Before You Buy a Keyboard

Computer keyboard
" Metal on wood" ( CC BY 2.0) by  mecookie
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The keyboard is one of the most oft-used computer peripherals, second only to perhaps the mouse. If you have a desktop computer, there's a good chance you've been using the basic keyboard that came with it and may be need of an upgrade. If you're a laptop or a netbook user, on the other hand, you may simply be sick of typing with your nose so close to your screen.

Whatever your reason for wanting a new keyboard, there are a few things you should consider before plunking down your money.

First and foremost, decide what tasks you'll be primarily using the keyboard for. Of course, you may be a combination of some, or even all, of these types, so you should prioritize the features that are most important to you before you start searching.

Gamer

Gamers are a specific breed unto themselves, and they typically require or desire keyboard features that are wasted on the rest of us. Things like integrated LCDs, programmable keys, backlighting and changeable number pads can give PC gamers increased benefits and enhance the gaming experiences.

If you're a gamer, look to buy keyboards that are specially labeled as gaming keyboards. You can expect to pay a higher price for these features, but most serious gamers will tell you they're worth the cost.

Media User

You're the type of person who has all of their music and movies stored on his computer. When choosing a computer, look for media-key features, such as a volume-control knob, track skipping and play/pause buttons.

If you use your laptop for storing movies but have it hooked up to your TV for when you actually watch them, a wireless keyboard will be more comfortable. This way you can fast-forward and rewind from the comfort of your couch. There are even mini keyboards out there that are designed specifically for media users; they somewhat resemble large remote controllers.

Cube Monkey

OK, so maybe the term "cube monkey" doesn't conjure up the best image, but you know who you are. Whether you do data entry or desktop publishing, you spend hours upon hours hunched over your keyboard. Do yourself -- and your wrists -- a favor and invest in an ergonomic keyboard.

Ergonomics isn't a one-size-fits-all science, and there are some keyboards out there that claim to be ergonomic but are not such thing. If you can, test out a friend's ergonomic keyboard before you buy it. While there will probably be an initial learning curve, you should be able to tell pretty quickly if its something that's comfortable for you.

If this isn't an option, look for features like curved keys and elevated wrist rests. Some keyboards even separate so that you can customize how far apart you want the left- and right-hand keys.

Traveler

For whatever reason you have, you like to throw a keyboard in your carry-on when you travel (yes, I know people like this). Some people get so accustomed to their macros that they can't bear to work in an office without them. Fret not -- they make keyboards with truncated key counts just for you.

Typically billed as being lightweight -- and sometimes even foldable -- these portable keyboards usually forgo the right-hand number pad to save on space. You probably won't find many media keys on them, although some do come with F keys that can be customized or integrated touchpads. However, just because it's small, don't expect it to necessarily be cheaper. Many of these portables will cost you more than your run-of-the-mill wired standard keyboards.