The best PC games ever Best PC games of 2018 Best graphics card 2019 Best free games 100 Apex Legends tips Fortnite Season 9 challenges

2

Best gaming keyboard 2019: Top mechanical and membrane picks

The key question

Featured post

With so many keyboards to choose from these days, finding the best gaming keyboard can sometimes feel like trying to find a needle in a haystack. As well as deciding whether you want to get a membrane gaming keyboard or a mechanical gaming keyboard, there’s also the question of how much do you want to spend and, if you decide to go down the mechanical route, finding the right type of switch that best suits your style of typing.

To help you on your quest to find the best gaming keyboard for you and your budget, I’ve put together my top recommendations for every single keyboard category I can think of. You’ll find everything here from the best membrane gaming keyboards, the best mechanical gaming keyboards, the best hybrid gaming keyboards, the best gaming keyboards to buy for your living room if you fancy kicking back on the sofa instead of sitting up at a desk, and which ones will best suit those who simply can’t live without flashy RGB lighting. Whatever your budget, we’ve got a best gaming keyboard recommendation for you.

Best gaming keyboard: Fnatic Streak / miniStreak

You’ll probably have heard of Fnatic from their esports endeavours rather than their hardware manufacturing chops, but the Streak (and by extension its accompanying compact, tenkeyless cousin, the miniStreak) is easily one the best mechanical keyboards I’ve ever used.

Fnatic will rave about it being the world’s thinnest mechanical board, but really, it’s just a pleasure to use and comes with the comfiest wrist rest on the planet. Their respective designs are surprisingly tasteful for an esports company, too, featuring the bare minimum of logos and excess branding to keep everything nice and clean and not at all embarrassing to have on your desk.

There are a few nods to the more esports-inclined among us, such as the removable magnetic RGB header plate on the very top of the keyboard you can see in the picture above (but not in everyday use because it’s facing away from you) that you can use to insert your own gamer tag platers and other such gubbins, but overall its smooth, rounded corners and plain, aluminium chassis are pretty inoffensive.

The detachable wrist rest, though, is the Streak’s main attraction. Soft, plush and very easy on my old, weary bones, it can be lifted up and re-positioned into one of three grooves on its accompanying base, allowing you to pitch it as near to the keyboard as you like while still giving you the flexibility to have it a bit further away depending on the size of your hands. It’s immensely practical and a lot comfier than the hard plastic rests you tend to see on other mechanical keyboards, and just makes using the Streak feel like an absolute dream.

Read more in our Fnatic Streak / miniStreak review.

Best gaming keyboard: Roccat Vulcan

What’s this? Another best mechanical gaming keyboard winner? Yes indeed. While the Roccat Vulcan may not have quite as many features as the Fnatic Streak (USB passthrough being the biggest omission at this kind of price), it sure is wonderful to type and play games on. So much so that I’ve elevated it from runner-up status to full joint best mechanical gaming keyboard.

A large part of that is down to the Roccat Vulcan’s fantastic Titan switches, which Roccat have developed in-house in partnership with TTC. At their core, they’re tactile switches that probably closest to Cherry’s MX Browns in feel, but their shorter actuation point (the bit where the keyboard registers a key has been pressed) and overall travel distance makes them feel lovely and fast and responsive at the same time, giving you the best of both worlds.

It’s also beautifully made thanks to its sturdy aluminium chassis, and it comes in a variety of different models and feature sets, too. The top-end Vulcan 120 gets you a removable wrist rest and all the additional media keys and volume knob, while the middle sibling Vulcan 100 is exactly the same minus the wrist rest. The entry-level Vulcan 80, meanwhile, is just the standard keyboard with a blue LED backlight instead of flashing RGBs. They’re all still quite expensive compared to other keyboards on this list, but in my eyes those Titan switches are well worth the extra expense.

Read more in our Roccat Vulcan review.

Best budget gaming keyboard: Tecware Phantom RGB

The red LED model of the HyperX Alloy Elite used to occupy this spot, but now that that seems to have been discontinued, the more upmarket RGB version is just too expensive to earn a place on this list next to the excellent Fnatic Streak and Roccat Vulcan. Instead, my new budget mechanical gaming keyboard recommendation is the Tecware Phantom RGB.

Priced at under £50 / $50, the Phantom RGB is a great jumping in point for those of you unsure about whether mechanical gaming keyboards are really for you or not. There are a couple caveats buying a keyboard this cheap, which I explain in my review, but overall it’s well-built and easy to type on, and it even comes with a handful of replacement switches, too, which is pretty rare for such an inexpensive keyboard.

I tested the tenkeyless model of the Phantom RGB, but it’s also available as a full-sized model for just a couple of dollars more ($50) in the US. I should note that UK buyers can also get the full-sized model over on Amazon, but at time of writing it’s only available at an inflated, import price, so I’d advise sticking to the tenkeyless model if possible (or opting for the equally good Roccat Suora, which can currently be had for £60 / $62).

Still, if you’re looking to making the jump to a mechanical keyboard but don’t want to spend north of a hundred big ones on it, the Tecware Phantom RGB is a good jumping-in point.

Read more in our Tecware Phantom RGB review.

Best gaming lapboard: Roccat Sova

If your PC resides in your living room, then there’s no greater keyboard – or lapboard – than the Roccat Sova. It is, admittedly, quite big and bulky, but it has plenty of room for your mouse, and comes with two USB ports for connecting additional peripherals, whether it’s your mouse, USB headset or a controller.

There are two different models available right now – the cheaper membrane edition which I reviewed and a more expensive mechanical version – but I found the membrane one was perfectly responsive for fast-paced games such as The Division 2, and it was great to type on for general web browsing, too.

The Roccat Sova is exceedingly comfy to use, too. Despite its size, I was able to sit with it on my lap for hours and hours, regardless of whether I was sitting with my feet on the floor or cosied up with my legs crossed. It’s quite expensive compared to other membrane keyboards on this list, but there’s simply nothing better for playing PC games in the living room.

Read more in our Roccat Sova review.

Best membrane gaming keyboard: Razer Cynosa Chroma

The Razer Cynosa Chroma is a little more expensive than your typical entry-level membrane keyboard, but in this case you can really feel where the extra money’s gone. Not only is it more responsive than your average membrane keyboard, but it’s also got some decent gaming features such as RGB lighting and a special game mode that disables the Windows key. You can also use it to record your own macros.

It’s also one of the more tasteful-looking gaming keyboards on this list, with its plain black chassis largely free of obnoxious logos and corporate stylings. It doesn’t have as many extra bits and bobs as my best membrane runner-up below, the Roccat Horde Aimo, such as dedicated media keys or a fancy volume knob, but I know which one I’d rather have on my desk if given the choice.

Since this is a membrane keyboard rather than a mechanical one, it’s also much quieter than practically every keyboard you’ll read about below. There’s a small trade-off here in that it’s probably not quite as responsive as the Horde Aimo, but it’s definitely a lot less grating on your ears. If you’re looking to upgrade your existing membrane keyboard without being forced to go full CLACK with a hybrid or mechanical keyboard, the Razer Cynosa Chroma is a great choice.

Read more in our Razer Cynosa Chroma review.

Best hybrid gaming keyboard: Roccat Horde Aimo

If you’ve already got a membrane keyboard, but want to see whether mechanical gaming keyboards are for you, a hybrid keyboard like the Roccat Horde Aimo could be the answer. Half way between membrane and mechanical, this so-called ‘membranical’ keyboard offers the best of both worlds by being more responsive than your typical membrane keyboard, and quieter than your full-blown mechanical one.

It’s not entirely silent, but it’s certainly a lot more sociable than any of the other mechanical keyboards on this list – namely, you can use it within ear shot of another human being with functioning ear lobes and not run the risk of having something thrown in the general direction of your head. Each key still offers a pleasing degree of precision and tactile feedback as well, and the subtle RGB lighting doesn’t get up in your face, either.

What really separates the Horde Aimo from the rest, however – including its similarly-priced and almost equally excellent rival, the Asus TUF Gaming K5 – is that nice, chunky media bar along the top, complete with revolving volume knob. It’s a wonderfully tactile bit of design, and it can be used for all sorts of functions depending on which media key you press alongside it. It also has built-in support for Microsoft’s fancy Surface Dial peripheral. The only thing the Horde Aimo doesn’t have, unfortunately, is USB passthrough support. But hey, this is still a fine keyboard in its own right, and doesn’t demand too many of your hard-earned pounds/dollars, either.

Read more in our Roccat Horde Aimo review.

Best RGB gaming keyboard: Asus ROG Strix Flare

If RGB lighting is the most important thing to you, the Asus ROG Strix Flare is another fantastic mechanical keyboard that’s worthy of your consideration. It’s expensive, yes, but this tastefully designed keyboard cuts a fine, sophisticated profile on your desk, and its elegent, dual matt and brushed finished design that sheers diagonally down the right side of the keyboard helps give it a bit of personality that’s both refined and understated.

And there are plenty of RGB LEDs, too. They’re not only on the keys themselves, but there are also two strips underneath the keyboard as well as another couple shining out of the top, transparent cut-out that can be used for slotting in 3D-printed gamer tags or the bundled plastic ROG logo (as shown above).

Again, you’ll need to download Asus’ Armory software to start customising the ROG Strix Flare down to a per-key lighting level, but you get plenty of options once you do so. The underglow strips are also surprisingly subdued for those who prefer a more subtle approach to their rainbow-coloured light shows, and I didn’t find them particularly distracting when playing games either.

Read more in our Asus ROG Strix Flare review.

Best gaming keyboard guide: How we test

It sounds obvious, but I usually spend a decent amount of time typing on each keyboard that comes in before I start writing my review. I also usually type said review on the keyboard in question. This gives me a good idea of how noisy it is on an everyday basis, as well as what it feels like to use for long periods of time.

I also test it by playing various games. Monster Hunter: World will be a prime test case going forward, as that’s very demanding on the old keyboard and mouse front, and I also usually run through a level of Doom as well to see how it handles fast-paced action.

Best gaming keyboard: Mechanical vs membrane

The first thing you need to know about buying a new gaming keyboard is whether you want a mechanical one or a membrane one. Generally, a lot of people who play PC games prefer mechanical keyboards due to their sharp, clean movements and short, fast actuation points (when the keyboard actually registers you’ve pressed down a key). Personally, I couldn’t give two hoots about whether I use a mechanical keyboard or a slightly spongier membrane one. I’ve liked and used both types of keyboard without much complaint, and as long as I can type well enough on it, that’s good enough for me.

Each type of keyboard has its own ups and downs. Membrane keyboards are usually a lot cheaper than their mechanical counterparts because they’re made from less expensive materials, but this in turn makes them more prone to breaking and are generally a bit of a pain to fix. Given their low price, the solution nine times out of ten is just to buy a new one.

Mechanical keyboards, on the other hand, are generally a lot more expensive – with most demanding at least £80/$100, if not significantly more – but they’re also more durable and – in theory – easier to repair as you often only need to replace the faulty switch rather than chuck the entire thing in the bin. This can be a fiddly process, though, so it’s probably better to take it to your local electronics shop if you have one nearby rather than trying to do it yourself.

Mechanical keyboards are, however, a heck of a lot noisier than membrane keyboards, and the loud CLACKEDY CLACK sound they make means they’re a bit anti-social for shared living spaces. Instead, they’re generally best suited to bedrooms and places where you’re the only person within earshot.

The reason for this is because each key on a mechanical keyboard has its own individual spring-loaded switch underneath it. Some are clackier than others depending on what type of switch you go for, but more on that in a minute. Membrane keys, meanwhile, are comprised of several small domes on a single layer of plastic – a bit like bubble wrap. Naturally, this deadens any excess sound they might make, and tend to be much easier on the ears.

Now I’ve used many a membrane keyboard over the years and found them perfectly suitable for games that don’t require mad esports reflexes. They can, however, feel a little unresponsive at times when you’re pressing lots of keys together, and often require you to press each key all the way down in order for it to register – which isn’t the case if you go mechanical. This is obviously something I take into consideration when reviewing a membrane keyboard, and you’ll only find the best and most responsive ones appearing on this list.

What’s the difference between red, blue and brown switches?

If you do opt for a mechanical keyboard, the next decision you’ll need to make is ‘What colour?’ For there isn’t just one type of mechanical keyboard, oh no. There are several, and each one comes with its own type of switch that makes them ever so slightly different to type on.

Most keyboards tend to use Cherry’s MX switches. Other manufacturers occasionally use their own switches or other types that come in different colours, but you’ll mostly find keyboards that broadly fall into the following three Cherry categories: red, blue, and brown. To see how they work in practice, HyperX have a handy primer with animated GIFs showing each one in action, but I’ve also listed what keyboards come in what colours in our rankings above.

Red: Often considered the fastest type of mechanical switch, these have a linear action and go straight up and down when you press them. As a result, these keys provide the least amount of tactile feedback compared to other switches (you might even say they provide none at all), but the wider hivemind will say these are usually the best type for playing games.

Blue: The loudest of all mechanical switches, these ‘click-style’ switches are a bit slower than red ones, as they generally require a bit more force to press down before they register (although in practice it’s so tiny that it probably won’t affect your typing style whatsoever). These are generally considered the best for typing because they provide a good sense of tactile feedback, but they’re pretty good for gaming as well as long as you don’t mind the noise.

Brown: For those after the ultimate in tactile feedback, brown switches are a sort of half-way house between linear and click switches. Press one of these down and you’ll feel a noticeable little ‘bump’ halfway through, giving you a bit more physical confirmation that, yes, you have indeed pressed it correctly. They’re still pretty noisy, but not quite as much as blue ones.

Tagged with , , , , , , , , , .

If you click our links to online stores and make a purchase we may receive a few pennies. Find more information here.

Who am I?

Katharine Castle

Hardware Editor

Katharine writes about all the bits that go inside your PC so you can carry on playing all those lovely games we like talking about so much. Very partial to JRPGs and the fetching of quests.

More by me

Support RPS and get an ad-free site, extra articles, and free stuff! Tell me more
Please enable Javascript to view comments.

Please log in to reply.

Advertisement

Latest videos