The best keyboard is a matter of personal preference. We may really like a keyboard that you dislike intensely, and vice versa. Ultimately, your own preferences are the only guide.
Keyboards vary in obvious ways like layout, size, and style, and in subtle ways like key spacing, angle, dishing, travel, pressure required, and tactile feedback. People’s sensitivity to these differences varies. Some people are keyboard agnostics who can sit down in front of a new keyboard and, regardless of layout or tactile response, be up to speed in a few minutes. Others have strong preferences about layout and feel. If you’ve never met a keyboard you didn’t like, you can disregard these issues and choose a keyboard based on other factors. If love and hate are words you apply to keyboards, test out a keyboard for at least an hour before you buy it.
That said, here are several important characteristics to consider when you choose a keyboard:
Keyboards are available in two styles, the older straight keyboard and the modern ergonomic style. Some people strongly prefer one or the other; other people don’t care. If you’ve never used an ergonomic keyboard, give one a try before you buy your next keyboard. You may hate it—everyone does at first—but after you use it for an hour you may decide you love it.
The position of the alphanumeric keys is standard on all keyboards other than those that use the oddball Dvorak layout. What varies, sometimes dramatically, is the placement, size, and shape of other keys, such as shift keys (Shift, Ctrl, and Alt), function keys (which may be across the top, down the left side, or both), and cursor control and numeric keypad keys. If you are used to a particular layout, purchasing a keyboard with a similar layout makes it easier to adapt to the new keyboard.
Most current keyboards use the USB interface natively, and are supplied with an adapter for connecting to a PS/2 keyboard port. We use mostly USB keyboards, but it’s a good idea to have at least one PS/2 keyboard available (or a PS/2 adapter) for those times when Windows shoots craps and won’t recognize USB devices.
Some keyboards provide dedicated and/or programmable function keys to automate such things as firing up your browser or email client or to allow you to define custom macros that can be invoked with a single keystroke. These functions are typically not built into the keyboard itself, but require loading a driver. To take advantage of those functions, make sure a driver is available for the OS you use.
The weight of a keyboard can be a significant issue for some people. The lightest keyboard we’ve seen weighed just over a pound, and the heaviest nearly eight pounds. If your keyboard stays on your desktop, a heavy keyboard is less likely to slide around. Conversely, a heavy keyboard may be uncomfortable if you work with the keyboard in your lap.
Some manufacturers produce keyboards with speakers, scanners, and other entirely unrelated functions built in. These functions are often clumsy to use, are fragile, and have limited features. If you want speakers or a scanner, buy speakers or a scanner. Don’t get a keyboard with them built in.
Wireless keyboards are ideal for presentations, TV-based web browsing, or just for working with the keyboard in your lap. Wireless keyboards use a receiver module that connects to a USB port or to the PS/2 keyboard port on the PC. The keyboard and receiver communicate using either radio frequency (RF) or infrared (IR). IR keyboards require direct line-of-sight between the keyboard and receiver, while RF keyboards do not. Most IR keyboards and many RF keyboards provide limited range—as little as five feet or so—which limits their utility to working around a desk without cables tangling. Any wireless keyboard you buy should use standard AA, AAA, or 9V alkaline or NiMH batteries rather than a proprietary battery pack.
Keyboard Logitech and Microsoft both produce a wide range of excellent keyboards, one of which is almost certainly right for you. Even their basic models are well built and reliable. The more expensive models add features such as RF or Bluetooth wireless connectivity, programmable function keys, and so on. We used Microsoft keyboards almost exclusively for many years, and continue to recommend them. However, when we tested several Logitech keyboards some months ago, we found that we actually preferred their features and feel. We currently use Logitech keyboards on most of our primary systems, although we continue to use various Microsoft keyboards on several older systems.
Avoid inexpensive, no-name keyboards.
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