Mechanical keyboards have become the default choice for PC gamers and enthusiasts. However, with the oversaturation of mechanical keyboards in the market, manufacturers such as Steelseries and Wooting have been looking for ways to shake things up. One of the most recent advancements that they have found the Hall Effect Keyboard Technology.
Hall Effect switches utilize magnets that emit a measurable magnetic flux to actuate switches. The overall feel of these switches is very similar to mechanical keyboards. However, the main advantage of Hall Effect switches is that they are more flexible, and their actuation points can even be customized by the user.
Having different switch types available in the market is always good for the consumers. They give more options and help serve specific niches that might benefit from these new kinds of switch technology. In this article, we will be discussing Hall Effect Keyboards in more detail. We’ll be talking about how they work, what makes them unique, their pros and cons, and if you should buy them.
Explaining Hall Effect Keyboards
There are various key switch technologies that are currently available in the market. The most basic one is the membrane key switch technology, which is found in most low-cost or entry-level keyboards.
We also have the mechanical key switch technology, which is what most mainstream and custom mechanical keyboards use. In addition, there are also newer switch types, such as optical switches, which use optical technology for key switch actuation.
Hall Effect switches, on the other hand, are pretty unique. They utilize a lot of the same conventions as mechanical switches but have a more advanced actuation mechanism that does not rely on physical contact.
Hall Effect keyboards make use of “Hall Sensors” to perceive keypresses. They utilize magnets found on the PCB of the keyboard and on the stems of the switches to determine when keys are being actuated. When the magnet comes close to a microchip, electricity flows through the circuit. Unlike mechanical keyboards, Hall Effect keyboards are not reliant on physical contact, potentially making them more reliable in the long run.
In addition, Hall Effect keyboards are able to precisely measure the depth of the actuation. This allows manufacturers to tweak the actuation point of these switches, unlike mechanical switches that typically only have one actuation point.
Brief History of Hall Effect Keyboards
In the 1800s, the magic of magnets was already studied, and their properties are discovered. Named after the property in question, American Physicist Edwin H. Hall (1855–1938) coined the idea of measuring the generated voltage from when a current-carrying conductor/ semiconductor is placed vertically on a magnetic field at right angles to the current path.
Harboring the knowledge of Hall, sensors were eventually incorporated into making switches that use magnets and their properties to measure space and distance. The Hall Effect sensor identifies the position of a magnet by determining the displaced electrons in a current or anything that conducts electricity that is caused by the electromagnetic force (magnet). Similarly, this is also the main property applied in manufacturing the Hall Effect Keyboards, as the name says so itself.
Taking into consideration the manipulation and measurement of space, analog input is now also viable through the hall keys. An analog input converts a voltage level into a digital value that can be stored and processed in a computer. This means that different distances of the magnet from the sensor may be registered as different things. This upgrade makes this type of keyboard more remarkable.
Where Are Hall Effect Keyboards Used?
Due to the consistent and resilient nature of the technology, Hall Effect keys are usually found in industries that require high reliability, like aerospace, submarines, and military devices. Considering also that these industries require less to zero errors to function consistently in quantifying proximity, positioning, and speed detection.
Hall Effect switches can also be seen in military devices. They are applied in detecting the rotation speed of helicopter blades and in the change in position of rotating shafts.
As for keyboards, Hall Effect switches have been mostly used in modern gaming keyboards. They aren’t as popular as mechanical switches or optical switches. However, they are slowly being introduced by different brands such as Wooting and Steelseries. Some of the most popular Hall Effect switches are the Steelseries Omnipoint switches, and the Wooting Lekker Hall Effect switches.
Can Hall Effect Switches Be Considered as Mechanical Switches?
Hall Effect Switches are technically considered mechanical switches. Even if Hall Effect switches have magnets introduced to their structure, they still have mechanical components, such as the spring and the stem.
In addition, the feel of using Hall Effect keyboards is comparable to using linear switches. They both travel smoothly and will most likely require the user to bottom out the keys. Each keypress is also well defined, unlike low-cost options such as membrane and rubber dome keyboards.
Of course, outside of the physical similarities, Hall Effect and mechanical switches have nothing in common. We will be talking about the advantages of Hall Effect switches over mechanical switches and other modern switches later in the article.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Hall Effect Keyboards
Given the fact that there aren’t a lot of companies that have adopted the Hall Effect key switch technology, we will be limiting our discussion to some of the keyboards that consumers can easily buy. For this section, we will mostly be talking about Steelseries’ Omnipoint mechanical switches.
Advantages of Hall Effect Keyboards
One of the biggest advantages of Hall Effect switches is how durable they are. They are less prone to mechanical failure since they do not rely on physical contact, which wears down the keys over time. In addition, since Hall Effect switches only have a few parts, there are fewer points of failure.
Another important advantage of Hall Effect keyboards is the increased stability of the switches. They eliminate most of the wobble that translates to less bounce or chatter. What this means for real-world usage is that they will effectively eliminate ghost presses or double presses when only pressing a single key.
As for specific switches, such as Steelseries’ Omnopoint switch, the main advantage is their customizability. As we have discussed earlier, Hall Effect switches allow the keyboard to determine how far the user has pressed. What Steelseries has done with this technology is that they allow the users to customize the actuation point of their switches.
This allows users to simulate the effect of multiple key switches right in the palm of their hands. They can make some specific keys, such as the WASD keys, become lighter, which helps in movement in FPS titles such as CS: GO and Valorant. Gamers and typists who like to bottom out their keys can also make their switches heavier.
The possibilities with Hall Effect switches are endless. And if more manufactures adopt the Hall Effect key switch technology, we may see even more applications for Hall Effect Keyboards.
Disadvantages of Hall Effect Keyboards
Despite the many advantages of Hall Effect keyboards, there are also some things that consumers need to consider. One of the obvious downsides of Hall Effect keyboards is that they cannot be used in areas with high external magnetic fields as they may disrupt the magnetic field from inside the switch. Of course, these instances are rare. However, they are still worth considering.
Another disadvantage is that Hall sensors can be prone to thermal drift due to changes in environmental conditions. Also, Hall Effect switches are known to be loud, and there are currently no silent variants to these switches.
And speaking of variants, the selection of Hall Effect switches is currently limited. Unlike mechanical switches, there are only a few brands that are manufacturing these switches. So if they do not fit your playstyle or typing style, then no amount of tinkering in the software can fix them.
Are Hall Effect Keyboards Good For Gaming and Typing?
Hall Effect keyboards are very similar to mechanical keyboards both in terms of look and feel. This means that they can perform just as well mechanical keyboards in typing-related tasks as well as in gaming.
In addition, since Hall Effect Keyboards allow the user to adjust the actuation force of the switches, these keyboards can simulate most of the popular mechanical key switches in the market. Whether you like bottoming out the keys or lightly tapping them, these keyboards can accommodate any typing style.
In terms of their gaming performance, Hall Effect switches perform just as well as mechanical keyboards. In fact, they are even better in some aspects. For instance, Hall Effect keyboards inherently avoid key chatter due to how the switches work. They are also very durable, meaning repeated keypresses won’t wear them down.
Should You Buy Hall Effect Keyboards?
Hall Effect keyboards present plenty of innovation in the gaming and enthusiast keyboard space. However, there are some things that can potentially make Hall Effect keyboards not worth it.
In terms of availability, not many companies have adopted the Hall Effect key switch technology. This is despite the fact that they have been around for many years. In addition, the options that you get pale in comparison to the number of key switch variations of mechanical keyboards.
If you are someone who is tired of the same old MX-style mechanical switch that has been used for many decades, then Hall Effect keyboards are a refreshing change. However, if you are someone who wants to get into the custom keyboard hobby or wants plenty of variety in terms of switch options, then stick to mechanical keyboards.
The KBE team is dedicated to sharing our knowledge and creating useful resources about computer keyboards. This article was written as a team collaboration, combining our knowledge and years of experience using, building and modding keyboards. Meet the team here.