Just like everything else that is related to computers, keyboards are also evolving rapidly with technology. Compared to the days where membrane keyboards were the only thing you could buy, we now have plenty of different options in terms of switches, layout, and many more for keyboard selection.
Although not mentioned as frequently as layouts and switches, the profile of the keyboard is also something that can show a difference and bring a whole lot to think about when it comes to choosing your keyboard. As a matter of fact, low-profile keyboards are gaining a considerable surge of popularity lately due to the advantages they bring to the table.
So, what is a low-profile keyboard?
A low-profile keyboard is a type of keyboard that has a shorter height than regular keyboards, where keyboard switches sit on top of the keyboard rather than the inside. The height difference is created by reducing the height of the keyboard body, the keycaps, and the keyboard switches.
The concept of a low-profile keyboard can definitely sound unintuitive at first, considering that smaller peripherals are often harder to use and are designed that way mainly for portability.
While portability is indeed a factor, we can assure you that low-profile keyboards come with more advantages (and of course, some disadvantages too) than just that.
Low-Profile Keyboards vs. Normal Keyboards
As standard keyboards are the norm and low-profile keyboards are the new kids on the block, we feel like comparing the two is a fantastic way to see the extent of how different low-profile keyboards are.
The most obvious thing that separates a low-profile keyboard from a typical keyboard is the difference in the height of the keyboard body. The height of the body of a low-profile keyboard can go down to half of a regular keyboard, which is a significant difference that you would instantly notice when you place a low-profile and a high-profile keyboard side-by-side.
If you have never seen a low-profile keyboard before, you can think of its height as the middle-ground between a high-profile keyboard and a chiclet keyboard.
As expected, a shorter keyboard body requires slimmer keyboard switches, which is why keyboard switches produced for low-profile keyboards are much leaner than their regular counterparts. These keyboard switches are marketed with the name low-profile keyboard switches and designed to have a similar feeling to their full-size equivalents.
That being said, there are noticeable differences between low-profile switches and their regular counterparts due to the difference in height heavily affecting the actuation point.
The last difference between low-profile keyboards and regular keyboards is the size of the keycaps. Due to differences in the way low-profile keyboard switches are made, regular keycaps cannot be used with them, and even if they did, large keycaps go against the whole concept of a low-profile keyboard.
While not as thin as the keycaps of a chiclet keyboard, the keycaps of a low-profile keyboard are still considerably shorter than the standard.
The bottom line is that every part of a low-profile keyboard is shorter than a high-profile one, allowing low-profile keyboards to be much more compact in size.
Choosing Between Low-Profile and High-Profile Keyboards
Now that we have gone over the differences between low-profile and high-profile keyboards – let’s talk about how these changes affect your experience as the user.
We feel that the most significant difference in terms of experience comes from the keyboard switches as they directly affect the feel.
Earlier, we have mentioned that the actuation point of low-profile switches being considerably shorter than regular keyboard switches, even compared to their exact counterparts.
As an example, let’s compare the Cherry MX Red and the Cherry MX Low Profile Red in terms of actuation points.
Cherry MX Red – 2 mm pre-travel, 4 mm total travel.
Cherry MX Low Profile Red – 1.2 mm pre-travel, 3-2 mm total travel.
Pre-travel is the minimum distance the switch requires to be pushed down before actuating, whereas total travel is the maximum distance the switch can be pushed down.
Simply put, this tells us that the Low Profile version of the Cherry MX Red almost requires half the distance for actuation.
So, how does this difference change your experience?
The advantage of a shorter actuation point is that it technically makes it faster to input keys, especially if you aren’t bottoming the keys out. Inputs being faster is especially beneficial in gaming as milliseconds can change the outcome of a game at times.
On the other hand, the chance you make input mistakes is increased, especially if you aren’t used to the feel of the keys. Input mistakes can quickly turn into a considerable disadvantage for typers as wrong inputs drastically slow down typing speed.
We feel like the short actuation point is a double-edged sword, especially if you recently started a low-profile keyboard. That being said, getting used to the low-profile switches may allow you to employ the benefit of faster inputs while not being weighed down by the disadvantage of input errors.
Low-profile keyboards do have an advantage in terms of ergonomics due to the keys being much closer to the table.
Using high-profile keyboards for an extended amount of time is known to cause wrist problems due to the awkward position your hand has to take when you put your wrist on the table and your fingers on the keys.
As wrist rests can be used to remedy the situation to a certain extent, the problem of ergonomics isn’t as severe as it used to be and not a reason in itself to switch to low-profile keyboards.
That being said, we can’t deny how comfortable it is to use a low-profile keyboard either, so it is definitely something to consider when choosing your keyboard.
As low-profile keyboards are slimmer than high-profile ones, they win in terms of portability without debate.
Those who need to carry their keyboard around often but don’t want to use a chiclet keyboard can definitely benefit from low-profile keyboards as they take less space and weigh less.
Couple that with a tenkeyless layout, and you have a super portable mechanical keyboard you can take anywhere without hassle. Imagine having the comfort of a mechanical keyboard with the portability (almost) of a chiclet keyboard. Nice, right?
Even if you don’t think of using a low-profile keyboard as your main one, having one handy can prove to be extremely useful at times for this reason alone if you are a frequent traveler.
Modding & Customizability
Unfortunately, low-profile keyboards fall pretty short in terms of modding, which is a definitive dealbreaker for modding enthusiasts.
For starters, regular keycaps not being compatible with low-profile switches is a considerable barrier between low-profile keyboards and those who change their keycaps frequently and try out new keycaps often.
As the options for low-profile keycaps are limited compared to full-sized ones, the customizability of low-profile keyboards is close to non-existent.
Of course, modding keyboards don’t end with keycaps, but the situation isn’t much different when it comes to keyboard switches, either. The selection for low-profile keyboard switches is once again rather limited, and so is it for hot-swappable low-profile keyboards.
With the most common aspects of keyboard modding largely out of the question, it wouldn’t be wrong to assume that most other mod parts that work with regular switches also won’t play well with low-profile keyboards.
What Are Low-Profile Keycaps?
Low-profile keycaps are the type of keycaps designed for usage in conjunction with low-profile switches in low-profile keyboards, and they are known for being shorter than their regular counterparts.
As low-profile switches aren’t built the same way as their regular counterparts, regular keycaps can not be used with them.
Are Low-Profile Switches Good?
While the feel of low-profile switches is definitely up to preference and the area of usage, their build quality is just as good as regular switches.
As low-profile switches are also produced by respectable companies such as Cherry and Kailh, who are known for manufacturing the bulk of the keyboard switches on the market right now, feel free to use low-profile keyboard switches without worry.
What Is a High-Profile Keyboard?
A high-profile keyboard is a type of keyboard where the body of the keyboard is tall enough to contain the keyboard switches within itself. As high-profile keyboards are the standard, the term “high-profile” is often not mentioned.
The alternative to high-profile keyboards is low-profile keyboards, where the body of the keyboard is much shorter than high-profile keyboards. As a result of this, keyboard switches reside on top of the keyboard body.
While their small size can certainly prove to be useful in the ergonomics and portability departments, the absence of modding makes low-profile keyboards a no-go for keyboard enthusiasts as it stands.
The feel of a low-profile keyboard is a double-edged sword that can be both an advantage and a disadvantage at times, leaving us to wonder whether it’s worth going through the trouble of getting accustomed to it or not.
At the end of the day, low-profile keyboards are a welcome addition to the keyboard world, as they provide extra variety with a set of their own advantages and disadvantages despite not being enthusiast-ready just yet.