Author Topic: Are linear, mechanical/topre keyboards really “healthier” than chiclet/membrane?  (Read 2472 times)

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Offline pagosElite

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I’ve been looking this question up online recently with completely contradictory answers, so I bring the question to the GH community.

Given a linear mechanical/topre keyboard (so nothing split or tented like ErgoDox), is it inherently healthier and will help prevent RSI in the long-term compared to a chiclet/membrane keyboard?

My current situation is that I have a HHKB and I just bought a Logitech K811. I think the features of the K811 (easy BT switching, lightweight, backlit, metal) are great and I *think* I even make less mistakes on it. At the same time, I like the layout of the HHKB more (the position of the control key, backspace, ~) since I program a fair amount. I know I only want to keep one, but they both seem equal to me. So for me I think the tie-breaker would be which one will be healthier for me in the long-term since I type for 10+ hours a day. Because if they are equal, then are we paying a ton for mech/topre keyboards for aesthetics and feel, and not health benefits.

Note: I know there are Ergo keyboards like Ergodox and Kinesis, but I’m just talking about the usual, linear keyboards.

Offline nogoodnames444

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I think topre might be good because it is pretty soft on the fingers
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Online Tom_Kazansky

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HHKB layout, for me, is an improvement. Who use that Capslock anyways? Control at that position is brilliant, the Backspace is also good (well... depends on people)

topre keyboards should reduce straint on your fingers, they're soft and... tactile.
about linear mechanical keyboard: I'm not sure, I think it's better to type without bottom-out and with linear switches, you can't really tell when to stop your fingers (well, unless you have a "just-right" spring weight)

I prefer clicky switches but I have to use tactile switches in office.
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Offline Giorgio

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Since you don't have to bottom out to register the key press, mechanical keyboards are healthier by definition.

With cherry, you can vary the key travel with orings, or by getting cherry speed switches, which have a shorter travel and actuation.

Palm rests aggravate carpal tunnel syndrome.
« Last Edit: Mon, 30 July 2018, 21:27:31 by Giorgio »

Offline titanium

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Technically, yes, but the "healthier" part is pretty negligible compared to just doing wrist/hand exercises, maintaining good posture, and taking breaks every so often.

Offline nogoodnames444

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Since you don't have to bottom out to register the key press, mechanical keyboards are healthier by definition.

With cherry, you can vary the key travel with orings, or by getting cherry speed switches, which have a shorter travel and actuation.

Palm rests aggravate carpal tunnel syndrome.
The silent switches are also really good the retooled ones feel really niced a cushioned
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Offline Findecanor

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For your fingers, Topre switches are just rubber domes that actuate mid-stroke and bottom out distinctly. Personally, I have never been able to not overshoot the bump on Topres, so I have never experienced a fundamental benefit of Topre's force curve over other better rubber dome keyboards, such as Key Tronic or BTC.
On the contrary, I have experienced pain in my fingers from using heavier Topre switches for a longer time. I have also found linear Cherry MX Black to be tiring.

I think that to avoid stressing your fingers, a light stroke is beneficial, avoiding hitting the bottom hard is beneficial. Both of these factors count, not just avoiding bottoming out.
If we're going technical: the weight of a switch in practice should be measured as the total area in the force graph, measuring travel to the point where you stop pressing, when typing normally. How far you press depends on your typing style with that particular switch. A tactile bump coinciding with actuation could help you, as could a force increase after actuation which is preventing you from pressing down further. I have said many times that these properties is why I prefer Cherry MX Clear: they feel lighter to me than many other switches, because they fit how I type on them ,despite of its spring being known to be quite heavy.

A good rubber dome should be light and not force you to press it hard to the bottom. The feel at bottoming out should be distinct but not hard. It could however give you good spring-back when you hit the bottom.

It follows also that a low-profile rubber dome switch keyboard is not necessarily worse than a full-travel switch keyboard. It depends on the force of the dome and your typing style.

Similarly, a light linear mechanical keyboard (Cherry MX Red or lighter) could be bad for you if you always press each key to the bottom hard.

BTW:
"Membrane" is an actuation mechanism. IBM Model M has mechanical switches backed by membranes. The proper term I think you are looking for is "rubber dome".

"Chiclet" is a style of keycap, not a type of keyboard. There are keyboards with mechanical switches that have chiclet keys. Example: Tesoro Gram XS. There are also some vintage keyboards with chiclet keys and mechanical switches.
« Last Edit: Tue, 31 July 2018, 17:03:54 by Findecanor »
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Offline Meowsaur

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Because if they are equal, then are we paying a ton for mech/topre keyboards for aesthetics and feel, and not health benefits.

I'd agree with you and say health benefits aren't usually the reason someone goes for a mechanical.

One of the main reasons is probably longevity.
There are exceptions to this however; some membranes can last a long time.

The risk of RSI is primarily going to be influenced by your personal typing style & posture, and not your keyboard (unless you're literally having to hammer the keys with your fingers to get them to actuate). Unfortunately without someone looming over you, I don't think you'll get a definitive answer as to which keyboard is best for your health. Findecanor makes several good points about how one type of switch could be more beneficial to one person, and less so for another. It's all down to you and whichever you find the least strenuous.

Perhaps keep them both on your desk, and simply see which you end up using the most?

Offline MafiaButter

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I can say for a fact at least some of them are. I'm on a computer nearly all day (As I'm sure most of us are) and I carry a 60% w/ 67g Zealios around for use w/ my laptop. I have learned not to bottom out and type only at the force needed to activate the switches. It's MUCH more comfortable for long sessions. At home, I use a Model F; a similar story applies there.
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Offline Coreda

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One of the primary reasons I went mechanical (specifically Cherry Reds) was to alleviate issues I was experiencing in my fingers from a membrane board which I otherwise liked. Went away completely and hasn't returned.

Offline Giorgio

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I forgot to say that I had a problem with novatouch too. Because your finger, after passing the bump, actually accelerates hitting the bottom faster than ever.

I find cherry mx blacks tiring too. Mx reds are the perfect spot.

I've tried the koreans 35grams spring (on actuation), which are ligther than the reds (45 grams on actuation), but I find the 35 too light, while I never had accidental presses while using reds.
So:
- reds are pefect
- blacks are too heavy
- topre makes you bottom out too fast

I'm interested in trying the cherry mx clears with 62gr springs.
« Last Edit: Wed, 01 August 2018, 02:44:53 by Giorgio »

Offline tp4tissue

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Nope,  if it's flat, and NOT Split,  then it is just as harmful as any other flat keyboard..


Split and Tenting are the 2 most critical factors to Keyboard Ergonomics..

Offline sbyrne

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Anecdote: my hand/wrist pain disappeared when I switched from a Kenisis Freestyle to a Matias Ergo Pro. Same split. Same tenting. Mechanical instead of membrane.

Offline rxc92

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Keyboards aren't bad for your hands, it's posture/typing position for healthy individuals. Granted if you have pre-existing conditions, an ergonomic keyboard is a necessity or may not even be enough, but for the majority of people, proper posture/a good chair is much more influential than the shape of your keyboard.

Offline Auslander

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For me Topre switches cured any discomfort while typing, and i found using a softer plate like alu or polycarb instead of stainless steel plates cured any discomfort when using MX switches.
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Offline ThoughtArtist

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Try feathering a rubber dome key versus a Cherry MX Brown or Red...

Offline captsis

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In short my answer is no.

 I feel like a lot of people are kidding themselves and are just trying to justify spending money on an expensive piece of kit. Unless you're typing on an ergo or something like that a KB is a KB. typing itself isn't exactly the "healthiest" activity as it can cause RSIs and other problems. I think people overthink it. If you want a mech, by all means get one. but don't try to lie to yourself with the same line we use on our employers/SOs to explain spending over $100 on a peripheral.

I'm not trying to start ****. Just my 2˘
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Offline Giorgio

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In short my answer is no.

 I feel like a lot of people are kidding themselves and are just trying to justify spending money on an expensive piece of kit. Unless you're typing on an ergo or something like that a KB is a KB. typing itself isn't exactly the "healthiest" activity as it can cause RSIs and other problems. I think people overthink it. If you want a mech, by all means get one. but don't try to lie to yourself with the same line we use on our employers/SOs to explain spending over $100 on a peripheral.

I'm not trying to start ****. Just my 2˘

You aren't starting **** because you said nothing. No one is lying here.
The point of mechanical keyboards is that you don't have to press the key with force to make it register. And no one is lying to justify an expense of 50 bucks, because that's the cost of a mecanical keyboard from cherry, with original switches, and with a RSI factor equivalent to the 400 usd models.
I've go many memories of rubberdomes that caused me some pain. The only one that I rembember with some affection, is the apple aluminium keyboard.

Offline Giorgio

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Nope,  if it's flat, and NOT Split,  then it is just as harmful as any other flat keyboard..


Split and Tenting are the 2 most critical factors to Keyboard Ergonomics..


I don't agree at all. When I type, the inside/inner border of my hands (where the thumb is) is aligned with the arm. Now stand up, and let your arms go down, you'll see that your hands are aligned exactly along that line. I've never had my wrist in pain, but when using rubberdomes I've often had my fingers in pain, or my hands in pain because I was resting them on the table all the time. Mechanical keyboards, with superior switches and a greater level of personalization, allowed me to solve all the problems.
« Last Edit: Sun, 05 August 2018, 03:08:05 by Giorgio »

Offline JianYang

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Nope,  if it's flat, and NOT Split,  then it is just as harmful as any other flat keyboard..


Split and Tenting are the 2 most critical factors to Keyboard Ergonomics..


I agree partially. In the sense that the switches are not nearly as important as the ergonomics of your setup.

Offline nastrovje

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The healthiest option is which puts the least amount of stress on all of your joints. Split, tilted, not bottoming out the switch, good posture, hand and wrist maintenence aka stretching and taking breaks. Also a small keyboard using layers, not having to stretch your fingers in all directions reduced total travel distance over the years. The most noticeable difference is going split and then going tilted in my experience.

Offline typo

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I can say Topre 45G my knuckles never swollen. MX Clear the opposite. That is an extreme comparison though. The thing is Topre is softer but you almost must bottom out. It all depends if you touch light or pound on it I guess then. I just barely bottom it and pop it back up gently. It slows my wpm and you don't have to type that way but to me it is a super feeling like Edamame. My wpm went way down anyways because I have serious motor disease so it hardly matters in my case. If you need to pound out 180wpm you are gonna hit it hard so maybe MX blue no difference anyways.


Noticed:To Op, I like Logi feels nice plus macros great for coding. There is no comparison to a HHKB period but get what you like. If I like a '79 Mazda and my Neighbor has a 2018 RS7 I really do not care at my stage in life. Quite frankly I did not care at 25. I am a Hippie.
« Last Edit: Fri, 24 August 2018, 00:29:13 by typo »

Offline rxc92

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I can say Topre 45G my knuckles never swollen. MX Clear the opposite. That is an extreme comparison though. The thing is Topre is softer but you almost must bottom out. It all depends if you touch light or pound on it I guess then. I just barely bottom it and pop it back up gently. It slows my wpm and you don't have to type that way but to me it is a super feeling like Edamame. My wpm went way down anyways because I have serious motor disease so it hardly matters in my case. If you need to pound out 180wpm you are gonna hit it hard so maybe MX blue no difference anyways.
 
 
Interesting! I had a different experience, I'd been using a board with Clears for a couple years, doing a lot of typing/gaming every day without issue, though I did have some wrist pain on Blues with a similar or greater amount of typing. Now that I'm back mostly on Topre though, I'll say that it does feel great on the fingers.

Online Hayte

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The wild thing about chronic pain is how it creeps up on you. I developed wrist tendonitis at the age of 32, mainly caused by the gripping/twisting/splaying actions of my left wrist while playing guitar over a period of 21 years. Now I'm 35, I can't hand whisk a meringue (and thanks to motorised whisks, I don't have to).

If you put your fingers in perpetual motion for several hours a day, you are at high risk of chronic repetitive strain injury, period. Ergonomics can help you to keep your fingers in perpetual motion more frequently and over a longer period of time but the reality is you are still destroying your body. You are just doing it slower and hopefully being more productive in the time you have to make a career or derive enjoyment from a hobby that requires the use of your hands.

In hindsight, my own body has always been rather good at telling me when I was doing something harmful but I have been much better at ignoring it. When I was younger, it was much easier for me to ignore wrist pain because the onset was delayed and the recovery time was very short. Now its the other way around - the onset of wrist pain is rapid and the recovery time is very long. I'm talking onset in minutes with a recovery time up to a week.

The wild thing is that it happened imperceptibly because I had no prior experience of chronic injury. Wrist pain was fleeting and temporary and even when it started to become prolonged and sustained, I would fight through the pain but the idea of stopping was inconceivable. Then there came a point at 31 or 32 where I just couldn't make it through Aerial Boundaries (a Michael Hedges song) without having to stop due to the pain. It had to reach a point where I couldn't do something I had been doing for a decade before it fully sank in that my left wrist was permanently shot. I now mostly play in alternate tuning specifically to avoid splaying my wrist. It was hard at first having to unlearn everything I knew about playing guitar and learning a new way to play. It has closed off some doors but opened others.

I play much less frequently now and this helps a great deal. Desisting from performing actions that cause pain really works (whodathunk?). I do remember when I first went to my GP about my wrist because it seems so obvious when I say it. I said "doc I think my wrist is permanently shot. Its painful when I do x, y and z". She says to me "ok, have you tried not doing x, y and z?" and I remember the idea of not playing guitar or playing less was completely unthinkable. My view on that has changed a lot now.

I type at work so being unable to type would affect my livelihood in a very different way. That said, my firm has changed a lot in the 14 years I have been there. We now use Nuance Dragon and OCR everything that isn't searchable. In so doing, we have eliminated the vast majority of copy typing so the technology has allowed me to do my job better by typing less. Typing speed isn't a requirement to get an administrative job where I work. You don't even need to crack 30 WPM on 10FF imho and you can still be exceptional - its really just about habitually not doing or repeating actions you don't have to. I joked to one of my managing partners that it would be great if we hired more lazy people.