Butterfly keyboards are very common whilst simultaneously being pretty unknown. Most of us have used, or maybe even owned, one of these keyboards at some point in our life.
They are very clever little contraptions that play a large part in the development and streamlining of various computer accessories. And especially laptops themselves, as they are where you are most likely to find such a keyboard.
This article is going to cover what a butterfly keyboard is, what it’s pros and cons are, and where you might find one. Butterfly keyboards are not very common to buy on their own, but you could probably do so if you wanted to.
Hopefully, by the end of this article, you will have a greater understanding and appreciation for this invention. And who knows, maybe it’ll even convince you to purchase, or maybe not purchase one for your next keyboard.
What is a butterfly keyboard?
Butterfly keyboards are commonly misnamed by a few people. Ergonomic split keyboards, that come in two halves, sometimes get called butterfly keyboards. Because they arguably sort of look like a butterfly. While it’s true that some of those split keyboards ARE butterfly keyboards, that’s not why they are.
Butterfly keyboards are named for their butterfly-like switches. Just like mechanical keyboards or membrane keyboards are named for their switch mechanisms, so is the butterfly keyboard. Most traditional keyboard switches use two pairs of opposite scissor-like switches.
They overlap, depressing in unison for stability and comfort. This is how they get their spring, it is also why they are quite loud and can be quite thick and chunky. This is one of the reasons that older keyboards are so thick and heavy.
Butterfly switches make use of butterfly shape switches, instead of two overlapping scissors. The hinge for the switch sits in the middle, and when it depresses the switches move up and down on either side. Sort of like a butterfly.
What is the purpose of a butterfly keyboard?
A butterfly keyboard is pretty cool, as mentioned above briefly it was designed as an alternative to the standard keyboard switches that are quite thick and can potentially be very loud. It can be very expensive to create silent switches, like the Cherry Mx silent reds, and they’re also often larger than their louder counterparts. This is problematic for a few reasons.
Heavier and thicker keyboards are less portable, take up more room, and are entirely ineffective for laptops. Can you imagine if your laptop keyboard was as thick as your full-size mechanical keyboard? It wouldn’t fit in your laptop bag, first of all, and it would weigh a ton.
Now, modern laptops in particular aim to do a few key things better than their predecessors. They all want to be lighter, faster, thinner, and have a much better battery life. Some also aim to have a touch screen. Now, the problem with a laptop keyboard is that it is going to take up the majority of the room. Once you factor in battery and the computer component, everything else is the keyboard.
Now, if you want to have a better battery and a faster computer, you often need a bigger battery and more room for computer components. This means you often end up choosing one or the other of either a faster computer with a better battery or a thin, lighter computer.
That was until butterfly switches became feasible. These switches drastically cut down on the size of the keyboard, meaning there is now much more room for a bigger battery, and it’s possible to make the entire laptop significantly thinner.
Who uses butterfly keyboards?
Butterfly keyboards are simultaneously not that common and insanely popular. I’ll explain. Apple has been striving for thinner devices for a long time. It’s a very big selling point for them, their phones, tablets, and importantly laptops are always striving to push the limits of size and computing power. Apple has begun manufacturing some impressively thin and sleek laptops.
One of the main reasons for this is the complete overhaul of their switches. Most Apple keyboards now make use of these highly effective butterfly switches. However, there has been quite a bit of backlash from their consumers for a few reasons. We’ll get into why later.
What you should know is that Apple regularly now builds devices that make use of the standard scissor switch, despite its extra size, because people tend to prefer it that much more. If you spend even a few minutes googling butterfly keyboard reviews you’ll find that almost all of them are articles where people complain about how badly Apple has handled implementing them.
What’s funny is that if you try to search articles about the “best” butterfly keyboards the majority of results are just slam pieces by various online publications.
What are the pros and cons of a butterfly keyboard?
We have covered the biggest pros looking at it from the manufacturing and style side of things. Slimmer keyboards look good and are pretty great for people who take them to work, or when traveling, or even if they spend their time desk hopping at the office.
Furthermore, these keyboards can make typing fast quite easy. They have a very high point of actuation because they are so thin it’s pretty much fully depressed at only the slightest touch. We also briefly covered the cons. The keys are uncomfortable to use and pretty horrible in terms of tactile-ness.
As someone who’s been forced to work on one of these keyboards before, I can attest to the fact that typing can be horrible. You will find yourself pressing keys that you had no idea you pressed. You can barely tell if you’ve even pressed the key or not, meaning you will be constantly correcting spelling errors that are almost entirely not your fault.
If you rest your hands on the keys as I do, you will also find you are pressing random strings of keys by accident all the time. These keyboards are very hit or miss, if you like the look and the lack of feedback doesn’t bother you, have at it. But most people don’t feel that way.
When you are buying a product like this, you are probably doing it for looks as it certainly lacks in most other areas. With that in mind, maybe you are buying this keyboard for its looks rather than functionality. If you are planning on working on this keyboard, a lot, and have a job where accuracy matters (like programming) then you should stay well away from these keyboards.
Should I use a butterfly keyboard for gaming?
No. The simple answer is no. The longer answer is hell no. Yeah, this is probably just about the worse keyboard for gaming I could imagine. For very similar reasons as to why it’s horrible for programming.
If you are playing combo-based games like league of legends, using your abilities in the wrong order can be a death sentence. Worse, using them by accident can be the difference between winning lane and losing. If you walk into the lane and accidentally throw out random abilities, your opponents are going to jump on you and either kill you or massively out-trade you. And you will be pressing keys accidentally.
If you are playing a game like Minecraft this isn’t going to be as much of a problem. But choosing a gaming keyboard that is only usable for half of your games is a massive waste of money. You would be far better off with a nice mechanical keyboard. If you are looking for a good mechanical gaming keyboard we have a helpful article that you can find here.
What I would say though is if you are looking for a keyboard to travel with, regardless of whether you need it for gaming or just emails, a butterfly keyboard can be quite good. It’s not as good as other keyboards functionality wise but it’s so light and easy to transport.
Hopefully, you now have a much better understanding of what a butterfly keyboard is and why you might want to use one. If you own any recent Apple keyboards, be it the keyboard itself or as part of your laptop, you are probably quite familiar with the problems they face.
For the same reason, Apple phones and tablets now have fake tactile-ness programmed in to make them feel more responsive. You can’t do that with a keyboard in quite the same way. If you are swapping a high feedback mechanical keyword to a butterfly one, the change will feel very unpleasant.
But who knows, maybe you are all about the look and functionality doesn’t matter to you very much. Which is fine, of course. In which case, butterfly keyboards might be precisely what you are looking for. So, now you know.
If you are looking for a new keyboard I wouldn’t recommend a butterfly one. At all. It seems to me that the advantages they offer aren’t even close to the negatives that come with it.
Hopefully, you now know whether this keyboard is right for you. Or, more likely, why it’s isn’t. Whatever you decide, good luck on your hunt for the right keyboard for you. And happy typing!