From an ergonomic standpoint, keyboards are perhaps the most important computer accessory to pay attention to next to the mouse. Whether you’re a PC or Mac user, all of our fingers are in constant contact with our keyboard for hours everyday.
When it comes to computer keyboards, the two main types are membrane (standard) and mechanical keyboards. Each comes with distinct pros and cons that as any computer user, we owe it to ourselves to understand. In this guide, I’ll try to lay out the key differences, plus the top 5 ergonomic mechanical keyboards to consider for better posture, less wrist and finger fatigue, and faster typing.
Mechanical Keyboards Explained
For people who have never used a mechanical keyboard, they may also never be motivated to consider one, as on the surface, mechanical and regular keyboards all look pretty much the same. Much of the differences with a mechanical keyboard have to be felt to be appreciated. But first thing’s first.
What defines a mechanical versus a membrane keyboard?
Mechanical keyboards are based on mechanical switches below each keycap that sends a signal when it is pressed. Membrane keyboards, on the other hand, have the keys sit on top of a double-layered membrane so that when a key is pressed, the two membrane layers are pushed together to send a signal.
In short, both mechanical and membrane keyboards start with pushing a key and end with sending a signal, but the stuff that happens in between is different, resulting in a very different typing experience.
Key Differences between a Mechanical and Membrane Keyboard
One of the most noticeable differences between a mechanical and regular keyboard is the physical sensation when typing. With a mechanical keyboard, each key press produces a very tactile, clacky feeling, whereas on a regular membrane keyboard, the experience is often best described as mushy. Typists and gamers generally prefer the former thanks to the clear physical feedback each successful key press. It also feels more “satisfying”.
In general, membrane keyboards are quieter than mechanical keyboards. This is because the rubber or silicone surface of the membrane doesn’t produce much sound when pressed. The analog switches of mechanical keyboards on the other hand tend to be louder when depressed (especially the blue switches). For people who love the tactile experience of typing on a mechanical keyboard but could do without the noise, there are switches such as brown that are much quieter.
Due to these differences in materials and manufacturing process, mechanical keyboards are generally much more expensive than membrane keyboards. The upshot is that mechanical keyboards tend to last a lot longer than membrane keyboards; an average mechanical keyboard lasts around 50 million keystrokes, compared to 10 million for membrane keyboards.
Mechanical keyboards tend to be heavier than membrane keyboards because they are made of more substantial parts, whereas membrane keyboards are largely plastic. In some cases, having a heavy keyboard is good because it stays in place on a desk, but if you want to take your keyboard on the road, it’s nice to have a lighter one.
A defining characteristic of mechanical keyboards compared to their membrane counterparts is the degree of customization the former affords. Like lego parts, every key cap can be replaced on a mechanical keyboard, creating a completely personalized keyboard should you wish. Modular mechanical keyboards even allow you to replace each switch with a different one to customize the typing experience. Different switches have very different characteristics such as noisiness, force required to press, sensation etc.
Heavy typists and gamers love mechanical keyboards due to their overall better responsiveness. The keys on the mechanical keyboards require less force to register, making them more ergonomic for your fingers. They also support multiple key presses at once (N-key rollover), so typing is typically more responsive and accurate on a mechanical keyboard, especially if you are typing very fast.
Mechanical Keyboard Pros
- More accurate and responsive
- Completely customizable like lego pieces
- Easier to Clean, with each key cap being removable.
- Longer lifespan (average 50 million keystrokes)
Membrane Keyboard Pros
- Generally more quiet
- More lightweight
Are Mechanical Keyboards More Ergonomic?
For heavy typists, the short answer is yes. While both mechanical and regular membrane keyboards come in ergonomic form factors such as split design, tenting and negative sloping, the former with its physical switches offer distinct advantages when it comes to ergonomics that simply cannot be duplicated using a membrane construct.
The keys on a regular keyboard sit on top of a flexible membrane that when pressed sends a signal to the bottom most layer to complete the circuit and register a key press. Think of it as pressing down on a mushy surface- it takes quite a lot of energy, and there’s little tactile feedback on when a key was successfully pressed. As such, “blind” typing is almost impossible on a membrane keyboard, and you’re forced to press each key all the way down to the very bottom to be certain you’ve completed the action.
Using physical switches on the other hand, the keys on a mechanical keyboard require less force to successfully activate, with a clear tactile feedback that lets you type much faster, without constantly checking your screen for typos. Furthermore, mechanical keyboards support n-key rollover, where simultaneous presses to multiple keys can all be registered properly. These factors combined enable heavy typists to not only type faster, but with less energy exerted, which overtime can make a huge difference in terms of ergonomics. The chances of fingers and hand strains are reduced, and as many of the nerves in your body are connected, even dreaded ailments such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
The main types of mechanical switches and how they sound
While the keys on a mechanical keyboard are overall more responsive, you can further customize the typing experience by going with a particular mechanical switch for your keyboard. The most well known switches are the MX Cherry Switches. Different colored Cherry MX switches exhibit different behaviors, from force required to activate a key, to different travel distances, tactile feeling and noise. Here is a quick comparison of the 5 most popular MX Cherry Switches.
Note: Th volume of the key presses in the audio playback below have been increased 3x from the actual level to make it easier for you to hear and distinguish.
|Switch||Behavior||Activate Force||Noise Level||Best For
Cherry MX Brown
|Tactile but no audible click||55 cN||Quiet||MX Brown switches are great for heavy typists due to the blend of tactile feedback yet quiet keys. This enable fast typing without the accompanying chorus.
Cherry MX Red
|Linear||45 cN||Quiet||MX Red switches are a favorite among gamers thanks to the ultra smooth, linear typing experience. The lack of audio and tactile feedback, plus ultra low activation force all combine to create the least amount of resistance and distraction when engaging friends and foes alike.
Cherry MX Blue
|Tactile plus audible click||60 cN||Loud||For typists that appreciate the feel and sound of old school typewriters, Cherry MX Blue switches are the best choice. They provide a clear tactile plus loud audio feedback whenever a key is pressed. Many people describe the typing experience on MX Blue switches as very "satisfying", though the loud noise makes them less than ideal in tight cubicles and shared spaces.|
Cherry MX Black
|Linear||60 cN||Quiet||Best described as MX Red Switches with a heavier "feel", the Black Switches are great for gamers that want the same responsive experience as the red switches, but with more resistance as you depress each key. This can be helpful in reducing accidental key presses.|
Cherry MX Green
|Tactile plus audible click||80 cN||Loud||Very similar to the MX Blue Switches but with more resistance for people who prefer "heavier" keys.|
Which Keyboard to Choose?
In general, heavy/fast typists and gamers will find mechanical keyboards well worth the extra cost compared to normal membrane keywords due to the distinct benefits the former provides. Casual keyboard users on the other hand will find a regular ergonomic keyboard more than adequate for everyday use.
It should be noted that if you are drawn to mechanical keyboard but are concerned about the louder noise the keys produce, there are mechanical keyboards that are very quiet, such as those that utilize red or brown switches instead of the more noisy, clicky blue switches.
The Best Ergonomic Mechanical Keyboards Reviewed
Should you decide that the distinct advantages of mechanical keyboards are worth the extra cost, the question is, which ones currently on the market are the most ergonomic? In general experts agree keyboards with a split design are more ergonomic, by putting your arms in a more relaxed reversed “v” shape as you type, with your shoulders externally rotated. To relax the wrists and reduce forearm pronation, keyboards that support tenting (raised in the middle) and negative tilt (lower at the back of the keyboard) are also key attributes to look for in the keyboard.
With that said, the following are the 5 top ergonomic mechanical keyboards for 2020. While it’s hard to go wrong with any of them, read our detailed reviews to see the one that best fits you based on how you use a keyboard and your budget.
- Radical concave design puts your hand in a completely relaxed, natural state when typing
- 20° tenting reduces wrist strain
- Includes software to program key layouts and macros
- Compact design with a width of just 16.5″ (compared to 18.9″ for a typical logitech keyboard)
- Ergonomic cherry MX Brown switches require less energy to activate keys
- Palm pads and cleaning cloth are included
Don’t be taken back by the radical design of the Kinesis KB600 Advantage2 Keyboard- given enough time, this might just be the most comfortable keyboard you will ever use. Every aspect of the Advantage2 mechanical keyboard is designed to conform to the natural posture of your shoulders, arms, wrist and hand at rest, creating a typing experience that is as ergonomic as they come.
The hallmark of the Kinesis Advantage2 keyboard are the two concave bowls where the majority of the keys are housed. Such a design puts your wrists and fingers at complete ease as you type. You may have read about the importance of a negative tilt in your keyboard for ergonomics- well, the two bowls achieve just that while keeping the keys close together to further reduce the travel distance to access them.
Another important ergonomic feature of the Advantage2 mechanical keyboard is the built in tenting, where the keys near the middle slope upwards of 20 degrees. Such a design reduce pronation of your forearm and wrists as you type, decreasing your chances of developing wrist pain and even carpal tunnel syndrome.
If there’s one downside of the Advantage2 keyboard, that is the steep price, even for a mechanical keyboard, at around $320 (check price). While it’s true you can’t put a price on health, if this is simply out of your price range, know that most of the other mechanical keyboards on this list come with at least one key ergonomic feature that is split design for around half of the cost. To achieve tenting, accessories are available with these less expensive keyboard to derive the same benefit as the Advantage2.
One of the best video reviews on the Advantage2 can be seen below:
- Split design relaxes your shoulders and lets your arms assume a more natural “v” shape
- Includes software for key mapping and programming macros to productivity
- USB connection provides quick and reliable feedback
- Ergonomic cherry MX Brown switches require less energy to activate keys
- Hotkey bank includes common functions such as copy, paste, and desktop
The Freestyle Pro Ergonomic Keyboard is a great example of a simple yet effective split keyboard design. Keyboards in this format are divided into two halves connected by a single flexible cord. With this design the halves can be placed independently in any configuration. As one user review noted, this is especially useful if you feel shoulder pain while typing and need to move your hands further apart. Another user commented that they didn’t realize their hands were being hurt by their old keyboard until they got this ergonomic one.
As with most mechanical keyboards, the Freestyle Pro Ergonomic Keyboard is highly customizable, as is evidenced by the user-friendly key binding and macro-programming functions. Unfortunately, there is no numpad on this keyboard, but there is a bank of keys on the left side that default to functions such as copy and paste that could be programmed to suit any need. The brown cherry MX switches in the mechanical keys are easy to press and relatively quiet for a mechanical keyboard.
Recommended: To maximize the ergonomic benefits of the Freestyle Pro keyboard, I highly recommend the VIP3 Pro Tenting Accessories that adds tenting and a wrist pad to the keyboard. Tenting raises the middle of the keyboard so your wrist and hands are at a more natural sloped angle when typing, with your palms facing each other. The VIP3 add on supports 3 different settings- 5, 10, or 15 degree sloping.
- Quiet low force Cherry Brown Mechanical Keys
- Keys rated for 50 million keystrokes, outlasting any membrane keyboard
- Conventional keyboard layout for those not ready to go “split” yet
- Wireless keyboard with backlit keys
Programmers and heavy typists that still gravitate towards a traditional keyboard design but with the added benefits of mechanical keys will want to look at the Velocifire VM02WS keyboard. It will outlast any membrane keyboard before it, plus allow you to type faster and with less effort.
This particular model of the Velocifire keyboard features Cherry Brown switches, which are quiet, provide good tactile feedback, plus are low force. As such, your fingers get fatigued slower while typing faster than before. Now that’s what being ergonomic is all about.
Like most mechanical keyboards, the Velocifire will probably outlast any of your past membrane keyboards. The keys on these types of keyboards have been tested to withstand over 50 million keystrokes, compared to 10 million for the membrane types. The Velocifire VM02WS keyboard also comes with a nifty key puller to replace any keys that may have become worn out easily.
Last but not least, I’d be remiss not to mention that the Velocifire support backlighting, making it great to code or write the next chapter of your novel in the dark if needed. All in all, this is one of the best conventionally shaped ergonomic mechanical keyboards available on the market.
- Split with up to 20” distance between the two halves for superior workspace customization
- Keys are backlit with blue LED, variable brightness levels allow for comfortable day and night use
- All keys are remappable, and a bank of 8 extra keys allows for easy programming of gaming or work macros
- Braided cables are durable and flexible
- Choice of Brown, Red, Blue, and Silver Cherry Switches
- Includes detachable palm rest to support your wrists
The KINESIS Gaming Freestyle Mechanical Keyboard is similar to the Freestyle Pro Ergonomic Keyboard mentioned earlier, with the main differences being the backlit keys, customizable RGB lighting, and all 95 keys being programmable to totally pwn your enemies. It is advertised as the first split keyboard designed for gaming, and it certainly has the features to back that up.
What makes the Kenesis an awesome mechanical keyboard for gaming? Two main features are the ultra responsive Cherry MX Red switches (other choices available), plus the Smartset Engine that lets you easily remap keys and assign macros. Throw in 9 custom layouts and game keys, and your keyboard becomes your secret weapon in dominating your foes in the next round of Call of Duty or your favorite MMO title.
The detachable wrist pads of the KINESIS Freestyle Gaming Mechanical Keyboard is also a welcomed addition for heavy typists or gamers. They designed to keep your hands and wrists at a natural angle, and are wide and long enough to provide comprehensive support. It should be noted, however, that the supports are plastic and are not covered with any padding.
To sum up, the KINESIS Freestyle Edge Gaming Mechanical Keyboard is at the front of the list when it comes to split mechanical ergonomic keyboards for gaming.
Recommended: As with the other Freestyle keyboard on this list, tenting functionality is available as a separately sold kit. Many users say that getting the keyboard tented is well worth it for long-term comfort.
- Steel-reinforced, rubberized frame is extra durable and prevents keyboard from slipping
- Adjustable feet (also rubberized) allow for a variety of ergonomic tilts
- Mechanical switches have a lifespan of 70 million keystrokes
- Backlight is controllable with a built-in knob. Lights are programmable with a full range of colors and can be linked to keystrokes
- Numpad included
- Choice of Brown, Black, or Blue Cherry Switches
Last on our best list is the Drakken Mechanical Gaming Keyboard, one that focuses squarely on gamers looking for a reliable, highly responsive mechanical keyboard below $100.
The physical design of the Drakken Technologies Mechanical Gaming Keyboard is both durable and ergonomic. The inner frame is reinforced with steel for extra strength and the outside frame is rubberized to be comfortable to the touch and also to prevent the keyboard from sliding around on the desk. The adjustable keyboard feet are also rubberized, and while the lack of split design in this keyboard makes tenting impossible, the tilt achieved by adjusting the feet still allows for some ergonomic relief.
This is a distinctive gaming keyboard with next-level backlight functionality. 16.8 million colors are available, and an endless variety of patterns can be programmed in. For example, certain keystrokes can be linked to the backlight around specific keys changing. These options make space for great creativity. Users love the built-in control dial to easily change the backlight brightness and color with a simple dial.
For a mechanical gaming keyboard, this Drakken Technologies model is relatively affordable, and users report that it feels like quality and has all the customization options expected in mechanical keyboards. Overall the Drakken Technologies Mechanical Gaming Keyboard is a great option if you’re accustomed to the design of standard keyboards, but want the tactile and responsiveness a mechanical keyboard brings.
Which Mechanical Keyboard will you Choose?
Next to a mouse, a keyboard is probably the part of a computer that people spend the most time in contact with, so it’s worth making sure that your keyboard gives you good ergonomic support and provides a comfortable and efficient typing experience. A good ergonomic mechanical keyboard could change the way you use your computer more than you expect.