Best Developer Keyboards for Programming and Development
If you make money as a web developer or programmer then why are you still using the $10 rubber dome special that came with that desktop you got 10 years ago…
A good quality keyboard not only makes a difference to your output but will be much more enjoyable in the process and if you are using it for 8+ hours of the day then that is going to be very important.
What Makes the Best Developer Keyboard?
Developer keyboards tend to have different priorities to most. Some of this may be personal preference, but most of us will be looking for similar features.
Developers will generally be looking at getting a mechanical keyboard for programming, which has a more clicky feel instead of the typical cheapo rubber dome switches that come in cheaper keyboards.
We will list a good rubber dome chiclet style keyboard for the developers who prefer a laptop style keyboard, but generally, a switch to mechanical is going to benefit most of us.
There are many different types of switches which are defined by their color. The different switches have different feels and sounds. Some will make an audible click and some will be designed to be quiet (which may suit office dwellers).
We will cover the types of switches in more depth at the end of this article, but we would typically say that if you want click and sound then go for Cherry MX Blue switches. And if you want the clicky feel without the quite intrusive noise you get from the Cherry MX Blue switches, then your best bet will be the Cherry MX Brown switches, which give you the same feel as the Cherry MX Blue but without the extra noise.
We also need a solid keyboard with no flex, because a keyboard that flexes not only feels cheap but feels less responsive.
Ideally, we would be wanting at least a partial metal construction to give a quality rigid feel.
Lazer etched keys will be another thing that we will be looking for because it means the letters won’t rub off with age.
Developer keyboards designed for programming will typically come with a full standard layout with no altered keys and a num pad.
Some developers out there prefer a programming keyboard without a num pad and some of our picks have the option to get a variant without the num pad. But for most of us a num pad is a must.
Best Overall Mechanical Keyboard – Das Keyboard
We feel that the Das Keyboard Professional is the best all around keyboard for developers because it is one of the best all rounders we have come accross. It is well built and the keys are outstanding.
It also has a nice look to it without being too in your face or too boring.
The build quality on the Das Keyboard Professional programming keyboard is second to none.
It has an aluminum construction which keeps it rigid and gives it a nice feel to type on.
The key caps also feel better quality than anything we have typed on before.
The Das Keyboard Professional only comes in a full layout with a num pad. The layout is pretty standard though and will suit 99% of developers out there.
Cherry MX Switches
You can get the Das Keyboard Professional with either Cherry MX Blue Keys or Cherry MX Brown keys. So you can choose just how annoying you want to be to your co-workers!
Just be careful not to get the version of the Das Keyboard with the Greentech switches. The Greentech switches are ok but if you want the best and are spending this kind of money on a keyboard, then the Cherry MX switches are worth it.
This is a pretty basic keyboard but it does come with some basic media keys and a volume wheel.
Best Runner Up Mechanical Keyboard – Razer BlackWidow Chroma V2
Razer typically makes cheap feeling rubber dome keyboards which we typically don’t like very much. The BlackWidow is a tank though and feels fantastic.
Razer has moved away from using Cherry keys which we were a little skeptical of, but they feel very similar to their Cherry MX varieties and generally seem to be well liked among the community.
This is a gaming focused keyboard but will suit developers and programmers well and is a perfect programmer keyboard for the developers out there who like to fire up some CSGO after work.
Unlike some other Razer products, this Razer BlackWidow Chroma V2 is built to last and feels absolutely solid.
The outer casing is a matte plastic, but it is a high quality plastic which feels very nice. The Razer BlackWidow does come with metal inside though to keep things rigid and this developer keyboard definitely has enough heft to it.
The keycaps also feel great and are laser etched which means they won’t fade and will show the RGB backlighting through the letter.
The Razer BlackWidow Chroma V2 comes with a standard full layout and unlike the das keyboard, it comes with an optional num pad, which may suit some developers out there.
The full sized variant also comes with a row of function keys on the left which are programmable. This can be useful for programmers as well as gamers and is a nice addition.
So as I mentioned razer has switched over to using their own switches for their mechanical keyboards. These switches really are on par with the feel of Cherry MX keys and should hold up well.
There is a different color scheme though which may confuse some.
Cherry MX to Razer keys:
- Razer Green = Cherry MX Blue – Clicky sound and feel
- Razer Orange = Cherry MX Brown – Clicky feel without the sound
- Razer Yellow = Cherry MX Speed – No clicky feel or sound
What it does have though is a removable wrist rest. The wrist rest that comes with the Razer Blackwidow is probably the best we have used on any keyboard and feels nice and squishy.
Another “must have” feature for some is the RGB backlighting which some may find useful if programming at night… But let’s face it most people get RGB because RGB is cool!
Best Budget Cherry MX Mechanical Keyboard – Corsair K66
So if you just need the great Cherry MX switches but don’t want to spend a fortune on a fancy keyboard, then the Corsair is going to be about as cheap as it gets without sacrificing quality.
This is a full plastic construction but it still feels solid and doesn’t have any flex.
The Corsair K66 does have printed key caps, but they do feel designed to take a lot of mileage and we wouldn’t expect them to be fading any time soon.
Again a pretty standard layout for a developer keyboard, without any option to go without a num pad.
Cherry MX Switches
This keyboard comes with all of the most popular Cherry MX keys, but the Cherry MX Red keys are going to be the cheapest.
If you can afford it then an upgrade to the Cherry MX brown keys will be a good option though as most developers will prefer the tactile clicky feel.
The Corsair does have some basic media keys on the top right but that’s about it in terms of features.
Best Bang for Buck Mechanical Keyboard – Magicforce Qisan
So if you can forgo the Cherry MX switches then you can get into a much lower price bracket.
You do need to be careful in this range though because there are a lot of cheap and nasty “mechanical feel” keyboards out there which just won’t feel nice at all.
Bang for buck this is about as good as it gets though if you don’t want to spend a fortune on the real Cherry MX switches.
The Magicforce Qisan keyboard is a surprisingly well built keyboard considering what it costs.
This keyboard has a plastic construction but it feels on par with much more expensive keyboards and has no flex at all due to the metal support panel inside.
The Magicforce Qisan keyboard also comes with laser etched key caps which feel great!
There are two options here, either you can get the full standard layout version for a little more money, or get the cheaper compact version which is the perfect keyboard for programmers who are on the move.
The cheaper, smaller version of the keyboard is missing some keys in order to keep the size down, so the home, end and print screen keys are missing but are accessible using the function key.
It’s the same story for the function keys which are still accessible using the function key and the number row.
We feel that they have taken a good approach to the layout though and think it was worth it to keep the size down. This is a great programmer keyboard for developers who are on the move a lot.
Cooler Master Switches
They are using their own switches in this keyboard and will feel similar to a Cherry MX Speed switches.
The keys won’t be quite on par for feel and will be lightyears ahead of standard rubber dome keys, but won’t be quite as nice as Cherry MX switches. This lack of Cherry MX switches though allows them to keep the costs down so that you are getting 90% of the quality for 30% of the cost.
Its compact size could be counted as a feature… Other than that though this is a basic little keyboard which just performs solidly.
Best Wireless Chiclet Style Keyboard – Logitech Craft
This is going to be the absolute best keyboard for those developers out there who don’t want to switch over to mechanical switches.
The Logitech Craft keyboard has been built from the ground up with programmers and designers in mind, with a couple of unique nifty features which offsets it from the competition.
The Logitech Craft is only partially metal, but the plastic that has been used feels very high quality.
This wireless chiclet keyboard from Logitech has a very premium feel to it overall with no flex at all due to the aluminum bar at the top.
This is a pretty standard layout with only an enlarged escape key (great for developers!) and some extra function keys, which set it apart from a standard keyboard layout.
We are forced to have a num pad here though so keep that in mind if you are looking for an ultra portable keyboard.
Well, this is a chiclet keyboard so there is no mechanical switches to speak off.
The keys do feel responsive though with plenty of travel and will please any laptop users out there.
This is where this keyboard has a trick up it’s sleeve. The wheel on the top left is programmable in different applications and can be used for all sorts of things like resizing brushes in photoshop etc…
The Logitech Craft is also a wireless keyboard which some may find useful if you like a clean look on your desk or if you are programming with this keyboard on a laptop.
Best Bang for Buck Chiclet Keyboard – Kensington Slim Type
So let’s face it… the Logitech Craft, although very nice, is very expensive for a chiclet style keyboard.
If you are looking for a chiclet style keyboard which doesn’t cost the earth and and ticks all the boxes then this is the best we have come across.
Again this is another rigid keyboard with a plastic construction. The plastic doesn’t feel flimsy though and there is metal in the keyboard to stop it flexing.
The only sin here is the layout of the central page up and down buttons which is a little different. Other than that though everything feels pretty standard.
These switches are notably quieter than any other keyboard on this list so is a great option for office workers.
The Kensington keyboard keys also have an ideal amount of travel and overall feel stable and tactile.
This is a pretty bog standard keyboard with only some extra basic media keys added on.
Best Budget Portable Keyboard – Arteck Wireless Keyboard
So if you need a solid little keyboard that will be great for chucking in a bag, or if you just want to maintain a clean look on your desk, then this little keyboard from Arteck is a surprisingly good keyboard for programmers and developers.
At this price point, we wouldn’t be expecting much, but the Artech surprised us with a very solid feel and almost no flex, which is very surprising for its form factor.
Key travel feels good and overall this is a pleasure to type on for a chiclet style keyboard.
This is a pretty standard layout for a small keyboard. We do have some small arrow keys, but they aren’t laid out in an odd way to make them fit. This layout feels just like any good laptop keyboard layout.
I mean this is a cheap chiclet keyboard so it’s not got anything on the Cherry MX switches that cost 5 times the price.
The keys do feel responsive and very stable keys which put more expensive keyboards to shame.
Cherry MX Switches
There are a range of manufacturers to choose from when choosing a mechanical switch and it seems there are new mechanical switches every other week!
But Cherry MX Mechanical switches are one of the oldest manufacturers and are generally regarded as the absolute best switches that money can buy.
That being said you will need to drop quite a few of those dollars to get Cherry MX switches because the quality demands a hefty price tag.
There are a few alternatives, which do come close to replicating what we are seeing from Cherry MX.
The main ones that are worth mentioning will be the Razer switches we mentioned earlier. Greentech which are a good budget option to the Cherry MX switches and Kailh.
When you see this referred to it is referring to the “operating force” of the switch, which basically means how much pressure needs to be put on the key in order to full depress the key.
This is measured in grams and will range anywhere from 45g for lighter switches to 80g for stiffer, heavier switches.
Typically you will want to stay on the lower to mid end of this scale.
Activation point is essentially the amount of travel the key has to make before it is registered.
All switches will register a keystroke before you bottom them out but some will activate sooner.
Tactile vs Non-Tactile
This is one of the big ones for most developers looking at mechanical keyboards. Do you want the clicky feel or do you want a more traditional linear feel.
The image below displays how a Cherry MX brown switch functions and why it clicks. As you can see the spring on the left clicks off a dimple in the switch which will give feedback to the user.
A non-tactile switch such as the Cherry MX Red switches won’t have this bump. They will just feel like a linear switch, similar to a rubber dome but with a much better feel.
Clicky or Non-Clicky
So the Cherry MX blue switches have a relatively loud clicking sound. This helps give the user feedback and combined with the tactile bump, will give unmatched amounts of feedback back to the user.
The only real reason not to go with blue switches is because of just how loud they can be. If you work in an office then Cherry MX browns will more than likely be a much more appropriate option and is our pick for the best all round switch.
Most popular switch variants
Blue and Brown are the bread and butter of the Cherry MX line with Reds being a close runner up for those who don’t want the clicky sound or the bump.
- Cherry MX Blue switches have a clicky sound and the tactile bump
- Cherry MX Brown switches have the clicky tactile feel, just without the noise from the Cherry MX Blue Switches
- Cherry MX Red switches have the same activation force as the blues and browns, but just don’t have the tactile bump or the clicky sound and will resemble a more traditional rubber dome key .
The black, white and green switches as you can see below follow the same pattern, but have a heavier activation force and are typically a more specialist key.