The Ultimate Guide to Keyboards

Find the right keyboard for you by considering these four features

The keyboard is one of the most-used computer peripherals. If you're thinking about buying a keyboard, there are a few important features to look out for before settling on one, especially if they want to move it around between multiple devices.

What's tough about buying a keyboard is that there are hundreds on the market and so many different ways to connect and use one once you've made the purchase. We thought it should be easier to figure out so we've compiled this guide to help you wade through basic keyboard activities, understand upkeep issues, and help you decide which keyboard is best for you.

To use this guide, open the links in the navigation pane. You'll see it's separated into three different sections: Keyboard Basics, Keyboard Upkeep, and Best Keyboards. Inside each section are several articles filled with tips and hints for you.

Hands tying on a keyboard
Wathanyu Kanthawong / Getty Images

Below, we've outlined the most important things you should consider before you make a keyboard purchase.

Ergonomics

hands typing on ergonomic keyboard
webphotographeer/Getty Images

This is a big one. If you’re going to spend hours upon hours typing on your new keyboard, it's best to get one with real ergonomic features.

While this can take on various forms, since some keyboards split the keys, have curves, and are even motorized, you should always anticipate a learning curve. Expect that typing will feel strange, even uncomfortable, at first while your hands adjust and relearn how to move across the keyboard. But, your wrists and hands will thank you in the end, since true ergonomic keyboards are built to reduce the amount of stress placed on your hands while you type.

Other ergonomic features found in keyboards can include wrist rests and the ability to raise or lower the device.

Wired or Wireless?

wireless keyboard
Nico De Pasquale Photography / Getty Images

As with mice, whether or not your keyboard is wired or wireless is a personal preference, and each type has its own pros and cons.

Wired keyboards limit your distance range, but you’ll never search for batteries or have to worry so much about connection mishaps. Wireless keyboards let you type while lounging on the couch and you’ll never get tangled in that pesky cord.

Most keyboards use either USB or Bluetooth technology for wireless connectivity. If you’re going the Bluetooth route, make sure your device has built-in Bluetooth technology. If it doesn’t, you will need to pick up a Bluetooth receiver and pair the device.

Logitech has a solar-powered keyboard on the market, but you can expect to pay an up-front premium for this type of technology. You can recoup the cost, though, by never again needing to purchase batteries.

Hotkeys and Media Keys

Computer keyboard
Jacques LOIC / Getty Images

Unless you’re purchasing a travel keyboard, most come with a variety of hot and media keys. Similar to keyboard shortcuts, these keys allow you to quickly perform tasks.

Media keys, which include tasks like volume and video control, are invaluable if you use your keyboard in the living room to control your media system.

Hotkeys let you complete certain tasks by pressing a combination of buttons, and many keyboards replace these combinations with one-touch buttons. If you’re a desk jockey, these hotkeys can save you oodles of time.

Size of the Keyboard

Directly Above Shot Of Person Hands Typing On small Computer Keyboard
Wathanyu Kanthawong / Getty Images

While it's true that most keyboards use the exact same keys, some are built for portability so you can easily pack it away when it's not in use.

Smaller keyboards typically have the number pad removed and may even have shorter keys or no spaces between the buttons. These are useful if the keyboard is for a tablet or you're always moving it from place to place.

Larger keyboards go hand-in-hand with ones that have more hotkeys and media keys. If you want a gaming keyboard that includes tons of media buttons, USB ports, etc., you're going to opt for a larger keyboard by default.

Decide on The Primary Reason You Use a Keyboard

People use keyboards in different ways. Gamers look for advanced features that an office worker, for example, just doesn't need or want. Determine the reason you need a keyboard, and you'll be able to narrow down the choices more quickly.

Gamer

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

If you're a gamer, look for 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 or streamed to their 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 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 designed specifically for media users; they somewhat resemble large remote controllers.​

Office Worker or Home Office User

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 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. 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.