The advancement of technology has allowed us to make use of light. For example, we have fiber optics that allow fast and efficient transmission of data that is undreamed of in the yesteryears. We have powerful lasers that can cut through various materials. Further advancements have allowed us to use light in life-saving medical devices. It's simply amazing!
These products that use technologies that utilize the power of light have wound up in our everyday lives. Take for example the optical keyboard. This computer peripheral makes use of the properties of light to deliver speed, precision, and a tactile typing experience that's out of this world.
We find ourselves in a golden age of keyboard innovation, where the tactile and audible clicks of mechanical switches are giving way to the seamless responsiveness of optical switches.
The keyboards featured in this article are the culmination of cutting-edge engineering, ergonomic design, and customization options that cater to a wide spectrum of user needs. From gaming-centric powerhouses to minimalist productivity tools, these optical keyboards bring you the crème de la crème of the year's offerings.
Best Optical Keyboards for 2023
Are you looking for a keyboard with optical switches for competitive gaming? A keyboard to help you become more efficient at work? Here are our recommendations for the best optical keyboards for this 2023.
Switch Type: Cherry MX Low-Profile Red or Low-Profile Brown mechanical switches (not optical but low-profile)
RGB Backlighting: AlienFX per-key RGB lighting
Key Rollover: Anti-ghosting and N-key rollover
Low-profile design with reduced key travel
Dedicated media controls
Customizable RGB lighting with Alienware Command Center
Magnetic palm rest included
Overview of Optical Keyboards
Optical keyboards, also known as optical switch keyboards, are a type of keyboard that uses optical technology to register key presses and actuations. They differ from traditional mechanical keyboards, which use standard mechanical switches---physical switches---to detect key presses.
Optical keyboards are a modern alternative to traditional mechanical keyboards for gaming and typing, offering advantages such as fast response times, durability, and customizable backlighting. They have gained popularity among gamers and keyboard enthusiasts for their performance and reliability.
What are Optical Switches
Before we delve deeper into the world of optical keyboards, you've got to understand what optical switches are, and why they've been making waves in the tech industry.
Optical switches are the heart of these keyboards, providing a unique user experience. Optical switches are a type of keyboard switch technology used in optical keyboards. These switches differ from traditional mechanical switches in the way they register key presses. Instead of using physical metal contacts, optical switches rely on light-based mechanisms for actuation. Here are the key components and characteristics of optical switches:
Light source: Each key on a keyboard with optical switches has an individual light source, often in the form of an LED (Light Emitting Diode) positioned within the switch housing. The LED emits light when activated.
Light sensor: Inside the switch housing, opposite the light source, there is a light sensor or photoelectric sensor. This sensor detects changes in the intensity of light when a key is pressed.
Actuation mechanism: When a key is pressed on an optical switch keyboard, the keycap moves downward, causing an interruption in the light beam between the LED and the light sensor. The light sensor registers this change and sends an electrical signal to the keyboard's controller, indicating that a key press has occurred.
Key activation: The actuation of an optical switch is typically a digital process. In other words, the key is either fully actuated (registered as a key press) or not actuated at all, with no intermediate analog state. This digital actuation can result in faster response times compared to some mechanical switches.
Types of Optical Switches
Optical switches come in various types, offering different actuation mechanisms and tactile feedback profiles. Common types include:
1. Clicky optical switches: These provide tactile feedback and an audible click sound when the key is pressed.
2. Tactile optical switches: These offer tactile feedback without an audible click, providing a quieter typing experience.
3. Linear optical switches: These switches lack tactile feedback, providing a smooth and consistent keystroke without a tactile bump.
Advantages of Optical Keyboards
After you've spent some time with an optical keyboard, you'll notice a significant difference, and you'll understand why they're considered superior to traditional mechanical keyboards. These advantages include:
Faster response time: Optical switches are known for their exceptionally fast response times. The absence of physical contacts means that key presses can be registered more quickly. Typing and gaming performance is enhanced considerably, especially for games and tasks that require rapid actuation.
Durability: Optical switches don't have moving metal parts, which means they are less prone to wear and tear. This results in a longer lifespan for the switches, making optical keyboards a durable choice.
No contact bounce: Standard mechanical switches can suffer from "contact bounce," where the electrical contacts within the switch make multiple, unintended actuations with a single key press. Optical switches are immune to this issue, ensuring precise and reliable keypress registration.
Anti-ghosting: Many optical keyboards provide full-key rollover and anti-ghosting capabilities. This means that all key presses, even during simultaneous and complex key combinations, are accurately registered. Gamers and fast typists benefit from this feature.
Customizable backlighting: Optical keyboards often feature RGB (Red, Green, Blue) backlighting options. Users can customize the keyboard's lighting to suit their preferences, with a wide range of colors and lighting effects available. This can enhance the aesthetics of the keyboard and create an immersive gaming or workspace ambiance.
Quieter typing (Depending on Switch Type): Some optical switches, particularly the linear variants, are quieter than their mechanical counterparts. This makes them suitable for quieter work environments where noise can be a concern.
No oxidation or corrosion: Mechanical switches with metal contacts can be susceptible to oxidation and corrosion over time, potentially affecting their performance. Optical switches are not susceptible to these issues, ensuring consistent performance over the long term.
Low maintenance: Are you looking for a gaming keyboard that requires less maintenance? Go for optical keyboards. That's because optical switches typically require less maintenance than mechanical switches. There are no physical contacts to clean or replace, reducing the need for regular maintenance.
Consistent keystrokes: Optical switches offer consistent actuation across all keys, which can lead to a more uniform typing experience. This consistency is appreciated by typists who require precision in their work.
Varied switch options: Optical keyboards come with a variety of optical switch options, including clicky, tactile, and linear switches. This allows users to choose a switch type that aligns with their specific typing or gaming preferences.
Reduced key chatter: Optical switches are less susceptible to key chatter, a phenomenon where a key registers multiple times with a single press. This can lead to a more accurate and frustration-free typing experience.
Disadvantages of Optical Keyboards
While optical keyboards offer several advantages, they also have some disadvantages and considerations that potential users should be aware of.
Limited switch variety: There is a growing selection of optical switches available. But the range of optical switches is still somewhat limited compared to traditional mechanical switches. Users may have fewer options to choose from in terms of switch types and brands.
Switch feel differences: Optical switches can feel different from traditional mechanical switches. Not everyone may prefer the sensation of typing on optical switches.
Keycap compatibility: Optical switches may not be compatible with keycaps designed for traditional mechanical switches. This limits customization options for users who want to swap keycaps or customize their keyboard's appearance.
Cost: High-quality optical keyboards with advanced features can be relatively expensive compared to standard membrane keyboards. However, this cost is often justified by the performance and durability of optical switches.
Learning curve: Some users may experience a learning curve when transitioning from traditional mechanical switches to optical switches, as the keypress feel and actuation points can be different.
Repair complexity: In the rare event that an optical switch malfunctions, replacing it can be more complex and may require technical expertise compared to replacing a traditional mechanical switch.
Availability: While optical keyboards have gained popularity, they may not be as widely available as traditional mechanical keyboards in all regions. Users may have to search for specific models or order online.
Backlighting dependency: Optical switches rely on light for actuation. In very low-light conditions or if the LED or optical components fail, keypresses may not be registered correctly.
Customization complexity: The customization of some optical keyboards, particularly RGB lighting effects and macros, can be more complex and require software configurations.
Compatibility problems with older systems: Some older computer systems or operating systems may not fully support optical keyboards, leading to compatibility issues. However, this is becoming less of a concern as optical keyboards gain wider acceptance.
Considerations When Buying an Optical Keyboard for Gaming and Typing
You've seen the top picks. But before you make a purchase, there are a few important factors you'll want to consider when buying an optical keyboard.
When buying an optical keyboard, there are several important considerations to keep in mind to ensure that you choose the right keyboard for your needs and preferences. Here are some key factors to consider:
Optical switches come in various types, including clicky, tactile, and linear. Choose a switch type that matches your typing or gaming preferences. Consider trying out different switch types if you're unsure which one suits you best.
Pay attention to the build materials and construction quality of the keyboard. High-quality materials such as aluminum frames can enhance durability and overall keyboard feel.
Backlighting and Customization
Check if the keyboard offers customizable RGB backlighting. If you enjoy personalized aesthetics, look for a keyboard with robust RGB lighting features and software control.
Consider the keyboard's layout. Options include full-sized, tenkeyless (TKL), 60%, and 75%, among others. Choose a layout that suits your workspace and typing needs.
Examine the keycaps. Some optical keyboards come with double-shot or dye-sublimated keycaps for improved durability and longevity. Ensure that the keycaps are compatible with your preferred switch type for future customization.
Determine whether the keyboard supports hot-swappable switches. This feature allows you to easily replace switches without soldering, offering flexibility in customizing your typing experience.
Wired or Wireless
Decide if you need a wired or wireless keyboard. Some optical keyboards offer both options. Wireless keyboards provide more freedom but may have slightly higher latency.
Check the available connectivity options. Many optical keyboards offer Bluetooth connectivity in addition to USB wired connections. Bluetooth can be convenient for use with multiple devices.
Software and Customization
Review the manufacturer's software for customization options. Ensure it allows you to program macros, customize lighting effects, and configure other keyboard settings to your liking.
Price and Budget
Set a budget for your keyboard purchase. Optical keyboards can vary widely in price, so determining your budget can help narrow down your options.
Brand Reputation and Reviews
Research the brand's reputation and read reviews from other users to get insights into the keyboard's performance, build quality, and reliability.
Ensure that the keyboard is compatible with your operating system and device. Most modern optical keyboards work with Windows, macOS, and some Linux distributions, but it's always good to double-check.
Consider any additional features that may be important to you, such as dedicated media controls, wrist rests, or customizable function keys.
Size and Portability:
Think about the size and portability of the keyboard, especially if you plan to use it on the go. Compact or wireless options may be more suitable for travel.
Return Policy and Warranty
Check the manufacturer's return policy and warranty. A reliable warranty can provide peace of mind in case of any defects or issues with the keyboard.
Optical keyboards can truly level up your typing and gaming experience. From the lightning-fast response times of optical switches to the mesmerizing RGB lighting and customizable features, optical keyboards have truly come into their own.
Whether you're a competitive gamer seeking the ultimate edge, a professional typist looking for a reliable workhorse, or simply a user who appreciates the marriage of form and function, there's an optical keyboard out there for you.
So go ahead and enhance your gaming experience with an optical keyboard. Enjoy the quick actuation and precise keypresses that they offer.
Chris Greiner, a Mechanical Keyboard specialist, boasts a solid educational background with dual bachelor's degrees in Computer Science and Business Management from Lewis University. His additional certification in Mechanical Keyboard Design showcases his dedication to staying on the forefront of keyboard technology. Chris primarily writes for keyboard enthusiasts and has been featured on platforms like Jestik, solidifying his reputation as a thought leader in the mechanical keyboard community.
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