Remember the old IBM Selectric typewriter? The keys felt great, it made satisfying clicking sounds and no one ever complained of repetitive strain injuries. Don't you wish you could type on your computer using an old Selectric?
Oh, you haven't heard of the IBM Selectric? Well, whippersnapper, have you heard of Carpel Tunnel Syndrome and tennis elbow? We thought so. As attorneys, we all spend so much of our days in an office, on a keyboard, no matter if we are young or old. We're all in this together, so please read on.
If your keyboard is causing you pain, or if you just want to upgrade that thing you click on for hours every day, it might be time to consider a mechanical keyboard.
What Is a Mechanical Keyboard?
Most keyboards today are membrane keyboards. They're cheap, but the keys are mushy and there's no audible click to tell you when the key activates. With no feedback, you tend to "bottom out" the key, pushing it down all the way and using more force than you need. That can cause repetitive strain injury.
Mechanical keyboards have a high-quality, individual switch under each key. The switches give you an audible click, so that you can type with less force. And the keys bounce up quicker, allowing you to type faster with fewer typos. "Key feel" is a subjective term, but it's pretty much universally agreed that mechanical keyboards feel better. Like the old Selectric.
Is There a Downside?
Of course. Mechanical keyboards are louder than membrane keyboards. They are more expensive, at around $90 and up. They are also heavier, making them less appealing to carry around. On the other hand, who carries around a keyboard? If you're fighting pain, stiffness and numbness, you might find that the pros outweigh the cons.
So, Which One Should I Get?
How to choose the right mechanical keyboard for you? Well, the majority of mechanical keyboard enthusiasts are programmers and gamers, so you can imagine there are a lot of subtle intricacies (cherry red switches, cherry blue, O-rings, etc.) that only the initiated can hope to understand. However, we're lawyers, so let's just look at a smattering of the most popular models.
- Matias keyboards: If you need a quiet keyboard, the consensus points to Matias as making the quietest on the market. Matias has a range of products from around $120 to $200.
- If you're looking for a smaller keyboard, without the 10-key pad, the CM Storm QuickFire Rapid might be for you. It has high ratings on Amazon and only costs around $90.
- The Das Keyboard: is one of the few mechanical keyboards marketed for business people rather than gamers. If you want to look like a total badass, get their Ultimate version -- all the keys are blank. This forces you to really learn to touch type and does a great job keeping other people off your computer. The only disadvantage is, you know, all the keys are blank. About $130 on Amazon.
Try Them Out If You Can
It's best to try a selection of mechanical keyboards and see which one is right for you, so check out a large electronics or computer store and see what they have. Unfortunately, these are expensive specialty items, so don't expect a good selection. You might need to turn to Amazon and make use of their excellent return policy as you find your perfect keyboard that reduces your pain and fends off repetitive strain injuries. Just don't get yourself banned for making too many returns.
Editor's note, April 19, 2016: This post was first published in April, 2014. It has since been updated.
- Mechanical Keyboard FAQ: Pick the Right Switch (PC World)
- Efficiency 101: Optimizing the Workplace to Boost Productivity (FindLaw's Strategist)
- Law Office Ergonomics: Tips for Staying Pain-Free (FindLaw's Strategist)