Mechanical keyboards are often favored for their style and their durability, but past that surface, they can actually offer more to your typing and working experience. Like most electronics, there is a whole set of mechanical keyboard specs that will ultimately dictate the device’s usefulness and value to you.
So when you’re picking a keyboard primarily for its technical specs and less about its aesthetics, it’s important to keep certain mechanical keyboard specs in mind. This way, you’re less likely to ‘settle’ for a model that doesn’t have this or that functionality but comes in your favorite color.
From the most important mechanical keyboard specs to the least important, here’s how to shop for one.
It Has To Be ‘Hotswappable’
A mechanical keyboard’s main advantage over a traditional and (usually) membrane keyboard is its modularity and the fact that it’s more durable. It uses mechanical switches instead of those soldered rubber domes from membrane keyboards.
And while these mechanical switches are already a lot more durable compared to membrane rubber domes (50 million presses vs. 5 million presses on average), mechanical keyboard switches can still be prone to defects or premature failure. There are so many switch brands right now and some of them even prioritize sound and feel instead of durability.
That’s why for a better peace of mind and value, your mechanical keyboard needs to be ‘hotswappable’ if possible.
Hotswappable refers to the ability to remove the mechanical keyboard switches and replace them instead of just being able to remove the keycaps (as is the case with most mechanical keyboards). This specification has immense applications, not just for durability concerns.
If you can change out the switches on the fly, that means you can also try out other switches and practically double the amount of customization you can perform on your mechanical keyboard. Of course, for longevity, you can take out any defective switch and then just replace them if you have spares.
Mechanical keyboards that are not hotswappable can’t have their switches taken out and at best, you can only replace the keycaps which is just surface-level customization at best.
Finally, a mechanical keyboard being hotswappable fixes a potential issue where you might eventually dislike the default switches you bought since perhaps they are too noisy or require too much force. Just swap them out for other switches; most switches are cheap and affordable.
The Tri-Mode Trinity/Wireless
For most mechanical keyboard brands, the price difference between a wired model and a model that has wireless capabilities is significant– sometimes even double. That’s just how good being wireless is, and you’ll find that some budget brands opt to not go for wireless functionality.
Having a wireless mechanical keyboard isn’t just about getting rid of untidy wires or unruly cables. It’s also allowing a plethora of other devices apart from your computer to use the keyboard.
Android phones, tablets, and even smart TVs all have Bluetooth and if their firmware allows it, the mechanical keyboard can connect to these devices, letting you ditch the heavy laptop if all you’re going to be doing is typing.
‘Tri-mode’ refers to the connectivity trinity that’s present for a lot of control devices these days:
- Wired (usually USB-C)
- 2.4GHz Wireless (using the dongle)
Each one has its own advantages and disadvantages. Wired is the best for eliminating latency or delays. 2.4G wireless is better if you want a plug-and-play wireless connection that’s simple to setup but it’s prone to signal disruptions if you have other wireless devices present. Bluetooth is best for devices that don’t have USB ports though it’s the slowest out of the three and is also prone to signal disruptions if you have too many Bluetooth signals already.
Size & Layout
If you’re not into collecting mechanical keyboards for a hobby and you just want a one-size-fits-all device, then you’re better off sticking religiously to a form factor you prefer.
For mechanical keyboard, there are several form factors and they’re more varied compared to membrane keyboards.
These are the typical form factors:
- 60 Percent – No function row (F1-F12), and no Delete, Pg Up, Pg Down, etc. segment. Arrow keys are omitted as well. This is for minimalism and space saving.
- 65 Percent – It’s like a 60 Percent layout but with Arrow keys and perhaps a Home or End key crammed in the far right.
- 75 Percent – Like a 65 Percent but with the function row (F1-F12 or F13 sometimes). It comes with a dedicated Delete key too and Arrow keys. Some models also have a volume knob. Usually the same width as a 65 Percent layout but taller due the function row.
- TKL – Almost a full keyboard that’s missing a Numpad.
- Full/96/100 Percent – If you need a Numpad and just one keyboard, this is the only choice. Some full layouts are compressed and are only slightly wider than the TKL.
There are also other unusual layouts that you might prefer though they can be unconventional compared to the ones mentioned above:
- Alice Layout – Designed for ergonomics and to allow the hands to type or work in their natural position at the cost of keys, space, or functionality.
- 50 Percent or below – Some keyboards simply ditch the number key row since they’re just for usage in typing test websites or for showing off in conventions.
Modularity & Customizability
It’s not as important as the other specs mentioned above, but having a keyboard that is highly ‘moddable’ is a huge plus when it comes to repairing it or tinkering with it.
Certain budget brands or models, such as those found in the sub-$50 segment from brands like Redragon don’t allow for deeper or more complex modularity. That means you can’t open the keyboard and take apart the layers from the plate to the PCB board– at least without destroying some plastic or metal soldering first.
Meanwhile, brands like Keychron (like their Q1 models) or brands like Monsgeek (like their M1 models) allow you to take the keyboard apart as though it were a sandwich. From there, you could add your own modifications such as PE foam sheets to dampen the sound or the tape mod at the back of the PCB for a less hollow sound signature.
Having this kind of functionality for your keyboard also lets you or another keyboard modder repair it just in case something inexplicably wrong goes with it. Moreover, since parts are somewhat modular and easy to take apart, you can replace them in the off–change they break.
Brands like KBDFans actually sell parts for some of their keyboard models such as the PCB board, cases of different colors, and even gaskets. Modding will require some tutorials and common sense as well as a bit of basic knowledge on how electronics work; but if it lets you easily know what’s wrong with your keyboard or lets you personalize the device better, then it’s a good functionality.
Do be advised that the more customizable a mechanical keyboard is, the more expensive it will be.
You also might have noticed that we didn’t include mechanical keyboard specs such as switch type (clicky, tactile, or linear) and keycap height. That’s because those kinds of specs are subjective and are up to preference. That’s why Hotswappable is at the top of the list since it lets you try out different configurations to your heart’s content.