You don’t need a mechanical keyboard, you say. You already have a perfectly fine keyboard. The one that came with your desktop computer or that’s attached to your laptop is perfectly fine.

But I’m here to tell you, as you clunk away on those minimalist, flat keys, it’s slowly sucking the productivity out of your fingertips, bit by bit.

There’s something about chunky, clacky keys that just hits differently. Mechanical switches don’t necessarily do anything different than the butterfly or membrane switches of official Apple keyboards, but they make you feel like you’re getting more done. There’s a decisiveness of action, a consistent drumming that says “I am getting shit done.”

Plus, there are benefits to moving away from Apple input hardware. As much as the company touts their keyboards, mice, and trackpads, they’re undeniably more interested in design and aesthetics than ergonomics or utility.

That’s why, before I even get a new Mac device, I start thinking about what keyboard I’m going to pair with it. Do I want to go with a full-sized keyboard with a number pad? Should I acquiesce to the times and go with one of the more popular compact keyboards? Do I need something wireless? What about switches? Should they be clicky or silent?

And here you thought the only thing you had to worry about was what the color.

To Click or Not to Click

Let’s start with the switches, since that’s the one thing that makes mechanical keyboards what they are and what most of them share in common.

Mechanical switches are just that, mechanical. They contain springs and internal mechanisms to vary how hard (or how much) you need to press the key for it to register and how loud of a click it makes (if it makes one at all). This differs from membrane and butterfly keyboards in which fully depressing the key is the only way for a press to register.

Mechanical keyboards are extremely popular with gamers because they can dial in exactly how sensitive their keys will be. More sensitive keys equals faster reaction time in games. But if you spend any amount of time during the day typing on your keyboard, you know that having to pound on the keys wears out your fingers. With mechanical switches you expend less effort for the same results.

There are a lot of different types of switches out there, from a lot of different manufacturers. It can get confusing. But the best peripheral makers will have a “testing kit” of sorts that lets you try out what they have available. Even if they don’t however, you can use this list to get a quick idea of what’s on offer:

  • Linear switches aren’t clicky at all and feel smooth when pressed
  • Tactile switches have some audible clicking and provide feedback you can feel when you press the key
  • Clicky switches are loud and provide considerable tactile feedback when pressed

Depending on where you’re using your keyboard and how quickly you type, you might want to avoid clickier switches (unless you want to be the person whose desk sounds like a machine gun battle).

So just what are you using these switches in? Here are a few of my favorites.

DROP Sense75

The DROP Sense75 is a great place to start your experimentation with mechanical keyboards for the Mac. It’s a stunning piece of hardware, with a weighty aluminum case, per-key LED lighting, RGB underglow, and a lovely rotary knob for volume.

The first thing you’ll notice when you pick up the Sense75 is that it’s satisfyingly hefty. If you want to make it even heavier, you can add an optional brass weight to the case. This is one keyboard that’s not going to shift around as you bang away.

It’s truly an enthusiast’s keyboard, outfitted with DROP’s Holy Panda X switch. This is the officially manufactured version of a fan-created switch that provides a unique sound and pleasant tactile experience. The original Holy Panda switch was the combination of two types of switches and resulted in a bit of stem wobble, leading to a less than ideal keypress experience. This new switch firms up the stem and provides crisp feedback with each press.

The keyboard frame is gasket-mounted with a special elastopolymer to reduce hollow, clacky sounds that can occur when you’re using clicky switches in a metallic case. The gasket also provides even feedback so that you’re not bottoming out constantly (if you’re a typist like me that loves nothing more than pounding as hard as they can on the keys).

The RGB is fully customizable, you can even change it for each key. You can dial in your preferences even more with QMK and VIA firmware support. Speaking of customization, the switches are hot-swappable. The sockets were specially chosen so as to eliminate bent pins (something that plagues even the most seasoned of keyboard customizers).

You can buy the Sense75 fully assembled with DROP’s custom switches and DCX keycaps starting at $349 or in barebones kits so that you can choose your own keycaps and switches for $100 less.

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Das Keyboard Mac Tigr

But what if the small form factor is exactly why you don’t like the Apple Keyboard? Then this full-sized model from Das Keyboard should be your next stop.

The MacTigr is a full-sized, all metal, low-profile, mechanical keyboard with cherry switches, double-shot keycaps, and a two-port USB-C hub. Being from Das Keyboard, it retains that brand’s vaunted build quality and extras like a sleep button, media controls, and one of the most satisfying volume knobs I’ve experienced on a keyboard.

It’s a low-profile keyboard that uses Cherry switches with a low actuation force of 45 cN and a total travel of 3.2 mm. All that means the typing experience on the MacTigr is soft without being mushy, mechanical without being clicky. It doesn’t take much pressure at all to trigger each key.

The MacTigr is wired, so there’s no need to concern yourself over lag or latency. Plus the double-shot keycaps feel great under your fingertips and resist grease, so you won’t end up with a bunch of shiny home keys a few weeks after unboxing.

This isn’t a mechanical keyboard that you’re going to have to figure out where the keys are because it’s built for Windows. It’s Mac-forward with all the requisite keys, plus extras like an eject button (for those few souls who still have a media drive) and a sleep key that works so fast you’ll think you broke your computer.

It’s not a wafer-thin slab of aluminum like the Magic Keyboard, but still doesn’t have an overly thick profile. It’s nice for long periods of typing, since weird angles of thicker keyboards can put strain on your wrists. If you’re the type that enjoys having your keyboard tilted towards you, however, you’re out of luck. There are no feet on the bottom of the MacTigr. It’s just a nice, solid slab of a base.

I love the low-profile keycaps and the little extras like media controls and that silky-smooth volume knob. The two-port USB-C hub is appreciated as well. The MacTigr is a well-built, aesthetically pleasing, deeply functional full-sized mechanical keyboard. Check it out on the Das Keyboard website.

Keychron Q5

Or maybe you’re looking for the best of both worlds. Something that has the functionality of a full sized keyboard with a number pad in the smallest amount of possible space. Something that’s gasket-mounted like the DROP Sense 75 but for a slightly less eye-watering price. Something wireless maybe?

The Keychron Q5 uses a, for now, rare 1800 layout. It has all the functionality of a full-sized keyboard with number pad, but is 96% the size of a standard keyboard. While there are a few ways to achieve this configuration, on the Kechron Q5, there’s considerably less room between the edge of the “standard” keys and the number pad, with the arrow keys occupying the natural gap between them at the foot of the keyboard. The spaces between the keys feel a little more compressed as well.

It all combines for a “cozy” typing experience. Not the finger-contorting 60% keyboards, but not the splayed full-sized keyboard experience either. It’s a more compact keyboard experience but with the full function of a numpad. Weighing in at over 5 lbs, the steel plate and 6063 aluminum (alloyed with magnesium and silicone) construction absolutely destroys the 8.5 oz. Magic Keyboard that came with your iMac. And I don’t mean that figuratively. Drop the Q5 on Apple’s svelte deck and you could probably crack it in half.

It makes for an extremely solid typing experience. No matter how much you thrash about, the keyboard will only move if you pick it up and move it. Plus the keyboard is gasket-mounted like the DROP Sense75 (though using slightly different materials). It makes for an extremely pleasant overall typing experience.

The Keychron Q5 is also extremely customizable. You can choose from black, silver, and navy blue cases and frames. All are striking, with double-shot PBT keycaps that sport an array of complementary colors. I especially like how the ESC and ENTER keys are red, yellow, or neon blue, providing a pop of contrasting color. You can select from Gateron G Pro switches in red, blue, or brown when you customize your build but if you want to change them out later, the Keychron Q5 switches are hot-swappable.

There’s also customizable south-facing RGB under every key. Since the included keycaps aren’t shine-through, the effect is a bit more subtle. You can tweak the color (and the functionality of the keyboard overall) with the VIA app. The app also lets you tweak the functionality of each key and the function of the knob in the corner. It’s mapped to volume by default but if having it be a physical zoom control is more useful to you, go ahead and make the switch.

Speaking of, there’s a handy switch on the back of the Keychron Q5 that lets you switch between default Windows and Mac layouts. The deck comes with Mac keycaps installed, but they’re easy to switch out for the included Windows caps.

On the Keychron.com site you can grab everything from a bare-bones Keychron Q5 with no keycaps or switches to a fully assembled deck. Fully assembled, with a knob, the Keychron Q5 will cost $205.

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