With recommendations for best programming keyboards from several communities on reddit, forums, Facebook groups, we’ve purchased 18 keyboards to test. All programming keyboards are tested with several software developers to make sure they fit in different usecases. Make sure to read our guide at the bottom half of this article to you can find the right keyboard for programming. In no particular order, here is the list of purchased & tested keyboards:
List of top programming keyboards 2021
|Keychron K6||65%||Wired/Bluetooth||Hot swappable Standard|
|Keychron K2||75%||Wired/Bluetooth||Alumnium Frame Plastic Frame|
|Keychron K8||TKL||Wired/Bluetooth||Aluminium Frame Plastic Frame|
|Obinslab Anne Pro 2||60%||Wired/Bluetooth||Black White|
|Kinesis Freestyle Edge RGB||Ergo||Wired||MX Blue MX Brown MX Red|
|Kinesis Advantage 2||Ergo||Wired||MX Red MX Brown|
|Akko 3068||65%||Wired/Bluetooth||Standard Ocean Star|
|Akko 3084||75%||Wired/Bluetooth||Standard Tokyo Tour|
|Akko 3087||TKL||Wired||Morandi Grey Ocean Star Horizon Royal Blue|
|Akko 3108SP||Full size||Wired||Ocean Star Horizon|
|Corsair K95 RGB Platinum XT||Full size||Wired||Standard|
|Razer Huntsman Elite||Full size||Wired||Classic Black|
|DROP CTRL||TKL||Wired||Black Gray|
|DROP ALT||75%||Wired||Black Gray|
|Razer Huntsman Mini||60%||Wired||Clasic Black|
|Das Keyboard 4 Professional||Full size||Wired||Professional|
|Vortexgear Core 40%||40%||Wired||Cherry Red|
|Royal Kludge RK61||60%||Wired/Bluetooth||Black White Red backlight|
Without further ado, this is our list of top and best programming keyboard for programmers:
- List of top programming keyboards 2021
- Keychron K6 – Best Programming Keyboard (with Mac support)
- Akko 3068 – Runner up for best keyboard for programmer
- Kinesis Advantage 2 – Best ergonomic programming keyboards
- Das Keyboard 4 Professional – Best full size programming keyboard
- Royal Kludge RK61 – Best for budget conscious programmers
- What are programming keyboards?
- Keyboard sizes & layouts
- Choosing the right keyboard size
- Membrane & mechanical switches for programming keyboard
- Mechanical Keyboard Switch Types
- Connectivity: Wired or Wireless
- Back-lighting or no back-lighting
- Should I purchase wrist-rest?
- Key Roll Over – KRO & NKRO and should I care?
- What is hot-swappable?
- Keycaps: ABS or PBT
- How long will keyboards last?
- Best programming keyboard for 2022 – The next year list
Keychron K6 – Best Programming Keyboard (with Mac support)
Make it into the 1st place of our top programming keyboards is the Keychron K6 (along with its brothers). Keychron is a relative new contestant to the mechanical keyboard game, but Keychron has already made a huge noise in the game of best programming keyboard. Their line up looks pretty good, ranging from full-size keyboard, all the way to 65% keyboard. First few models of their line-up suffer from poor QC, but they have improved much since.
Keychron K6 is an amazing keyboard from Keychron. The K6 is a 65% keyboard and comes in 2 packaging: Hot swappable and Standard. Both models features Gateron switches, LED backlighting (RGB on the hot swappable), ABS keycaps, extra keycaps for Windows & Mac, Bluetooth & Type C connector, 4000 mAh battery (can last 9 hours on RGB, or 7 days without backlighting), NKRO on wired mode or 6-KRO on wireless mode.
The Hotswappable version features an aluminium body-frame, while on the standard version, we will have a plastic frame. The aluminium frame, as I must say, quite nice and feels premium, but it also adds a lot of weight. The plastic frame on the standard version does not give a cheap feeling.
The keycaps are quite okay with ABS material, also we wish they put PBT on the hotswappable version. But aesthetically, the keycaps does feel pretty good.
One thing we don’t like about the Keychron K6 is the backlighting: the lighting is poorly diffused meaning you can easily make out where the light is emitting from and it just makes it look unpleasant.
Now, we save the best for last: Hotswappable meaning you can change out the switches. That’s awesome feature on a off-the-shelf product, because hotswappable usually is found on custom made – premium mechanical keyboards.
Overall, Keychron K6 is probably one of the best programming keyboards you can find on the market.
Worth mentioning for the best programming keyboards:
Akko 3068 – Runner up for best keyboard for programmer
Akko may not be a house-hold name, but in the keyboard enthusiast community, they’re well-known for their flashy/modern/elegant computer peripherals: keyboard, mouse, headphone, etc.
Akko 3068 (and other models such as 3084 & 3087) is a well built product from inside out. The Akko 3068 features a 65% form factor, with dedicated arrow keys for the ease of navigation. In our opinion, programming keyboards should be in the form from 60% to 75% to ensure a balance between keyboard size & the ability to reach a mouse. Akko 3068 (as well as the Keychron K6) hits the sweet spot of 65%.
Keycaps are surprisingly well built and are derserved to be in the high-end spectrum. The metarial of choice for keycaps are PBT. With the Ocean Star edition, the characters are printed on the front side of the keycaps, which provide a minimal feeling along side with the bold choice of keycaps’ color.
Switches are Cherry MX series, with the choices between Cherry MX Blue, Brown & Red. The Akko 3068 keyboard utilize USB Type-C connection with NKRO capability. The case is made from plastic but unsurprisingly sturdy, and does not bend. So we guess the plastic is very high quality, and will last for a very long time.
On the down size, Akko 3068 only features Bluetooth connection on Retro version. We wish Akko produce a Ocean Star with Bluetooth. But nevertheless, Akko 3068 is one of the best mechanical keyboards for programmer.
Kinesis Advantage 2 – Best ergonomic programming keyboards
“Looks can be deceiving” is certainly the case with the Kinesis Advantage 2. Kinesis Advantage 2 may not have the look, but it made up with ergonomic and comfort.
Along with a vertical mouse and a proper sit or standing desk setup, this amazing keyboard will remove all resolvable strain on neck, back, shoulders, fingers, and chest that is caused from much typing/computer use. Customers reportedly said that learning curve with this keyboard may be steep from the beginning, but when you get used to this amazing keyboard, you will appreciate this one particular keyboard.
The Kinesis Advantage 2 on one hand is a very sturdy keyboard, and we found no flex, but on the other hand, one of our editors, and we quote exactly his words: “one of the most ugly programming keyboards”. But looks are subjective, one may find it ugly, the other may find it attractive.
The Kinesis Advantage has received more than 300 reviews on Amazon with hundreds of reviews around the Internet, with predominantly positive feedback.
On the other hand, the Kinesis Adtantage 2 only features wired connection over USB Type-A port; ABS keycaps. But for the effect of having an amazing ergonomical keyboard rules out the nagativities.
Alternative ergonomic mechanical keyboard for programmer:
Das Keyboard 4 Professional – Best full size programming keyboard
Developers & Programmers have long admired the functionalities of Das’ keyboards for a while. And here we have the Das Professional 4, and we must say, Das has lived up to the name again.
The Das Professional 4 has everything that programmers can dream of: extra USB 3 ports, multimedia knob, support for Windows & Mac & Linux, multiple choices of Cheery MX switches (brown, blue, red), aluminium frame, upgradable & customizable firmware, NKRO, magnetically detachable raiser (and can be used as a ruler).
The build quality is great, as expected from a German product. The keyboard comes with extra keycaps for Mac OS compability. The catch? The Das Keyboard Professional comes with high price may be a deal breaker for some. But who can afford it, will appreciate it.
Royal Kludge RK61 – Best for budget conscious programmers
Initial impressions we have with the Royal Kludge RK61 is a mixed feeling. On one hand, we have a premium feeling from the weight & the build quality from the RK61, and that was a surpise considering the really low price for this keyboard. On the other hand, the font on the keycaps is just terrible to look at. We feel like Royal Kludge is pushing the “gamers” aesthetic onto this keyboard. But that will not a deal breaker because we can always change out the keycaps at anytime, and that’s an absolutely thing we recommend if anyone’s planning to buy this keyboard.
Aside from the horrific font, we found that the Royal Kludge RK61 is a pleasant to use. Bluetooth connection is easy to set up. The pre-packaged cable is quite long (1.5m or 60 inches) and this particular keyboard comes with USB Type-C connector. Backlighting is, again, surprisingly good on this keyboard, unlike some other keyboard that we mentioned earlier in this same article.
For anyone asking which switches does Royal Kludge use in this keyboard, well, they said that they’re using in-house switches. Which makes sense, because Royal Kludge has a history with making switches, and that will bring the price down for this keyboard.
Update: After a while, we found that we got used to the font on the keycaps, and we found that it’s not bothering us that much, so we’re not planning to changing the keycaps. We prefer the white version over the black.
Our conclusion is the Royal Kludge RK61 is a steal for this price point. And if you’re programmers low on budget, you can’t go wrong with the RK61.
What are programming keyboards?
To programmers, keyboards are must-have tool to do their jobs. The different between a good keyboard and a second-rate keyboard can be a huge difference in performance. So owning a good keyboard for programming is something that every programmers should invest into. For us, a (good) programming keyboard is a keyboard makes a programmer’s life easier. Period.
In our opinion, a good programming keyboard should consist of the following characteristics:
- Compact in size: so programmers can focus on typing, and reach for mouse (or any other accessories – peripherals) easily
- Reliability & feedback: so we programmers can count on that each keys we press are registered correctly, even when typing really fast
- Comfort: programmers spend most of their days typing on keyboards, so a comfortable keyboard is the best thing to look for
Those characteristics are preferred differently by each programmers. Keep on reading so you will have a better understanding.
Keyboard sizes & layouts
Contrary to popular belief, keyboard size is a spectrum. There are full size keyboards with 104 (or more) keys, then move all the way down to 40% (or less) keyboards with 41 (give or take a few) keys. Then, there is TKL keyboard, and the bizarre 4-keys keyboard.
You can find 5 popular keyboard sizes down below:
A larger, bigger keyboard will have more keys, providing more functionalities to its user. On the contrary, a smaller, more compact keyboard will allow user to focus on the task at hand, and using what’s most necessary.
Large keyboard sizes like fullsize & TKL keyboard will take more real estate on your working surface, that might pose some issues like reaching for other stuffs is harder. A more compact keyboard will make you go through extra step(s) to do something trivial on full-size keyboard. For example, hitting the F1 key on a 60% keyboard will require you to press the Fn key & 1 key at the same time. That’s call layering. Some 40% even have multiple Fn keys, numbering from Fn1, to make up for the lack of keys.
Choosing the right keyboard size
The easiest way to find the right size for your programming’s needs is thinking about which cluster of keys which you rarely use.
Keyboards are generally broken down into 4 main clusters:
Generally accepted rules for choosing a keyboard size are:
- If you use all those clusters frequently: Full size keyboard
- If you rarely use Numeric keypad cluster: TKL keyboard
- If you rarely use Numeric keypad cluster, and prefer something more compact: 75% keyboard
- If you rarely use Function keys cluster: 60% keyboard
- If you rarely use numeric keys on Alphanumeric cluster: 40%
By all means, those just general rules, and they do not apply to all use-cases.
Our 2 cents: we think the sweet spot for programming keyboard is the size between 60% and 75% keyboard.
Membrane & mechanical switches for programming keyboard
Computer keyboards can be classified by the switch technology that they use. Computer alphanumeric keyboards typically have 80 to 110 durable switches, generally one for each key. The choice of switch technology affects key response (the positive feedback that a key has been pressed) and travel (the distance needed to push the key to enter a character reliably). Newer keyboard models use hybrids of various technologies to achieve greater cost savings.Source: Wikipedia – Keyboard Technology
Keyboards have evolved much since the beginning. At the moment, most keyboards on the market are built upon one of those technologies: membrane, dome-switch, scissor-switch, mechanical switch, etc. We mostly find dome-switch and scissor-switch on laptop’s keyboard, because of the thin characteristic of those switches. Mean while, desktop’s keyboards are predominantly built upon membrane and mechanical switches.
On a membrane keyboard, you will find a plastic layer, which acts as a medium to register a click to an electrical switches matrix. Most membrane keyboards does not provide or produce tactile bump or clicky sound.
On mechanical keyboard, you will find that each key is made up from a individual switch. Each switch type will provide different “feelings”. Because mechanical switches are more complex than membrane, so mechanical keyboards are priced higher than most membrane keyboards.
TLDR: choose mechanical switches keyboard, as mechanical switches are superior than membrane switches in 99% use-cases.
Mechanical Keyboard Switch Types
There are 5 technical characteristics of a mechanical keyboard switches, that are used to categorize switches. Those are:
- Operation force: it’s the force or how hard you have to press a key. By standard, switches’ operation force is measured in centinewton (cN) or gram-force (gf)
- Activation point (also know as *Actuation Point* or *Operating Position*): it’s how deep you need to press a key so that’s a keypress is recognized. By standard, activation point is measured in millimeter (mm). (1mm is about 0.04 inch)
- (Total) travel distance: it’s the distance until you bottom out a keypress. Total travel distance is also measured in millimeter
- Tactile/Linear and clicky or not: Tactile switches will have a small bump when you press down a key. On the other hand, linear does not. Clicky switches will produce a clicky sound when you press down the key to or near the actuation point. Linear switches won’t have clicky sound, but most tactile switches do have clicky sound
For most people, we will have only care for Operation force, Tactile/Linear/Clicky, and Activation Point (if you’re a strong/quick typist). Keyboard mechanical switches are categorized based on those characteristics into colors. Those colors are served as easy way for customers to distinguish differences between mechanical switches.
Notice: if you’re using your keyboard in an office environment, consider using non-clicky switches. Because the clicky sound is quite noticeable, and will cause problems to your coworkers.
The most recognizable switches producers in the world are (in no way the list was sorted): Cherry, Kailh, Gateron, Topre, ZealPC, Outemu, Everglide. But also other hardware makers also produce switches (through rebranding or originally made): Razer, Logitech, Varmillo.
A tactile switch will provide more feedback upon clicking, while a non-tactile will provide a smooth feeling.
Tactile switches are used to be associated with typing, and non-tactile switches are for gaming. But that’s not the case anymore. You should choose switches based on your preferences.
For programming keyboard, most people choose between 3 Cherry MX compatible/alternative switches: Blue (Tactile & Clicky), Brown (Tactile & Non-Clicky) & Red (Linear & Non-Clicky).
You can also order a testing kit on Amazon for trying out.
- This link is only switch tester,no keyboard included
- Cherry Tester: Cherry black\ red \brown \blue \clear \white \green \Tactile Gray \Silver per each + 9 clear R4 cap + Acrylic Frame
- Acrylic frame is made very over 2mm which can't stick to the switch mount tightly which may pop off.This is not quality issue and won't influence switch test.If you care about this,please not order it.Tks for your understanding
- Above issue exists in all switch tester over the market,please not return with this reasons.
- 72 key mechanical key switches (Qty: 72)
- Labeled PBT Keycap (Qty: 12)
- Acrylic Base (Qty: 1)
Connectivity: Wired or Wireless
Connectivity on keyboards usually comes in 2 forms: Wired and Wireless. This topic seems like a no-brainer to most people, but if we dive deep, there’s a lot to cover and we will have a dedicated article about this topic.
Wired keyboards have come a long way since the first keyboard was created. Historitically, a wired keyboard will a PS/2 port. Almost all computer devices nowadays will not have PS/2 port except desktop computers. instead, we will have USB ports on those devices for connecting to keyboard. There are few key differences between PS/2 port and USB port like NKRO, latency, security, etc. On the market, you will most likely find wired keyboards with USB (Type-A or Type-C) ports. Most middle-end and high-end will have detachable cable.
Wireless technology in keyboards is relatively new but has evolved and improved much since the beginning. On one hand, we will have RF (radio frequency) keyboard; on the other hand, we will have Bluetooth keyboard. A RF keyboard will come in package with a USB dongle (or USB receiver). You will have to plug the USB dongle to a computer to start using the keyboard. Meanwhile, you will have to pair Bluetooth keyboard to a host device. Medium-end & high-end wireless keyboards will most likely have built-in rechargable batteries and a port to plug cable. Some medium-end & low-end wireless keyboards will use standard form batteries, such as AA or AAA.
|Signal interference||Virtually none||Some||Infrequent|
|Distance||Within length of cable||Up to 65ft (20m)|
Best at 35ft (10m)
|Up to 35ft (10m)|
Best at 10ft (3m)
|Weight||Light||More heavy||More heavy|
|Power source||From cable||Battery||Battery|
If you’re new to mechanical keyboard & choosing your first programming keyboard, take our suggestion: buy bluetooth keyboard if it’s affordable, otherwise, a wired keyboard will be just fine.
Back-lighting or no back-lighting
This is actually a milion dollars question. While some programmers prefer back-lighting, and even RGB back-lighting, some other programmers prefer down-to-basic no back-lighting. And all that’s actually personal preference. But there are few cons to consider using back-lighting:
- Back-lighting takes power: more specifically “battery power”. That’s fine if keyboard is on wired mode, but if your keyboard is on wireless, expect the battery will run out in about 1-2 days. In some extreme cases, battery can last up to 4 days on single-color back-lighting.
- Interruption: most programmers will rather spend their brain’s power into solving the problem at hand, not choosing the right back-lighting setting.
- Annoyance to others: you may not notice, but back-lighting may affect others.
- Extra problems: imagine one back-lighting LED just dies down, will that bother you? Back-lighting means extra electrical circuits, especially RGB back-lighting. Each LED bulb add one more thing might broke down in the future, and that may affect the whole keyboard and your experience.
The best pros I found while using back-lighting keyboards is I have better vision in low-light environmentMyself
Should I purchase wrist-rest?
Most ergonomic keyboards provide sufficient support to your wrists and palms, unfortunately that’s not the case with non-ergonomic keyboards.
The effecient of a wrist-rest depends a lot on the form & size of your hand, wrist and palm. Most keyboards with height of bottom row keys under 2 inches (or 5 centimeters) may provide enough comfort for long time typing. If you have a keyboard with bottom row keys’ height more than 2 inches, especially high-profile keyboard, you may need a wrist rest.
- Cool gel memory foam
- Stable, anti slip grip
- Durable construction with anti fray stitching
- Ergonomic design fits full sized keyboards
The amount of effect of wrist rest is still a debate because there are a lot of variables come into play, as explained above. But the general concensus, and per the recommendations from US OSHA & Canada CCOHS, is that wrist rest is recommended when you suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome or pain/uncomfort while using keyboards for a long period of time.
Key Roll Over – KRO & NKRO and should I care?
Key Roll Over (or NKO) is the capability of a keyboard to register multiple keystrokes at the same time. This capability usually profits users, such as gamers, video editors; but not so much for programmers. Nowadays, most programmers also play games in their free time to wind down, so we think it’s also fair to light up a bit about this topic.
KRO depends on 2 factors: the keyboard (or more specifically the keyboard’s electrical circuit boad) & the connection to the computer. Connection using PS/2 port supports NKRO by default. Most bluetooth and wireless drivers support NKRO. Meanwhile, some USB-connected keyboards may or may not support NKRO. A USB connection may use HID (report protocol) or boot protocol. The boot protocol only allows 6 KRO, following with some modifiers key strokes (such as CTRL & ALT). The report protocol (or HID) allows NKRO. But for compatible matter, most keyboard producer simply disable NKRO by default. Some USB-connected keyboards will allow activate NKRO upon OS booted by the help of a software.
What is hot-swappable?
Hotswappable keyboards are keyboards that implement a hotswap sockets that are usually soldered on the circuit board. Thus, The hotswap sockets allow end-customers to swap out the switch without soldering.
Hot-swappable keyboards give the ability to repair individual switch much easier; the ability to customize switches on different keys. And that’s the end of benefits for hot-swappable keyboards.
On the drawback side, we’ll more point of failure, the increase in price of production, the complication of production.
Keycaps: ABS or PBT
To be fair, there’s more to keycap materials than just ABS and PBT. But for the sake of this article, we’ll just mention ABS & PBT, because ABS & PBT make up most of the keycaps on the factory-made keyboards market.
Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (or ABS) usually is found in cheaper keyboards. ABS keycaps has a smooth surface and develop a greasy shine over time. To counter this, most keyboard producers will imprint a rough surface in the production process. After time, the rough surface will fade away, leaving a smooth & shiny surface.
Polybutylene Terephthalate (or PBT) is mostly found in higher-end keyboards. PBT is described as brittle & rigid, so keycaps made of PBT will stand the test of time better than ABS. But the characteristics of PBT raw material make it harder to produce, hence the higher price.
How long will keyboards last?
A cheap membrane keyboard will last for a decade, given that you clean up & do routine maintance. A mechanical keyboard will last for a few decades without any problems.
Best programming keyboard for 2022 – The next year list
It’s safe to say the technologies behind mechanical keyboards are quite mature in the last several years. There will not be many new technology to improve upon the current state of keyboards. Most improvements will be in the form of upgrade over existing technology, for example: new type of mechanical switches, new version of Bluetooth, new version of USB connection, etc.
With that in mind, with the exception of out of production, those 18 keyboards that we mentioned above will be suffecient for at least 2 or 3 years ahead. But of course, that’s not the end of it. There will be newer keyboards eliminating the shortcomings of existing keyboards.
We’ll make sure to test & product a honest review of a new contestant.
Our recommendations above are our sole opinions about the best keyboards that we put into different use-cases, preferences, etc. We factor the price, availability, feedback from our readers, and we’ll gradually update the information on this article. Feedback from our readers are welcomed, because without you, there will be no us.
- 7th Nov 2020: update some typos