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Your computer keyboard is something you might not think too much about until it stops working. Getting a new one can be a little daunting, as there are so many variations in size and price.
Whether you need a simple, cheap keyboard for occasional use, a typing workhorse, or a gaming beast, we’re going to demystify what kind of keyboard you should buy.
Should I Get a Mechanical Keyboard?
Mechanical keyboards are more popular than ever. It’s easy to see why, as most people will find their typing experience hugely improved by mechanical switches.
Each key on a mechanical keyboard has its own switch and keycaps, and there are many combinations of sizes and switches to choose from. Each switch gives a different level of tactile and audio feedback, and which switches are best is purely personal preference.
Cherry MX is the most popular switch manufacturer, and they provide a variety of different types. An excellent way to get an idea of what switches will work for you is to get a switch tester. These small boxes typically feature several switch types to try out. There are also many YouTube channels dedicated to every aspect of mechanical keyboard use.
Mechanical keyboards are typically more expensive and can be quite loud in operation depending on your choice of switch. Budget-friendly versions are increasingly available, and silent variations of switches can combat the noise problem to an extent.
If you type a lot or are serious about gaming, a mechanical keyboard is worth the investment!
What About Membrane Keyboards?
Most modern keyboards are not mechanical, opting instead for a membrane connecting keycaps to a board of pressure sensitive buttons. There are several benefits to this setup, as they are very cheap to produce. What they lack, however, is the tactile feedback you get from individual switches under each key.
Another benefit of membrane operation is that many are designed to protect the inner workings of the keyboard. Most mechanical keyboards can be easily ruined by small spills, whereas a well-designed membrane keyboard can take some accidents and still function.
You can pick up a membrane keyboard for just a few dollars, and even top membrane gaming keyboards will cost far less than their mechanical counterparts. If you are on a budget or don’t have to type a lot daily, a membrane keyboard is perfect for you.
Wired vs. Wireless Keyboards
Wireless keyboards can free your desk of cables, and allow freedom to type anywhere. Most keyboard sizes and variations come in both wired and wireless form, and each has its benefit.
Wireless keyboards mostly use either a USB dongle or Bluetooth to connect to the computer. All wireless keyboards have a slight delay in communication. This isn’t something that most users will notice, but for hardcore gamers, this is something to consider. Wireless keyboards also rely on a battery for operation. Most come with long battery lives, and many charge via USB.
Wired keyboards lose the portability and ease of use, but gain a few benefits. A cable plugged directly into the computer gives a better response time than any wireless option.
Since wired keyboards takes power from the cable connection, they don’t need batteries. Finally, the circuitry required for wireless devices adds cost. By getting the wired variant of your chosen keyboard, you are saving money.
While many people love wired keyboards, good wireless solutions are available even at a low budget, and the freedom they bring can be a game changer!
Do I Need a Bluetooth Keyboard?
Many wireless keyboards offer a Bluetooth connection. If you plan to use your keyboard on devices like tablets or smartphones, this can be a real benefit.
Bluetooth keyboards can suffer from low battery lives, so make sure to research thoroughly before making a decision.
Another option is to drop Bluetooth and get an On The Go (OTG) cable for your smart device. This will allow you to use any USB device, including wired keyboards and wireless dongles.
Are Ergonomic Keyboards Worth It?
Most keyboards are a standard shape, but this isn’t perfect for everyone. Those with accessibility issues or injuries like repetitive strain can find using a standard keyboard an uncomfortable experience.
An ergonomic keyboard can help here, and there are many different types to choose from. Some split the keyboard down the middle allowing you to spread your arms. Others don’t change the key layout but are shaped differently to give a more natural wrist position. For a fully ergonomic experience, companies like Kinesis completely re-arrange the keys into unique groups. These keyboards require training to relearn how to type, but have a devoted following.
To see examples of the different types, check out our run down of the best ergonomic keyboards.
What Size Keyboard Should I Get?
Keyboards generally come in three sizes. Keyboards with 104 keys, which have a number pad on the right-hand side, are typically known as 100% sized.
The next size down is known as tenkeyless, and miss off the number pad. These are also known as 80% sized keyboards and usually, have around 83 keys.
Finally, compact keyboards (sometimes known as 60% keyboards) miss off the row of function keys and have no arrow keys.
Most users will find a tenkeyless keyboard the perfect balance of size and functionality. They aren’t for everyone, though if you enter a lot of numerical data, a full sized keyboard is essential.
Compact keyboards benefit from a tiny size but can be quite tricky to use. They miss frequently used keys, and some have switched positions. If you have always used a full sized keyboard and you are used to that layout, why change?
Should I Get an RGB LED Keyboard?
Many keyboards feature in-key lighting, and highly customizable RGB LEDs are common in gaming keyboards. Illuminated keys generally fulfill two purposes:
- They help you see the keys in low light.
- They look cool.
If you want a light show in your keyboard there are many great options, and some companies include software to customize the experience. A word of warning: customizing your keyboard LEDs is a rabbit hole and you might end up spending more time making it look impressive than using it!
In terms of low light illumination, this can be a great help to those who type by sight, rather than touch typing. Not every LED keyboard is for gamers and if budget is an issue, many cheaper membrane keyboards also feature backlit keys.
If you touch type, then LEDs are purely aesthetic. Many people get an RGB keyboard only to leave the LEDs turned off as the illumination becomes a distraction over time.
Keyboard Choices at Your Fingertips
A new keyboard can be an opportunity to upgrade your typing experience or can give you an edge when playing games. Better yet, do both at once with one of the ultimate typing games to sharpen your keyboard skills!
Note that most keyboards target Windows and Linux systems. If you have a Mac, don’t worry, there are many great alternatives to Apple’s official magic keyboard too!