Chiclet and standard membrane keyboards are most common among all types. These are also the most popular because not many end-users go for the expensive mechanical keyboards. Do chiclet or island keyboards differ much from the standard ones people use with personal computers and laptops?
Chiclet and membrane keyboards are almost similar in design and functions with some minor differences. User experiences will be somewhat different based on the key types, key placement, and overall layout of the keyboards.
Both these keyboard types are popular, no doubt about that. However, if you need to make a decision, you need to have a detailed idea about their performance. Get down to the comparison between them at various parameters.
Chiclet Keyboard vs Normal Keyboard (Membrane)
All kinds of keyboards have their unique benefits and downfalls. Some feel good on the hand for typing, some are great for gaming, and some budget models are good for general use.
Chiclet keyboards have started becoming popular at the beginning of this decade. Most new laptops and notebooks these days have this style of keyboard. Traditional keyboards are somehow rare to find on laptops these days. However, they are still popular as desktop keyboards because of the cheap price.
Here are some points where these two types differ from each other:
A chiclet keyboard looks like a modern device with a compact design and sleek minimal keys. They are easier to use but people who are quite used to traditional keyboards may feel a little disoriented at first.
Traditional models, on the other hand, are a bit clunky compared to the chiclet type’s ultra-thin shape. The actual positions where the users place their fingers are not different in these keyboards.
Design and Build
Considering the build and layout, these two types are quite similar, except for a few design elements.
A membrane keyboard has two distinct layers, including a membrane sheet with a conductive trace. Also, each key has an individual pressure pad/electrical switch underneath. When you press a key, it presses the pressure pad to contact with the conductive trace. When the conductive trace touches the bottom membrane sheet, a keystroke is registered.
A chiclet keyboard has the same design, except for an extra upper membrane, which employs a buckling mechanism to ensure excellent tactile feedback.
The conductive trace of each key has a non-conductive gap, so it does not touch the bottom membrane layer. Upon pressing a key, the top membrane touches the bottom one, completing the circuit to record the keypress. In fact, these keyboards can function in two ways:
When you press the rubber keys, their thin sides fall down suddenly. This sudden movement allows the solid center part of the rubber keys puts pressure on the top membrane sheet to go down and touch the bottom membrane layer. The completion of the circuit makes sure that the keystroke is recorded.
Some versions of these keyboards don’t have the upper membrane. Instead, the conductive coating is attached to the underside of the rubber keys. Upon pushing the keys, the conductive part touches the bottom membrane to complete the circuit.
Key Design and Placement
The thick plastic keys in a traditional keyboard are placed in a separate large frame. They are pretty close to one another and have a slanting shape along the sides. Due to this design, the base of the keys is wider than the top.
The type of keys used in traditional keyboards is dome switches. These keys feature a dome with printed or laser stretched letters on top. A rubber or silicone keypad with domes forms the upper membrane layers of these units. Upon pressing down a switch, the dome collapses and the graphite underneath completes the circuit with the membrane pad, allowing registering the keystroke.
Thin, clean-cut keys are the unique feature of a chiclet keyboard. They are completely separate from one another with a plastic surface in between. The flat, rectangular/square keys with rounded corners look like Chiclets chewing gum (therefore the name). The top and base of the switches have an almost similar width.
The best keyboards for typing are the mechanical models. While the fans of mechanical won’t consider any of these types good, they are still not bad choices for people who don’t type a lot. If you want to pick one for writing, this comparison will help you make a choice:
Chiclet for Typing
Chiclet keyboards are better for typing despite having minimal key heights from the surface. The keys provide better tactile feedback because they need no to minuscule scale adjustment regarding the height and curve.
Also, the sudden collapse of the keys upon pressing in some chiclet models offer better and higher tactile feedback than membrane keyboards.
However, this feedback and key travel vary depending on the design and brands. For example, ultra-thin chiclet units are the worst in this regard because they don’t simply have enough surface space. On the other hand, Lenovo Thinkpads are the best choices to experience the best key travel and tactile feedback.
Another good point of these keyboards is that they reduce the chance for typos because of enough spacing between the keys. As the keys are completely separate from one another, there is less chance of pressing the wrong key.
However, the same spacing can cause fatigue and slow typing speed because you need to slightly overreach for the keys. People who rely on touch-typing may need some type to get used to the layout if they are using it for the first time.
Also, some chiclet models could be less responsive because the keys are thin and compact. Apparently, the robust keys of membrane keyboards offer more kick-back in this regard.
Membrane for Typing
The keys of these keyboards have more height than chiclet models, which means more key travel for a little tactility. However, typing on these devices is still not a pleasant experience because of the mushy keys and the difficulty of keystroke registration.
Bigger height and less tactile feedback make the keys feel squishy. Also, you need to press a key all the way down to record a keystroke. For these reasons, these keyboards are not ideal for fast typing.
When it comes to gaming, none of these types can replicate the performance of mechanical keyboards. Just like typing, they are not the best option for professional and competitive gaming.
Another reason these keyboards are not good for gaming is the absence of the N-key rollover feature. They don’t register keystrokes when several keys are pressed at the same time but this is crucial in fast-paced games.
However, chiclet keyboards are still better than the membrane type in casual gaming. Pressing the wrong key or missing a keystroke can literally cost you a game. The chance of these mistakes is lower with a chiclet since the keys have enough space between them.
Membrane keyboards are just a bad choice for gaming. There is a risk for wrong or extra key pressing due to the close proximity to the keys. Plus, you need to push the keys all the way down, which does not help in time-sensitive games.
The maintenance of chiclet keyboards takes less time than membrane keyboards, thanks to the unique key design. Cleaning takes less time, thanks to the empty spaces between the keys. Many models are spill-proof, which means accidental coffee or water spill won’t ruin the device.
Traditional keyboards are difficult to clean because it’s hard to get in between the keys because of their close proximity to each other. Food crumbs and dirt can easily get stuck there and you cannot remove these without using a fine brush.
There is no way to remove the keycaps in both chiclet and traditional units, unlike mechanical keyboards.
The Verdict: Which One Is Better?
If you want a keyboard for daily use without any serious typing work or gaming, a chiclet unit appears to be a better option than membrane models. However, you should still consider the main features of both types before making the final decision.
This comparison table could be useful:
|Chiclet Keyboards||Membrane Keyboards|
|Look||1. Modern look|
2. Sleek, minimal style
|1. Traditional Look|
2. Somewhat clunky
|Design and Build||1. Have an upper membrane sheet|
2. Keys can function in two different ways
|1. Simple build and design|
2. No upper membrane
|Key Design and Placement||1. Keys have spacing between them|
2. Flat, rectangular/square keys
|1. Keys are close to one another|
2. he base is wider than the top
|Typing Experience||1. Provide some tactile feedback|
2. Less chance for typos
3. Slight overreaching may cause fatigue
|1. Almost no tactile feedback|
2. Slow down typing speed
|Gaming||1. Suitable for casual gaming|
2. Less chance for wrong key pressing
|1. Not suitable for gaming|
2. Higher chance of pressing the wrong keys
3. Longer key travel
|Maintenance||1. Less maintenance|
2. Easy to clean
3. Spill-proof models are available
|1. Difficult to clean|
2. Some models are spill-proof