Are Mechanical Keyboards a Good Idea for Mac Users? Here’s What I Learned

Thinking about ditching your Magic Keyboard? Read this first.

Are Mechanical Keyboards a Good Idea for Mac Users? Here's What I Learned

Key Takeaways

  • Mechanical keyboards offer durability and customization options like switch swapping and keycap upgrades for a superior typing experience.
  • Transitioning from a flat, minimal travel Apple Magic Keyboard to a mechanical one with more feedback can be challenging and won't necessarily work for everyone.
  • Mechanical keyboards come at various price points, some are much cheaper than the Magic Keyboard and others are far more expensive.

Has your Magic Keyboard lost its sparkle? Perhaps it’s time for you to move up in the world and try a mechanical keyboard instead. That’s exactly what I did after nearly two decades of tapping away on a MacBook. Here are my findings.

Why Bother With a Mechanical Keyboard?

Mechanical Keyboards have an almost cult-like following in some circles, which can be intimidating. Everyone seems to have a preference or an opinion, and there’s all sorts of terminology you’re going to encounter if you decide to dip your toes.

Mechanical keyboards use individual switches for each key actuation. Standard non-mechanical keyboards use a membrane, which is a rubber cover that provides resistance when you type. Apple’s Magic Keyboard uses a membrane with scissor switches, and two pieces of plastic which are crossed over in the middle with a pivot to control resistance.

Are Mechanical Keyboards a Good Idea for Mac Users? Here's What I Learned

Membrane keyboards are typically cheaper than mechanical ones, but the Magic Keyboard is the exception. Like most Apple accessories, this peripheral sells for a premium. If you’re thinking of buying a Magic Keyboard or it’s time to replace your old one, you might be tempted by what you can get for your money elsewhere.

Since they use individual switches, mechanical keyboards are far more durable. Switches can be swapped out if they stop working (soldering may be necessary on cheaper boards). Keycaps can be replaced, and are often made from more durable materials like PBT (polybutylene terephthalate) that are resistant to the oil in your fingers.

The typing experience is also considered to be superior to that provided by often “mushy” feeling membrane keyboards. You can pick a switch that suits your tastes, or you can mix switches to build your perfect keyboard. Mechanical keyboards come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, from small 60% low-profile boards to full-size command centers with number pads, dials, and extra displays.

And then there’s the sound. Perhaps the most subjective aspect of all, mechanical keyboards are often coveted for their acoustics. This varies from clicky, noisy, type-writer-esque snaps to creamy, dampened, almost silent thuds. There’s a whole world of modding available to you to make your keyboard sound exactly how you want it to.

Are Mechanical Keyboards a Good Idea for Mac Users? Here's What I Learned

Lastly, there’s customization. In addition to replacing your keys, and switches, and putting bits of foam and tape inside the case, software customization using a platform like VIA lets you do things like remap keys, create macros, and more. Many keyboards also come with RGB lighting if that’s your thing too.

The Drawbacks of Using a Mechanical Keyboard on Your Mac

Perhaps the biggest drawback to going mechanical and moving away from your Apple keyboard is that the transition might not be a smooth one. You can pick an almost identical layout, but the slight differences in key sizes and spacing will trip you up, at least initially.

If you’re frequently moving between a portable MacBook and a desktop set-up, this can be even more of a challenge. Apple’s basic Magic Keyboard mirrors the MacBook keyboard almost perfectly, and it feels identical to type on. You can get around this by opting for a keyboard that fits on top of your MacBook’s keyboard, but then you’ve got to carry two things around.

Are Mechanical Keyboards a Good Idea for Mac Users? Here's What I Learned

There’s also quite a bit of difference in terms of the typing experience. The Magic Keyboard is an almost flat board, with minimal travel. The keys don’t get in your way because they barely protrude. I’d describe it as light and bouncy. Some people dislike the lack of feedback on Apple keyboards, others don’t realize how much they like it until they make the change.

Mechanical keyboards, even low-profile ones, are completely different. The keys have a lot more travel, which means the experience is more of a workout for your fingers. It can feel fatiguing when you’re used to the sort of light typing experience Apple keyboards provide. On the flip side, typing on a mechanical keyboard can feel a lot more satisfying, and there’s much more feedback in terms of feel and sound.

There are some other considerations to make too. If you depend on it, you’ll lose Touch ID. This isn’t a problem if you’re putting your MacBook in front of you on a riser since you can still reach the fingerprint scanner. For iMac, Mac mini, Mac Studio, or MacBook owners who use their notebooks in a closed state, it might be a dealbreaker. I had no such issues since I just started authenticating macOS requests with my Apple Watch instead.

Are Mechanical Keyboards a Good Idea for Mac Users? Here's What I Learned

There’s also the small matter of aesthetics. Say what you like about the Magic Keyboard, but it matches most Mac models and the Magic Trackpad perfectly. Shop around and you’ll find something that suits you, I picked the white NuPhy Air75 V2 to match the white Magic Trackpad. Don’t forget that Apple charges more money for black accessories if you want a set of matching dark peripherals.

Mechanical Keyboards at Magic Prices

Apple charges $99 for its cheapest Magic Keyboard, which doesn’t include Touch ID. You can add a fingerprint scanner for $149. If you want a number pad and some extra keys then you’ll pay $129 or $199 respectively depending on whether you want Touch ID.

That’s a lot of money for a relatively "cheap" membrane keyboard, but it’s also money that’s worth spending to get the typing experience you love. It’s hard to put a price limit on productivity.

Mechanical keyboards are available at all price points. You can buy a high-end board like the Keychron Q6 Pro, NuPhy Gem80, or slightly flawed but elegant LoFree Flow. You can spend Magic Keyboard money on something a little cheaper like the Satechi SM1. Or you can commit very little money and pick up a mechanical keyboard for less than $50 like the Redragon K530.

Are Mechanical Keyboards a Good Idea for Mac Users? Here's What I Learned

Some prefer to build their own keyboards, starting with a PCB and a case and adding switches and keycaps to complete the build. Others like to buy cheap boards, upgrade the switches, perform a few sound-dampening mods, get some better keycaps, and add a nice braided USB cable to transform it into something that looks, types, and sounds premium.

This is the point at which the mechanical keyboard scene can start to feel a bit overwhelming. Some are consumed by the pursuit of the creamiest sound, the perfect switch, or custom-made keycaps. There are so many different things to consider, it can feel a bit too easy to make the wrong decision. If possible, we recommend trying a few keyboards and switch types before you buy.

How Much Do You Love Your Magic Keyboard?

The main question you have to answer is: how do you really feel about the Magic Keyboard? Do you hate typing on your MacBook? Are you a competent Magic Keyboard typist who is just a bit bored? Do you make a lot of mistakes? A few rounds on MonkeyType might be worth a shot.

If you’re just looking for some variety, you might find the experience more frustrating than eye-opening. I’ve had to admit that I’ve been conditioned over many years to work most efficiently with Apple’s tactile low-profile keyboards. Going back to “real” keys wasn’t the smooth transition I’d hoped for, especially given the vitriol I see online for the Magic Keyboard.

I moved from the Magic Keyboard to the NuPhy Air75 V2. I felt a strain in my hands as I adjusted to the heavier typing experience. I found that I made a lot more mistakes on the NuPhy, even after taking some time to adjust. The smaller right Shift button, a lack of macOS “Fn” (emoji) key, and a slightly different (arguably better) arrow key layout seem to be my main issues.

Are Mechanical Keyboards a Good Idea for Mac Users? Here's What I Learned

Weeks later and I’m still a slower typer on the NuPhy. While my accuracy and speed on the NuPhy have greatly improved, editing text with my muscle-memory combination of Shift, Command, Option, and arrow keys is a chore. It has me frequently reaching for the Magic Keyboard. Editing a spreadsheet? Forget it.

I still enjoy using the NuPhy, and typing is arguably more satisfying. Speed isn’t everything, and I say that as someone who writes and edits text for a living. I appreciate being able to use the NuPhy with other devices thanks to its easy Bluetooth profile switching. A 1000Hz polling rate on wired and 2.4GHz wireless put the Magic Keyboard to shame.

But I’m not getting rid of my Magic Keyboard any time soon. It’s a good job there’s room for two keyboards on my desk.

Cheat and Add Mechanical Keyboard Sounds to Your Mac

If all you want is a better-sounding keyboard, Klack is a Mac app for you. At $4.99, it’s a lot cheaper than even the cheapest mechanical keyboard and it comes with a variety of sounds from real-world switches to drown out the tinny whinge of the Magic Keyboard.

Looking for some mechanical keyboard recommendations? Check out our best overall mechanical keyboards, best portable mechanical keyboards, and best tenkeyless (TKL) mechanical keyboards.

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