OK, I'm going to be honest here. I don't actually use them any more. But they're really good. So you might want to consider them.

What's a Mechanical Keyboard?

The keyboard part should be pretty obvious, but what makes a mechanical keyboard different from most other keyboards? Well, long ago, keyboards were all like that. Each key had a little switch of some sort under it. If you don’t know otherwise, it’s probably how you’d assume most keyboards are made. But as computers became cheaper, more commodity items, keyboards had to get cheaper to make.

Most keyboards now use something much easier to make in large quantities. A board is covered in little pairs of contacts. A piece of rubber is shaped to fit over it, with little domes where each key goes. The keys sit on little supports over each dome. When you press a key, the dome is squished down, and a conductive bit underneath it shorts out the contacts under it. It doesn’t feel great, and can wear out, but it’s perfectly fine for the vast majority of people, and it’s cheap to make in huge quantities.

Back to the older way of doing things, those little switches that sat under each key, or keyswitches, became pretty standard, using a shape and size made by a German company called Cherry, and we had the standard ‘Cherry MX’ keyswitch.

Well, these types of keyboard still exist, it’s just that now they’re only used by people who really care about their keyboard. Which most people don’t, and that’s fine. No reason most people really should.

It’s quite similar to another of my interests, fountain pens. Ballpoints and rollerballs came along, and most people found them just fine. They weren’t quite as nice to write with, but they were fine, and the convenience of them made them far better for most people. But fountain pens are still around, and some of us love them. They’ve gone from being what everyone used to a niche interest for those who care enough. There’s no reason for most people to use a fountain pen instead of a ballpoint, and no reason for most people to switch (see what I did there?) to a mechanical keyboard. But if you really like pens, a fountain pen might be better for you. And if you really like keyboards, you’ll probably enjoy a mechanical keyboard more.

Why Are They Better?

They definitely aren’t cheaper, let’s get that out of the way first. You can get a keyboard for £10 or £15, while mechanical keyboards are usually more like £50 upwards, and can go quite a long way upwards.

But there are some real advantages, which make them well worth the cost to some of us:

So if you care enough about your keyboard, you can get one that will last a long time, be more comfortable to type on, and look good while doing it.

Interested? What Should You Consider?


Keyboard sizes are generally given as a percentage of a full-sized keyboard, with one common exception. Since a full-sized keyboard is, depending on locality, around 102 keys, the percentage is also roughly the number of keys. So a 60% keyboard has around 60 keys. The main exception is known as TKL, or TenKeyLess. That just means no numeric keypad, like most laptop keyboards, or the keyboards with most desktop Macs.

The obvious assumption is that more keys would be better. But that tends not to be the case. As people get more interested in keyboards, the number of keys they prefer seems to go down. The first stage for me was realising that I rarely used the numeric keypad, and doing without one meant the mouse or trackpad could sit closer to the keys, meaning I didn't have to reach as far, and everything could be more central in front of me.

A 60% keyboard can be a good compromise. They generally do away with the numeric keypad and function keys that most people don't use often, but still have the usual number keys and cursor keys. For most people, that's as small as they want to go.

If you want to go smaller than that, 40% keyboards also get rid of the number keys, and may also do away with the arrows. That's where I'm at now, though many consider it a compromise too far.

So if we're getting rid of all these keys, how do we manage when we, you know, need to press them? Because of course I still need to type numbers and use arrow keys. We use layers. Assign one key to switch layers, and all the other keys can do something different. For the keyboard I'm using now, I have a button next to my right thumb that changes layers when held down, putting a numeric keypad under my right hand, and arrow keys under my left. If it sounds too complicated, think of it like the shift key. You already use a layer every time you need an exclamation mark! The shift key switches to a layer where the letters are upper case, the numbers type symbols, and many of the other symbols change too.

The advantage of all this - yes, there has to be one, or it would all be a bit ridiculous - is less movement for your hands. You don't have to take you hand away from the 'home' keys to type numbers or use arrows, they live right under your fingers already. The keyboards can also be smaller and more portable, which is handy if you want to take them with you, or just want some really aesthetic desk photos for the gram. Or TikTok or whatever people actually use these days.

And no, it doesn't save money. You'd think that the fewer keys there are on a keyboard, the cheaper it would be, but it usually works the other way. These smaller keyboards are just more specialist things, with way fewer sales to make up the design and manufacturing costs, so they cost more. Get far enough into this rabbit hole, and it's easy to spend hundreds of dollars/pounds on a keyboard.


Keyboard-shaped. That's probably what you want. You don't want to have to re-learn to type, and if you start getting into strange layouts, it's going to take some getting used to. But the options are there.

Connecting It

This part is usually pretty simple. Almost all mechanical keyboards these days use USB-C connectors, and work perfectly well with USB-A. They most often come with a USB-C to USB-A cable. So you can just plug it straight in to almost any computer or device with USB.

There are a few mechanical keyboards with Bluetooth, which can be handy if you want to use it with an iPad or iPhone (though current iPads have USB-C). It will limit your choices quite a bit, though, and in my own experience, the cabled connection works better. My Anne Pro has USB, but keypresses occasionally drop, and the connection occasionally plays up. When I went for another keyboard, I'd stopped particularly wanting Bluetooth. It also means the keyboard has to have a battery, which adds to the size and weight. Only a consideration if you plan on carrying it around, but that's also the main point of having Bluetooth.


I mentioned that there are lots of choices for the actual switches under each key. Cherry started the idea of naming them after colours, and everyone else has run with it. So they're usually known by manufacturer and colour. There are way too many choices to go into, but keeping it to the main few options:

So what am I using? Kailh BOX Silent Browns. Because I was buying a keyboard with an unusual layout, I knew that once I got used to it, I'd have to take it with me to the office when working there, so I didn't want it to be too loud. And it still feels really good to me.


The keycaps are the bits of plastic you actually press. The bits with the letters on them. If you want to give your keyboard a makeover, replacing the keycaps is an easy way to do it. At this point, I'm just going to assume that you'll be using whatever your chosen keyboard comes with, but it's nice to know there are plenty of options later. You know, when you decide your desk isn't quite up to the standard of aesthetics required for your Instagram feed.

You can buy them as complete sets, but when things get more specialised, they get weird. The more fancy sets are only available as a group buy, so you have to join in with a bunch of other people, where you're effectively commissioning a design being made for you all. More hassle than I've wanted to get into so far.

There is also such a thing as artisan keycaps. Hand-made individual keys, usually cast in resin, often in shapes that are totally impractical to use as regular keys. And eye-wateringly expensive for a single keycap. Some people get annoyed about how expensive and impractical these are, but the point of them is more as a little piece of art or craft. If that's not something you want, you're completely free to not buy them. I haven't (yet), but I can still admire the work that goes into them.

Oh, and most good keyboards now come with PBT keycaps. They're a more hard-wearing type of plastic. Engraved symbols can last a lot better than just printed, too. And if you have fancy RGB lights under each key, you might want to make sure the keys let the light shine through. For that, double-shot keycaps let the light shine through the actual symbols, instead of printing. Pudding keycaps have a solid coloured top over a translucent body, which can look pretty.

Specific Models

I've only used a couple...

Anne Pro II

A fairly small 60% mechanical keyboard with bluetooth. Available for pretty reasonable prices, especially direct from China where they're made. Decent choice of keyswitches. Heavier than some, because it needs a battery. Not the best build quality, but not at all bad for the money.

At the time I got this one, there were very few options for small mechanical keyboards with bluetooth. There are one or two more now - I don't know if the Anne Pro is still a great option, but I certainly don't think its bad, if it matches up to what you want.

Keyboardio Atreus

(This started out as a blog post, so it's a bit more time-based than it should be here. I'll tidy it up a bit at some point.)

It’s been a while since I last posted about keyboards. That’s because there wasn’t much to say. I bought my Anne Pro 2, and I was happy with it. I still kept reading a little about other keyboards, and looking at pretty keycap sets, but I was quite satisfied with what I had.

But over time, I realised I wasn’t actually using it as much as I used to. The trouble of getting it if it wasn’t right where I was seemed like a bit much to bother with. I was gradually starting to pay more attention to stranger keyboards. The sort that were so tiny they could go in a small bag, or even a large pocket. Ones that I thought might be easier to have with me when I wanted them, and ones that would give me more of a benefit. The problem was, the two things didn’t really go together.

There are tiny keyboards, with even fewer keys than the Anne Pro. Anne is what’s called a 60% keyboard, with around 60% of the keys a full sized keyboard has. The smaller ones are 40%. That means losing the number keys entirely, and usually losing the arrows too. You can still type all these things, just using modifier keys to switch ‘layers’, in the same way the shift key lets you access extra symbols and upper case. You just have to do that more. These can be very small.

Then there are ergonomic keyboards. They are often ortholinear, getting rid of the staggering of the rows that only ever existed because typewriters needed space for their levers. And they are often split, where the two halves of the keyboard don’t join in the middle. But they’re usually big.

My thinking was that if I got used to an ortholinear layout, I wouldn’t be able to switch back to a normal keyboard, so I’d have to use it all the time. Take it with me to the office. It would be my only keyboard, or at least, the only one I could type much on. And that wasn’t going to be practical with a big, heavy keyboard. Then I discovered the Planck EZ.

I should point out here that it’s not that tiny ortholinear keyboards don’t exist, it’s that they’re most commonly available in parts. And I’m just not that far into this rabbit hole. You buy a base plate, and a circuit board, and some switches, and some keycaps. You start soldering and fitting the bits together. You install the firmware onto the keyboard. You end up (hopefully, anyway) with exactly what you want. But I just wanted to buy a keyboard, which makes the options a bit more limited. But yes, the Planck EZ. It’s a pre-built version of one of these kits, and it’s a pretty compelling combination. Tiny, 40%, ortholinear. It has full RGB lighting, and can even play little tunes on a tiny speaker. It ticked a lot of boxes. At around $250, it wasn’t as easy a decision as it would have been, but was very tempting, and spent quite a while at the top of my wish list.

But then I happened on the Keyboardio Atreus. It’s a tiny bit bigger than the Planck, without the beeper and RGB lighting, but it’s a split design. The halves aren’t movable, they’re on the same plate, but slightly apart, and angled a little so your wrists don’t have to bend quite so much. The layout is also staggered vertically to match finger lengths a little more. There are more ergonomic keyboards, and there are smaller keyboards, but this hits the sweet spot very nicely for me. Close to being the smallest, at least while sticking with full-sized keys, while also being pretty good ergonomically. A split, ortholinear keyboard, that’s still small enough to go anywhere with me.

I’ll admit, I do miss the RGB LEDs a little, but I’ll get over that. And at around £100 less than the Planck, and available in stock in the UK, from the good people at The Keyboard Company, it was even more tempting.

I finally reached the point where I had read every review, every post about it on Reddit, and watched every video on YouTube about it. Even the cringefest of the official Kickstarter ad. And I still didn’t know if it would work out for me. There comes a point where the only way to tell if you’re going to be able to get used to a layout that involves re-learning quite a few keys is to actually do it. So I did it. I’m typing this on it now.

My experience so far is good. The letter C is giving me most trouble. I hit that with my index finger on a normal keyboard, and I’m having to learn to hit it with my middle finger instead. It’s going to take some getting used to, but I’m getting there faster than I expected. X and Z are different too, but uncommon enough in English to not be too big a problem so far. Using my thumb for backspace and shift is coming surprisingly naturally. It didn’t take long at all to stop reaching past the edge of the keyboard for shift keys that weren’t there.

The Chrysalis software used to remap keys is fairly simple to use. I’ve resisted diving in and remapping things to what I think I’d like, trying to give the defaults a chance first, and some things have turned out to be better in practice than I thought they’d be. The enter key is in a far corner, easiest to reach by dropping my palm down to hit it under the knuckle of my little finger, but I’m find that much easier than I thought I would at first.

I haven’t mentioned keyswitches yet. My Anne Pro has Gateron Blues, quite loud and clicky keys. I’d tamed them a little with o-rings to make the end of the movement a little less of a ‘clack’, and of the options available, I was planning to get the Kailh Box White switches for a very clicky experience. But I found myself thinking that if I get on with this keyboard well, I’d want to use it everywhere, including in the office, and that didn’t seem likely to be popular in an open-plan office. I did a bit of reading about the Kailh Box Brown option, and they seemed to be quite well-liked. So I went for those, and I’m glad I did. They still have all the tactile feel I like, but with far less noise. This may be partly down to the solid build of the Atreus. To be fair to the Anne Pro, it’s a £50 keyboard, while the Atreus is a £150 keyboard, so it should be well put together.

So that’s where I’m up to now. It’s too early to say if it’s going to work out for me in the longer term, but early signs are very promising.

A bit of a follow-up now I’ve had this keyboard for almost a month. I’m still getting the hang of it, but while I’ve not gone back to using another keyboard, I haven’t done a huge amount of typing in that time, so it’s slow going. I still think it looks good, though, and when I did once try using my MacBook’s built-in keyboard, it felt awkward to use. So I’m still very happy with it.

I’ve mostly got the hang of the C key now, but still fairly often get X and Z wrong, but that’s just because they’re so much less frequently used. It’ll happen with enough time.

I’m glad I kept the tweaks to the keymapping fairly minimal, as I have got used to some things I wasn’t sure about. Enter and Escape seemed difficult at first, in the far bottom corners, but I’d seen a review saying they got used to hitting those by dropping their palms down to them, and that’s working out quite well. It’s one of the few things that’s a bigger hand movement, but those are keys where breaking the flow slightly doesn’t matter as much to me. Might be different if I spent more time in Vim, but that’s an occasional thing for me. The apostrophe and quotes are a bit awkward to reach still, but I haven’t thought of anywhere better for them, so I’m just trying to get the hang of that thumb bend.

Another update after almost four months. I'm still using this keyboard for all my typing. And I have to admit, I'm still sometimes getting 'z' wrong, and sometimes make mistakes with the various thumb keys. It's still getting better slowly, though, and I'm still very happy with it. There are occasions I just reach for the MacBook keyboard for a character I just can't remember the location of, but it's quite rare. And it feels very much worth it for the more comfortable typing experience.

I wouldn't say I've really had RSI, but I did used to find my wrists getting quite uncomfortable after a day with a lot of typing, and that seems to have gone now. I don't type a huge amount, so it could make a much bigger difference for someone who does, and they'd probably find learning much faster too. The more you type, the more sense this keyboard could make, though that's probably the case for any expensive keyboard - just a bit more so in this case.

I used the Atreus for almost two years before giving up and returning to Apple keyboards. I loved using it, but the inconvenience of getting used to the ortholinear layout, and not being able to use a normal keyboard, gradually became too much for me. I got a new MacBook, an MacBook Pro M2 Max, and decided to try going back to mainly using the built-in keyboard. I quite quickly added the Apple Magic Keyboard for when the MacBook was sitting on a stand. The extra ease of just opening MacBook and using it seems well worth the slightly less good typing experience.