Best 40% Mechanical Keyboards you can buy in 2020


Best 40% Mechanical keyboards you can buy in 2020
Photo from /u/Koobaczech

You may be wondering, what the heck is a 40% keyboard?

 A 40% keyboard is a very small compact keyboard with no number pad, arrow keys, or the entire top row of keys where the numbers are usually located.

While this may sound strange, a lot of people enjoy using this keyboard layout. The closer more compact keys can help lower the amount of distance your fingers need to travel and boost your typing speed. 40% keyboards are also cheaper too since less supplies are required to build and assemble them.

For example, a standard keyboard layout that includes a number pad and arrow keys has a total key count of 104, while a 40% keyboard only has 47. This makes the keyboard light and easier to take on the go.

Of all the different sizes and shapes of mechanical keyboards, 40% keyboards are one of the smallest and less common variations available.

However, they are not recommended if you need to a number pad for lot of data entry or if you enjoy using arrow keys as both features are not included with this style of keyboard.

For 40% keyboards, its standard to have 3 of the rows of keys to be layers. What this means is it’s possible to switch between two sets of keys. For example, the top row is QWERY but you can swap that out with 12345 by using the programmable settings build into the keyboard. This feature is very useful for programmers and typists who like the customization of their keyset.

Now that we’ve explained what exactly a 40% keyboard is, let’s dive into some of the best available products on the market.

We’re going to divide this up into two different sections. Prebuilt keyboards that are already assembled and keyboard kits that come shipped together but are assembled after purchase.

Pre-built Keyboards:

Our Pick

Vortexgear 40% Keyboard

Vortexgear 40%
Vortexgear 40% Keyboard

Specifications:

  • PBT plastic keys
  • Detachable micro-usb cable
  • Weight = 2.2lbs
  • 4 switchable layers, 3 are programmable
  • LED that shows which layer is being used
  • Aluminum CNC anodized case
  • Cherry switches

The Vortexgear 40% keyboard is high-quality, compact aesthetic keyboard with a sturdy aluminum frame. Allowing you to pick which type of Cherry MX switches you need. A keyboard that’s more on the upper-end in term of price, at $95.

Coming with PBT plastic keycaps, this kind of plastic has more of a textured feel to it and doesn’t get a greasy shiny look after heavy use like most keycaps do. PBT plastic is the material that all keyboards should strive to use and Vortexgear choosing this plastic for their keyboards is a big plus.

Detachable micro-USB cables are all the rage these days and Vortexgear nailed this part of the design. By designing for the usage of detachable cables, it is easier than ever to pack up your keyboard and take it with you. Just be careful because depending on where you purchase the keyboard you may need to buy the cable separately.

One of the upsides to a 40% keyboard is amount of key customization available and Vortexgear does not shy away from that, with 4 programmable layers and designing for each key to be individually programmed. In order keep track of what layer you’re currently typing with the keyboard includes an LED that changes color to determine which layer your using.

With a nice aluminum frame this keyboard is built to last and will hold all the components without worry of breaking or flexing the frame. The only downside to the aluminum frame is the weight, coming in at 2.2 pounds, this keyboard is a bit on the heavier side.

The weight can be a bit of downside. 40% keyboards are used for their ease of portability and nobody wants to carry around a keyboard that feels like brick. This can be overlooked however when you consider the quality of the frame.

Cheaper alternative:

Qisan Magicforce 40%

Qisan Magicforce 40%

Specifications

  • Price: $54
  • ABS keycaps
  • Gateron Brown switches
  • Blue backlight
  • Plastic case

Coming in at $54 it’s hard to beat the price of this keyboard. The Qisan Magicforce is a made for those who aren’t looking to spend too much and want the experience of a programmable 40% keyboard. A decent keyboard for those who want a light keyboard with a portable set-up that is usable without a desk.

Made with ABS keycaps, these keycaps will develop a greasy shine and will feel a little slippery over time. We would have liked to see PBC plastic but considering this keyboard is relatively cheap, it’s hard to complain about what type of plastic the keycaps are made of.

Coming equipped with Gateron Brown switches which are the Chinese equivalent of Cherry MX Browns, this keyboard has a quiet tactile feel to the keys and won’t make to much noise when typing. Great for working in an office or at home when the rest of the family is sleeping.

With a cool ice blue backlight, this keyboard has a nice look to it and can be useful for those who work late into the night and rely on the backlight to see their keys.

The keyboard is quite light, weighing less than a pound which make it nice and portable. The USB is also detachable, making this a great keyboard to take on the go or carry around in a backpack without worrying about the weight.

Kit Keyboards:

Kits will require to you purchase and order some additional parts yourself and assembly is required.  The perfect type of keyboard for those who want to put a little extra love and customization into their keyboard build.

The kits will usually come standard with a PCB, case, and frame making the assembly of the base relatively easy and pain free. The switches, keycaps, and stabilizers will need to be purchased separately and installed yourself. Keep in mind that unless you order hot swappable switches, soldering will be required to install the switches to the keyboard.

Our Pick

Planck

Planck keyboard from Patrick Welker on Pinterest
Planck keyboard from Patrick Welker on Pinterest

The Planck is a highly customizable kit that allows you to mix and match the PCB with different cases. You have the choice between several different colored aluminum cases. An upper and lower case will need to be purchased as well.

Planck keyboard kits are quite expensive and the total price of all the parts required to build this keyboard will be $200+, especially once you consider the switches and keycaps that need to be ordered separately. But it you’re a keyboard enthusiast, you can’t put a price on true quality and personalization.

If a DIY kit is not for you, it is possible to purchase the Planck EZ a preassembled keyboard that you can order online. The Planck EZ comes standard with RGB backlight and ortholinear keys that can minimize finger movement.

The Planck EZ comes with hotswappable switches with 8 Cherry MX options and 5 Kailh options. If your picky about the way your switches feel, no need to fret, because this keyboard comes with all the options to help personalize the keyboard to what you like.

Read more about the Planck here.

Cheaper alternative:

YMDK

Image result for YMDK 40% mechanical keyboard
YMDK Tiramisu from Aliexpress.com

The YMDK is a keyboard kit that offers a ton of customization and is perfect for keyboard enthusiasts who think aesthetic is king.

With the option to choose from four different keyboard layouts, you can customize the keyset to feel and look the exact way you like to improve your typing and comfort. With four programmable layers and many color options, this product will allow you to pick out exactly what need and want.

Coming in at $80.00 for the case, frame, and PCB, the YMDK is a much cheaper alternative to the Planck. This would be a great kit to start with for your first custom build. The kit of course does not include the stabilizers, switches, and keycaps.

The CNC aluminum case includes several color options including coffee, black, and navy with a black plate. Other options include silver, rose, and gold case with a silver plate to match the aesthetic.

Conclusion:

Hope you enjoyed this comprehensive list of 40% keyboards. There are a lot of other 40% keyboard kits that have unfortunately been discontinued but may be available to buy used online. Some of these include the Minivan and BM43A models, so if that interests you, I would recommend looking online for these builds.

Whether you’re looking for a pre-built keyboard or keyboard kit, a 40% keyboard can be fun unique keyboard and we recommend everyone give them a try. With options available for those on a budget or those who are willing to splurge, there’s a keyboard out there for everyone.

Don’t feel like reading? Check out the video below.

Jake Harrington

Jake has been an avid mechanical keyboard user for the past six years. He has a background in Mechanical Engineering and wants to apply his expertise to break down how mechanical keyboards work and show the world all of the cool aspects of the mechanical keyboard hobby.

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