Did you know that the famous QWERTY layout, the one we all use for our laptops, came out in 1868, while the first personal computer was released in early 1971? The QWERTY and other layouts were employed in typewriters to make transcription faster and more accurate.
We’re talking about more than 150 years of history, during which keyboards have been used extensively for transcription and later communication with personal computers. It’s only natural that keyboards evolved to reflect the features of modern laptops and PCs during that time.
Today, there are hundreds of keyboards with different styles (magic keyboard, numeric, etc.), layouts (QWERTY, DVORAK, COLEMAK, etc.), connection methods (wireless vs. cable), sizes, and so on. So, depending on your specific interest, we can break down keyboards in different ways.
Let’s take a look at the most popular and common keyboard types.
Types of Keyboards
The question “What are the 3 types of keyboards?” is very broad and could relate to many different categories. Keyboard types vary in purpose, features, and design. For instance, we have different gaming keyboards, ergonomic keyboards, virtual keyboards, keyboard layouts, numeric keyboards, connectivity options, sizes, switches, and so on.
So, in that sense, there are around a dozen very popular keyboards. Some of those are:
The QWERTY Keyboard
The QWERTY keyboard is the most popular and widely used keyboard layout. All keyboards with the “qwerty” letter order in the first row are considered QWERTY. There are also the DVORAK and COLEMAK keyboards and many QWERTY variations.
Keyboards that have special switches for managing multimedia very quickly and easily. Multimedia keyboards have buttons for “play,” “pause,” “rewind,” “fast forward,” “mute,” and even a “launch media” button.
Just like the name suggests, wireless keyboards are external keyboards that connect with your PC or laptop through Bluetooth, USB, or Wifi – without wires. What they all have in common is that they do not need a cable connection.
The physical design of ergonomic keyboards is slightly curved or raised with the purpose of providing a better experience for users who use both hands while typing – eliminating muscle pain and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Most gaming keyboards are mechanical keyboards. To know whether yours is mechanical check if pressing a key makes a loud “clack” noise. If yes, then it’s likely that you have a mechanical keyboard. There are also membrane and scissor keyboards.
Unlike any type of physical keyboard (the ones we can touch), virtual keyboards exist inside the computer. They appear on the screen, and you can click on them with the mouse to write something. Virtual keyboards are also used on smartphones and tablets with a touch-screen.
Apple manufactures keyboards that are called Magic keyboards. The Magic keyboards are feature a standard QWERTY layout and are wireless and rechargeable – supported by a Mac battery that’s claimed to last up to a month or more. It also automatically connects to your MacBook or iMac through Bluetooth.
Gaming keyboards are almost always mechanical because they’re faster, more durable, and offer better accuracy. This is why gaming keyboards are usually a lot louder when typing. They also have special customizable keys (macro keys) for added precision, and the switches are stronger – made to withhold more pressure.
Last but not least, another popular keyboard type is numerical. It’s a small keyboard that features only the numbers from 0 to 9 and special buttons for basic mathematical operations such as plus, minus, equal signs, and so on. Many laptop keyboards have a numerical keyboard on the right side, right next to the QWERTY keyboard. QWERTY plus a numerical keyboard on the right is the most common design in laptops today.
Keep in mind these categories or our list are not exclusive and overlap. For instance, a QWERTY keyboard can also be a wireless or Bluetooth multimedia keyboard. These are just the most common and popular keyboards out there.
But, now that we know that let’s go back to our original question, “What Are the Three Types of Keyboards?” While there are many keyboards, there are three keyboard switches: mechanical, membrane, and scissor.
Therefore, based on the type of switch a keyboard has, we can say that there are three types of keyboards. Let’s explain them in detail.
The keyboard switch is the mechanism under the keycaps, responsible for determining whether the key was pressed and sending that information to the computer. Keyboard switches register every individual press on the key.
Now, the term “keyboard switches” almost always refers to a mechanical keyboard because they’re most common and widely used – especially in high-quality keyboards for PCs and gaming keyboards. However, there are also membrane switches and scissor switches.
The Three Types of Keyboards Based on Switches
If you’ve heard that there are three types of keyboard, chances are that it was about the keyboard switches. Based on the switches we have:
- mechanical keyboards, which are almost always external keyboards for PC;
- membrane keyboards, also external but more lightweight and silent;
- scissor keyboards for smaller and lightweight keys in most laptops.
If you google online “switches types” or “keyboard switch,” almost all entries will be about mechanical keyboards or mechanical switch types. This is because mechanical keyboards are considered more durable, faster, more precise, and have a better tactile feel when typing or gaming. Therefore, keyboard enthusiasts will tell you that mechanical keyboards are the best way to go, especially if you’re buying one for your PC or need it for gaming.
In mechanical keyboards, each key has its own complete switch mechanism. You can remove the keycaps and observe the mechanism underlying them without damaging the keyboard, which is very difficult in membrane and scissor keyboards.
But, not all mechanical switches share the same mechanism. There are three types of mechanical switches: linear, tactile, and clicky.
Types of Mechanical Switches
Linear switches feel very smooth when you press them as they glide down. There’s no tactile feedback once you press a key. The most famous linear switch is the Cherry MX Red – marketed as the fastest gaming keyboard.
Tactile switches are very similar to linear, but they include tactile feedback when you press the key. You feel a bump when you press the key down, letting you know that the computer registered the pressed key. One of the most popular tactics switches is the Cherry MX Brown – marketed as the most precise keyboard.
Clicky switches go a little beyond tactile switches, and on top of the tactile feedback, they also produce a loud sound (audio feedback). So, clicky keyboards are very loud and have a more vintage feel to them, almost like writing on an old typewriter. And, they’re a hit or miss among people. Some love them because of that vintage feel, while others are annoyed by their loud sound. The Cherry MX Blue is an industry-standard for clicky keyboards.
While mechanical keyboards take the number one spot for being very fast, precise, and durable, membrane keyboards are sometimes preferred because they’re quiet, portable, and more affordable.
Affordability comes mainly from the simpler manufacturing process, which is why most keyboards today are membrane keyboards.
Membrane keyboard keys are not separate like in the mechanical keyboard. They’re actually made by placing a flexible plastic sheet on top of electrically conductive ink. The symbols or key labels are printed on the flexible sheet, and when the user presses down, it touches the conductive traces underneath, allowing current to flow to the device. This is how the computer knows that a key was pressed.
Because of the mechanism, membrane keyboards produce no sound or tactile feedback. Moreover, their sealed nature makes them more resistant to dust, dirt, food particles, and even liquid (some, not all).
Today, Logitech and Razer produce some of the best and most popular membrane keyboards. If you’re interested, you can check out the Logitech G213 membrane keyboard.
Scissor keyboards aim to bridge the two extremes and offer a hybrid solution: a quiet and fast keyboard with plastic mechanical-like keys on top of a membrane. And, this is what we see in most laptop keyboards today, including Apple’s products.
Scissor switches have small plastic keycaps that are attached to two plastic pieces. These pieces interlock together in an X shape that opens and closes as you press the key, hence the scissor name.
Apple uses a very similar mechanism to the scissor switches. But because it uses a single assembly instead of two-piece assembly, and movement of the switch looks like wings closing and opening, the mechanism is called the butterfly switch.
All in all, scissor keyboards are a great idea for people who do not want to deal with mushy membrane keyboards, but still want the affordability, portability, and quietness that membranes offer. On top of that, scissor keyboards have a more tacrice and crispy feel when you’re typing.
How to Choose the Right Keyboard?
As you can see, there are way more than just three types of keyboards. For instance, there are three types of keyboards based on switches, but then if we take a look at one category, for instance mechanical keyboards, you have an additional three types of mechanical switches. This makes it extremely difficult for people to feel confident in their choice when buying a keyboard. With so many options available, how to pick the right one for your needs?
Here are several tips to consider when deciding what type of keyboard you’ll need.
- Purpose of use: What do you need a keyboard for?
The first factor that will narrow your search significantly is the work type. For instance, do you need a keyboard for gaming or for work? Gaming keyboards are more ergonomic and mechanical which means faster and more precise. However, because of that, they’re more expensive.But, even if money is not an issue, buying a mechanical keyboard for your office is a bad idea, especially if you work with other people in the same space. Mechanical keyboards are loud and distracting.Also, what kind of work do you do? Content creators and video editors will probably benefit more from buying a multimedia keyboard that features special keys for multimedia.
Always think about what you’re going to use your keyboard for before you splurge on the latest model.
Everything that we’ve discussed so far in this article should help you make a better decision on the type of keyboard you need, especially the type of switches you want your keyboard to have.
Mechanical switches are loud, even the most quiet ones. They’re fast and precise, but also expensive.
Membrane switches are mushy and flexible. They have a very specific soft texture that a lot of people might not like. In addition, they’re very quiet, lightweight, and portable. Some even come as flexible sheets that you can roll up and take in your backpack.
Scissor switches are probably in the middle as they’re most prevalent in today’s modern keyboards for general use. They have a hard, plastic surface with very thin keycaps and a membrane below them. They produce a sound but are much quieter than any mechanical keyboard. Plus, they’re more affordable.
Design and Layout
Keyboards can have a unique and ergonomic design that aims to prevent muscle fatigue or carpal tunnel syndrome. They might not be as aesthetically pleasing or compact, but they’re essential for people who spend all their time typing.
However, since ergonomic keyboards are not as common, you might need to pay a little extra. So, think how much you’ll benefit from an ergonomic keyboard instead of a regular one.
Also, while speaking about the design, there are keyboards with integrated lights in them, so they glow in the dark. That’s very useful for someone who uses their keyboard at night or at night.
Finally, the layout of the letters is important. The industry standard is the QWERTY keyboard, but if English is not your official language, it might be worth seeing other layouts that might be more appropriate for your language. For instance, some have special characters that are absent in the English language.
Last but not least, you should consider how you want your keyboard to connect to your computer. Will standard cable keyboards meet your needs or do you need to invest in a wireless one?Wireless keyboards will make your desk less clutter, give you more flexibility and freedom to move around, and are more portable.
However, if you need a keyboard for gaming, wireless keyboards might not be a good choice because the connection is slower than cable or wired connection, leading to lagging.
Since most of us are spending our work day, and probably part of your free time on your computers, typing on our keyboard, knowing how to choose the right one your needs is crucial and can make all the difference.
And, smart choices are powered by the right information. Understanding the different types of keyboards and why those categories exist will allow you to choose the right keyboard for your needs. If you need a fast and precise keyboard for gaming, you should go with a mechanical. If you want an extremely quiet keyboard that you can roll up and take it wherever you go, you should go with a membrane keyboard. Finally, if you want a good keyboard for general use, scissor or butterfly keyboards are your best bet.
Once you choose one of the three types of keyboards based on switches, you can dive deep into the category and find the one with the best design, layout, or connectivity for your more specific needs or circumstances.