PC Accessories

Overview of Different Types of Computer Keyboards

Keyboard

When most people think about keyboards, they consider two variations: the ones with silicone-backed keys and mechanical keyboards. While that’s far from true, it’s certainly understandable. 

There are several types of keyboards worth covering here, but the mechanical and silicone variations are merely that; variations. Two such variations include a host of different types and, let’s not forget, virtual keyboards are here to stay, whether we would like to include them or not. 

We will cover several keyboards here, and if you are shopping for a good keyboard, we have happily compiled a list of the different types of keyboards here with their general features, pros and cons, and price. 

  • Membrane Keyboards.
  • Mechanical Keyboards.
  • Projection Keyboards.
  • Ergonomic Keyboards.
  • Gaming Keyboards.

That’s definitely more than two, each having its own benefits, drawbacks, and intended uses. A good keyboard can change your user experience with a computer. 

Membrane Keyboards

In terms of aesthetic properties, a membrane keyboard doesn’t do much to differentiate itself from its competition, the primary of which is mechanical keyboards. Instead of using a mechanical function beneath the keys, a membrane keyboard uses a silicone layer that contains one part of an open circuit.

Whenever you press the key down, it mashes the silicone membrane down into the metal and circuit board beneath, completing the circuit and translating the keypress into whichever key symbol is pressed.

There’s no arguing the fact that this is a much cheaper mechanism than what you get with a mechanical keyboard. However, that is the primary draw of the keyboard. The lower price does not mean that these keyboards are not dependable. 

The keyboard itself is mostly made of hard plastic polymer, but the membrane beneath is flexible. Because of their flexibility and simplicity, they can be manufactured in various shapes and sizes. 

They also have a lowered level of tactile feedback, lacking the distinct clicking of mechanical keyboards. They are far quieter, which is one of the major factors behind their popularity. Some people prefer a smaller, quieter keyboard over the tactile satisfaction of a loud, clacking mechanical keyboard. 

Due to the lack of metal in a membrane keyboard, they are also lighter than mechanical keyboards, which makes little difference unless you are trying to do curling exercises with them. It also means that it needs to have a grippy backing so it doesn’t slide all over the place. 

There are a lot of uses for a membrane keyboard, however, and some of them are useful in ways you probably didn’t know, such as:

  • Keypads for security.
  • Industrial control units.
  • Standard LAN communication devices.
  • Microwaves.
  • Ovens with digital displays.
  • Washing machines and dryers.

When it comes to keyboard functions and aesthetics, there’s very little noticeable difference between it and mechanical keyboards. The largest difference is that membrane keyboards lack the longevity of their mechanical keyboards cousins.

Pros

  • Good value at a low price.
  • Quiet keystrokes.
  • Lightweight.
  • Efficient and fast response time.
  • Flexible for a variety of uses and applications.

Cons

  • Doesn’t last as long as mechanical keyboards.
  • Light enough that they slide easily.

Mechanical Keyboards

Mechanical keyboards are older than the membrane version, and for a while, they took a backseat to the latest and greatest in membrane keyboard technology. However, times change, and with that change, mechanical keyboards are roaring back into the mainstream. 

This is especially true for gamers, who depend on tactile feedback and, like so many others, have grown addicted to the loud clicking and clacking that comes with owning a mechanical keyboard. 

Like any keyboard, mechanical keyboards work by closing the circuit when keys are depressed, except that the underlying mechanism is all metal, designed to contact when you press the keys.

They are also five times more durable than synthetic keyboards, with the ability to record up to 50 million keystrokes throughout their lifecycle to the membrane keyboard’s 10 million. Gamers have an enormous advantage with mechanical keyboards for a few reasons:

  • The slightest pressure on a key registers a keystroke.
  • Keystrokes are recorded faster, which is important when milliseconds make all of the difference in a game.
  • A high rollover factor.
  • Loud sound when pressing the keys.

These features are positives for just about anyone, however, they are crucial for PC gamers. Gamers require the finesse that a mechanical keyboard provides. The response time is also important as keystrokes are registered faster, and in-game elements respond accordingly. 

The high rollover factor is a determination of which key you choose to depress. For instance, a mechanical keyboard allows you to press the “N” key, even if you accidentally touch the “J,” “H,” “B,” “M,” or “Space” key a little bit as you are trying to press the “N” key. 

Gamers also wear headsets or keep the sound up loud enough to give them a better sense of immersion. As such, they need to be able to hear that they have pressed a key and the mechanical keyboard gives a loud, audible “clack” that’s easier to hear over loud noise. 

Pros

  • Better construction material.
  • Fastest response time.
  • Larger window with the rollover rate.
  • 50 million-plus keystrokes.
  • Audible, addictive keystrokes.

Cons

  • More expensive.
  • Loud keystrokes aren’t for everyone.

Projection Keyboards

Projection keyboards are like something out of a science fiction book or some fantastical movie. We’ve seen many fantastic technologies at numerous conventions, such as rolled up, 4k, foldable smart TVs, and robots that give the impression of near sentience. 

Now we have projection keyboards, which aren’t really keyboards at all but projected images of a keyboard. Rather than respond to keystrokes, a projection keyboard uses a camera to follow your finger movements across the virtual pad. 

It’s a technology that IBM conjured up in the nineties, so it isn’t exactly new, and it’s mostly used for smartphones and tablets. It can also be used with laptops and desktop computers, where it makes for a good layout on the desk before you. 

These keyboard types, which are really just software, are great for their extreme portability, especially since there is nothing to carry around but your smartphone or tablet and the small projector. On a computer, it is right there, but only when you need it. 

Projector keyboards work by using infrared light, which reads when your fingers interrupt the passage of the light. If you spend money on a cheap keyboard projector, the feedback will be poor and unreliable. 

Probably the biggest drawback of this keyboard is the rollover (NKRO). It will always be very poor, and it is common to see two letters pop up when you’ve only pressed one. 

Pros

  • Unique and extremely portable.
  • High level of compatibility.
  • Can be used on any surface.
  • Variety of colors to choose from.

Cons

  • Zero tactile feedback.
  • Bad rollover functionality.
  • You need to spend some money to get the most reliability.

Ergonomic Keyboards

Some of us require more than just a keyboard for our day-to-day tasks on the computer—especially those who suffer from carpal tunnel, wrist pain, and arthritis. Ergonomic keyboards are designed to give you back your level of productivity without sacrificing comfort.

They also come in an enormous variety of shapes and sizes, so if you have a particular quirk in how you hold your hands up to the keyboard, there is probably an ergonomic design that will cater to that. 

These keyboards offer comfort, support, ease of use, reduce the risk of carpal tunnel developing or exacerbating, increase productivity, and increase typing speed. However, this is a preventative tool, and there is no keyboard on earth that is going to cure carpal tunnel or arthritis. 

For those who experience pain when typing, there’s something here that will accommodate you and give you the best experience. Even so, ergonomic keyboards go out of their way to support you while you type, which means that they are often bulky, overly large, and intrude into your mouse space. 

They also tend to cost more, especially mechanical ergonomic keyboards, and they take a bit of getting used to. This is especially true when you get one of the wilder variations, like the split-V keyboards, contoured keyboards, and extreme curves.

Pros

  • Ergonomic functions provide support.
  • Numerous shapes and sizes to match your needs.
  • Mechanical or membrane.
  • Enhanced productivity with a focus on hotkeys.

Cons

  • It takes some time to get used to. 
  • They’re large and eat up a lot of space.
  • They’re a support device, not a cure.

Gaming Keyboards

First and foremost, the best gaming keyboards are mechanical keyboards simply because of the level of precision they bring to the table. What separates a gaming keyboard from a standard mechanical keyboard is the gaming-specific features it offers. 

A quality gaming keyboard is the literal command center of your computer, far more than your mouse or any other peripherals. With gaming keyboards, each key has its own spring-loaded switch for a level of precision and speed that you can’t get with other keyboards.

These keyboards offer levels of functionality that are the best you can get your hands on, including LED-backlit keys specific to key sets, hotkey customization, dedicated media keys, USB passthrough, and it should be wired. 

Despite what some say about the advancements in wireless technology speed, it’s hard to argue with the spec sheets when it comes to wired versus wireless lag, or lack thereof, with each keypress. 

The biggest drawbacks come down to expense and complexity. These are the most expensive keyboards you can purchase, and they’re also far more complex than anyone other than a gamer would even want to understand. 

Pros

  • Precision and quality.
  • Incredible response speed.
  • Customizable hotkeys.
  • Customizable key sets.
  • Dedicated media keys.
  • USB passthrough.

Cons

  • Very expensive.
  • High level of complexity.

Summary

There you have it, an overview of the different keyboards available. While you can technically point to mechanical and membrane keyboards as the only types of keyboards, the truth is, there is enough separation with specific keyboards to categorize them all on their own. 

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