Understanding The Differences Between Keyboards

imageThere was a time when all computer keyboards were basically all the same. The people who made the standard was IBM and you can still see (and purchase if you like) some of those old keyboards – the model M – at www.clickykeyboards.com.

Before continuing, I know someone is going to ask “What’s the pic of the keyboard in this article?” It’s a Luxeed. And no I don’t own one. :-)

What changed the landscape of keyboard shapes, sizes and keys were three things (two of which due to Microsoft):

  1. The addition of a “flag”, a.k.a. “win” key.
  2. The “natural” shape.
  3. The ability to add in multimedia functions (volume control, assignable keys, etc.)

Since the advent of these things we’ve seen tons of different styles of keyboards, and each year continue to see attempts by manufacturers to reinvent the wheel, so to speak.

The fact of the matter is that when you take away all the fluff and get to what really matters in a keyboard, it makes your purchasing decision much easier.

With that said, here’s what to look for when shopping for a keyboard:

Key placement

The first thing keyboard manufacturers mess with is:

  1. The placement of the arrow keys
  2. The placement of the Home / End / Insert / Delete / PgUp / PgDown cluster
  3. The size of the backslash key (the slash above the Enter key)
  4. The size of the Enter key itself

For some reason keyboard manufacturers take great liberties with the size and placement of the keys mentioned above. It is usually the last thing most people look to when purchasing a new keyboard. I say it should be the first thing to examine.

Could you deal with a keyboard that has all the arrow keys in a horizontal row? How about all vertical? Are you saying “They’re both wrong!” You’re right. Up and down should be vertical and left and right should be horizontal.

Extraneous keys

Many keyboards have a lot of useless crap on them that unfortunately do nothing but get in the way because you’re guaranteed to hit these keys by mistake from time to time.

An example is the RAZER Pro. There are added-in keys on the left and the right. Keys like this will drive you bonkers in short order.

Normal profile or short profile?

Short profile keys make a standard keyboard feel like a laptop keyboard.

I actually really like half-height keys, a.k.a. “short profile” keys.

If you are the touch-typist kind, you will like short profile keys. Otherwise stick to regular profile (which is everything else).

You will know instantly whether a keyboard is “short” or not just by using it for a few seconds.

Is there a delay when using wireless?

Always. Personally speaking I can’t stand wireless keyboards because a) I don’t like anything running on batteries that doesn’t have to be and b) the response is not as good as when it’s wired, be it via PS/2 connector or USB.

Does price matter?

This is something that confuses a lot of people. You would assume that because one keyboard costs more than the other that it’s better, right?

Wrong.

Ordinarily when you pay big bucks for a keyboard you’re not paying for a better unit but rather just for whiz-bang features. Extra keys, goodies and so on.

Here are two examples of good keyboards:

Expensive: Enermax KB007U-B. This is 75 bucks. Expensive? You betcha. Plain looking? You betcha. Solid as a rock? Absolutely – and has its key orientation exactly as it should be. No extraneous keys. This is a near-perfect keyboard. This is what you want one to look like.

Cheap: The LiteON SK-1788. Only 7 bucks. Has great customer ratings. If you buy it and like it, buy 2 more. Again this keyboard his a nice familiar standard layout with no fluff.

It is the key orientation and comfort that you want and not whiz-bang features. Always remember that. Comfort includes layout familiarity and both ‘boards above have that.

Trying the keyboard first is still your best bet

Better computer retailers have keyboards all set up ready for you to try out. These keyboards aren’t plugged into anything but that doesn’t matter because it’s the feel that matters. Try it out. Type a few words/phrases, make sure to use the number pad, mind the location of the arrow keys and so on.

It’s very annoying to buy a brand new keyboard, take it home and then realize some keys are not in familiar spots. Find this out before you take it home. :-)

Comments

  1. I’m one who doesn’t like keyboards that have keys that are hard to press. It slows me down because I type fast.

    I use a Logitech wireless keyboard/mouse and have never noticed a delay. Is there really a delay?

    • There’s always a delay with wireless devices of any kind compared to wired. However those that have been using wireless input for a while (be it keyboard, mouse or both) get used to the delay – but it’s still there.

    • I guess it really depends on the ‘integrity’ of the connection. If you have other wireless stuff in the vicinity, all running on the same channel, you’re bound to get some interference. My guess is David has quite a few wireless gadgets. :P

      • Whoops, and not David, meant Rich. I guess both would, though. And yea, I guess there’s always a delay, although likely sometimes hardly noticeable.

      • I guess I don’t have that many wireless devices around my desk.

        I’m just trying to understand this delay. I’ve never noticed one since I first used this keyboard. Should it be more like when using a TV remote?

    • David Ferrell says:

      Yes, all wireless keyboards have some lag to them, but chances are that unless you are a full time gamer geek that relies on microseconds to keep from getting killed, you will never notive the lag. I use a Microsoft Natural Desktop Elite. The natural fit works well for me because I have very severe arthritis and it allows me to keep me hands in a natural position and still type faster than I have been able to in many years on a flat plank. The lag issue is only a problem for gamers. I do a lot of graphics, and spend more than 10 hours a day at a keyboard. IT’s really nice to be able to kick my feet up and throw my board on my lap. Try that with a wired board. You’ll find most cables stop you about 2 feet short!

  2. ive had a wireless keyboard/mouse for about 4 years now and don’t notice any delay or difference compared to wired ones ive used elsewhere, and although it has batteries in it, the mouse has a charging dock so never runs out of juice and ive replaced the keyboard battery only once in 4 years. however what is the real point of a wireless keyboard? as you are unlikely to take it further away from your computer than the wire can stretch as you wouldnt be able to see the results on the screen. I think light up keys/backlight is a good feature as I am often workin on computer late at night in low light.

    • For me, having a wireless keyboard and mouse is due to me hating the cords getting in the way. The cord to the receiver can be pushed off to the side. Also, because my keyboard also has media buttons on it, I’ve used it several times away from the computer so I can change the volume or song.

      • David Ferrell says:

        I’m glad to see someone besides me gets the point. I can work at my computer and be 15 feet or more from it! I can change songs, work my TV tuner, adjust volume, check e-mail and more, without having to be infrom of the computer. A secong monitor on an extended cord gets me multiple places to work within the same room!

  3. Actually, I’ve found that wireless keyboards and mice have always stopped working within a few months of having them. Kind of odd, really. Unless the people I’ve known that have had them forgot to replace the batteries. :P

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