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Click bait: gaming and (real) mechanical keyboards

While so many people are forced to stay at home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many have turned to video games to pass the time. If you game on a PC, one of the most well-known computer peripherals to acquire is a mechanical keyboard. Even if gaming is not your thing, a mechanical keyboard still offers advantages to anyone who frequently uses a keyboard. Unfortunately, the higher prices that these advantages justify means that unscrupulous sellers might advertise a keyboard as mechanical but deliver a non-mechanical keyboard

What are the advantages of mechanical keyboards?

Looking beyond flashy lights and the clicking of the namesake keys, mechanical keyboards have several advantages over non-mechanical keyboards.

The keys are more durable and take significantly longer to wear out than the rubber used in non-mechanical keyboards. The keys have mechanical switches which make them more responsive than non-mechanical keyboards. This can be especially important when playing video games, which often involve pressing keys rapidly, precisely, and repeatedly. But in typical work, any job which requires frequent typing will benefit from the mechanical switches of a mechanical keyboard.

Because many of these keyboards are made for high performance use, they have other advantages as well. For example, a fairly common feature is n-key rollover, or the ability to press any number of keys and have their inputs all register inputs without having any of them dropped. Other mechanical keyboards have specialized keys to run macros (programmed sequences) to improve gaming efficiency.

However, if you are not familiar with the tactile differences between mechanical and non-mechanical keyboards, it may be difficult to detect fakes. This is especially true if your phony mechanical keyboard acts as a placebo and increases your performance despite no actual mechanical advantage. Also, although the clicking of mechanical keyboard keys is a common feature, there are mechanical keys which are specially designed to be quiet.

Getting your money’s worth

Mechanical keyboards are more costly to manufacture because the mechanical switches have many moving parts and are associated with quality. Unscrupulous companies may therefore be tempted to market non-mechanical keyboards as mechanical keyboards. And unwitting consumers may pay a higher price as a result.

For example, a class action in Quebec alleges that HP Canada made false claims about its “Pavilion Gaming Keyboard 500” being mechanical. The action has not yet been authorized to proceed.

Fortunately, mechanical keyboards are in a unique position in terms of easy access to high-quality reviews. Consumers of mechanical keyboards tend to buy online and are more technically-minded than consumers of other goods. It’s easy to google the name of the product. Reviews from hobbyist sites might flag scam products. If you’re worried, it might also be better to stick to one of more established brands out there. There are also multiple online communities that you can visit for help, such as the /r/mechanicalkeyboards subreddit.