PBT keycaps.

USB-C and Bluetooth (you can connect and switch between up to four host devices) cover connectivity, and the nicely implemented Obinslab configuration software lets you easily enable layouts or bindings for pretty much any platform right out of the box (or access the per-key RGB fireworks if you like that sort of thing). We also appreciated that the caps lock key’s default setting is to turn the whole keyboard red, which should save you from accidental caps-lock enable password entry frustrations.

Our test model shipped with Kalih box browns, which felt solid and tactile, but light enough for sprightly typing. The housing is well-damped for a generic plastic design, the keycaps are doubleshot PBT and the keyboard is far quieter in operation than similar 60% models from Royal Kludge, Skyloong and others. Where some similar 60% keyboards really feel like toys, the Anne Pro 2 really feels like a tool.

Caps lock — often left out or poorly implemented on gaming-oriented mechanical keyboards — is pleasantly well integrated out of the box; depressing the key turns the entire keyboard’s RGB lights an alternate color. You’ll never be mystified by password entry mistakes again.

The supplied Obinskit software is excellent overall, and while in general we didn’t consider customization software as overly important in our ratings, with a 60% keyboard it does make a real difference. Obinskit provides easy access to key mapping and simple programmability of lighting on a per-key basis, letting you load immediately useful presets like a Mac layout or define your own mappings. Switching between layouts is as simple as loading the profile and downloading the update to the Anne Pro 2’s processor. Obinskit and the Anne Pro 2’s firmware were updated several times over the period we spent with the keyboard, adding functionality and stability each time, which bodes well for support.

There are a few downsides. The case is fairly tall, and there aren’t any flip-out feet or attachments for angle adjustment. But that’s par for the course for the case design used on most similar 60% models; we found the angle and key profile comfortable to use, and palm rests are commonly available. The Anne Pro 2 is an older design as mechanical keyboards go, and unlike many more current models, its switches aren’t hot-swappable, so replacements or repair will involve soldering. For most users this won’t be a significant downside, but those who want to experiment should be ready to get their hands dirty.

Best splurge full-size keyboard for connoisseurs: Fujitsu Realforce R2 PFU Limited Edition

$348 $305 at Fujitsu or $348 at Amazon

The full-sized Realforce R2 PFU Limited Edition mechanical keyboard.

If you want the absolute best typing feel available and you’re willing to shell out some serious dough, you need look no further than the Fujitsu Realforce R2 (tested by us in the PFU edition, which features adjustable switch sensitivity). Built around Topre’s much-loved electro-capacitive switches rather than the Cherry MX-style switches employed in most mechanical keyboards available today, the R2 provides unmatched comfort. feel and adjustability in a traditional full-sized keyboard that’s great for serious typists. If you love the feel but don’t need all the keys, the R2 is also available in a tenkeyless layout, with several switch variants, including an RGB-backlit gaming edition.

Topre switches are known for their pillowy tactile feel, much smoother and softer-feeling than the Cherry-style mechanical switches used on most of the keyboards we tested. Since the switches don’t depend on a physical contact, you can adjust their actuation point (the point in the travel of the key where the actuation message is sent). This doesn’t change the physical feel of the keyboard, but it does change the apparent responsiveness enough that you’ll imagine it does. (Not all Realforce Topre boards allow this, but the PFU Limited Edition board we tested does; Niz’s electro-capacitive keyboards also allow you to adjust the actuation point, though the electro-capacitive switches used on Varmilo’s MA-series keyboards do not.)

From the keyboard you can choose three levels of responsiveness to match your typing touch, from 1.5 to 3mm into the key travel, while the Windows-only software tool lets you adjust on a per-key basis. We liked the midrange 2mm setting, which allowed for fast typing while avoiding unintended keystrokes.

However you set it up, the R2 is extremely pleasant to type on; quiet and with the typical pillowy Topre softness. It’s near-silent as well, nearly as quiet as a membrane keyboard so it’s suited for use anywhere. The 45g switches are much smoother that any Cherry MX-style switch we tested, and offer just enough resistance to provide positive feedback (we preferred them to the lighter 35g switches in the Niz electro-capacitive keyboard we had on test).

The PFU is the most refined model of the R2 for typists; there’s also an RGB edition, the R2 RGB for the gaming-inclined, which also allows for fine-tuning of the actuation point, as well as varieties with different switch weights. While there’s no backlight on the PFU Limited Edition, the white/cream colorway means it isn’t too difficult to see things in low light.

Best splurge wireless mechanical keyboard: Fujitsu PFU Happy Hacking Keyboard (HHKB) Professional Hybrid Type-S

$385 $337 at Fujitsu, $385 at Amazon

The sub-60% layout PFU Happy Hacking Keyboard (HHKB) Professional Hybrid Type-S

A retro-Apple inspired design (it’s based on the original Macintosh keyboard layout), the HHKB is a compact keyboard that’s long been a favorite of programmers. We brought in the premium version of the HHKB, the Hybrid (the company’s designation for Bluetooth models), with the Type-S “silent” version of Topre’s electro-capacitive switches.

The HHKB is expensive, but it feels fantastic to type on and it paired faster and provided the most stable multi-host Bluetooth connections of any keyboard we tested. If you want to get a lot done with a lot of devices, it’s worth the price.

The HHKB has a unique, very abbreviated layout — like the old Mac keyboards, the HHKB is a sub-60% keyboard, dispensing not just with a numpad, FN key row and nav cluster, but tossing the traditional lower right and left corner CTRL keys as well. Caps lock ends up as an Fn-key alternate for the Tab key, while the traditional Caps Lock key becomes CTRL. It’s a little odd to get used to, but it makes a lot of sense in practice and lets you type without having to move your hands from the home row at all, which is why the layout’s been so long favored by professional developers.

Most importantly, the HHKB is just a joy to type on, matched only by other PFU/Topre models and the Keychron Q series in our experience, and the switches used here are so quiet that the HHKB is nearly as quiet as a membrane switch board. You could easily use this in a quiet office or cafe without bothering anyone — very rare for a mechanical keyboard. Plus the Type-S has the fastest Bluetooth pairing we saw on any keyboard we tested — each host device saw it as soon as I entered the string o​​f Fn-key commands, and switching was just as quick. And we never saw a Bluetooth dropout over the months we spent with the HHKB.

The Hybrid Type-S is the luxury version of the HHKB, and for the staggeringly expensive price tag you get some lovely touches — the DIP switches on the underside of the petite device (it’s so small that the dual AA batteries are housed in a little appendage that projects out from the rear of the housing) are even protected by a little door. These offer several usable configuration options for the modifier keys, including a Mac-modifier row mode. Wired connectivity is over USB-C, which is great to see from a future-proofing perspective.

All of that aside, the 60% layout may be a little constricting for some — if this were a 65% or even a 75% layout I think it might be the perfect keyboard. But if you’re a fan of the minimal 60% layout and you demand the best performance and typing experience and want an actually dependable wireless keyboard, you can’t do much better than the HHKB.

Best all-around keyboard for gamers: SteelSeries Apex Pro

$199.99 $149.47 at Amazon

The SteelSeries Apex Pro mechanical keyboard, shown with its integrated wrist rest.

Our pick for best gaming keyboard is also a great all-around productivity board too, and makes perfect sense if you’re looking for something that does double duty (and frankly, most people aren’t swapping out their keyboards once the workday is done).

The Apex Pro looks unassuming, but its non-contact Hall Effect switches set it apart from almost every other keyboard. Their uniquely smooth feel and fine-tunable response let you change the keyboard’s typing feel on the fly; you can go from hair-trigger sensitivity for gaming to a more fault-tolerant, lower actuation point for typing, and even adjust each switch independently.

SteelSeries’s software allows you to adjust the actuation sensitivity of each switch — the point in the switch’s downward travel where it registers the keystroke — between .4mm and 3.6mm. This doesn’t change the actual typing feel, but does change the apparent feel. High sensitivity registers a keystroke almost as soon as your fingers brush the key, which in my case led to a lot of typing mistakes; low sensitivity mimics a heavier switch. This is similar to the adjustability of some Topre and Niz electro-capacitive switches, but SteelSeries offers more granular control of the actuation point.

The Apex Pro’s aesthetics are low-key enough for daily use at an office desk — there’s plenty of RGB firepower on tap, but no crazy finishes or obvious logos. The permanently attached and very beefy USB-A cable, with an extra USB-A pass-through connector, makes sense for its intended application attached to a high-end tower tucked away under a desk, but may be a bit cumbersome to connect to a laptop with limited USB-A ports — we’d love to see this keyboard revised with a USB-C connection. The legacy connector is really the only downside.

Best portable mechanical keyboard: Epomaker NT68

$105 at Epomaker

The Epomaker NT 68, displaying with its foldable case/stand supporting an iPad.

This full-featured, solidly built aluminum-framed 65% keyboard, available in high- and low-profile versions, is unusual in that it’s meant to be portable. While we were dubious at first, we found that it actually works quite well and makes a pretty nice travel companion if you really demand a mechanical keyboard feel wherever you are. The NT68 is a serious productivity device you can take with you anywhere.

Though it seems gimmicky (and we were dubious at first), the wide placement of the small feet on the NT68 allows you to perch the keyboard atop a laptop’s built-in keyboard, letting you use a mechanical anywhere you like without having to resort to a mouse (it was easy to reach the laptop’s trackpad as usual). If you’re looking to pair it with a mobile device, the NT68’s Smart-Cover-like wraparound case doubles as a tablet stand, which is actually very usable.

There are two versions available, and we much preferred the high-profile model, which was supplied with Epomaker’s own Cherry MX-compatible Chocolate Brown switches. In combination with the heavy DSA-profile keycaps these felt slightly stiffer than most of the Cherry or Gateron Brown keyboards we looked at, making for a very nice typing experience. We didn’t like the flattish keycaps on the low-profile version as much (they don’t feel that different from a laptop keyboard), and it actually isn’t that much slimmer than the high-profile model.

Best ergonomic split mechanical keyboard: ZSA Moonlander

$365 at ZSA

The ZSA Moonland ergonomic split keyboard

The ZSA Moonlander is very different from anything else we tried, even other ergonomic split keyboards. Taking some design cues from ZSA’s previous ergo keyboards and custom and group buy devices, it’s expensive, completely customizable, and can be tweaked physically to suit pretty much any hand position. If you are going to use a split it’s probably a good idea to get one that really offers all of the possibilities the design has to offer, and the Moonlander really delivers. But expect to spend considerable time getting acclimated.

The Moonlander is a lovely piece of industrial design, and the easily adjustable legs and self-positioning wrist supports let us quickly experiment to find a comfortable position. Nothing to add, screw in or click on and off to get the thing into shape: everything is right there, though four threaded ports on the bottom of each half allow for out-of-the-ordinary mounting possibilities like chair arms, and support a range of user-created, 3D-printed support accessories. It’s also much less bulky than competing mainstream ergonomic keyboards — it’s small enough that you can fold it up and tuck it away into a case for taking to the office or traveling.

That said, this thing is definitely not for everybody. ZSA head Erez Zukerman estimates that it’ll take a month or more of training (we’re not talking about all-day sessions; more like 10 or 15 minutes a day) to really get comfortable with the Moonlander, and many keyboard shoppers aren’t looking for that kind of commitment. It took us several weeks to get to the point where we could actually type competently on our sample unit, and admittedly we’re still getting used to it after several months of use. This would be an easier transition for a user who was committed to the keyboard full time, but we had a lot of other units to test!

It is a bit prone to sliding around on a smooth desktop; the thumb pods don’t have rubberized feet so you can move the Moonlander around if you’re heavy-handed. A desk mat helps a lot with this one.

The Moonlander does have a steep learning curve, which is nothing new for those used to highly programmable ortho/ergo devices, but for those unused to this type of device, the Moonlander is so customizable you’ll need to figure out how you want to use it before you can type much of anything. And once you do, you’ll have to invest some time and effort into rebuilding your typing style from scratch to get the most from it.

To their credit, ZSA has made that about as easy as possible. The company’s site includes a very simple-to-use web-based configurator called Oryx and a firmware flashing tool called Wally, along with a full tutorial and training program designed to get you up to speed. Moonlander may be difficult to wrap your mind around at first, but thankfully for new users, the software is better than most of what we saw supplied with traditional keyboards, and certainly ranks among the best QMK configuration options (using it, I found myself wishing i could use it with other keyboards).

So if you need an ergonomic keyboard, are really into optimizing your setup and like to tinker, it is hard to think of something that allows more flexibility.

Why get a mechanical keyboard?

Mechanical keyboards — those chunky, clicky retro throwbacks to the computing days of your — have long been popular with gamers (who appreciate their durability, responsiveness and configurability) and those who learned to type on a typewriter (who like their familiarity). Over the past few years a host of smaller makers have introduced more versatile, fashionable, quieter and just plain friendlier models, making it possible for more people tired of ever-thinner membrane keyboards to enjoy the comfortable typing feel and myriad customization options of mechanical models

Will my coworkers, family, friends and neighbors ostracize or abandon me if I get a mechanical keyboard?

Most mechanical keyboards are going to be noisier than membrane or scissor-switch keyboards, but they vary widely in just how loud they are — and the switches don’t tell the whole story.

That said, clicky switches like the Cherry MX Blue and many similar models are just going to be too loud for the average office environment, and will likely bother people on Zoom calls if you like to take notes during meetings or classes. Linear and tactile switches (Red and Brown and their relatives) are quieter, and non-contact switches like opticals and Topre switches are quieter still, but the overall construction of the keyboard makes a huge difference in the apparent volume.

If you’re looking for the quietest mechanical keyboards, you’ll want to check out “gasket-mounted” models, in which the plate the switches are mounted on is sandwiched between pads made of a vibration- — and thus noise- — absorbing material. Gasket-mounted keyboards like the Keychron Q series or the Glorious GMMK Pro are significantly quieter than any other mechanical keyboards we tested, and are going to make everybody happier if you’re working in an open plan office, at home or in any environment where you might bother others.

And whatever you do, don’t even think about using a buckling spring keyboard like a classic IBM Model M or a Unicomp if you’re not alone or working or living amongst other keyboard enthusiasts (and maybe even then). Anyone else will be looking for an opportunity to toss it out the window, sweet vintage typing feel or no.

How to choose a mechanical keyboard

Layouts

A group of keyboards, arranged from left to right, displaying various common layouts: full-size, “1800” or 96%, TKL, 75%, 65%, and 60% keyboards

While most people turn to mechanical keyboards because they’re interested in the feel or like the vintage sound, mechanicals are also available in a far wider range of layouts than you can get from membrane keyboards. Whether you want an ultra-minimal layout that drops everything but the absolute necessities or a full-sized workhorse with a number pad and plenty of function keys, odds are there’s a manufacturer out there making what you like.

While we can’t look at every available layout (there are just too many to list, from 40% models without even a number row on up to seven-row behemoths with dozens of assignable function keys), these are a few of the most popular. Common layouts are popularly known by the percentage of a full-size keyboard layout (full-size or “100%” meaning a keyboard with a full QWERTY typewriter layout, function keys, a navigation cluster and a number pad) they cover.

100% (“Full-size”)

This is the standard desktop keyboard layout, with a full complement of function keys, navigation keys and number pad. If you spend any amount of time working with spreadsheets or anything else that requires data entry, this offers all of the keys you can’t live without. As with TKL layouts, a wide range of mechanical keyboards are available in this design since it’s as close to a standard as anything out there.

If you don’t spend much time entering numerical data, you can save yourself a surprisingly large amount of desk space —  and for some, the strain of reaching for your mouse or trackpad — with a compact keyboard.

96% (“1800” or “compact full-size”) layout

You won’t see this as often, but a 96% keyboard (sometimes referred to as an “1800” model after the Cherry G80-1800 terminal model that introduced the concept) squeezes most of a full-size layout into a keyboard not much bigger than a tenkeyless model — basically, it keeps the number pad but drops the navigation cluster save for the arrow keys. You get most of the functionality of a 100% model, but you save a couple of inches in width, which can make a real difference when desk space is at a premium.

Sometimes these keyboards are available with the number pad placed to the left of the QWERTY keys; this is known as a “southpaw” layout.

Tenkeyless (“TKL”)

A tenkeyless, or “TKL” keyboard is just that — it drops the number (or “ten-key”) pad but keeps the standard complement of navigation keys: the arrow keys, Home and End, Page Up and Page Down and the various extended function keys such as Print Screen.

This is a very popular layout, and if you use those extra keys it’s a good bet, especially if you’re a Windows user. Since some standard TKL function keys like scroll lock and print screen typically aren’t used on the Mac, Apple users are probably just as well served by a 75% model, and can save a little desk space in the process.

75%

A 75% keyboard squeezes the navigation cluster and arrow keys closer to the rest of the keys, shaving some inches off of the width of a tenkeyless board while keeping as many keys as possible, including the function row.

This is the format you’ve likely been using on your laptop computer, and we think it’s a sweet spot in keyboard design, giving you most of the navigation and function options average users need in a form factor that’s the same width as the more compact layouts.

65%

The 65% layout is similar to 75%, but removes the physical function row in favor of a function layerinstead of the F1 key, you’d hit Fn+1, and so forth. This is the smallest standard layout that retains physical arrow keys, and usually a few navigation keys such as Page Up and Page Down (the rest are, of course, available in function layers).

Most 65% boards aren’t any narrower than 75% boards, which does save a bit of desktop real estate. This is the smallest physical layout we think most average users should consider; cutting down any further means rethinking your typing style, which gets you into the enthusiast realm.

60%

A 60% keyboard drops the physical function keys, the arrow key cluster, the navigation keys, and the numpad, leaving just the basic QWERTY and numeral keys and modifiers, with the remainder accessible only through one or more function layers. These keyboards usually include software to let you reassign or reprogram keys to send whatever commands you need.

This layout is much beloved by programmers in particular, who spend long hours typing repetitive strings of characters and often prefer keyboards that minimize the need to move away from the home row in order to avoid repetitive stress injuries.

The 60% layout also makes for a very compact keyboard that doesn’t take up much of the desktop, letting you keep your mouse or trackpad very close to the keyboard, further minimizing the need to reach across the desk to get your computing done.

We don’t, however, think it’s worth sacrificing quite so much unless you already know what you want, or you are absolutely sure you value the extra desk space more than the extra function or navigation keys.

How to choose switches

While switches aren’t the whole story, they are the heart of the mechanical keyboard experience. You’ll commonly run across several main families of switches, along with some interesting outliers that have made their way into enthusiast keyboards

Cherry MX and Cherry MX-compatible

The most popular and widely used switch type, these were developed by Cherry, a German supplier of computing components. They’re simple in design — typing presses down on an “X”-shaped stem that brings a set of contacts together, sending a signal. Most keycaps on the market are designed to fit the X-shaped stem of Cherry-style switches.

Within the switch, a spring sits at the bottom of the housing to provide resistance for the stem; additional resistance and clickiness can be added with bars that engage the mechanism or stiffer springs.

MX-compatible switches are packaged in a square plastic housing; this can include a cutaway for LED backlights. The switches connect to a keyboard’s circuit board via a three- or five-pin connector and can be soldered in or simply plugged in (this is known as a “hot-swappable” configuration, and makes repair or experimentation simpler).

Cherry’s patent on this switch design expired in 2014, so nowadays, Cherry MX-compatible switches are available from Cherry, Gateron, Kailh, TTC, Logitech, Razer and several other manufacturers, in a dizzying range of weights, feels and colors from clear on up to purple to suit almost every taste. That said, the most widely available ones break down into three main flavors, so it isn’t too difficult to get your bearings.

A group of mechanical keyboard switches, of the clicky "blue" type.

Clicky switches are designed to offer resistance partway through the keypress; this resistance releases an audible click that roughly resembles a typewriter or teletype machine. This sound (which can be quite loud) is what most people associate with mechanical keyboards, and the click (which you can feel while typing) makes these the most positive to type on. The most common clicky switches are Cherry MX Blues and clones thereof; if a keyboard is advertised as offering Blue switches, they’re almost certainly clicky.

A group of mechanical keyboard switches, of the linear "red" type.

Linear switches don’t vary in feel through their travel as you press them. They’re relatively quiet compared to other switch designs since there’s no click, and since there isn’t a point of increased resistance they have a light touch and quick response. Cherry MX Reds were the most common linear switches, so if you see “red” switches advertised, they are likely to be lightweight linear switches.

A group of mechanical keyboard switches, of the tactile "brown" type.

Tactile switches are a compromise between clicky and linear varieties. These offer increased resistance at a point in the key’s travel, which feels like a “bump,” but they don’t make a loud click as you push past that point. Cherry MX Browns and their clones are the most common tactile switches available.

If you’re looking to get started with your first mechanical keyboard, you’ll likely get something with Cherry MX-style switches.

Optical switches

Optical switches closely resemble Cherry MX switches, use a similar housing design and are usually compatible with the same keycaps, though they have a different pin configuration and require a different PCB, so they aren’t interchangeable with mechanical Cherry-style switches.

While most of the elements are the same a Cherry-style switch, Instead of the stem bringing physical contacts together, an infrared sensor on the PCB records the position of the end of the stem and actuates the switch at a programmed point. Since there is no physical contact, these switches can have a smoother feel and are theoretically more durable.

Optical switches are available in a range of tactile, linear and clicky styles (the clicky versions do use a physical contact to create the signature “click”).

Electro-capacitive switches

Made by Topre and a few competitors, this type of switch is something of a hybrid between Cherry-style mechanicals and the rubber-dome and membrane keyboards in common use on modern keyboards.

Within a Topre switch, a slider presses down on a conical spring encased in a rubber dome. A sensor on the keyboard’s PCB detects the changing capacitance of the spring as it is compressed and triggers at a set point. Because there isn’t a physical contact point, the trigger can be set anywhere in the travel, and many Topre keyboards let the user choose from three or more actuation points, allowing customization of the keyboard’s feel.

Overall, Topre and similar switches have a softer, smoother feel (enthusiasts often describe it as “pillowy”) than Cherry-style switches. The Topre stem is cylindrical, so keycaps designed for MX switches require an adapter to fit in most Topre boards, though the sliders found in Realforce RGB and NIZ electro-capacitive boards are MX-compatible.

Topre-equipped keyboards are on average more expensive than those built with Cherry style switches, but for those who like their softer feel, they’re worth it.

Hall effect switches

Want a switch meant to last forever? Hall effect switches are another type of non-contact switch. Today’s Hall effect switches also closely resemble other mechanical switches, and as in other designs, a keycap depresses a stem into the housing. From there, the process is more similar to what goes on in an optical switch, though in a Hall effect switch a PCB-mounted electromagnetic sensor detects the position of a tiny magnet mounted at the end of the stem. Given all of the specialized hardware involved, they aren’t seen all that often, but several manufacturers (most notably Steel Series) have embraced them in their top-of-the-line keyboards.

Like optical switches, Hall effect switches are very durable. Also, since the sensor is capable of detecting minute changes in electrical current as it reads the position of the magnet, Hall effect switches can even be configured to offer adjustable actuation points or even continuous analog control (similar to the output of a knob or joystick controller), though software would need to support such functions.

Buckling spring switches

This style of switch, rarely seen but beloved by some still, was at the heart of the original IBM PC keyboards, and produces a distinctive clattery mechanical sound that’s prized enough by enthusiasts and various other nostalgic users that they are still manufactured today. In these switches, depressing a key pushes directly on a spring instead of a plastic stem; when the spring is compressed enough it buckles, producing the signature sound and tripping a tiny lever that closes a contact on a membrane, actuating the switch.

Alps switches

Alps switches are a variant of the buckling spring design, using a plastic slider (akin to the stem in a Cherry MX-compatible design) that the keycap depresses to put pressure on the spring. Alps switches were used in the early Apple computer keyboards, as well as in a variety of other terminals. The Alps company no longer manufactures the switches, and  the term is used to refer to switches produced using this design by other manufacturers, notably Matias.

Are mechanical keyboards just for gamers? What about gaming keyboards?

While to the average user keyboards may seem straightforward, there are endless minor differences that have become the launching pad for a varied enthusiast community. Over the last decades, mechanical keyboards have gone from oddities to relatively mainstream, with utilitarian lines and fashion trends emerging all the time.

Since gamers were among the first to re-embrace mechanical keyboards, you’ll find many models on the market designed to appeal at least in part to gaming — thus you’ll see many mechanical keyboards that offer programmable RGB lighting and either onboard macro programmability or customization software or both.

That said, these features are generally not that useful for everyday typists and some of the more gaming-specific models have aesthetics that would look out of place on a work desktop, so for the purposes of this review we put those aside, and lighting and macro programmability didn’t figure heavily into our rankings. While we did look for some configurability options, we considered these particular factors secondary to typing feel and productivity-oriented features.

Also, many mechanical keyboard enthusiasts — especially those who come from a gaming background and are looking for the fastest possible response time — prefer wired keyboards and dismiss wireless since it’s slower (though some 2.4Ghz dongles provide fast-enough connections), but for average users it’s a useful feature. Laptops, tablets and two-in-one devices rarely have enough ports to go around, and in those cases wireless is a real need, so we sought out good wireless options wherever we could.

That said If you’re a gamer and you’re looking for something that covers all your bases, we think it’s hard to beat our recommendation for the best gaming keyboard, the SteelSeries Apex Pro, so you should just go out and get that. It’s a very good keyboard to type on too, with a unique switch design that lets it fill multiple roles on your desktop.

How we tested

A large group of mechanical keyboards of various types and layouts.

We began by perusing professional reviews, the sites of general tech and specialist keyboard retailers, Discord servers, Reddit, YouTube channels and Facebook groups, and came up with a very long list of mechanical keyboard, which in the end we didn’t shorten all that much — we ended up looking at nearly 50 models (including multiple layouts within popular series from major manufacturers), along with bags of switches, keycaps, tools and cables in order to best understand what’s available on the mechanical keyboard market today.

We then put each keyboard to the test by using them for several full workdays (which is why completing this piece took many months), using the keyboards as our main data entry device for our daily diet of writing, editing, email, Slack, spreadsheets and database work, photo and video editing and for any other tasks that came up during a given day.

For wireless keyboards, whether 2.4Ghz or Bluettoth, we assessed basic connectivity with an eye to stability, and for keyboards with the ability to connect to multiple Bluetooth hosts, we assessed the convenience, speed and stability of connection and switching between several hosts. For wired/wireless keyboards, we connected via USB (and via a 2.4Ghz dongle) to a monitor’s KVM ports, switching between a Mac and a PC to assess performance on both platforms, and where possible connecting over Bluetooth to a second Mac, as well as a phone and tablet in an attempt to create a multitasking productivity torture test.

We looked for keyboards that offered multiplatform support and were easy to configure. We looked primarily for intuitive, easy-to-access controls and support for options popular with everyday users, like multi-host Bluetooth support. Since we were looking for models aimed at basic productivity tasks, we looked at extensive macro programmability as more of a nice-to-have option than a necessity, and didn’t rule out keyboards that didn’t offer customization software.

Each section of this review pertaining to a given keyboard, including notes taken in the process of testing, was written on that keyboard.

Other mechanical keyboards we tested

Dark Matter by Monoprice Collider TKL

$99.99 $69.99 at Monoprice or $70.38 at Amazon

Monoprice’s latest entry into the mechanical keyboard market is the Collider (available in both 100% and TKL layouts), a gaming-first keyboard with sedate, minimal styling that lets it do double duty as an all-around work and play device. If “Monoprice” makes you think “low budget” you’ll be surprised by the solid, high-quality construction, with nice touches like real Cherry MX switches, doubleshot PBT keycaps, a heavy steel switch plate that gives the Collider some real heft and a USB-C connector that accepts the supplied custom-fitted cable for a seamless connection or the cable of your choice.

The Collider feels very good to type on, though at the price there are many models available from brands like Razer, Cooler Master, Logitech, SteelSeries and others with better-developed software configuration tools. Monoprice offers a lineup of companion lightweight wired gaming mice, including the very affordable Hyper-K Ultralight, so they’re clearly serious about the market. It’ll be interesting to see where they end up and how these products develop, though they are likely a wait-and-see at this point.

Das Keyboard 4 Professional

$169 at Amazon

Metadot’s Das Keyboard brand is a stalwart of the productivity-oriented mechanical keyboard world; along with their advanced “smart” lineup, the company offers a broad range of variations on a single, full-size design. It’s a substantial, 100% frame, with a large, hefty aluminum top plate, media controls on most models and very solid construction overall. We tried four: the premium Model 4 Professional, the backlit Prime 13, the budget Model S and the newer X50Q.

The typing experience is very nice, stable and responsive courtesy of the solid build, rigid plate, Cherry MX switches and solid keycaps, and should appeal to typing purists. It’s relatively quiet compared to plastic-cased competitors, and while it’s audible (and stabilizers are a bit rattly out of the box), it’s quiet enough to use in an office unless you’re particularly ham-fisted. A little lubricant on the stabilizers removes some of the rattle, and we noticed no pinging or case noise during our testing. The keycaps are high quality, with a solid feel and a pleasant surface texture.

The Model 4 includes dedicated media keys and a substantial volume knob, located in a little extension above the number pad. In our Mac-layout tester these worked smoothly out of the box with no setup required, and the knob is welcome for quick level changes for Zoom calls, music listening and so forth over the course of the workday. Two USB-A passthrough ports are provided for easy connection of a mouse or other input device.

Angle adjustment is made by way of a removable foot — which in a charming retro move doubles as a 12-inch desk ruler. It’s very cute (though not terribly readable), and definitely usable, plus since it has utility on its own you’re at least less likely to lose it in the back of a drawer than you might with the removable feet included with Drop keyboards, for instance.

There are a few downsides. The Das could stand to be more compact — the housing takes up a lot of room on the desktop, and many current 100% keyboards are considerably slimmer. Das has stuck with a permanently attached USB-A cable, and one of the beefiest we’ve seen on a keyboard. This is a bit of an anachronism at this point, though in fairness, many traditional keyboard makers and gaming keyboard manufacturers, expecting their units to be used with permanent desktop setups, still package keyboards this way. Still, we would have liked to have seen a USB-C connector for futureproofing’s sake given that so many newer machines offer few ports in general and limited or no USB-A connectivity.

All that aside, the Model 4 is a fine keyboard for serious touch typists who plan on sticking with a single desk layout and want a number pad and media controls.

Das Keyboard Model S Professional

$139.99 $119 at Amazon

The more basic Das Keyboard Model S is marred by a cheaper feeling all-plastic housing with a high-gloss finish top plate, which looks nice if it’s clean, but quickly picks up fingerprints (Das helpfully includes a microfiber polishing cloth in the box). It’s a bit more compact than the Model 4, and uses flip-out feet instead of a removable magnetic foot for angle adjustment (which frankly is more convenient and doesn’t leave you having to stow an extra piece away if you want to experiment with different setups).

To our mind, if you’re into the Das Keyboard aesthetic, it’s worth $10 more to step up to the backlit, aluminum-framed Prime 13 over the Model S.

Das Keyboard Prime 13

$129 at Amazon

Das makes a wide range of keyboards, including the white-LED-backlit Prime 13, the only basic backlit keyboard in the standard lineup. (Metadot’s newer 4Q, 5Q and X50 “Smart RGB” keyboards take programmable backlighting in in more complex and programmable direction that we haven’t seen on other keyboards, but they’re so idiosyncratic and gamer/programmer focused we didn’t look at them for this review.)

The white backlighting on the Prime 13 is very well-executed, but the shine-through ABS keycaps are slick and relatively noisy compared to the keycaps used on the other Das Keyboard models. It’s a little bit of a letdown.

The substantial matte-finished aluminum top plate is the same confidence-inspiring unit used on the Model 4. Like the Model S, flip-out feet provide for angle adjustment. Also like the Model S, this Prime 13 drops the media controls. It offers only a single additional USB-A port. The permanently attached cable is a super-substantial braided unit, with two heads (one to connect, the other to provide a connection for the pass-through USB-A port).

It’s a nice keyboard to type on, as you’d expect with a Das Keyboard, and if you’ve got the USB ports to support it, can deal with the size and retro connectivity and like a traditional full-size keyboard with backlighting, it’s a better choice than the Model S.

Das Keyboard X50Q

$199 $115 at DasKeyboard or $199 $129 at Amazon

The Das Keyboard X50Q is markedly different from the other Das Keyboard models we looked at. It shares the same confidence-inspiring high-quality construction and nice typing feel (here using Das’s own Gamma Zulu switches) as its siblings, and adds a more streamlined design and a gamer-friendly soft-touch wrist rest. At the oft-discounted price, it’s a pretty solid gaming keyboard. But Das Keyboard sees it as a crossover device, with a rather different approach to work and play.

What sets the X50Q apart from its siblings and almost all other keyboards is the company’s Smart RGB concept, which lets you configure the RGB backlighting to provide you a wide range of useful alerts — think desktop notifications. The effect is interesting and you can produce some neat effects (have your whole keyboard shift from green to yellow to red as a deadline approaches, or signal messages from colleagues by having the first letter of their name blink) — the Q cloud service and applets that enable the lighting effects are extremely flexible.

That said, to get the most out of the X50Q you’ll need to be the type of person who likes digging into oblique, geeky optimization solutions. And even so, you need to train yourself as much as you need to program the effects — if you configure a lot of RGB-based alerts, you’ll need to recall what they all mean, and it might just be easier to keep an eye for desktop or phone notifications. It’s Windows-only for now, so Mac and Linux folks will have to wait.

Drop Alt

$180 at Drop or $202.89 at Amazon

One of several mass-market takes on the Input Club K-type keyboard concept (Hexgears’s Gemini Dusk/Dawn is based on the same design​​), Drop’s series of mechanical keyboards aims to bring the group-buy custom keyboard experience to a broader audience (the company offers a dizzying array of cool keycaps, switches and accessories as well). We checked out the ALT, the 65% offering in the lineup (the company offers an 1800 and TKL version as well).

The Alt is a beautifully crafted luxury object that’ll give you a very pleasant typing experience right out of the box. The heavyweight aluminum slab is nice and stable on the desk, and the angle adjustment system — a pair of detachable magnetic bars — lets you configure either positive or negative tilt. It’s a slick design that integrates well with the nicest desktops. The cool downlighting side LEDs do double duty as a capslock indicator.

Configuration is where the enthusiast roots start to show. There are plenty of options on tap, but you’ll have to work to access them (you need to load configuration changes from a command-line utility), and the process is just obscure enough — especially if you’re on a Mac — that you’ll have an excuse to put in a few hours on Reddit figuring it all out. It’s not rocket science, but it’s not as obvious as you’d expect (and Keychron’s Q-series are much friendlier at similar prices).

You can scroll through some basic RGB lighting scenes with Fn-key commands, but beyond that, any layout changes require loading configurations from the command line (The Alt doesn’t completely support QMK, so you can’t use graphical interfaces like VIA). From our perspective, that means getting the most out of this keyboard is likely a bit beyond the amount of initiative the average user is likely to have.

Drop Entr

$90 at Drop or $99 at Amazon

The Drop Entr provides most of the high-end features a normal person would actually make use of at a relatively friendly price. It’s a solidly built, comfortable, reasonably quiet keyboard that’s a big improvement on anything you’re likely to get stock with a computer these days. The heavy aluminum housing and luxurious-feeling proprietary Halo-branded switches (made for Drop by Kailh, a major manufacturer of key switches) give it a luxurious feel and if that’s what you’re going for, the Entr is hard to beat at this price. If not, the Entr doesn’t offer wireless connectivity and isn’t hot-swappable, so you can get more features for the money along with a good keyboard feel from other makers.

Ducky One 3 SF

$129 at Mechanical Keyboards or from $139 at Amazon

Ducky’s One series has long been a favorite of keyboard enthusiasts, and the new One 3 lineup improves on the previous generation since it’s hot-swappable across the full lineup, putting Ducky ahead of other legacy enthusiast brands like Varmilo and Leopold and making them a more compelling choice overall and more competitive with brands like Keychron and Akko.

Ducky’s housings are a bit different from the cookie-cutter housings on a lot of other mechanicals; the top plate has a waterfall edge effect, with a more sculpted bottom. RGB lighting is bright and varied, and Ducky supplies nicely textured keycaps, with a solid, positive feel.

One strength of the Ducky keyboards (reflecting the company’s background on gaming) is that almost everything is programmable from the keyboard itself (there’s a manual, which is very informative if a little difficult to decipher at first). You can swap key functions, address per-key RGB lighting effects, record and assign macros, define layers, create and store multiple profiles and so forth. You get almost as much control as you do from some software configuration packages, though the process is a little more cumbersome. Conveniently Ducky’s keyboards come preconfigured with a mouse emulation mode as well, which can be handy for use with a tablet or remote laptop.

An early bug reported by MacOS (the keyboard would refuse to operate on waking from sleep) appears to have been fixed in the last round of firmware updates and we didn’t experience this behavior on either platform. Overall, anything in Ducky’s One 3 lineup makes a good choice, though these days you get a bit more for your money from Keychron.

Filco Majestouch Convertible 2

From $159 at Amazon or $170 at Mechanical Keyboards

The wired/wireless Filco Majestouch 2 Convertible provides a really beautiful, solid typing experience, with Cherry MX switches (we tested with tactile Brown switches), heavyweight construction and substantial keycaps that give it an almost typewriter-like feel. Filco is a well-regarded manufacturer, and it is immediately clear why.

Pairing the Majestouch with and swapping between four connected Bluetooth devices and a wired connection is simple and fast and can be done with key combinations, and we were able to use it to control a desktop setup with three computers, a tablet and a phone, though we wish each connection had a unique name over Bluetooth, which would make it easier to keep track when setting up or diagnosing an issue (we had a few disconnections, though it’s never clear whether to blame that on the device, the host or gremlins).

Wireless aside, things get retro — no backlighting, Windows only (though a DIP switch block on the base lets you configure several common Windows swaps and lockouts), and a mini-USB connector as is common on longstanding models from Japan-based manufacturers. It runs off of two AA batteries rather than a rechargeable battery pack, though that can be beneficial. It is a bit loud and exhibited some pinging, but it is clearly aimed at old-school typists who want just the barest of modern conveniences, like the Matias Laptop Pro and Tactile Pro.

The mini-USB connector isn’t the only nod to the past here. Rather than using a rechargeable Li-On battery, the Majestouch runs off two AA batteries (rechargeables work fine) so you’re always set for power, even in a pinch. This is very common on keyboards from the Japanese and Taiwanese old-school makers, and while it isn’t quite as convenient as USB rechargeable Li-On battery packs, it does give you more flexibility.

Filco Majestouch Minila-R Convertible

From $175 at Amazon

The Filco Majestouch Minila-R Convertible is a feature-rich little keyboard with an idiosyncratic layout. But this little brick of a 60% provides an incredible typing experience, one of our favorites out of all the Cherry-MX type keyboards we tested. The keycaps and overall experience are reminiscent of a typewriter and wonderful to type on. It is, however, very idiosyncratic in layout, and while not as immediately confounding as some other ultra-compact designs, it will take a bit of getting used to and likely isn’t for everyone

The first thing you’ll notice is that the spacebar is miniaturized and flanked by dual Fn keys, and the Esc and nav keys are only accessible via said Fn keys. The lefthand nav arrows are even mapped to ESDF out of the box rather than the familiar WASD. A five-switch DIP block on the bottom of the housing gives you access to some alternative layouts, including a Mac modifier mode. The keycaps themselves are unique, constructed in two parts with replaceable tops. Right now no options are available, but a tool is provided to swap out the tops should aftermarket keytops emerge.

In use, we did miss the spacebar at first, though striking the Fn keys doesn’t really do anything without a simultaneous press of something else, so it didn’t throw us off that much, and the dual access to modifiers was helpful in negotiating the minimal layout. Backlighting would be helpful, though absent here, and it runs on a pair of AA batteries and connects via a mini-USB port as is typical of all but the latest Japanese-market models.

That said, if you’re a writer who wants something a little different with a great typing feel and you still need to switch between connected Bluetooth devices, it’s a great little keyboard — just not enough to justify the cost given what’s out there nowadays unless you’re into the Minila-R’s charming idiosyncrasies.

Glorious GMMK Pro

From $169.99 at Glorious

Like the Keychron Q1, Glorious’s GMMK Pro is an overbuilt 75% slab, based to some extent on the group buy Satisfaction 75 concept, and is similarly positioned as a way to bring the custom keyboard feel and aesthetic to the masses. Overall, the GMMK Pro has slightly fancier fit and finish, and the range of keycaps and branded accessories, from tools to cables, is fancier (and a little pricier). But when it comes down to it they are very close competitors — though we give the edge to the Q1, the GMMK Pro is a great keyboard, and might be all you ever really need if you like its somewhat more gamer aesthetic.

Equipped with Glorious’s Glorious Panda switches (another nod to the enthusiast world, they replicate the cult-favorite hybridized “Holy Panda” switches), this is a smooth typing keyboard. It’s a bit louder than the stock Q1 (whether that’s due to a slightly different gasket design or material, or to the PBT caps is unclear) and has a bit lower, thunkier pitch, so if you like a little more pronounced keyboard sound this may appeal. The GMMK’s LED sidelights are functional — they blink as a capslock indicator — but also signal the keyboard’s gaming heritage.

While somebody looking for an out-of-the box high-end keyboard is likely to be happy with either the GMMK Pro or the Keychron Q1, we’d recommend the Q1 for the time being unless you prefer the GMMK aesthetic.

The GMMK Pro is very similar to the Q1 functionally and in terms of keyboard feel, the GMMK is priced a bit higher. The barebones kit comes in at the same price ($169) as the fully-assembled Q1 (the barebones Q1 is a little cheaper, at $149), but Glorious-branded accessories (very nice keycaps, stabilizers, alternate key switch plates and so forth) are pricier than Keychron’s. Also, GMMK “Glorious Core” software is Windows only for now; the keyboard does support VIA, though not the main branch (full support is coming, per the company).

Glorious GMMK TKL

$109.95 at Glorious or $109.99 at Amazon

This is a nicely built keyboard aimed initially at gamers, but sedately styled enough to fit in anywhere. When GMMK introduced this design, it was one of the only easily available hot-swappable keyboards and quickly found favor with gamers and mechanical keyboard enthusiasts, but it may not be the best choice given the huge number of hot-swappables it’s inspired.

While the board itself is very nicely done, the prebuilt version’s stock keycaps, which are doubleshot ABS plastic, don’t really show that off. They’re very similar to the keycaps that ship with Keychron’s keyboards, thinner and a bit clattery and loud, making the keyboard feel cheaper than it is. Heavier keycaps (or dampening O-rings added to the shafts) make a difference, but be advised that this isn’t quiet enough for an office environment out of the box.

For all-round use, the Ducky One 3 TKL has better construction, nicer keycaps, and comes pre-fitted with sound-deadening foam inserts, for about $10 more; a Keychron K-series model is even less expensive and offers similar functionality if slightly less sound dampening.

Hexgears Gemini Dusk

$159.99 $129.99 at Kono

Another take on the Input Club K-type open source design, this comes in a bit cheaper than the very similar Drop Alt/Ctrl/Shft high-end keyboards and offers nice, readable shine through doubleshot PBT keycaps as standard, but shares an obscure enthusiasts-only configuration and setup process with its cousins from Drop. The only real difference (aside from the slightly cheaper price) is that the Gemini doesn’t come configured with a capslock indicator out of the box).

The Gemini, like the Drop Ctrl, is a solidly built aluminum slab, with sidelights and detachable magnetic bars instead of fold-out feet for angle adjustment — these feel very stable, but they’re also just another thing to misplace. For testing we typically set keyboards up as flat as possible, and in that position the Gemini is pleasingly low-profile, with the Cherry-style caps at a slight reverse incline. It’s quite nice to type on out of the box, and a good platform for keyboard enthusiasts who enjoy a little experimentation but want to start with a solid platform.

Hexgears X-1

$119.99 $99.99 at Kono

This is a very low-profile mechanical, using low-profile optical switches similar to those employed on the Keychron K-series low-profile boards, the NuPhy, the slim version of the Epomaker NT68 and other similar boards. The keycaps Hexgear uses here are even more low-profile than we’ve seen elsewhere, however, with a completely flat typing surface. The keycaps don’t feel much different from those used on Apple’s scissor-switch Magic Keyboard, and frankly the overall typing feel is pretty similar as well — we felt like it didn’t really give us much of a “mechanical” experience, though it has some advantages over something like an Apple keyboard

The compact 96% layout has a smaller footprint than a Magic Keyboard; you can work wired or switch quickly between up to four Bluetooth hosts, and you can configure the lighting effects to be as reserved or extreme as you like.

The downside is that it just isn’t that great an improvement in typing experience over a scissor-switch keyboard, which can be even lighter and smaller and simpler to carry. If you’re interested in something like this, we would suggest checking out a good-quality wireless membrane keyboard like Logitech’s MX Keys instead.

HK Gaming/Geek GK61

From $59.99 at Amazon

The inexpensive GK61 60% keyboard is a generic design, sold with a variety of switches and in a multitude of colors by Skyloong/Epomaker, Geek, HK Gaming and others at a surprisingly low price (generally south of $60). It is feature-packed little device with an impressive array of features, including a hot-swappable PCB (so you can change switches without a soldering iron and some skills).

Something’s got to give, however. Though the GK61 looks a whole lot like the Anne Pro 2 it doesn’t have the overall heft and solidity, and even fitted with brown optical switches it’s a very loud keyboard — the keycaps don’t feel substantial; the stabilizers that support longer keys like the delete, shift/enter key and spacebar are noisy and scratchy and it all adds up to a pretty clattery experience which will definitely annoy people around you. Think antique-typewriter loud. Plus, the software configuration tool isn’t very polished and it lacks the elegant multiple layers and well-thought-out function layers of the Anne Pro 2.

The problem is that this isn’t really a budget device — you’ll want to spend more on keycaps and switches and stabilizers to make it more pleasant to use. But in a way, that’s part of the little keyboard’s popularity. Since it’s cheap and hot-swappable, it makes a nice platform if you want to experiment with switches, possibly before making the leap to a fancier model. But that said, the Epomaker SK61 is a better deal at just $10 more. And if you’re looking for something compact and customization is not on your agenda, we’d recommend spending $30 more for an Anne Pro 2 — you get quiet performance, better-thought-out function and navigation keys, better keycaps and easy remapping with out-of-the-box profiles for Mac and Windows.

Keychron K2 Version 2

From $99 at Keychron or $89.99 at Amazon

The K2 is the 75% entry in Keychron’s core K-series keyboard lineup, which comes in pretty much any conceivable layout, from 65% to full-size, low- and high-profile, and across the board offers both USB-C wired and multi-host Bluetooth connections, cross-platform compatibility via an easy-to-access physical switch, a full range of Mac and PC keycaps in the box, hot swappability for easy repair and experimentation, plus smart design and mainstream availability — all at a very reasonable price.

There is no customization software available for the K–series Keychron keyboards, and though we didn’t feel this was important in a productivity context, those who are looking for a keyboard to do double duty for gaming may be disappointed. But that’s not the intended use for Keychron’s products in any case.

And lastly, those who prefer PBT keycaps may find Keychron’s stock doubleshot ABS offerings a little slick and lightweight — though given the relatively low price of Keychron keyboards you can add a nicer set (Keychron’s own PBT sets are affordable and nicely constructed) and still end up spending significantly less than you would on a higher end model that came stock with fancier keycaps.

Keychron has in fact already started rolling out a “Pro” lineup of revised K-series keyboards with stock PBT keycaps and more case damping for roughly the same price; we imagine these will eventually replace much of the current lineup, and while only the TKL version is announced, it’s likely that others will be available before too long.

Kinesis Freestyle Edge RGB

$219.99 $199 at Amazon

The Kinesis Freestyle Edge is a 75% keyboard with a fairly traditional layout aside from the fact that it’s split down the middle giving it an immediately familiar feeling, unlike some other ergonomic keyboards. It’s solidly built, has full RGB lighting and easy-to-read, high quality shine-through keycaps and comes with your choice of Cherry MX switches.

The Freestyle Edge is built for gaming more than the other ergo keyboards we tested, and is clearly the best option for anybody looking for a split gaming keyboard. It has a cluster of dedicated macro keys, buttons to quickly access remapping and macro functions and to switch between profiles and a very full-featured app (available for both Mac and Windows) that allows for extensive remapping and macro recording as well as per-key control of the RGB lighting. You can even set the Freestyle Edge up to use as a single-handed gaming controller.

While the Freestyle Edge is a great, solidly built split keyboard with obvious advantages for gaming, we thought the split-specific layouts of the Matias Ergo Pro and ZSA Moonlander were actually more intuitive to use. We also preferred the simpler tenting and angle adjustment setups used by Matias and ZSA. The Kinesis wrist rests aren’t as substantial and confidence-inspiring as those used on the Matias either; their smooth imitation leather surfaces weren’t as comfortable for me as the dense memory foam and textured fabric surfaces Matias uses.

Both the USB-A cable and the split connector cable are permanently attached, and though they are about the most robust braided cables I’ve seen, this design choice gives me some pause, especially given that the overall industry shift to USB-C is in full swing. Extra slack for the split cable is cleverly concealed behind a battery-compartment like door beneath the left key module.

Leopold FC660C

$239 at Mechanical Keyboards or $310 at Amazon

Leopold is one of the only third-party manufacturers building keyboards with genuine Topre switches, and given their usual high build quality and attention to detail they’re a good bet — still not cheap, but less expensive than most Realforce/HHKB boards, and available in two very useful configurations, this 65% keyboard and the Compact 1800-layout F980C. If you like the idea of the HHKB but would rather have arrow keys for navigation and you don’t need wireless connectivity, the FC660C is a viable alternative.

Since the Leopold uses real Topre switches, it does give you the typical pillowy typing feel, though the overall construction was not on the same level as the higher-end HHKB model we tested. The backspace key, capslock and other larger keys were a little rattly and squeaky on my test unit out of the box, though the spacebar is very solid.

The FC660C is more than $100 cheaper than the wireless HHKB Hybrid, which is compelling, though it’s about the same price as the wired HHKB Classic. You could also consider the even cheaper Varmilo MA87 if you really want a less-expensive electro-capacitive keyboard.

Leopold FC660MBT

$119 at Mechanical Keyboards or $109 at Amazon

The Leopold FC660MBT is a very nicely built 65% keyboard, though in this case the unit is based on Cherry MX-style switches, and it’s got Bluetooth onboard for wireless connectivity. The FC660MBT is available in a range of colors from sedate white and gray to an eye-melting Miami pink and teal colorway.

With tactile switches on board, this is a great little keyboard to type on, and Leopold’s PBT keycaps are very nice — there’s no need to look to third-party options to improve anything. Leopold’s caught up with the times a bit more on this newer model, and Bluetooth 5.1 and USB-C give you appropriate connectivity for today’s computers and mobile devices. There’s no backlighting, and the switches aren’t hot-swappable, but overall it’s a good choice if you’re interested in the 65% layout, though at this point there are many great offerings around the same price.

Leopold FC750R OE

$119 at Mechanical Keyboards or from $149 at Amazon

The Leopold FC750R is a solid, dependable keyboard at a good price, and for someone who doesn’t need a lot of functionality beyond straight-up typing feel, it’s a sensible pick in a premium keyboard. Keycaps are nicer than those supplied on the very similar Varmilo VA87M, with a pebbled texture typical of good-quality PBT models and a comfortable contour. Typing experience is very nice; not quite on par in terms of feel with the Filco Majestouch, but it’s quite a bit quieter, with no audible pinging and a solid, stable feel across all of the keys.

The FC750R is more barebones than the Varmilo, lacking niceties like backlighting (though there’s a visible caps lock indicator light, which is nice to see). Supposedly the FC750R doesn’t have Mac support, but a DIP switch lets you swap the Win and Alt modifier key positions easily if you prefer to configure your keyboard directly; since Fn key shortcuts are easily configurable from within Mac OS, this isn’t so much of a downside. It’s wired-only and uses a mini-USB connection, as is typical of old-school high-end mechanicals.

If you’re looking for a straightforward, well-built keyboard in the tenkeyless layout, you can’t go wrong with the Leopold FC750R, though with so many more feature-packed models available nowadays at around this price it’s likely to appeal more to those already aware of the brand.

Logitech K845/K845CH

$59.99 $43.95 at Amazon

This is a really nicely put-together productivity keyboard at an affordable price. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles here, but the solid aluminum top plate is nice and stable, adjustable legs let you get comfortable, and white LED backlighting and shine-through keycaps let you work in low light. The low-profile case makes it comfortable to use without a wrist rest if you aren’t a touch typist, a problem with some other similarly priced models.

The build is a bit loud, and the keycaps a little insubstantial, so if you get it with blue switches it might be too clicky for an office environment and will alienate your family or roommates if you use it at home, but the linear or tactile TTCs (in the regular K845) or Cherry Reds (in the K845CH) made it palatable in our testing (there’s no brown Cherry version available, unfortunately). The K845 is wired-only, and the hardwired USB-A cable isn’t futureproof. That aside, it’s not a bad keyboard for the money, and it is a good choice if your budget is capped at $50.

Macally BMKEY Backlit Mechanical Keyboard

$119.99 at Amazon

While Matias’s Mac-first offerings are inspired by the original Apple Extended Keyboard, the transparent wraparound base and clean lines and squared-off corners look back to a slightly more recent model, the early-2000s Apple Pro Keyboard. Switches and stabilizers are quiet, and the BMKEY is, above all, a nice device to type on.

The permanently attached USB cable drives the retro point home, but these days means you’ll need an adapter, hub or dock to use this with USB-C/Thunderbolt Macs. Though this is a Mac-specific keyboard, there are some nonstandard twists on the function and modifier row layouts which will take a little getting used to; they also don’t map directly to Windows (the nav cluster drops Print Lock, Scroll Lock and other Win-specific functions in favor of extra function keys). We’d recommend this only if you’re specifically into the turn-of-the-millenium Apple aesthetic — otherwise there are better full-size options.

Matias Laptop Pro

$159.95 at Amazon

The smallest, most modern offering in Matias’s mechanical lineup, the Laptop Pro is a wireless-only mechanical keyboard that uses the company’s proprietary Quiet Click Alps-style switches, which have a great tactile feel that will be very familiar to anyone who grew up on early Apple or PC mechanicals, and are refreshingly quiet compared to every other Alps switch we’ve heard. And the keycaps are so information-packed you’ll never be at a loss hunting for an umlaut or circonflexe.

The case is quite bulky for a wireless-only compact keyboard, and even pretty big for a tenkeyless layout to begin with — you won’t be carrying the Laptop Pro with you in a bag. There are no niceties like backlighting, and of course there is no configuration software. Matias even discourages users from removing the keycaps. Bluetooth is limited to a single paired device at a time (it doesn’t support multi-device switching like most Bluetooth mechanical keyboards we tested). The tiny button that doubles as a power and pairing switch seems like an afterthought, and the Laptop Pro uses a nonstandard USB-A to USB-A cable for charging, which will make replacements hard to source (though weirdly, you can use a USB-C to USB-A cable in reverse to charge the Laptop Pro, which lets it fit into a modern desk setup).

That said, if you are into retro Mac stuff and want an Alps feel in a wireless keyboard, this is about the only game in town.

Matias Ergo Pro Programmable Ergonomic Keyboard

$195 at B&H Photo

With a reassuringly solid build, customizable function and hotkeys and a simple adjustment system, the Matias Ergo Pro is a compelling split mechanical keyboard if you aren’t interested in the extreme programmability or wide range of positioning and configurability of the ZSA Moonlander. It’s a much easier transition from a standard keyboard.

Positioning for a comfortable fit is easy. Whether you prefer flat, negative incline or a tented position, you just adjust three folding legs per keyboard half — there are no attachments to keep track of or lose, and no tools needed. The wrist supports are really well-executed: firm with just enough give, supportive and comfortable for all-day use. The key layout is pretty traditional, aside from a thumb-friendly upsized spacebar and modifier row and a miniaturized, easy-to-reach function and navigation row, with the arrow keys uniquely positioned within easy reach of the right-hand thumb.

A three-port USB 2.0 hub on the right pod lets you plug in a mouse or other peripherals to save some cable clutter. There’s no backlighting as is customary with Matias’s retro designs, and it’s wired-only. In a nod to modernity, the keyboard ships with a USB-C adapter, though the keyboard itself uses an antiquated micro-USB connector.

Matias Tactile Pro

$149.95 $139.95 at Amazon

Matias’s venerable Tactile Pro uses the Alps switches that provided the positive feel of the much loved and missed Apple Extended Keyboard. It’s clicky, loud (on par to my ears with Cherry or Gateron Blues, probably due to the large plastic housing), and decidedly mechanical-feeling. The feel is lighter than Matias’s more damped Quiet Clicks (available on the Quiet Pro, Laptop Pro and Ergo Pro keyboards), which we much preferred in our testing.

Info-rich keycaps (as found on some other Matias models) spell out every alt and fn character; helpful if you tend to get forgetful while writing letters to Vietnamese friends or tabulating expenses in multiple currencies.

This is a keyboard with a retro appeal. If you miss the big, bulky keyboards that shipped with early PCs and want to recapture that experience, this keyboard will do it for you. It really replicates the feel and sound of the old days. Like most of the Matias mechanical lineup, the Tactile Pro foregoes mod cons like backlighting, Bluetooth and programmability, though it does ship with a USB-C adapter for its micro-USB cable, for use with less-retro machines.

Epomaker Niz Plum X87

$179 at Amazon or Bluetooth model $234 at Epomaker

First and foremost, the Niz Plum X87 is a real joy to type on, with a lovely light-yet-solid feel that’s distinctly unlike the MX-style switches found on most mechanical keyboards and is nearly as nice as Topre’s own offerings. Overall, electro-capacitive switches feel a bit like the best membrane keyboards, but with longer travel. Many — like this one — also let you fine-tune the actuation point (how far you need to depress the key for the switch to register) for a subtle change in response.

More importantly, this is one of the only switch designs that’s actually quiet enough to use around other people (people who aren’t into mechanical keyboards, that is), like in an open-plan office, or on a Zoom call when you’re off mute, etc. You’re kidding yourself to some extent, even with silenced red or brown switches — electro-capacitives are really another ballgame.

The standard electro-capacitive switches used on the Niz aren’t as quiet as the silenced switches used on the HHKB or the Realforce R2 we tested, but they’re a close second (they’re about on par with standard Topre switches).

The X87 has Easy Mac/Win switching (and there are Mac modifier keycaps in the box, along with a set of heavier springs if you want to firm up the action of the switches from the rather light default of 35g), though you don’t get default Mac F-key assignments and Epomaker’s configuration app is only for Windows (you can also use a third-party tool like Karabiner).

While in the past the Niz Plum line was something of a budget alternative to Topre-switch offerings from Realforce, HHKB and Leopold, pandemic-related supply chain tightening has forced the company to raise prices a bit. Right now Varmilo’s take on the EC concept, available in their MA87M, is the least expensive way to get into the switch type.

Niz does offer electro-capacitive keyboards in a far wider variety of layouts and configurations than any other maker — variants on this board are available in 66, 68, 82, 84-key and full-size versions for those who want a more compact or larger layout, and you can get Bluetooth and RGB backlighting in any of these layouts. So if you’re in pursuit of an EC-switch-loaded keyboard, but want to use it wirelessly and you like backlighting, this may be the only real option.

Razer Black Widow Lite

$89.99 $72 at Amazon

The minimal, black keycaps on the Black Widow Lite’s black frame are handsome and office-appropriate; only the tasteful monochrome Razer logo in the navigation key cluster gives away the fact that this is intended as a gaming peripheral. The Lite has bright, consistent white LED backlighting. Unfortunately on the shine-through keycaps only the primary characters are backlit; it would have been nice to have the alternative characters illuminated as well for working in dim environments.

Razer’s Orange Switches are comfortable and have a light, tactile feel, nice and snappy, with no mush. The keycaps are quite aggressively profiled, making key-to-key transition while typing very smooth and reducing the chance of accidentally hitting extra keys; it’s a nice touch that’s probably welcome by the gamers that this rest of the Black Widow lineup has been marketed to, but is nice for typing as well. The frame is relatively low-profile compared to most of its competitors, and it is comfortable enough to use without a wrist rest.

This is a Windows-specific keyboard, but if you don’t mind the Windows keycaps it’s easy enough to set it up to work with a Mac from MacOS’s keyboard preference pane, or a remapping tool such as Karabiner if you want something more elaborate.

Razer Pro Type Ultra

$159.99 at Amazon

Part of Razer’s ongoing Productivity Suite collaboration with industrial design firm Humanscale, the Pro Type Ultra is the latest iteration on Razer’s not-for-gamers keyboard. It comes with a nicely padded leatherette wrist rest, and is meant to work with Razer’s great ProClick or ProClick Mini mice (we got a chance to test the whole system).

It comes with Bluetooth (with switching between four connected hosts) and 2.4GHz connectivity and a USB-C port.that’s only for charging (this is strictly a wireless keyboard). That said, connectivity with the 2.4GHz dongle is fast and flawless, and the experience is pretty much like using a cable. Battery life is a claimed 78 hours in 2.4GHz mode, 84 in Bluetooth, though it drops to an estimated 12 hours with the backlight enabled. We had no problems getting though an entire long day of typing with backlight enabled.

If you are on Windows, Razer’s Synapse 3 software makes configuration easy, as you’d expect given the company’s gaming background. On the Mac it’s easy enough to reassign modifiers and function row keys via the OS, so it isn’t that significant a downside.

The Ultra features linear switches, which are very smooth-feeling but don’t offer the tactile bump of the orange switches used on the original Pro Type. If you don’t like the supplied keycaps, which are doubleshot ABS and a little slick, Razer offers some very affordable PBT sets that fit this keyboard.

Royal Kludge RK68

$54.99 at Amazon

Another take on the compact concept, the Royal Kludge RK68 is a full-featured 65% keyboard (you get arrow keys and an abbreviated navigation cluster), for a very affordable price. It’s hot-swappable, has switchable Mac and Windows layout support and can switch between up to three Bluetooth hosts. Shine-through keycaps (with clearly printed alternate function and layer legends, which are nice to refer to) make good use of the blue-only LED backlighting for readability, making for a tidy utilitarian package. It’s got a lot going for it, and at the price it’s a good platform for experimentation if you want backlit keys in a compact format but don’t need an RGB lightshow.

The ABS keycaps are, however, a bit insubstantial-feeling, and the keyboard is high-pitched in tone as a result — you won’t get a satisfying “thock” out of the box here, and it’s loud enough it might alienate officemates, even with linear or tactile switches (we tried ours with TTC-supplied brown switches).

Skyloong/Epomaker SK61S

$69 at Epomaker or $79 at Amazon

Another contender in the budget 60% arena, the SK61 is a nicely built hot-swappable compact with Gateron optical switches, quality PBT keycaps, cross-platform support and wireless connectivity via Bluteooth 5.1, with support for up to three host devices. Function layer switching isn’t as elegant as on the Anne Pro 2, but on the other hand, this is a bit cheaper and the hot-swappable PCB means you can experiment with different switches if you like. You get multiple layers of programmability, though the GK6+ configuration software isn’t anywhere near as intuitive as the Obinslab software supported by the Anne Pro 2, so it’s a bit more challenging to set up what you want. It’s something of a wash — if you’re not into tinkering and just want a good out of the box experience, look to the Anne Pro 2, but this is a compelling option if you want to get your hands dirty.

Skyloong/Epomaker SK87S

$75 at Epomaker

The Epomaker SK87S is an inexpensive, wired/wireless full-featured tenkeyless keyboard with dual-platform Win/Mac support, Bluetooth 5.1 support for up to four connected hosts, RGB backlighting and tidy cable routing for easy placement on your desk. It’s even hot-swappable (though you are restricted to swapping between optical switches) if you want to experiment.

The aesthetic is a bit gamery, with a retro-computer typeface used for the keycap legends, but in the black colorway we tested, the visuals aren’t too distracting so long as the RGB animation isn’t cranked up. Typing feel with the Gateron opticals is a bit light, with just a hint of a tactile bump.

While it’s a heavy, solid-feeling device (possibly courtesy of the sizeable battery), the keycaps are lightweight ABS (though nicely executed) and it is quite loud in use, even with the Brown switches. Unless you’re into the gaming aesthetic, it’s likely worth a few bucks more to go with a Keychron K-series.

Skyloong/Epomaker SK96S

$89 $75.96 at Epomaker

The SK96S is a 96% or “1800” layout version that’s otherwise identical to the SK87S. As with the smaller model, we liked the Gateron optical switches, but found the ABS keycaps and plastic housing of the SK96 add up to a loud and clattery experience. The device is so loaded with features it really helps to have the secondary legends on the included keycaps, but you’ll want to swap them out since they contribute to the lightweight typing feel and overall clatter and pinginess.

The SK96S is packed with features, but not a real pleasure to use out of the box. We installed a set of silicone keycaps (also from Epomaker) and found it greatly improved the experience and toned down the sound, though for the extra money we might be inclined to get something else entirely.

Unicomp Spacesaver M

$105 at Unicomp

Ask the average person to describe a “mechanical keyboard” and this will be the thing that comes to mind. It’s big, it’s loud and it has a heritage that goes back to the days of terminals and mainframes. Still made by the crew who built these keyboards for IBM back in the days when the company dominated computing, the Model M has survived more or less unchanged, though with a few small adjustments to suit connecting with modern devices. If you learned to type in a room full of Selectrics back when a computer program was something you punched into a paper card, you’ll love it.

Available in a few variants and layouts, the Model M uses the same basic tech that it employed in the ’80s: a “buckling spring” switch. This is the sound and feel that clicky MX-style switches are trying to emulate, with a distinct typewriter-like bump when you trigger a key. It’s great for touch typing — you immediately know if you’ve entered a letter, and once you get used to the feel, you’ll really appreciate the feedback.

In our testing, we confirmed the Spacesaver is far louder than most other keyboards, with an instantly recognizable clatter that recalls the days of yore. Unless your coworkers are also mechanical keyboard enthusiasts, in a modern quiet office environment it is likely to get you some hard stares, if not more direct complaints.

We have a few nitpicks: The keycaps feel a little lightweight, and the printed legends are a bit off center. And the thing won’t win any style contests. But this thing isn’t for everybody, and if you’re looking for pure retro cool, you can’t really do much better than this unless you want to go out and find a vintage version on eBay and modify it to communicate over USB.

If you like the old-school mechanical feel but don’t have room for a Unicomp, don’t love its aesthetics or want modern features, APT’s tactile Hall Effect keyboard has a similar sound (though a lighter keyboard feel). Kailh’s Box Pink switches are designed to have a similar feel, though with a quieter click,and installed in a modern board they might give you want you’re looking for typing-wise in a format more palatable to innocent bystanders like your colleagues, friends and family.

Varmilo MA87M

$140 at Mechanical Keyboards

Varmilo, a veteran maker of high-end keyboards, offer their own take on electro-capacitve switch design, with a standard MX-style switch housing and stem that makes it easy to use the keycaps of your choice. The MA87M’s Rose EC switches are very light and have some of the pillowy feel of other electro-capacitive switches, but are slightly stiffer and more “mechanical”-feeling than similar switches from Topre or Niz. White LED backlighting lets you stay oriented in dim light, though the stock keycaps aren’t shine-through (though of course you can use pretty much any keycap you like here; the backlighting is even south-facing for maximum compatibility with Cherry keycap options).

Overall, this is about the best deal you’ll find on an electro-capacitive keyboard and a good gateway to that style of switch, though it doesn’t quite match the feel of Topre or Niz offerings. The real competition, though, is from Cherry-style keyboards, of which there are many great models to be found at this same price, with similarly comfortable feel and more features.

Varmilo VA87M

$126 at Mechanical Keyboards

Varmilo’s popular VA87M is a well-built, wired-only tenkeyless board, more or less identical to the MA87M, but available with a wide range of Cherry MX switches (we tested a board with tactile Brown switches) instead of the company’s own electro-capacitive switches.

The MX version felt almost as nice to type on as the EC Rose version we tested. The board is slightly more pingy under heavy typing; we tried a couple of sets of keycaps and found a slightly heavier set mitigated the issue somewhat. Varmilo has simple function-key-based dual-platform support, though we would have liked to see USB-C rather than mini-USB connectivity. The VA87 is a solid, no-nonsense keyboard from a respected maker, but the design is a bit long in the tooth.

As is the case with products from many of the legacy mechanical keyboard brands such as Varmilo, Leopold, Filco and Ducky, the main issue is that you can get keyboards with more useful features — wireless, for instance — for less money at this point from other makers.

Vortex Tab 75

$129 at Mechanical Keyboards

A very minimalist 75% keyboard, the Vortex Tab 75 is packed with productivity features. It’s versatile (supports Mac, Win and Linux layouts out of the box and it ships with alternative modifier keycaps), can pair and switch smoothly and stably between four Bluetooth Hosts and connects via USB-C. It also lets you store macros in three layers (programmable via a web-based tool and a Windows-only firmware loader). It pretty much does it all — but it may not be for everyone.

The typing experience is going to be somewhat polarizing. Where most keyboards we tested use the OEM or Cherry profile, in which the rows of keys are arranged in a gentle arc from the spacebar on up to the function keys, the Tab 75 uses the somewhat less common DSA profile, which is flat across the keytops from row to row, like a laptop keyboard.

The DSA profile gives the keybed a cash-register- or calculator-like feel. It’s a little weird at first, but after a few minutes of typing it wasn’t too disconcerting moving back and forth from an OEM profile — the spacing does feel a bit compact from row to row compared with OEM and Cherry layouts, and the typing surface of each key is a bit small relative to the overall key profile, but it’s probably a matter of taste for most, and typing feels stable and responsive, courtesy of the solid build, Cherry MX switches (brown on our test unit) and heavy keycaps.

There’s no backlighting, the capslock indicator is a difficult-to-see white LED. Only subtle colored LEDs under the keybed indicate key functions such as Bluetooth pairing or macro layer switching and are not very visible given that the keycaps aren’t shine-through. The convenience features you want are there, but they’re just not as convenient as they should be. It’s nice that the design is understated, but possibly a little too much so.