Linear vs. Tactile: Which Switch Is Right for You?

Close up of Mechanical Keyboard Switches

Linear and tactile switches are two types of switches used in mechanical keyboards. Linear switches provide a smooth, consistent keypress with no tactile feedback, while tactile switches provide a bump or resistance that can be felt when the switch is activated.

The purpose of this blog post is to provide an overview of linear and tactile switches, including their characteristics, pros and cons, and examples.

Additionally, the post will compare and contrast linear and tactile switches and provide guidance on choosing between them.

Description of Linear Switches

Linear switches are mechanical keyboard switches that provide a smooth, consistent keystroke without any tactile bump or audible click. This makes them popular among gamers and typing enthusiasts who prefer a more subtle and quiet typing experience.

Linear switches work by using a spring to push a stem up against a contact leaf. When the key is pressed, the stem pushes down on the spring, which compresses and allows the stem to make contact with the leaf, registering the keystroke. The spring then pushes the stem back up to its original position, ready for the next keystroke.

Linear switches are known for their smooth and consistent keystroke, with little to no tactile feedback. They are also typically quieter than other types of switches, such as tactile or clicky switches. Linear switches are available in various actuation forces, with some requiring a lighter touch and others requiring more force to register a keystroke.

There are different manufacturers of linear switches, such as Cherry MX, Gateron, and Kailh, which have different colors for different switch types. The most popular linear switch is Cherry MX Red, which is known for its smooth and light actuation force.

Linear switches are used in various mechanical keyboards, including gaming, typing, and general-purpose keyboards. They are also popular in custom keyboard builds, where users can choose their preferred switch.

Pros and Cons of Linear Switches

Pros

  • Smooth keystroke: Linear switches provide a smooth and consistent keystroke, which can be beneficial for typing and gaming. This can make it easier to type for long periods of time, as well as reduce hand fatigue.
  • Quiet operation: Linear switches are typically quieter than other types of switches, such as tactile or clicky switches. This can make them a good choice for users who work in a shared space or want a more discreet typing experience.
  • Light actuation force: Some linear switches, such as Cherry MX Red, have a light actuation force, which can make them easy to press and reduce the amount of force required to register a keystroke.
  • Wide availability: Linear switches are available from a variety of manufacturers, such as Cherry MX, Gateron, and Kailh, and are used in many types of mechanical keyboards.

Cons

  • Lack of tactile feedback: Linear switches do not provide tactile feedback, making it harder to know when a keystroke has been registered. This can be particularly challenging for touch typists, who rely on the tactile feedback of a switch to know when to move on to the next key.
  • Limited customization: Linear switches are less customizable than other switches, as they typically only come in one variant. Tactile and clicky switches, on the other hand, come in a variety of different variants.
  • Not good for heavy typists: Linear switches are known for their smooth and consistent keystrokes, but it also means that it’s harder to feel when a key has been pressed. It can be a problem for heavy typists who need to know when a keystroke has been registered.

Description of Tactile Switches

Close up of HyperX Keyboard

Tactile switches are a type of switch commonly used in mechanical keyboards. They are characterized by a distinct “tactile bump” or sensation that can be felt when the switch is activated. This tactile feedback can help users know when a key press has been registered and can also aid in typing accuracy.

There are several different types of tactile switches, each with its own unique characteristics. Some popular examples include:

Cherry MX Brown: These switches are a popular choice for typing and general use. They have a light tactile bump and a relatively low actuation force (the amount of force required to activate the switch), making them easy to press.

Cherry MX Blue: These switches have a heavier tactile bump and a higher actuation force than Browns. They are often used for typing and gaming, as the heavier actuation force can help prevent accidental key presses.

Topre: These switches use a rubber dome to provide the tactile bump and are known for their smooth and consistent actuation. They are often considered to have a “high-end” feel and are used in premium mechanical keyboards.

The tactile switch can also be customized by using different springs, which can change the force required to actuate the switch and make the switch more or less stiff. This can make a keyboard feel different and can be a matter of personal preference.

Pros and Cons of Tactile Switches

Tactile switches are a popular choice for mechanical keyboards because they offer many benefits but also have some downsides.

Pros

  • Tactile feedback: The main advantage of tactile switches, as found in mechanical keyboards, is the distinct “tactile bump” that is felt when the switch is pressed. This tactile feedback allows users to know when a key press has been registered and can improve typing accuracy.
  • Customization: Tactile switches can be customized using different springs, which can change the force required to actuate the switch and make the switch more or less stiff. This can make a keyboard feel different and can be a matter of personal preference.
  • Versatility: Tactile switches can be used for typing, gaming, and other use cases. They are suitable for different user needs.

Cons

  • Noise: The loudness of some tactile switches, such as Cherry MX Blue, can be a drawback for those who work or live in shared spaces or prefer a quieter typing experience.
  • Actuation force: Tactile switches can have a higher actuation force than other switches, making them more difficult to press. This can be a disadvantage for people with weaker hand strength or those sensitive to finger fatigue.
  • Price: Tactile switches can be more expensive than other types of switches, making them less accessible to some users.

Similarities and Differences Between Linear and Tactile Switches

Linear and tactile switches are both types of switches commonly used in mechanical keyboards.

Similarities

  • Both linear and tactile switches use a spring-loaded mechanism to register key presses.
  • Both types of switches can be found in various actuation force and travel distance options.
  • Both linear and tactile switches are durable and have a longer lifespan than membrane switches.

Differences

  • Linear switches provide a smooth and consistent keypress experience with no noticeable tactile feedback. In contrast, tactile switches feature a distinct tactile sensation or bump when the actuation point is reached.
  • Linear switches are typically quieter than tactile switches because they don’t have additional tactile feedback.
  • Typists often prefer tactile switches because the tactile feedback helps to confirm that the key press has been registered, which can increase typing speed and reduce the chance of typos. Linear switches, on the other hand, are often preferred by gamers because the lack of tactile feedback allows for faster key presses.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Between Linear and Tactile Switches

When choosing between linear and tactile switches for a keyboard or other device, there are several factors to consider.

Actuation force: Linear switches have a consistent actuation force throughout the keystroke, while tactile switches have a distinct actuation point at which the keystroke registers. This means that linear switches may be easier to press for extended periods, while tactile switches may be better for precise typing or gaming.

Feedback: Tactile switches provide a tactile “bump” or “click,” which can provide feedback to the user that the keystroke has been registered. Linear switches do not have this feedback, so users may have to rely on visual cues to know when a keystroke has been registered.

Noise: Tactile switches can make more noise than linear switches, which may be an important consideration in a shared workspace or other quiet environments.

Personal preference: Some people prefer the feeling of a tactile switch, while others prefer the smoothness of a linear switch. It is ultimately a personal choice which one to choose.

It’s worth noting that different brands have different variations of linear and tactile switches, so it’s recommended to try different options or read reviews before making a final decision.

Should I Get a Mechanical Keyboard in the First Place?

Close up of Mechanical Keyboard

When considering whether to purchase a mechanical keyboard, there are a few factors to consider.

First, it is essential to consider your typing needs. Mechanical keyboards are often preferred by gamers and fast typists due to the increased level of precision and tactile feedback they provide. The individual mechanical switches in a mechanical keyboard allow for a more satisfying typing experience and better accuracy and speed.

Second, you should consider the customization level you’re looking for. Mechanical keyboards often come with various switch options, which can be tailored to your specific typing preferences. Additionally, many mechanical keyboards offer customizable backlighting and keycaps, which can be a fun way to personalize your keyboard.

Third, you should consider the durability of mechanical keyboards. Mechanical keyboards often have a longer lifespan than traditional membrane keyboards and can withstand more intensive use. Additionally, the individual mechanical switches can be replaced, further extending the keyboard’s life.

Finally, you should consider the noise level of mechanical keyboards. Some mechanical keyboards, especially those with linear switches, are relatively quiet, while others, particularly those with tactile and clicky switches, can be quite loud.

Overall, a mechanical keyboard is a great choice for those who want a high-quality typing experience, the ability to customize their keyboard, and a durable, long-lasting product.

However, you should also consider the cost, as mechanical keyboards tend to be more expensive than traditional membrane keyboards.