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

Posted on 11.05.2015

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:

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:

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!