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Choosing linear, tactile, or clicky keyboard switches

Choosing linear, tactile, or clicky keyboard switches

mechanical keyboard switch linear tactile clicks

Picking the right mechanical keyboard layout should be your first priority when upgrading to a better keyboard. Thereafter, you'll need to choose the right keyboard switch, as this will affect how your typing feels and sounds. 

The mechanical keyboard switch industry is huge these days, with hundreds, maybe thousands of different switches to choose from. However, most of them fall into three main categories — linear, tactile, and clicky. In this guide, we'll outline how to choose between these three, with examples of switches in each category. This article is for those who have no intention of going down a mechanical keyboard rabbit hole, but are making their first upgrade from a S$15 rubber dome or notebook keyboard.

Linear — Smooth for gamers

First, a bit of history. The most influential maker of keyboard switches is a brand called Cherry, which made the Cherry MX switches. Switches from other brands are essentially variants of the Cherry design, and many of them even follow the same colours Cherry use to differentiate its MX switches.

The Cherry MX red is a linear switch. This gives a smooth keystroke from start to end, with the actuation (the point your input is registered by the computer) somewhere around the middle of the keystroke.

Corsair K70 Core RGB
The Corsair K70 Core uses a linear red switch
Credit: Aloysius Low/Can Buy or Not

These red switches are light, which means you need less force to depress them. This makes them great for gaming, where speed and being able to use for long hours without fatigue are important factors. They tend to be quieter too, which makes them suitable for use in an office environment.

If these factors appeal to you, look out for these switches when buying your keyboard: Cherry MX Red, Cherry MX2A Red, Gateron Red, Keychron K Pro Red, Kailh Red, Razer Yellow, Corsair MLX Red.

Tactile — For office typists

The colour we're looking for here, as first used by Cherry, is brown. When pressing down on a tactile switch, you will feel a slight bump before getting to the end of the stroke. This tactile feedback gives the user an assurance that the key is indeed depressed, making it great for touch typists who thump out pages of documents and hundreds of emails a day.

Keychron Q5 Max
Credit: Vincent Chang/Can Buy or Not

While slightly noisier than red linear switches, tactile keyboard switches are still reasonably quiet, and should be fine in the office.

Those looking for a tactile switch should pay attention to: Cherry MX Brown, Cherry MX2A Brown, Gateron Brown, Keychron K Pro Brown, Kailh Brown, Razer Orange.

Clicky — Loud typing satisfaction

Even if you've never used a mechanical keyboard, hearing a clicky Cherry MX Blue keyboard in action will trigger the thought: “I think that's a mechanical keyboard”. Like the tactile keyboard switches, you get a “bump” during the keystroke, and in additional, a loud click sound. When you're typing at 80 words per minute, this creates a cacophony loved by keyboard enthusiasts, and murderous intent from colleagues who care nothing for keyboards.

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Like the tactile switches, clicky keyboard switches are great for typists, who get an additional audio feedback from the keyboard. This noisy switch is great for those who work from home, but we would avoid using one in the office out of consideration for colleagues.

Switches include: Cherry MX Blue, Cherry MX2A Blue, Gateron Blue, Keychron K Pro Blue, Kailh Blue, Razer Green.

What if I pick the wrong switch?

If you've never used a mechanical keyboard, choosing between linear, tactile and clicky may not be that straightforward. The best solution is to visit a retail store to try them out for yourself. Another way is to buy a switch tester, a selection of different mechanical keyboard switches sold as a kit so you can press on each one to find your favourite. 

Credit: John Chan/Can Buy or Not

Finally, most newer mechanical keyboards allow hot-swapping of switches. So if you regret getting that Keychron Q5 Max with tactile brown switches, just buy another set of keyboard switches and replace them.

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