Mechanical keyboards — in which every key uses an individual physical switch to send information to your computer, rather than activating a contact on a membrane as in a modern laptop keyboard — have been growing in popularity as gamers, developers, writers and a growing number of enthusiasts have pushed back on the thinner-is-better aesthetic of modern computer design, looking to the past for a typing experience that’s bigger, louder and easier on the fingers.
We spent the last year of workdays typing, navigating and otherwise putting 50 (yes, it’s too many) popular and not-so-popular mechanical keyboards through their paces (we also wrote this very article using the relevant products under review). We found a whole bunch of great models, so regardless of your typing style, we’ve picked out the best mechanical keyboard for you.
A note: Manufacturers offer keyboards in a wide variety of layouts (which we’ll get into below), but where multiple layouts were available we focused on 75% keyboards — the layout you’re familiar with from laptop computers.
The Keychron Q1 — quiet, stable and simple to customize and configure — has long been our recommendation, and the new Q1 Pro adds Bluetooth connectivity, making it not just the best built and most comfortable to type on out of all the keyboards we've tested, but even more convenient.
Best mechanical keyboard overall: Keychron Q1 Pro
$199 at Keychron
Keychrons’s Q-series keyboards are so comfortable and quiet to type on, so easy to configure to taste and so solidly built that unless you’re an enthusiast who is after something specific from a custom build, we really don’t see any reason to spend more on a mechanical keyboard. In fact, after trying more than 50 keyboards, the 75%-layout Q1 was the one we kept returning to — it was simply the most pleasant to use in every respect.
The Q1 Pro, the latest iteration on the Keychron Q-series platform, ups the ante on the already great Q1 — our longstanding top recommendation for mechanical keyboards — keeping the sturdy build, quality switches and keycaps and QMK customizability, sacrificing nothing, and making the whole thing wireless. It’s an unbeatable combination.
As with its predecessors, the Keychron Q1 Pro is built around a weighty anodized aluminum housing, along with a gasket-mounted switch plate (neoprene pads isolate the plate from the housing itself; in this Q1 Pro’s case the plate itself is plastic rather than metal as in the earlier model) and smooth, noiseless screw-in stabilizers make the Q-series keyboards not just luxurious-feeling and sure to stay put on your desk but also significantly quieter than any other Cherry MX-compatible mechanical keyboard we tried. And like the prior Q1, the keyboard is so well damped that you won’t annoy your family and colleagues even if you prefer clicky switches.
You’ll notice a few minor changes from the rest of the Q-series. Most evident is the addition of a wireless/wired switch on the rear panel), plus you’ll find a little plastic window in the rear of the case (that’s where the BT antenna is). Making massive aluminum cases like this wireless has been a challenge for manufacturers, and a little plastic here and there adds transparency.
Battery life is solid — Keychron claims 300 hours without backlighting, 90 with the LEDs on. We got a full week of workdays with the backlighting turned down low, which is competitive with most of the quality keyboards we tested, and means in practical use you’re unlikely to run into problems. They Q1 Pro can still work wirelessly if you plug it in, or you can switch over to a wired connection.
It’s an unbeatable combination, and while it isn’t a “budget” keyboard, the newly improved Q1 Pro is certainly the best bang for the buck we’ve seen — and since wireless connectivity is so handy to have, it easily unseats its predecessor to become our favorite keyboard overall. Unless you have specific needs that can only be addressed by ultra-high-end or custom models, It’s hard to see how spending any more would get you a better mechanical keyboard experience. If you really don’t think you’ll ever want to connect wirelessly, you should check out the standard Keychron Q1, of course, but we think having the option is worth it.
While this wasn’t a major factor in our reviewing, if you feel like remapping keys, assigning macros or tweaking the backlighting, you can do so using the open-source QMK configuration software. We did this using the VIA editor, and found it fairly easy to edit and load your own layouts. VIA and QMK are not as straightforward as some of the configuration packages offered by gaming keyboard manufacturers, but it’s nice to have the ability to change things up. Thoughtfully, the latest Q1 firmware even includes an preprogrammed caps-lock illumination, saving you the trouble of having to set it up yourself in QMK/VIA (as we did when testing the original version), making it easier for less technically inclined, more productivity-minded users to get the best experience out of the box.
As with previous Q models, newcomers may find a few things odd (though they’ll be familiar features for keyboard connoisseurs. In keeping with the enthusiast aesthetic, the Q-series doesn’t ship with shine-through illuminated keycaps, so the RGB lighting (which is “south-facing” to allow for the widest compatibility with custom keycaps) is there more as an ambient effect than as an aid to seeing legends in the dark. And the housing doesn’t have adjustable feet, though we have no complaints with the slight angle over several months of use.
The Q1 Pro is the most successful attempt we’ve seen so far at bringing the best of enthusiast mechanical keyboards — hot-swappable switches, easily tunable LED lighting effects, a heavyweight case and all the customizability you might want — to the casual user, at a price that, while not cheap, is very fair for what you’re getting
Best wireless mechanical keyboard: Keychron K8 Pro
From $99 at Keychron
While they aren’t quite as luxurious as the Q series, Keychron’s K-series keyboards offer the best balance of typing comfort, useful productivity and convenience features, affordability and wireless connectivity of any mechanical keyboard we tested. They’re also easy to find direct or at mainstream online retailers, making it the most accessible way for the curious to get into mechanical keyboards.
With the K8 Pro, Keychron has brought some of the high-end features introduced with the Q-series semi-custom keyboards — comfortable PBT keycaps, dense damping foam for quieter performance, south-facing RGB lighting for wider keycap customizability and full programmability via the open source QMK firmware and VIA software tool — back to the company’s affordable core offerings. The K-series was already hard to beat for value, and this new configuration makes it not just a great first mechanical keyboard, but maybe the only one you’ll ever actually need. The K8 Pro is simply the best wireless keyboard under $100 we’ve yet found.
We tried various other K-series models, from the basic (white backlighting, plastic case) to the fully spec’d (RGB lighting, aluminum outer housing), and found them all to be a pleasure to type on. The smooth Gateron G Pro switches are smooth and tactile, and the backlit doubleshot ABS keycaps that come with most models rare solid under the fingers, with easy-to-read legends both lit and unlit. (The PBT keycaps on the K8 Pro aren’t shine-through, but they’re much more pleasant to type on and we still preferred them overall.)
Connecting to and switching between Bluetooth hosts (via Bluetooth 5.1, it supports up to three) was quick, and connections (with an iPad, Surface and a MacBook Pro) have been stable over the months we’ve used the keyboard. As with all Keychron boards, you can switch Bluetooth on and off and choose between Mac and Windows modifier key layouts via a pair of hardware switches, so you’re set to work with any device on your desk with a minimum of fuss.
Battery life is in keeping with Keychron’s claims of up to 240 hours. With the backlight off, we got a week out of the K8 in regular use without any falloff in functionality, and got through an entire long workday with the backlight on full blast. The K8 charges via USB-C and you can use it wired as it’s charging. Keychron’s keyboards default to an auto-sleep mode that occasionally led to sluggish Bluetooth reconnections; disabling it gave us better results and didn’t noticeably impact battery life.
There are a couple of minor downsides. The K-series casing is fairly tall, with keycaps standing more than an inch proud of the desktop. Touch typists who float above the keyboard will be fine, but those who like to rest their palms on a surface while typing may want to look into a wrist rest (Keycron sells wooden rests in sizes to match all of their keyboards).
Best low-profile mechanical keyboard overall: Keychron K3 Version 2
From $84 at Keychron or at Amazon
This pint-sized, low-profile model is yet another great, versatile keyboard from Keychron. As is usual with Keychron keyboards, you get pretty much everything you can think of in everyday usability: simple, switchable cross-platform support; your choice of smooth hot-swappable switches; multi-host Bluetooth; backlighting in your choice of white or RGB; and very legible, comfortable shine-through keycaps, all at a very affordable price.
If you’re looking for the long travel of traditional mechanical switches, this probably isn’t what you’re looking for. But if you want a significantly more comfortable typing experience but prefer a keyboard that’s closer in profile to an Apple Magic Keyboard or other chiclet-keyed membrane device, it’s very hard to beat Keychron’s low-profile models at their reasonable price.
The slightly rounded chiclet keycaps (used on all of Keychron’s low-profile models) have a flat profile, but are more comfortable than the flatter models used by Epomaker on the NT68 low-profile or Hexgears on the X-1, and quieter than the low-profile PBT keycaps used on NuPhy’s low-profile models. Since a low-profile keyboard like this is a lot more portable than a traditional mechanical, it’s more likely to be used around other people, thus we looked for quieter models.
You might want to consider a fairly heavy-feeling switch if you plan to use a low-profile keyboard like this. We felt that Red linear switches were just too light, and went on to try a range of low-profile optical switches in our low-profile test units, starting with more traditional Brown and Blue switches, but settling on Banana and Mint (you can order all of these stock with the keyboard from Keychron), which have a smooth feel with a fairly heavy tactile feedback (akin to full-size MX Clears or Halo Trues) which we felt made up for the relatively short travel and gave us a more comfortable feel overall.
A more luxurious low-profile mechanical keyboard: NuPhy Air 75
From $110 at NuPhy or $130 at Amazon
The NuPhy Air 75 is a stylish and feature-packed device, with USB-C, Bluetooth and 2.4GHz dongle-based connectivity, PBT keycaps and a case that doubles as a mobile device stand for use on the go. It’s a compelling package that looks and feels nicer than the Keychron low-profile keyboards. For most people it will not be worth $50 more than the corresponding Keychron K3, but if you want better typing feel from a low-profile model and want something cool for your desk setup, it’s a good choice.
NuPhy’s a fairly new company, though they have demonstrated good customer support and have offered frequent firmware updates streamlining function key performance and extending battery life. Alternate sets of low-profile keycaps are available from the company, which is nice since high-quality low-profile caps are somewhat difficult to come by compared to their full-size siblings.
We didn’t love the stand/case so much, and suggest you just skip it. If you’re looking for something to take on the go with an iPad and want a Smart Cover-like case/stand with it, you will be better served by the Epomaker NT68. The NT68 also worked better perched atop a laptop keyboard in our experience; the NuPhy’s bigger footprint made it more ungainly in that application. The heavy PBT keycaps are also a little loud for café use, in our opinion.
Also, while you’ll pay considerably less for the keyboard itself ordering direct from NuPhy, shipping is likely to be expensive if you’re in the US and prices are roughly equivalent with ordering via a retailer once all is said and done — so if you want one, just order it from whoever has it in stock. You won’t be missing a deal.
Be aware that in a marked contrast from the slick, grown-up styling of the keyboard itself, the box and other packaging materials feature a garter-clad manga-style female mascot, rendered in eye-melting colors, so you might not want to have the box sent to your office.
Best full-size mechanical keyboard: Akko 3098 B/N
From $100 at Epomaker
The Akko 3098 isn’t strictly a “full size” keyboard. But its 96% layout gives you almost all of the functionality of a larger board without taking up so much precious desktop real estate (its footprint is about the same as a tenkeyless keyboard) and letting you keep your mousing hand closer to your body, which is more comfortable over a long workday. It’s a layout we think most people who need a number pad will really appreciate.
Akko’s slightly exploded layout separates the navigation arrows and numpad with just a sliver of open space that makes a big difference when locating those keys by feel. It’s a noticeable improvement over the 96% layouts used on other Epomaker-distributed models and the Keychron K4 (which we otherwise liked a lot). The supplied keycaps are great, and the board is hot-swappable if you want to experiment with different switches down the line, though the house-brand tactiles are very smooth and pleasant to use.
Plus the Akko 3098 is well-built, comfortable and very sensibly priced, and it has great connectivity options with multi-host Bluetooth and 2.4GHz wireless on board (there’s a 2.4GHz dongle in the box) as well as a USB-C port.
The best full-size low-profile keyboard: Cooler Master SK653
$155 $90 at Amazon
Surprisingly, there aren’t many low-profile 100% keyboards out there that give you a typing experience that’s any better than you’d get from an Apple Magic Keyboard or a Logitech MX, but the Cooler Master SK653 manages to hit all the points we looked for — USB-C connection, cross-platform compatibility, support for multiple Bluetooth hosts and enough programmability to keep most users happy — in a slim package that doesn’t eat up too much of your desk. In our testing, it was pleasant to type on, quick to connect and switch wireless hosts and easy to set up like we wanted.
As you’d expect from a product with a gaming heritage, you get the full programmability of a gaming keyboard in a unit that is sedately styled enough for any office and supports modern wireless/USB-C desktop setups. It’s a little more expensive than some other low-profile mechanicals, but it’s built better and feels better than the competition. It’s also a lot more compact than most 100% keyboards (its footprint isn’t much bigger than an Apple Magic Keyboard’s), leaving you more room on your desk.
The TTC-supplied switches (available in Red, Blue, and Brown varieties with the usual attributes) didn’t feel appreciably different to me than the corresponding low-profile Gaterons — you’ll get what you expect should you order, whether you like clicky, linear or tactile behavior. The low-profile switches are, as usual, not as comfortable to type on as full-sized models, especially if you have a heavy touch. The keyboard itself is a little bit pingy, especially in the full-size 653 layout (the smaller 622 is a tad more solid-feeling)
I got to try this board in Red, Brown, and Blue TTC switch variants, all three of which performed as you’d expect if you’re at all familiar with their Cherry-branded equivalents.
Cooler Master offers MasterPlus, a simple-to-use, very complete configuration tool that gives you fine-grained control over lighting and lets you set up macros, build user profiles and do substantial remapping. It’s one of the most accessible software solutions we encountered, though it is only available on Windows.
Our only hesitation in recommending the SK653 comes from one design decision we found annoying: the charging indicator LED is located on the caps lock key, while the caps lock indicator lamp is located in the usual spot for full-size keyboards, all the way on the other side of the keyboard above the navigation cluster and numpad. If you’re not used to it you may find yourself confused now and again.
Best compact 60% mechanical keyboard: Anne Pro 2
$89 $80 at Amazon
The Anne Pro 2 has long been a favorite of compact-keyboard enthusiasts, and it’s easy to see why — out of all the 60% keyboards we tested, it has the most intuitive function and navigation key shortcuts, making the minimal complement of keys immediately usable without consulting the manual.
Our main gripe with most 60% keyboards is that without dedicated arrow keys, you typically need to hold down a modifier to access the arrows, which obviates any ergonomic benefit of being able to reach all the keys without moving away from the home row (that’s the point of the minimal layouts — maximum efficiency).
On the Anne Pro 2, on the other hand, everything just works. When the “tap” function is enabled, a short press of the right FN, menu and CTRL and right Shift keys turns them into an arrow key cluster (they work as legended with a long press), providing the smoothest workflow of any of the 60% keyboards we tested. And if you get lost, alternate functions are discretely marked on the forward-facing sides of the solid-feeling stock PBT keycaps.
USB-C and Bluetooth (you can connect and switch between up to four host devices) cover connectivity, and the nicely implemented Obinslab configuration software lets you easily enable layouts or bindings for pretty much any platform right out of the box (or access the per-key RGB fireworks if you like that sort of thing). We also appreciated that the caps lock key’s default setting is to turn the whole keyboard red, which should save you from accidental caps-lock enable password entry frustrations.
Our test model shipped with Kalih box browns, which felt solid and tactile, but light enough for sprightly typing. The housing is well-damped for a generic plastic design, the keycaps are doubleshot PBT and the keyboard is far quieter in operation than similar 60% models from Royal Kludge, Skyloong and others. Where some similar 60% keyboards really feel like toys, the Anne Pro 2 really feels like a tool.
Caps lock — often left out or poorly implemented on gaming-oriented mechanical keyboards — is pleasantly well integrated out of the box; depressing the key turns the entire keyboard’s RGB lights an alternate color. You’ll never be mystified by password entry mistakes again.
The supplied Obinskit software is excellent overall, and while in general we didn’t consider customization software as overly important in our ratings, with a 60% keyboard it does make a real difference. Obinskit provides easy access to key mapping and simple programmability of lighting on a per-key basis, letting you load immediately useful presets like a Mac layout or define your own mappings. Switching between layouts is as simple as loading the profile and downloading the update to the Anne Pro 2’s processor. Obinskit and the Anne Pro 2’s firmware were updated several times over the period we spent with the keyboard, adding functionality and stability each time, which bodes well for support.
There are a few downsides. The case is fairly tall, and there aren’t any flip-out feet or attachments for angle adjustment. But that’s par for the course for the case design used on most similar 60% models; we found the angle and key profile comfortable to use, and palm rests are commonly available. The Anne Pro 2 is an older design as mechanical keyboards go, and unlike many more current models, its switches aren’t hot-swappable, so replacements or repair will involve soldering. For most users this won’t be a significant downside, but those who want to experiment should be ready to get their hands dirty.
Best splurge full-size keyboard for connoisseurs: Fujitsu Realforce R2 PFU Limited Edition
$348 $305 at Fujitsu
If you want the absolute best typing feel available and you’re willing to shell out some serious dough, you need look no further than the Fujitsu Realforce R2 (tested by us in the PFU edition, which features adjustable switch sensitivity). Built around Topre’s much-loved electro-capacitive switches rather than the Cherry MX-style switches employed in most mechanical keyboards available today, the R2 provides unmatched comfort. feel and adjustability in a traditional full-sized keyboard that’s great for serious typists. If you love the feel but don’t need all the keys, the R2 is also available in a tenkeyless layout, with several switch variants, including an RGB-backlit gaming edition.
Topre switches are known for their pillowy tactile feel, much smoother and softer-feeling than the Cherry-style mechanical switches used on most of the keyboards we tested. Since the switches don’t depend on a physical contact, you can adjust their actuation point (the point in the travel of the key where the actuation message is sent). This doesn’t change the physical feel of the keyboard, but it does change the apparent responsiveness enough that you’ll imagine it does. (Not all Realforce Topre boards allow this, but the PFU Limited Edition board we tested does; Niz’s electro-capacitive keyboards also allow you to adjust the actuation point, though the electro-capacitive switches used on Varmilo’s MA-series keyboards do not.)
From the keyboard you can choose three levels of responsiveness to match your typing touch, from 1.5 to 3mm into the key travel, while the Windows-only software tool lets you adjust on a per-key basis. We liked the midrange 2mm setting, which allowed for fast typing while avoiding unintended keystrokes.
However you set it up, the R2 is extremely pleasant to type on; quiet and with the typical pillowy Topre softness. It’s near-silent as well, nearly as quiet as a membrane keyboard so it’s suited for use anywhere. The 45g switches are much smoother that any Cherry MX-style switch we tested, and offer just enough resistance to provide positive feedback (we preferred them to the lighter 35g switches in the Niz electro-capacitive keyboard we had on test).
The PFU is the most refined model of the R2 for typists; there’s also an RGB edition, the R2 RGB for the gaming-inclined, which also allows for fine-tuning of the actuation point, as well as varieties with different switch weights. While there’s no backlight on the PFU Limited Edition, the white/cream colorway means it isn’t too difficult to see things in low light.
Best splurge wireless mechanical keyboard: Fujitsu PFU Happy Hacking Keyboard (HHKB) Professional Hybrid Type-S
$385 $309 at Fujitsu or $385 at Amazon
A retro-Apple-inspired design (it’s based on the original Macintosh keyboard layout), the HHKB is a compact keyboard that’s long been a favorite of programmers. We brought in the premium version of the HHKB, the Hybrid (the company’s designation for Bluetooth models), with the Type-S “silent” version of Topre’s electro-capacitive switches.
The HHKB is expensive, but it feels fantastic to type on and it paired faster and provided the most stable multi-host Bluetooth connections of any keyboard we tested. If you want to get a lot done with a lot of devices, it’s worth the price.
The HHKB has a unique, very abbreviated layout. Like the old Mac keyboards, the HHKB is a sub-60% keyboard, dispensing not just with a numpad, FN key row and nav cluster, but tossing the traditional lower right and left corner CTRL keys as well. Caps Lock ends up as an Fn-key alternate for the Tab key, while the traditional Caps Lock key becomes CTRL. It’s a little odd to get used to, but it makes a lot of sense in practice and lets you type without having to move your hands from the home row at all, which is why the layout’s been so long favored by professional developers.
Most importantly, the HHKB is just a joy to type on, matched only by other PFU/Topre models and the Keychron Q series in our experience, and the switches used here are so quiet that the HHKB is nearly as quiet as a membrane switch board. You could easily use this in a quiet office or cafe without bothering anyone — very rare for a mechanical keyboard. Plus, the Type-S has the fastest Bluetooth pairing we saw on any keyboard we tested — each host device saw it as soon as I entered the string of Fn-key commands, and switching was just as quick. And we never saw a Bluetooth dropout over the months we spent with the HHKB.
The Hybrid Type-S is the luxury version of the HHKB, and for the staggeringly expensive price tag you get some lovely touches — the DIP switches on the underside of the petite device (it’s so small that the dual AA batteries are housed in a little appendage that projects out from the rear of the housing) are even protected by a little door. These offer several usable configuration options for the modifier keys, including a Mac-modifier row mode. Wired connectivity is over USB-C, which is great to see from a future-proofing perspective.
We like the clean design of the HHKB already, but if you want a more up-to-date, less industrial look, HHKB now offers an even more minimal powder white finish in the Snow Collection, though these are only available direct from HHKB/Realforce.
All of that aside, the 60% layout may be a little constricting for some — if this were a 65% or even a 75% layout I think it might be the perfect keyboard. But if you’re a fan of the minimal 60% layout and you demand the best performance and typing experience and want an actually dependable wireless keyboard, you can’t do much better than the HHKB.
Best all-around keyboard for gamers: SteelSeries Apex Pro
$200 $153 at Amazon
Our pick for best gaming keyboard is also a great all-around productivity board too, and makes perfect sense if you’re looking for something that does double duty (and frankly, most people aren’t swapping out their keyboards once the workday is done).
The Apex Pro looks unassuming, but its non-contact Hall Effect switches set it apart from almost every other keyboard. Their uniquely smooth feel and fine-tunable response let you change the keyboard’s typing feel on the fly; you can go from hair-trigger sensitivity for gaming to a more fault-tolerant, lower actuation point for typing, and even adjust each switch independently.
SteelSeries’s software allows you to adjust the actuation sensitivity of each switch — the point in the switch’s downward travel where it registers the keystroke — between .4mm and 3.6mm. This doesn’t change the actual typing feel, but does change the apparent feel. High sensitivity registers a keystroke almost as soon as your fingers brush the key, which in my case led to a lot of typing mistakes; low sensitivity mimics a heavier switch. This is similar to the adjustability of some Topre and Niz electro-capacitive switches, but SteelSeries offers more granular control of the actuation point.
The Apex Pro’s aesthetics are low-key enough for daily use at an office desk — there’s plenty of RGB firepower on tap, but no crazy finishes or obvious logos. The permanently attached and very beefy USB-A cable, with an extra USB-A pass-through connector, makes sense for its intended application attached to a high-end tower tucked away under a desk, but may be a bit cumbersome to connect to a laptop with limited USB-A ports — we’d love to see this keyboard revised with a USB-C connection. The legacy connector is really the only downside.