Mechanical keyboards are something everyone needs to experience, at least once. That satisfying action as the keys click into place and activate is just, well, really nice. If you type for a living (and I type and edit over 4000 words a day), mechanical keyboards can be a literal life-saver, reducing carpal tunnel syndrome, enhancing moment-to-moment comfort, and improving your typing speed.
But what kind of mechanical keyboard is right for you? There are several manufacturers out there, but Cherry has secured market dominance. Cherry and Cherry clone switches are what you’ll likely encounter in a wide range of mechanical keyboards, across budgets. Cherry switches come in a range of options. Each has a slightly different action, making them appropriate for different use cases. Let’s have a look at each, and you can decide what works best for you.
Cherry MX Blue
Blue switches are extremely popular. They are the classic “clicky” mechanical key switches. Blue switches have a somewhat higher operating force than Red and Brown, at 50g, as well as a deeper actuation point, at 2.2mm. In practice, this means that more force and deeper travel is needed to activate Blue switches.
However, this often results in greater accuracy and speed because the audible and tactile “click” keypress confirmation helps reduce keypress errors. If you type regularly and are fine with having a relatively loud keyboard, Blue switches work great. Blue is also a decent option for strategy gamers–the higher actuation force minimizes accidental keypresses. Keep in that authentic Cherry keycaps (as opposed to clones) tend to cost a bit more. However, they’re almost always more reliable.
Cherry MX Green
Green switches are hard to find. In terms of characteristics, they are very similar to Blue switches, except that they have a higher 80-gram actuation force. They are often used for just the keyboard on Cherry MX Blue keyboards.
Cherry MX Brown
Brown switches were designed to provide tactile feedback without a very high noise profile. One of the chief drawbacks of Cherry MX Blue switches is that they are very loud. This makes it hard to use Blue switches at the workplace or other public locations: the sound can drive the people around you mad.
This is where Brown switches come into the picture. Cherry MX brown switches have a similar activation force to blue, and slightly shorter action. They provide tactile feedback with a noticeable “bump” at the activation point. However, they don’t audibly click quite as loud as Blue keys. This means that you get most of the feedback of the Blue switch with less of the noise. They have a moderate 45g activation force.
Cherry MX Red
Red keycaps were built with gamers in mind. They have a linear action. This means that activation is smoother and there’s no audible “click.” Red keycaps require the least amount of activation force and have the shortest key travel. This makes them ideal for gamers: Red switches allow quick movements with very little activation force of 45g.
A number of other manufacturers like Kailh and Gateron also manufacture key switches. These often correspond to the Cherry color equivalent: for example, Kailh blue are tactile, clicky switches. However, differences in the manufacturing process mean that these can feel different from actual Cherry switches. Keyboards with generic switches often cost substantially less, so this might be a sound tradeoff if you’re on a budget.
What’s the right key switch type for you? There’s no easy answer. If you’re an eSports gamer, red switches enable the best reaction times. However, they also reduce your keypress accuracy. Browns are a decent compromise between reds and blues, offering tactile feedback without being loud. But if you really want the “classic” mechanical keyboard experience, clicky Blue switches will serve you the best.