The Best Mechanical Keyboards for Developers

Like the weight of a good pen or the balance of a chef’s knife, you can appreciate the quality of a mechanical keyboard just by using it. The stability of the metal casing, the confident click of the keys, and the playful ambience of the RGB backlighting invite you to type.

A keyboard is one of a developer’s primary tools, so get a good one. You need one that’s reliable, feels comfortable, and makes you productive. It’s a choice that deserves the investment of some time and money.

Developers Deserve a Better Keyboard

Everyone can benefit from a mechanical keyboard, but they’re particularly suitable for developers because you spend a great deal of time typing.

They use mechanical switches that inspire more confidence than squishy membrane keyboards. They leave no doubt when you’ve pressed a key, and many people type faster and more accurately because of it.

They’re also better for your health, especially if you’re a heavy typist. They have longer travel that requires your fingers to move through a greater distance to complete a keystroke, requiring less force.

If you find yourself typing for hours at a time, you’re much less likely to develop strain injuries using a mechanical keyboard.

What to Look for in a Mechanical Keyboard

Here are a few things you should weigh up when choosing a mechanical keyboard.

Select the right keyboard layout

One of the most appealing things about mechanical keyboards is that there is so much variety. That starts with the keyboard layout. You choose whether to include function keys, cursor keys, a numeric keypad, and more.

For example, you might want dedicated media keys or programmable macro keys. You may need a numeric keyboard, or prefer the smaller size of a keyboard without one.

Here are the main keyboard layouts used by mechanical keyboards:

100% or full-size, typically 104 keys, including the alpha block, function keys, cursor keys, numeric keypad.
80% or TKL (tenkeyless), typically 87 keys including the alpha block, function keys, cursor keys.
75%, typically 82 keys including most of the keys on a TKL keyboard combined into a single block to be more compact.
65%, typically 68 keys including just the alpha block and most cursor keys.
60%, typically 60 keys and the alpha block only.
40%, typically 49 keys made of a minimal alpha block layout where many keys serve two functions and require the use of a second key.

In this roundup, I’ve assumed most developers prefer lots of keys on their workhorse keyboard and recommend 100% or TKL. However, if you prefer something more portable, most keyboard manufacturers offer a range of sizes.

The choice of switches determines your typing experience

Many developers agonize over the choice of mechanical switches, because this makes the greatest difference to how your keyboard will feel and sound. While you may find the descriptions below helpful, you’ll make a much better choice if you can find a way to test the different switches in person.

Here are some of the more popular brands of mechanical switches and the main switch types that are available.

Cherry MX Switches (used by Corsair, Kinesis):

Red switches are linear
Brown switches are tactile
Blue switches are clicky

Gateron Switches (used by SteelSeries, Keychron):

Red and yellow switches are linear and quiet
Blue and green switches are clicky
Brown switches are tactile and gentle
Black switches are linear and gentle
White switches are linear and quiet

Outemu Switches (used by Redragon):

Brown switches are tactile
Blue switches are tactile and clicky
Red and black switches are linear

Logitech, Razer and HyperX make their own range of mechanical switches.

Some companies, like Razer and Gateron, offer optical switches. They’re faster because they communicate keystrokes using infrared light rather than an electrical contact. They’re ideal for gaming, but probably don’t offer any real benefit when coding.

So far, we’ve just described the switches. The actual keys that are attached to the switches are called “key caps”, and they can usually be switched out as well. Many colors and styles are available if you want to personalize your keyboard.

High profile or low profile

Most mechanical keyboards use high profile keys with long travel, meaning that your fingers need to move further to press the keys down. These make it less likely to encounter repetitive strain injury.

However, if you’re used to normal laptop keys, it may take time to get used to this. As a result, Gateron, Logitech, and Razer all offer low profile mechanical switches. These come midway between high profile switches and laptop keyboards.

Programmable keys and macros

Many developers want to personalize their typing experience by creating macros and alternate keyboard layouts. Some keyboards, like the Corsair K100 and Logitech G915, offer additional keys that can be used to trigger your macros.

And although there are plenty of scripting and macro applications available, many mechanical keyboards come with their own software:

Razer Blackwidow Elite: Razer Hypershift software
Corsair K100: iCUE application
Kinesis Advantage 2: SmartSet programming engine
SteelSeries Apex Pro: SteelSeries Engine
HyperX Alloy Elite 2: HyperX NGENUITY software

Finally, a small number of keyboards, such as the Logitech G915, come with onboard memory to store and run your macros directly from the keyboard. You can then rely on your macros to work no matter which computer you’ve plugged your keyboard into.

Weight may be important to you

If your keyboard is just going to sit on your desk, then weight won’t be an issue. But if you want a portable keyboard, it may be one of the deciding factors.

Here are the weights of the keyboards included in this roundup, sorted from lightest to heaviest:

Keychron K1: 2.1 lbs (0.95 kg)
SteelSeries Apex Pro: 2.14 lbs (0.97 kg)
Kinesis Advantage 2: 2.2 lbs (1.0 kg)
Logitech G915: 2.26 lbs (1.025 kg)
Redragon K556: 2.60 lbs (1.18 kg)
Corsair K100: 2.89 lbs (1.31 kg)
HyperX Alloy Elite 2: 3.31 lbs (1.5 kg)
Razer Blackwidow Elite: 3.69 lbs (1.67 kg)

Wired or wireless

Most mechanical keyboards are wired. This has benefits, such as less latency, resulting in a more responsive experience. It also means you’ll never have to charge a battery, and that could be an issue given that most mechanical keyboards are backlit.

If you use your keyboard with the same computer at the same desk every day, there’s little downside to using a wired keyboard.

However, some companies do offer wireless mechanical keyboards. We only include two in this roundup:

Logitech G915 (30 hours battery)
Keychron K1 (10 hours battery)

These keyboards can also be plugged in to your computer and use USB bus power. To maximize the battery life when using them wirelessly, you may wish to dim or disable the backlight.

Extra features

Many keyboards offer additional features, such as a wrist rest or detachable cable. Some offer USB passthrough ports for easy connection of your peripherals. Most include programable RGB backlighting that looks great when you’re working late.

High ratings from users and testers

While consumer reviews and ratings are never 100% reliable, it’s useful to take into account the feedback from real users and experts who have conducted comparative testing.

Here are consumer ratings (out of 5 stars) for each keyboard by general users who may not be considering the suitability of the keyboard for programming in particular. The list is sorted with the highest-rated keyboards on top:

SteelSeries Apex Pro: 4.8 stars, 11,219 reviews
Corsair K100: 4.8 stars, 1,540 reviews
HyperX Alloy Elite 2: 4.8 stars, 686 reviews
Razer Blackwidow Elite: 4.7 stars, 5,327 reviews
Logitech G915: 4.7 stars, 1,371 reviews
Redragon K556: 4.6 stars, 5,898 reviews
Kinesis Advantage 2: 4.5 stars, 343 reviews
Keychron K1: 4.3 stars, 337 reviews

RTINGS is a popular review site that has conducted careful tests on a wide range of mechanical keyboards. Here are their ratings (out of 10) on their suitability for programming, sorted from highest to lowest:

Razer Blackwidow Elite: 8.2
Corsair K100: 8.2
Kinesis Freestyle Edge: 8.0
SteelSeries Apex Pro: 8.0
HyperX Alloy Elite 2: 7.6
Logitech G915: 7.6
Keychron K1: 7.4
Redragon K556: 6.9

Gamers may also be interested in RTINGS gaming rating (also out of 10):

Razer Blackwidow Elite: 9.5
Corsair K100: 9.5
SteelSeries Apex Pro: 9.5
HyperX Alloy Elite 2: 9.2
Logitech G915: 9.2
Kinesis Freestyle Edge: 9.0
Keychron K1: 8.0
Redragon K556: 7.9

Price

Since you’re purchasing a tool that will make a significant impact on your health and productivity, price shouldn’t be the most important factor when you make your choice.

But if you’re unfamiliar with mechanical keyboards and want to spend some time using one before investing a lot of money, you might like to choose one of the more affordable models.

Here are the list prices of the keyboards in this buyer’s guide, starting with the most affordable:

Redragon K556: $69.99 list, check price on Amazon
Keychron K1: $99.00 list, check price on Amazon
HyperX Alloy Elite 2: $199.85 list, check price on Amazon
Razer Blackwidow Elite: $169.99 list, check price on Amazon
SteelSeries Apex Pro: $209.99 list, check price on Amazon
Corsair K100: $229.99 list, check price on Amazon
Logitech G915: $249.99 list, check price on Amazon
Kinesis Advantage 2: $349.00 list, check price on Amazon

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The Best Mechanical Keyboards for Developers
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