We have all used membrane keyboards once in our life, but what are they? In basic terms, membrane keyboards rely on rubber domes and circuit board contact points rather than mechanical switches or buttons. Membrane keyboards have a circuit board underneath them, when you click the key it compresses that dome. When the dome is compressed it makes contact with the circuit board, completing the circuit. Your computer will then register this as a keystroke allowing you to type.
The easiest way to find a membrane keyboard is to take a look at a laptop. Most laptops come standard with membrane keyboards. They are easy to mass-produce at a low cost so many manufacturers are choosing this option. There are many benefits to using a membrane keyboard for your computer, it just depends on how you use it. However, there are some disadvantages to consider as well.
Benefits of Membrane Keyboards
They Are Quiet
Since you are not actually pressing a physical switch in membrane keyboards are quiet to use. The domes that I referred to earlier are made out of soft rubber. This makes the keys very smooth and soft when pressing them, making them quiet. When you press the key in, depending on what model you have it can be virtually silent. This is very beneficial if you are working in an open environment. There is nothing worse than sitting beside someone that sounds like they are typing on an old-school typewriter. It also makes typing at night time or in the early mornings a very enjoyable task as there won’t be any annoying clicking sounds.
Membrane Keyboards are Low Cost
Since membrane keyboards are relatively easy to produce, they don’t cost as much. The materials used to make them are readily available also contributing to the reduction of cost. To be honest I have found numerous membrane keyboards that cost less than $10. While this option may not have the features you are looking for, it will get the job done. With that being said, for a little bit extra you can get some very nice membrane keyboards at an affordable price. It is also worth mentioning that if the keyboard breaks, they are super easy to replace because of the cost. It would be a shame to spend a lot of money on a keyboard to have it break, then replace it.
While you can of course find some membrane keyboards in full-size versions. You can also find them to be small and compact making them the perfect travel companion. If you find yourself frequently traveling this makes them the perfect option for you. Along with them being small and compact, they are very slim and lightweight. Due to the way that they are built, manufactures can make them incredibly slim. Again, this makes them the perfect option to throw in a backpack or suitcase. Whenever I am traveling, I always bring a mini membrane keyboard with me. This allows me to keep working when I am stopped in a coffee shop or sitting on a plane.
They are Spill-Resistant
Since a rubber layer is over-top of the actual circuit board this makes them very resilient to potential damage. I can’t tell you the number of times I have spilled a drink on one of these keyboards and it remains okay. While this is not a specific added feature to these kinds of keyboards, it is an added bonus. Of course, you cant throw them in a tub of water and expect them to be okay. But for the occasional coffee or water spill, they should be okay. Again, this makes them the perfect travel companion to bring with you.
Membrane Keyboards Offer Great Features
Depending on how much you are wanting to spend you can find some pretty nice options. You can find most of the options that come standard on a mechanical keyboard on them. Often you can find even more if you consider the size and overall functionality of them. Consider how and where you plan to use the keyboard to identify the features that are important to you. If you are looking to use it on various devices, you may want to consider a Bluetooth membrane keyboard. Or if you just want to take it with you while you are studying at the local barista shop you might want something a little bit smaller and compact. There are endless options out there to suit your needs.
Membrane Keyboard Disadvantages
While membrane keyboards are fantastic for many people, they do come with some disadvantages to them. This is especially true if you are looking for something to remain stationary with some physical feedback.
Generally speaking, membrane keyboards do have shorter lifespans than mechanical keyboards. I find with a membrane keyboard you ultimately get what you pay for. If you purchase one from a well-known company with a lot of strong reviews you should not have any problems. But, since they rely on rubber domes as mentioned before, they do tend to fault sooner. This is simply because rubber eventually breaks down and degrades the more you use it. With that being said, due to their low cost, they are quite easy to replace. But this might start to add up over some time.
They Can Lack Build Quality
For this, I again find this relies on the overall cost of the keyboard. I have found some incredibly build keyboards, but I have found a lot more poorly built ones. However, when we compare it directly to a mechanical keyboard they can often feel a lot more flimsy no matter what. I personally believe that this is because membrane keyboards are generally a lot lighter. But this totally depends on what model you end up going with. I recommend sticking to some well-known brands and reading reviews before making a decision. At least this way you will know what to expect in terms of quality.
Membrane Keyboards Can Lack Key Feedback
Since you are essentially pressing a thin piece of rubber down, the overall feedback can be unsatisfying. This totally relies on the specific model of the keyboard and what model you go with. But, for the most part, I do think it is fair to say that it is relatively unsatisfying if we directly compare it to a mechanical switch. However, it does come at a cost to the benefit of membrane keyboards being quiet. Not to mention over time as the rubber breaks down they may feel mushy losing any feedback that it had prior. This can be pretty frustrating often time sending you to purchase a new keyboard entirely. If you like your keyboard to have direct feedback when you press the key, membrane keyboards may not be the option for you.
Overall membrane keyboards are fantastic for anyone that is just using them for light use. They rely on the user pressing a rubber piece down to complete a circuit, the computer then registers this as a keystroke. If you plan to take your keyboard out and about this is the perfect option. They are lightweight and versatile at a considerably low cost. I have owned numerous models over the years and recommend trying them out as they make affordable alternatives to mechanical keyboards. However, if you plan to use them in a more stationary setting you may want to consider the more expensive alternative.
If you are curious as to how to clean your keyboard and maintain its lifespan, check out the article I have written for that.