A Keyboard is a vital component of your computer setup. Whether you want to use them for dedicated typing, gaming, or throwing some comments on blogs and social media, you need a top-quality keyboard.
Well, scrap social media, but everything else needs a good keyboard.
When you start looking for a good computer keyboard you’ll understand that the headache worsens when you have to choose between Mechanical and membrane keyboards.
“Ding! Ding! Ding! ‘It’s Mechanical Vs Membrane Keyboards, let’s get ready to rumble!’”
You find yourself torn between a keyboard known for precision and responsiveness and another known for being a more muted and inexpensive typing device.
Of course, you also have to worry about the cost, your aesthetic needs, and the reason you want a keyboard. If you consider all these factors, you can make a prudent decision, and that’s why I came up with this post.
Read on to find out the advantages and drawbacks of using either type, their differences, the top 3 of each type, and FAQs on mechanical and membrane keyboards.
Mechanical Keyboards: Quick Overview
A mechanical keyboard uses a mechanical switch, and it’s the switch that is responsible for the distinct key feedback and clicking sound.
The mechanical switches also provide an element of durability as they usually outlive their membrane counterparts.
There are several different types of switches, but most of them use a metal spring. There are linear switches, tactile switches, and clicky switches.
Membrane Keyboards: Quick Overview
Unlike mechanical keyboards, membrane keyboards don’t have switches. Instead, they use layers of thin ‘membranes.’
Conductive traces under these membranes trigger the character or action that is pressed, and the letters pop up on your screen.
Although membrane keyboards came later than mechanical ones, they are mostly used in laptops because they are quieter, more portable, lighter, and cheaper than their counterparts.
Major Differences Between Membrane and Mechanical Keyboard
The actuation force is different for the two, but they’re also a manufacturer-dependent variable for membrane keyboards―because they use unique membranes, unlike the similar mass-produced switches used in mechanical keyboards―and are switch dependent for mechanical keyboards.
You could have two membrane keyboards but they’d require different amounts of pressure. Having said that, I’d like to say for membrane keyboards; actuation force ranges between 60 and 80 grams. For mechanical keyboards, actuation force ranges between 45 and 85, but it might be high as 300 grams.
Actuation distance is the distance a key travels to before making electrical contact. It is a good parameter for measuring a keyboard’s responsiveness.
Mechanical keyboards have short actuation distances, much shorter than membraned keyboards. This makes them pretty responsive and faster than membranes and if you’re a writer who doubles as a serious gamer, mechanical keyboards are go-to keyboards.
Tactility, as far as keyboards are concerned, means feedback that we get when typing. Most mechanical keyboards give a more tactile feel compared to membrane keyboards.
Membrane keyboards feel kind of mushy and not as solid as mechanical keyboards because of their absence of mechanical switches.
Mechanical keyboards are tough bastards!
Compared to the measly 10 million key-stroke life expectancy of membrane keyboards, they can live as long as 50 million keystrokes.
Some low-quality membrane keyboards don’t live beyond 2 million keystrokes.
Membrane keyboards are the quieter of the two. This is because mechanical tactile key switches produce a clicking sound at the point of actuation and a ‘clack sound’ when the key bottoms out.
Membrane keyboards are cheaper. That’s not strange considering that they have a shorter life span and rarely endure the kind of beating that mechanical keyboards do.
Types of switches
Membrane keyboards use membrane switches. When the ends (poles) of two membranes make contact, the keys circuit is closed, and a keypress is registered.
Mechanical keyboards use mechanical switches, which are available in different types. There are linear switches―like the Cherry MX Red Stems―which don’t give tactile feedback or noise when hitting the actuation point, then clicky switches which produce a click sound when hitting the actuation point, and tactile switches―like the Cherry MX Blue Stems―which give tactile feedback when hitting the actuation point.
Mechanical Keyboards (Pros and Cons)
Tactile Feedback―They provide tactile feedback. With mechanical keyboards, you can tweak your switches to get more acoustic feedback.
Key rollover―they handle simultaneous keystrokes efficiently. This means that a user can press a couple of keys at the same time and they’ll all be registered.
Removable keycaps― Keycap replacement is easier and hence mechanical keyboards are highly customizable.
Durable―they have longer lifespans. This longevity is what makes mechanical keyboards the best option for heavy typing. Mechanical keyboards can last between 30 and 70 million keystrokes; hence they live tens of millions of keystrokes longer than membrane keyboards.
Noisy―the switches create noisy ‘click-clack’ sounds. Not all mechanical switches share this trait, some are relatively quiet. But most are loud and they are the best keyboards in shared environments, especially at night when your housemates or roommates are sleeping, if your goal is to keep them awake.
Bulky and heavy―they are not as portable as membrane keyboards because their sturdy build makes them heavy.
Costly―Expensive compared to membrane keyboards. I should add that usually, the high price reflects the durability and the top quality of these mechanical machines.
Membrane keyboards (pros and cons)
Quiet―Membrane keyboards are quiet and smooth because they’re cushioned by rubber or silicon. The noiselessness makes it the favorite keyboard for shared environments like homes, open offices, and business meetings.
Compact and portable―without the switches and other additions, membrane keyboards are lighter and portable. Because of their light weight and compactness, membrane keyboards are great when you want to write on the road.
Cheaper―they don’t cost as much as mechanical keyboards.
No key rollover―they can be inconsistent when they’re simultaneous keystrokes.
Not highly customizable and harder to replace parts. It’s hard to replace keycaps and other important parts of membrane keyboards. If a component fails or falls off, you’re probably going to be forced to replace the entire keyboard.
Shorter lifespan. Membrane keyboards have shorter lifespans compared to mechanical keyboards. Membrane keyboards last between 1 million and 10 million keystrokes.
Mechanical Vs Membrane Keyboards Frequently Asked Questions
How Do I Know If I Have a Membrane or Mechanical Keyboard?
I have talked about the ‘clicking’ sound that mechanical keys produce. For experts, this would be enough to differentiate between a mechanical and membrane keyboard. But for amateurs, these clicking sounds might sound the same as a membrane key bottoming out.
Some experienced keyboard enthusiasts can tell the difference by simply looking at the thickness of the keys―keys on mechanical keyboards are usually thicker than on a membrane keyboard.
However, if you want to be sure that it’s a mechanical or membrane, you’d have to remove the keycap to reveal the switch mechanism underneath.
If the keyboard is new, check the product description. Mechanical keyboards usually mention the switch type used―if you see something like Cherry MX Blue, Red, et cetera, it’s a mechanical keyboard.
Can You Take Keycaps Off a Membrane Keyboard?
Yes, you can but removing keycaps off a membrane keyboard isn’t as easy as removing keycaps off a mechanical keyboard.
Do Mechanical Keyboards Last Longer Than Membranes?
Yes, that’s normally the case, but build quality comes into play, and some membrane keyboards do outlive their mechanical counterparts.
Mechanical Keyboard Vs Membrane Response Time
Generally, mechanical keyboards have better response times. That’s one reason why gamers love mechanical keyboards; their fast response time is usually that thin line between victory and defeat.
Their response time can be as fast as 0.2 milliseconds, and if you know anything about response times, this is very fast.
Do You Type Faster or Slower On a Mechanical Keyboard?
Having read the answer to the previous question, you have a pretty good idea of what is a faster keyboard.
Obviously, mechanical keyboards are faster than membrane keyboards, but typing speed hugely depends on the person typing―if you’re slow, you’re slow, and you shouldn’t expect the keyboard to turbocharge your WPM.
What Is a Semi Mechanical Keyboard?
A semi-mechanical keyboard is
A keyboard that has mechanical key switches on certain keys but has rubber dome switches on other keys. The Corsair Vengeance K90 is one good example of such ‘semi-chemical keyboards.’
A keyboard with key switches that combine mechanical and membrane mechanisms. These keyboards usually have switches that have a switch mechanism on top of a membrane or rubber domes built as an individual switch module. A lot of these semi-mechanical keyboards― IBM Model M, for example―slip into the mechanical keyboard category, but they’re semi-mechanical.
For marketing purposes, some manufacturers put the term semi-mechanical in their product description of rubber dome keyboards with individual sliders. This is an effort to tap into the popularity of mechanical keyboards.
Are Membrane Keyboards That Bad?
No! Membrane keyboards are not bad keyboards.
In fact, I prefer them to mechanical keyboards because I’m between ‘hunt and peck’ and expert typing. So I don’t really notice the speed and accuracy elements.
But I have a mechanical keyboard and I must admit that it’s way more enjoyable to use when I ‘pretend’ to add an extra gear.
Mechanical vs Membrane Keyboard: Which One is Better?
Choosing your keyboard will be a matter of personal preference. I can’t make you ‘fall in love with a certain type of keyboard.’
But I can guide you, expertly.
Had it been that we were talking about gaming keyboards, I’d have told you that mechanical keyboards are it. Mechanical keyboards live longer, allow key rollover, and they’re easy to clean.
But we’re talking about keyboards for typing. So, which one do I think is better? Mechanical keyboards.
There’s no noticeable difference between the mechanical and membrane keyboards in terms of speed and accuracy when you ‘hunt and peck.’ But if you’re an expert touch typist or you’re learning to touch type, the speed and accuracy of mechanical keyboards are a bonus. Plus, you might like the audio feedback and the tactility that mechanical keyboards offer.
But then again, it’s a matter of personal preference.
Top 3 Mechanical Keyboards
The mechanical keyboard market is filled with many exciting options, but after a forensic search, I have to conclude that these are the best mechanical keyboards in 2021.
1. Razer Huntsman Mini 60% Gaming Keyboard
2. Redragon S101 Wired Gaming Keyboard
3. SteelSeries Apex Pro Mechanical Gaming Keyboard
Top 3 Membrane Keyboards
In the membrane keyboard category, these three keyboards are the top choices for most users.
1. Logitech G213 Membrane Keyboard
2. Corsair K55
3. Razer Cynosa Chroma Gaming Keyboard
Mechanical Vs Membrane Keyboards: Bottom Line
Let me say this again, choosing any keyboard boils down to personal preference.
In some rare instances, it might be a work requirement thing. For some people―like myself―choosing between a membrane keyboard and a mechanical keyboard is done based on the merits or demerits of the two. In my case, I know that switching fully to a mechanical keyboard would take a bit of getting used to. I’m not ready for that.
Plus, there are just a lot of mechanical switches which are totally different from each other in terms of feel and function. Getting used to all of these would be a degree program on its own.
But a lot of people know pretty well that there are a lot of benefits of switching from a membrane keyboard to a mechanical keyboard; it’s the adaptation process that they aren’t ready for.
The difference between mechanical keyboards and membrane keyboards can be marginal, but those marginal deviations are vital in many unique situations.
So it’s not strange that I know a lot of people, some of whom aren’t gamers, pay an extra dollar for mechanical keyboards. It’s okay if you don’t care about speed and those extra geeky things like the clicky-clack stuff, but you still have to remember that mechanical keyboards outlast membrane keyboards.
Just to remind you, neither mechanical nor membrane keyboards will transform you into a pro typing beast. Either might help you do that, but it will require a lot of your effort and perhaps aided by these software typing tutors.