Keyboard, Keyboard…Who’s the Fairest of Them All?

Medical TranscriptionNo Comments

I love keyboards. You could say they’re a recent hobby of mine. Before 3 years ago, I didn’t know there was anything exciting about this necessary input device. Then, as my love of technology continued to deepen, I was invited into the world of keyboards. The keyboard world, I discovered, was more vast and varied than I could have ever hoped for. I’ve slowly collected 6 different styles of keyboards over the past 3 years and each of them is unique. As a medical transcriptionist and editor, your livelihood depends largely on your ability to type comfortably for long periods of time, so why would you settle for an uncomfortable option like the stock laptop keyboard? Let’s discuss the main options available and ways to select the best fit for you.

Membrane or Mechanical

There are two main categories of key switch types. Membrane keys switches are the most common switch format in consumer keyboards. Gather around for a quick science lesson! A membrane switch typically consists of a couple of layers of membrane and conductive traces. When the top membrane is pressed down on the bottom membrane, the conductive circuit completes and the key press is registered. This type of keyboard has very little tactile feedback to suggest the key has been pressed, so most modern membrane keyboards have bridged the gap by using a rubber dome underneath the key cap to give some tactile feedback. Here’s a cool picture of a deconstructed keyboard showing membranes with rubber domes:

open keyboard

There are many different styles of membrane with rubber dome keyboards in today’s market from many of the major keyboard producers like Dell, Microsoft, Apple, etc.

Mechanical switches are quite different than the membrane switches. A mechanical keyboard uses actual physical switches underneath the keys to determine when the user has pressed a key. The switches are made of several moving parts including a spring and a plastic stem with metal contacts. When the key is pressed the stem presses the spring down and the two contacts connect and the key press is registered. This is a mechanical switch:

mechanical switch

They have the satisfying click you might remember from yesteryear. I remember typing on an IBM Model M keyboard when I was a youth and it was the most satisfying typing experience. The switches tend to be higher quality than membrane/rubber dome keyboards and that certainly increases the price.

Factors to Consider

So now that we know about the basic two types of keyboards, what are the big differences between the types of switches?
- With membrane switches, you must bottom out the key in order for the membranes to connect and the circuit to complete. With mechanical switches, the actuation point is typically about halfway down on the key press. You don’t have to bottom out mechanical switches for the key press to register.
- Mechanical keyboards feel crisp when the key is pressed, while membrane keyboards tend to feel more “mushy” for lack of a better word.
- Mechanical keyboards tend to be heavier, better quality, and more expensive than membrane keyboards.
- Mechanical keyboards, however tend to be much louder than membrane/dome keyboards. Their satisfying click can be annoying to those around you.

Excellent Choices

Whether you prefer using a membrane keyboard or a mechanical keyboard, there are many excellent options out there. I encourage you to go somewhere where you can try out some of the keyboards. Best Buy often has a mechanical keyboard section in the gaming area where you can try some out. They also have an extensive membrane/dome keyboard section to try those ones out too. Really, it comes down to personal preference and how you feel best typing. Personally, I am much faster and more accurate on mechanical keyboards than on membrane ones, but others may have different experiences. I use a Microsoft Ergonomic 4000 (membrane/dome) at work and it’s fine, but it certainly doesn’t hold a candle to my Cooler Master Quickfire with Cherry MX Blue mechanical switches. I have friends who swear by their Microsoft Ergonomic 4000s, though, so it really is a matter of preference.

Here are a few excellent membrane/dome keyboards:

Microsoft Ergonomic 4000

Logitech MX800

Logitech MK520

Logitech Wave MK550

Here are a few excellent mechanical keyboards:

Cooler Master Storm QuickFire (comes in various mechanical switches)

IBM Model M

Das Keyboard Ultimate Model S

Ducky Shine 2 or 3

Whatever you choose, take the time to make a conscientious decision about your keyboard. Don’t settle for something that isn’t going to work for you. That bit of extra time picking the right keyboard for your situation will make a huge difference in your success as a medical transcriptionist and editor. Choose wisely!

Leave a comment below »

  1. Sue December 09, 2015

    Thank you for your fascinating insight into the wonderful world of keyboards.  Who would have thought there was so much involved.  I would never have dreamed of taking my keyboard apart - brave person!

  2. Kris February 22, 2016

    This is actually something I’ve thought quite a bit about. Including the potential use of a wrist rest. I have also stumbled over the purchase of a proper office chair at which I can sit for hours. I try to combat the blood pooling with jogging a bit at night (a habit I lost when I had kids) but it is going to nearly impossible when my husband deploys.

    Do you have any advice on office chairs?

  3. Career Step February 23, 2016

    Hi Kris,

    We actually have a blog post about this! You can check it out here:

    Best wishes!

  4. David Fesly March 11, 2016

    What type of switches is better? After reading review here, I understood that I want to buy mechanical keyboard, but I still can’t decide - What type of switches am I need?

    Hi David,

    There are lots of different kinds of mechanical switches available. The most common and highly regarded switches are the Cherry MX switches. Cherry switches come in all different styles and are titled with color names: Blue, Red, Brown, Black, Clear, etc. The different colors have different actuation forces (force required to press the key and actuate the switch) and some have tactile clicks and bumps. Another popular hybrid switch is the Topre switch. It’s a mix between a mechanical switch and a membrane switch which many find to be comfortable for long typing sessions. I have a mechanical keyboard at home that has Logitech Romer-G switches. I really enjoy them because of the low actuation distance and force. I find them a pleasure to type on and they have greatly increased my typing speed and accuracy. If you’re interested in testing out some Cherry MX switches before purchasing a keyboard, you can find switch testers like this one on Amazon: I hope this information helps!



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