I’ve joined the mechanical keyboard club — or perhaps, the mechanical keyboard master race is a more apt description, given the vociferous claims about typing superiority and the productivity gains made thereof.
Funnily enough, I never set out to buy a mechanical keyboard. I’ve always been leery about their noise and the stepped profile of their keys. But, after the comments generated by my last couple of posts, which were written from a desire to build a distraction-free writing machine, curiosity prevailed, and I ordered a Nuphy Air 75. It arrived a fortnight ago, and I’m drafting this post on the new board.
So, is it any good, and do mechanical keyboards live up to the hype?
The Air75 is a wireless mechanical keyboard with a low-profile design with a 75-key layout. Why did I pick this particular model and layout?
As a side note, I first considered getting a Keychron K3. However, recommendations by my colleagues (fellow technical writers), personal preferences, and some comparison reviews on YouTube made me choose Nuphy instead.
I picked a low-profile mode because using laptops and membrane keyboards since the 90s has ruined me. I’m too old and set in my ways to alter my typing techniques drastically. I dislike stepped layouts, preferring my keys all at the same height.
The 75-key format is a good compromise between price and functionality. Its portability also appealed to me, not that I’ll take this out of the house, but rather it’s a nice size to pick up and move to different rooms. If I miss the other ten keys (and I know I will), I’ll buy a separate wireless numpad, maybe one that can double as a macro pad.
Another practical reason I went with the Air75 is that its bigger brother was unavailable at the time of purchase, and I’m an impatient soul.
As for my choice of caps and switches, I went with the default keycaps and chose the Gateron Browns, which reviews suggested are a good balance between Red (linear) and Blue (clicky) switches.
Aside from the keyboard, the Air75 comes with documentation, a keycap and switch extractor, a type-A-to-type-C charging cable, and three sample switches (one, red, brown and blue). Magnetic feet can prop the keyboard at an angle for those who like that — I don’t. I briefly tested the Blue and Red switches and concluded that the Browns are the best for me, the Reds are nice, but the Blues are not. Naturally, this is a personal opinion, and I'm glad I could test with the provided samples. It validated my purchase, but I can swap out the switches if I ever change my mind – a major perk of going mechanical.
Out of the box, the keyboard is configured for macOS, but it’s fully comparable with Windows/Android/Linux (using a selector switch) and includes optional keycaps for that OS.
The unit has RGB backlighting, but the LEDs don’t shine through the supplied keycaps, forming a subtle halo around the base. There are about 20 default RGB settings, and further customisation is possible with a Windows-only configuration app. I have no desire to create different lighting schemes or remap keys (beyond what’s possible already on macOS), so this limitation doesn’t bother me.
The Air75 permits multiple connections over Bluetooth (3 and 5.0), wireless with the included dongle, and wired over USB (type-c). Pairing the keyboard with my two Macs and iPad Pro was effortless, and it’s almost as easy to switch sources as it is with my Logitech MX Keys for Mac. Thanks to the dongle and wired capability, the Air75 supports five devices compared to the MX Key’s three.
My first impressions are that the Air75 is well-made and certainly worth the asking price (US110, AU170). Although the outer casing is plastic, it feels sturdy and durable. It’s much lighter than my MX Keys, owing to its smaller size and lighter-weight materials, but it’s solid enough to stay put when I type. Overall, it lacks the premium quality of my Logitech board, but I expect that, given the price difference -- the MX Master costs $50 more here in Australia. I attribute the Logitech’s premium feel to its aluminium construction. Still, it’s already buckling under the millions of keystrokes I have subjected it to, so while premium, it’s not durable.
I like the softer, almost pastel colours of the keys and the side-LED strips. The design feels more fun than Logitech’s all-business construction of Space Grey aluminium, black keys and plain white backlighting. When I (occasionally) use the RGB lighting, I set it to a persistent soft blue, which I find much more pleasant than the cold white of the MX Keys. But I didn’t buy this keyboard for its colour palette or backlighting properties. So, what’s it like to type on?
Almost at once, I felt a level of satisfaction missing from my typing experience. Hitting these keys feels good, damned good. The spherical contours and PBT keycaps are comfortable to my fingertips and easy to navigate by touch alone. I can tell immediately when my strike is inaccurate, allowing me to readjust the position of my fingers in a way I’ve never experienced with the flat caps of a laptop or external membrane keyboard.
The Gateron Brown switches are wonderfully tactile, with a pleasant 3.2 mm of travel and an activation force that makes my fingers work for each letter without the fatigue you can experience when trying to bottom out a membrane key. The noise, which I dreaded, is not only rhythmically pleasing but accentuates the feedback my brain needs to type.
Yes, there was an adjustment period, but it passed quickly. After an hour, I realised I was hooked, and I wondered if or how I could ever go back to a mushy, unresponsive membrane keyboard again. The last time I felt this kind of physical transition was when I started wearing minimalist footwear over a decade ago. I suspect the reasons are similar. We have thousands of nerve endings in our hands and feet, and we benefit enormously from the sensory stimulation and feedback mechanical keyboards and thin-soled shoes impart.
But not so fast... the ‘feel’ aside, I need to temper my initial subjective impressions with some real-world data. Although the keyboard feels better, its performance is equally important to the typing experience.
To measure my typing performance, I tested my speed and accuracy of typing using monkeytype. Along with the Nuphy Air 75, I tested the keyboards I’ve most used lately, namely, the Logitech Mx Keys for Mac, my MacBook Pro’s internal keyboard, and my old Apple Wired Keyboard that I stopped using when I bought the Logitech.
I’ll preface these tests with the admission that I never learnt to touch type properly, so I’m neither fast nor accurate, but generally, I type as fast as my writing and coding brain needs.
So, let’s see the results.
I’m surprised by these results. I expected the race to be closer, but I didn’t think the Air 75 would win. We can ignore the 1% drop in accuracy as statically non-significant, but the increase in the words per minute astonished me.
I can account for part of the results in terms of usage. I took the tests using the Air 75 almost exclusively for two weeks, so there’s an element of adaptation and muscle memory at play. Similarly, I hadn’t touched the Apple Wireless keyboard in several years and wasn’t surprised that my fingers were hammy on that board. Meanwhile, my MacBook Pro’s keyboard benefits from years of familiarity, reinforced every time I use it away from my desk.
I’m shocked by how far my typing speed has dropped on the MX Keys, even after two weeks. Until I switched, I used that keyboard for hours on end, and now it feels like typing on a rotten banana. Without the tactile and auditory feedback of the mechanical keyboard, I felt clumsy and hesitant to move between keys.
I was incredibly sceptical about adopting a mechanical keyboard, and in the minutes, hours and days following my purchase, I feared I had wasted my hard-earned royalty money. To say that I was wrong is a gross understatement.
Since it arrived, the Nuphy Air75 has transformed my relationship with keyboards and typing. Everything I was afraid of — noise, key travel, tactility — enhances my typing experience. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to return to a lifeless, mushy membrane keyboard.
In summary, the Nuphy Air75 has smashed my expectations. It’s a wonderful keyboard and worth every cent.