It’s hard to beat the tactility, durability, or good looks of a mechanical keyboard, but if you’re looking for one, it can be hard to know where to start. Here are our top picks, including both wired and wireless models, ranging from compact keyboards with laptop-style layouts to full-size keyboards complete with numpads, from budget to… not so budget.
A brief introduction to key keyboard terms
Switches — the component that registers each keypress. Available in many different varieties, which roughly break down into three categories:
Clicky switches — these make a big audible ‘click’ sound when you press them. The most famous example is the “Cherry MX Blue” switch, so these are sometimes referred to as “Blue” switches. Often recommended as the best switch for typists but have the disadvantage of being the loudest switch type.
Tactile switches — also known as “Brown” switches after “Cherry MX Brown,” these switches have a small bump you can feel as you press them. A nice halfway house.
Linear switches — aka “Red” switches, Linear switches have no bump or click. They just feel completely smooth. Generally recommended as a gaming switch.
Hot-swappable switches — switches that can be removed with a simple pulling tool without desoldering. Ideal if you want to change a keyboard’s feel without replacing the whole thing.
QMK — an open-source keyboard firmware that’s powerful and customizable but a little unintuitive for beginners.
VIA — a slickly-designed app to configure keyboards running QMK firmware.
Keycap profile — describes the shape of a set of keycaps. Cherry is a popular option that looks very traditional. Other options include MT3, DCX, and MDA. Here’s a handy site that compares the popular designs.
North-facing switches — when a keyboard’s switches are oriented with the LED cutout toward the back, which better illuminates shine-through legends.
South-facing switches — when a keyboard’s switches have the LED cutout at the front to avoid interference with Cherry-profile keycaps.
While there’s nothing wrong with more typical membrane keyboards like Apple’s popular Magic-branded devices, many prefer mechanical keyboards for their more tactile typing feel and superior durability. There’s also a sizable enthusiast community of people who like to modify and customize them to get their look and feel just right, which means they can be a fun hobby as well as a simple PC accessory.
For this list, we limited our recommendations to readily available, fully-assembled keyboards. That rules out any that you need to assemble yourself or which are only available in group buys or limited edition runs. With one exception, we prioritized keyboards that offer hot-swappable switches, so you can easily replace them if they break or you just fancy a change.
We tested each keyboard’s typing feel and sound (obviously), the quality of its chassis, keycaps, and stabilizers, how customizable the keymapping and lighting are, and the ability to use it across Mac and Windows computers (such as by offering keycap legends for either OS or being able to easily swap layouts with a switch or shortcut). We also noted whether switches are north- or south-facing since this impacts backlighting and keycap compatibility.
Most of the keyboards below use a 75 percent layout, which is a compact form factor that maintains a function row and arrow key cluster, like most laptop keyboards. It’s the best place to start unless you really want an attached number pad or know you prefer a different layout. Nearly all of our recommendations also come in other layouts, which we’ve linked where possible.
Finally, while any keyboard can be used for gaming, this guide focuses on the best keyboards for typing and general office work, so input latency and responsiveness weren’t major deciding factors. If you’re after a keyboard specifically for gaming, then stay tuned for our upcoming dedicated guide.
Best Mechanical Keyboards 2022
1. Keychron V1
The best wired keyboard for most people in 2022
The Keychron V1 is our pick for the best entry-level wired keyboard. Starting at just $84 for a fully assembled model, it’s one of the more affordable options on this list, but it feels almost as nice to type on as keyboards costing twice as much, and its build quality is lovely and sturdy. It also sounds amazing, with no discernable stabilizer rattle, and its 75 percent layout offers a nice mix of compactness without sacrificing too many important keys.
For such a low price, the V1 is packed with features usually found on enthusiast keyboards. It offers hot-swappable switches with south-facing RGB backlighting, and its switches and stabilizers feel nice and smooth. It’s fully programmable: you can remap every key using the intuitive and powerful VIA software on top of QMK — which works on Windows, Mac, and Linux and lets you do everything from moving keys around to programming macros directly into the keyboard itself.
The V1 comes with nice durable double-shot PBT keycaps, with both Mac and Windows legends, and a switch on the back of the keyboard lets you toggle between layouts instantly. You can get it with a volume knob for an extra $10 (pictured), or save $20 and buy a barebones version without keycaps or switches. Our sample came with Keychron’s own tactile K Pro Brown switches, but there are also clicky and linear options.
If you like the design of the V1 but don’t like its layout, Keychron also sells the more compact V2 (which has a 65 percent layout that omits the dedicated function row) or the even more compact V4 (with a 60 percent design that omits the arrow keys entirely). The tenkeyless V3 is not yet available as of this writing, and there’s no full-sized option (which would include a number pad), though at the rate Keychron is launching new models, that may not be the case when you read this.
2. Keychron Q1 v2
The best premium wired keyboard in 2022
Keychron’s Q-series keyboards have impressed us by offering the quality and features of expensive, limited run boards on an off-the-shelf model. Yes, they’re still expensive by the standards of PC accessories, but their sturdy aluminum construction, exceptional typing feel, and customizability mean they’re competitive with keyboards several times more expensive. That makes them fantastic upgrade picks over Keychron’s V-series but not the first option most people should consider, especially since many of the Q-series’ most compelling features, like VIA programming, hot-swappability, and per-key south-facing RGB backlighting, are also available on V-series boards.
The Q-series’ full aluminum case and gasket-mounted design make it feel much more substantial than the plastic keyboards I’ve tested. By effectively suspending its switch plate and PCB between gaskets, they flex a bit as you type, so the keyboard has a much deeper and richer typing sound compared to tray-mounted keyboards like the Keychron V-series. It’s more customizable than the V1, too; Keychron sells replacement switch plates in different materials that change how it feels and sounds.
A final advantage of the Q series is the dizzying array of available layouts. We think the 75 percent Q1 v2, which, as of this writing, starts at $170.10 for a fully assembled model, is the sweet spot in terms of size. (The v2 model fixes some of the minor fit and finish issues of the original Q1, fixes that are incorporated into the other layouts as well.) Our sample has tactile Gateron G Pro Brown switches, and there are also clicky and linear options available.
Beyond the Q1, there is a 65 percent option, plus larger layouts like tenkeyless or full size. There are even some esoteric layout options like 40 percent, 60 percent, and Alice (not to mention a standalone number pad). All are available with or without a volume knob and have barebones options for those who want to supply their own switches and keycaps. The ISO versions — for UK and European layouts — are only available barebones, though Keychron sells ISO keycap sets separately.
3. Epomaker TH80
An excellent wireless 75 percent mechanical keyboard
For a wireless mechanical keyboard option, we really like the Epomaker TH80. It feels fantastic to type on, supports Bluetooth connections to up to three different devices, and also includes a 2.4GHz wireless USB dongle if you don’t want to mess around with Bluetooth pairing. We also like that it has separate Mac-specific keycaps in the box and allows you to switch between Mac and Windows layouts with a simple keyboard shortcut.
Like the Keychron V1 and Q1, the Epomaker TH80 is a 75 percent keyboard with hot-swap switches and a volume knob. It has a plastic case and steel switch plate, and while it doesn’t feel quite as premium as Keychron’s Q-series keyboards, it’s got nice crisp PBT keycaps in MDA profile, smooth stabilizers, and a typing feel that’s on par with the slightly cheaper wired-only Keychron V1. Our review sample came with linear Gateron Pro Yellow switches, but there is a range of linear and clicky options available.
The Epomaker TH80’s layout can be remapped with software that works on both Mac and Windows computers. It’s not as slick or powerful as the VIA app used by Keychron’s boards but still lets you remap every key (aside from the Function key) with alternative keys or macros. (By contrast, VIA lets you move the function key, too, or add additional function keys for different layers).
The TH80 doesn’t have secondary functions printed on its keycaps, so you’ll need to keep its manual to hand to remind yourself what they do. And while it features per-key RGB lighting (with south-facing LEDs), keeping the backlighting on in wireless mode absolutely tanks its battery life. I got just two and a half days of use over Bluetooth with the keyboard’s RGB lighting set to maximum, compared to eight work days with the backlight off before I had to plug it in to recharge.
Although the TH80 comes in our favorite 75 percent layout, Epomaker has a larger version with a numpad, as well as a smaller 65 percent model. If you’re on a tighter budget, the $80 Royal Kludge RK84 is a little cheaper without compromising too much on typing feel, though its software is Windows-only and its layout is a little more smushed.
We also really liked using the Iqunix L80 Cosmic Traveler. It’s more expensive at $189, it’s not easily remappable, and it has a loud color scheme that won’t be to everyone’s tastes. But it feels phenomenal to type on, with plate-mounted, Cherry-style stabilizers that don’t have a hint of rattle and up to 200 days of battery life over Bluetooth with the backlight off.
4. Ajazz AK966
An almost full-sized wireless model
The $140 Ajazz AK966 is our pick if you want a wireless keyboard with a numpad. It uses an 1800 layout, which means it has most of the keys of a full-size keyboard, albeit in a layout that squishes them together a little to reduce its overall footprint. This larger layout also corresponds to a larger 10,000mAh battery, which here is rated to offer up to 1,200 hours on a single charge (though, once again, you’re going to want to disable its RGB lighting to get this sort of longevity — with RGB on rated battery life drops to around 50 hours).
The AK966 has a nice crisp typing feel and stabilizers that feel smooth and don’t rattle. Its construction isn’t quite at the level of Keychron’s Q-series since Ajazz’s keyboard has a plastic case, but it feels noticeably nicer to type on than the cheaper Epomaker TH80 and Keychron V1. The AK966’s keycaps are PBT, with legends that are nice and clear. Once again, there are no secondary functions printed on its keycaps, so be sure to keep its manual to hand so you know its keyboard shortcuts. It also has a volume knob.
Although it includes Mac keycaps in the box, with a key combination to let you hop between Windows and Mac layouts, Ajazz’s software — for customizing the AK966’s layout, configuring its lighting, or recording macros — is only available on Windows. We don’t think that’s a dealbreaker, given its 96 percent layout includes basically every default key you’d want as standard, but it’s worth bearing in mind if you can’t live without dedicated keys for Home, End, or Print Screen or if you’re used to customizing particular keyboard shortcuts. The keyboard is also only available with linear Kailh Cream switches, so if you prefer clicky or tactile switches, you’ll have to buy them separately. That’s also not a dealbreaker since the board is hot-swappable.
5. LTC Nimbleback
A more affordable wired 65 percent keyboard
At $30 less than the price of the Keychron V1 and half the price of our top pick, the $55 65 percent LTC Nimbleback punches well above its weight. It’s very full-featured for its price, with shine-through RGB lighting and hot-swappable switches, and it even has a built-in USB hub, with a pair of USB Type-A ports to plug extra accessories into your computer.
As you might expect, given the price difference, the LTC Nimbleback’s construction isn’t as solid as the Keychron V1, and it doesn’t feel as nice to type on as any of the picks above. Its switches feel slightly less smooth and more scratchy with each press, there’s a slight rattle to the stabilizers on larger keys like the space bar, and it sounds a bit hollow overall. It’s also made of plastic, and while it is reprogrammable, its companion software is only available on Windows. But the LTC Nimbleback’s typing feel holds its own against more similarly priced competitors, including the $68 Keychron K6.
The LTC Nimbleback is available with clicky, linear, or tactile switches (we had the latter). If the model listed here looks a little too small for your liking, then there’s also a full-size version available for $75.
6. NuPhy Air75
A good low-profile wireless mechanical keyboard
If you’re after the tactility of a mechanical keyboard but prefer a low-profile design that’s similar to a traditional laptop keyboard, there is an increasing number of options available to you. Of these, we think the $110 NuPhy Air75 is the best. It feels great to type on, is equally at home on Mac or Windows, and connects either over Bluetooth or an included 2.4GHz wireless USB dongle. We used the keyboard with linear Gateron Red low-profile switches, but it’s also available with tactile or clicky options.
Unlike the more expensive Logitech MX Mini, it’s also hot-swappable, which we think gives the NuPhy Air 75 a slight edge. Hot-swap sockets aren’t quite as important on low-profile keyboards, given there simply aren’t as many low-profile switch options out there — and there are several different mutually incompatible low-profile switch types — but it’s still a nice feature to have, and NuPhy sells compatible switches.
There’s one very good reason to consider the more expensive Logitech MX Mini, and that’s battery life. In my testing, the Nuphy Air75 ran dry after around a week of use, while Logitech’s had enough juice for two, even with backlighting on (this extends up to a lengthy 10 months with backlighting off). Logitech’s low-profile mech is also available with a larger full-size layout (great if you need a numpad).
7. Kinesis Freestyle Pro
A split ergonomic option
They’re very much a niche option, but plenty of people swear by split keyboards, which are designed to let you type with your hands further apart, and your shoulders in a more neutral position. Of these, we recommend the Kinesis Freestyle Pro.
It doesn’t have hot-swappable switches, which means you’re stuck with the Cherry MX Brown or Cherry MX Silent Red switches that it comes with unless you’re willing to do some soldering. But at $179, it’s relatively affordable by the often exorbitant prices of split keyboards (the ErgoDox EZ Original starts at $324, for example, while the ZSA Moonlander is $365), and it has a layout that’s much closer to a traditional keyboard than a lot of other ergonomic options. It means there’s less of a learning curve if you’re coming from a standard keyboard layout.
That’s not to say there aren’t hot-swappable ergonomic options out there. We really enjoyed the ZSA Moonlander. ZSA’s Oryx configurator software offers a ton of options to create highly customized layouts, and optional accessories like an angled stand and tripod mounting kit mean you can tailor the keyboard to your exact needs. It also offers hot-swappable switches, which we normally consider an essential part of a modern keyboard, but we don’t think that justifies the price premium for most people. But at $365, the Moonlander is, by some margin, the most expensive keyboard on this list, and its columnar layout and thumb clusters take a lot of getting used to. (Though ZSA does allow you to return the keyboard within 30 days of when you get it.)
If you absolutely must have the most customizable ergonomic option available, then the ZSA Moonlander is a great pick. But most people who just want a more ergonomic keyboard with a familiar layout will be satisfied with the Kinesis Freestyle Pro.
Additional reporting by Jay Peters.
Source: The Verge