Mechanical vs Membrane Keyboard: Which One Should You Get?

Mechanical Keyboard vs. Membrane Keyboard

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The mechanical vs membrane keyboard debate is something that might’ve already crossed your mind if you’re a gamer, writer, or someone who loves spending time on their computer. 

These two keyboards are two of the most popular keyboard types today, but which one should you get?

In this article, I’ll help you find the perfect keyboard type by going over the different pros and cons of a mechanical keyboard and a membrane keyboard. 

Hopefully, this will help you make a sound choice. So let’s get started.

What is a Mechanical Keyboard?

mechanical keyboard is a type of keyboard that uses individual switches under each key to register keystrokes. The keypresses are triggered by a switch that has a different feel and sound whenever they’re pressed.

This type of keyboard can be customized depending on your preference. You can also mix and match the switches on some mechanical keyboards. You can use Cherry MX, Gateron, Kailh, and other switches.

These keyboards are generally sturdier because they’re made of solid materials such as aluminum, brass, and hard plastics. Of course, this also means that they’re more expensive.

Mechanical keyboards are quite heavy so they’re best used in permanent spaces such as an office setup.

Feker mechanical keyboard
Feker mechanical keyboard | Make Life Click

What is a Membrane Keyboard?

Membrane keyboards use a soft membrane layer that covers the whole keyboard area underneath. The membrane serves as a pressure pad that triggers the input once it makes contact with the board’s circuit.

This type of keyboard is also called a dome switch since the membrane has multiple small dome-like shapes.

Because they have fewer parts, membrane keyboards are often found on office keyboards, laptops, and gaming keyboards. They’re also cheaper to manufacture.

For instance, most pre-built computers come with a keyboard and mouse as freebies. If you have one, then you most likely received a membrane keyboard.

These keyboards are quieter and simpler to use because they’re basically plug-and-play. They’re also easier to press since a soft press is enough to register a key, and this can reduce finger fatigue.

However, they also tend to have less feedback, lower durability, and limited customization options than mechanical keyboards.

Membrane Keyboard beside a monitor
A4Tech keyboard, a classic example of a membrane keyboard | Make Life Click

Mechanical vs Membrane Keyboard: Build Quality

Since they’re typically made of aluminum, brass, and hard plastics, mechanical keyboards can last for years. The classic IMB Model M keyboard is a testament to that. Introduced in 1985, this line of keyboards is still sought after by enthusiasts.

The insides are also accessible so you can easily give them a thorough cleaning and maintenance every now and then.

Modern mechanical keyboards have a hot-swap feature. This means if a single switch fails, you can pull it out and replace it with a new one in less than 30 seconds.

There are non-hot swap models that need some soldering skills but at least the option to replace a single switch is there.

Membrane keyboards, on the other hand, aren’t as durable. The most common material used for manufacturing membrane keyboards is plastic and this is why they wear out faster than mechanical keyboards.

The thin membrane inside can break and it’s usually unrepairable. Sometimes, the keyboard stops working once dust, dirt, food debris, and other small particles enter it.

Because of the materials used, membrane keyboards also tend to be lightweight, unlike mechanical keyboards. 

Mechanical vs Membrane Keyboard: Responsiveness

Mechanical keyboards are more responsive than membrane keyboards. Since the switches are mechanical, it’s a different actuation point compared to membrane keyboards. The result is a faster keystroke register without any delay.

Mechanical Keyboard Keys Zoomed-in
Mechanical keyboard with customization
Membrane Keyboard - Key and Light Indicator
Membrane keyboard with lightweight build

And that’s not even the best part yet. Mechanical keyboards vary in switches which means you can customize your board to a comfortable actuation point.

The advantage of a responsive keyboard is faster reaction time and accuracy while gaming and typing.

Mechanical vs Membrane Keyboard: Feedback

Mechanical keyboards have better feedback. This type of keyboard produces a distinct sound and feel when pressed.

It may seem trivial but this improves the overall typing experience. It can help you type faster and be more efficient while gaming or working.

Membrane keyboards don’t have tactile or audible feedback, unlike mechanical keyboards. This makes the typing experience less than ideal and sometimes, it may also affect accuracy.

There are also instances wherein you need to press harder in order to register a keystroke. That’s because there’s no physical actuation area that triggers the key press. Plus, the lack of feedback makes typing feel mushy.

Mechanical vs Membrane Keyboard: Customizability

Mechanical keyboards can be customized to suit your preferences. You can mix and match the switches, keycaps, layouts, color, lighting, and more.

There’s also an upgrade path that lets you improve your setup with tons of after-sales accessories in the market. Some examples are coiled cables and wrist rests.

With membrane keyboards, you can get different designs and colorways but that’s it. There aren’t any options to customize the different components. 

So before buying a membrane keyboard, you have to carefully think about which color or design to get because you’re stuck with it unless you buy an entirely new keyboard.

White Mechanical Keyboard
A mechanical keyboard with customized keycaps| Make Life Click

Mechanical vs Membrane Keyboard: Noise

Mechanical keyboards are louder compared to membrane keyboards due to the clicking or clacking sound it produces when pressed.

Some enthusiasts prefer the clicking or clacking sound over silent membrane keyboards but it’s not for everyone. Fortunately, there are quiet switches available in the market which you can get for an additional cost. Modifications such as o-rings and dampeners may also be used to reduce the noise.

Since membrane keyboards have no mechanical switches that produce a clicking or clacking sound, they’re quieter than mechanical keyboards.

Using membrane keyboards is ideal in an office setting where everyone needs to focus. They’re also perfect for quiet environments such as libraries.

Mechanical vs Membrane Keyboard: Price

One major disadvantage of a mechanical keyboards is that they’re quite pricey.

A decent unit costs around $50 or more and that’s just for a basic setup. The more features you want, the more cash you have to shell out. For example, custom keyboards with a brass casing, aluminum plate, and lubricated switches go for at least $200.

Apart from the initial cost, keyboard upgrades also rack up in price quickly. Modifications such as switch upgrades and keycaps all add up to the cost.

On the other hand, membrane keyboards are quite affordable. Decent keyboards can go for around $10 to $20, and if you know where to look, you can get them at a discounted price

Some models come with extra features such as an ergonomic layout or USB pass-through but these are typically more expensive. Still, higher-end membrane keyboards are more affordable than basic mechanical keyboard units.

White Mechanical Keyboard-Keys
Membrane Keyboard - Keys

So Which One Should You Get?

Based on just the pros and cons, it may seem like the mechanical keyboard is the winner because its pros outweigh the cons. 

However, which keyboard you should get ultimately boils down to two things – price and usage.

If you’re on a very limited budget, then get the best membrane keyboard you can afford but if you have the extra money, then a mechanical keyboard is the better choice.

Usage can also be a major deciding factor before you buy your next keyboard.

Are you going to use it in an office setting? Do you need a quiet keyboard? Are you looking for a plug-and-play option? Then a membrane keyboard is more suitable for your needs.

If you have the budget and you want a durable keyboard with lots of customization options and a great typing experience, then a mechanical keyboard is the way to go. 

I hope you find this article helpful when shopping for a new keyboard. 

What keyboard type do you currently have? Let me know in the comments!

Aim is a tech and gaming content writer who loves playing Apex Legends, Valorant, and Dota 2. He also plays casual games such as Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Pokemon titles on his Nintendo Switch too. He also builds gaming computers and does tech troubleshooting on the side.

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