As computer keyboards evolve to cater to every need, be it a sleek design or a slew of multimedia functions, shopping for them has grown increasingly complicated. Do you need a wired computer keyboard or a wireless model? What’s Dvorak, and is it for you? Computer keyboards are subjective tools, and what feels good for one person may be uncomfortable for another. Pronto’s Computer Keyboard Buying Guide will outline what keyboards are available and help you choose the one that’s best for your needs.
Wired computer keyboards cost less, and you never have to worry about power or signal interruption. Choose a wireless keyboard for media center applications, multiuse workspaces and large desks that force you to keep the keyboard far from your PC. Look for a recharging dock or purchase rechargeable batteries.
Wired computer keyboards connect to your computer by USB or PS/2 ports. Check your PC for available ports to determine whether you’ll need an adaptor. Wireless keyboards use Radio Frequency (RF), Bluetooth or Infrared (IR) signals to connect to a receiver. Bluetooth keyboards should have at least a 30-foot range, RF keyboards should have at least a 15-foot range and IR keyboards have a range of 5-10 feet. Note that IR requires a direct line of sight between the keyboard and your PC.
QWERTY is the standard computer keyboard layout, but studies have proven that Dvorak keyboards are faster once you get past the learning curve. There is no set definition for an ergonomic keyboard, but the most advanced of these use split designs and move some keys around. If you’re choosing a nontraditional layout, make sure the retailer you buy from has a no-hassle return policy in case you’re not comfortable with the keyboard.
Multimedia keyboards are the best choice for users who want simple one-button solutions to check e-mail, browse the Web, open applications or play videos and music. Gamers should choose gaming keyboards that provide special keys that can be programmed for 10 to 50 in-game commands for more efficient playing, and some of these are built around the needs of specific types of games.
A spill-proof keyboard resists drinks and crumbs, but the low keys or sealed keypads may be challenging to use. Look for backlit keyboards or specific keys if you’ll be using the computer keyboard in dim light for gaming or multimedia. Consider programmable buttons that can be mapped to special commands, such as Cut, Paste and Copy in Microsoft Office. Look for wireless keyboards with power-save features and on/off buttons.
A proprietary wireless standard that uses defined frequencies for communication between devices. Bluetooth-enabled devices are compatible with one another right out of the box, requiring no additional setup.
Named after its inventor, Dvorak is an alternate computer keyboard layout designed for faster typing. Though less common, the Dvorak layout is preferred by programmers and network administrators, and studies have shown that these keyboards are more efficient for those who master the layout.
Infrared, a wireless communication method that uses invisible beams of light to exchange information between devices. Infrared requires a direct line of sight between two devices to operate.
The feel of a computer keyboard when you push down on its keys. Soft keypads and light-touch keys are said to have a mushier feel than high keys similar to those found on typewriters.
A dedicated port for a computer keyboard or mouse found on many PCs. These connections are slowly being replaced by USB.
The standard computer keyboard design, named for the first six alphabetical characters in the top-left row. QWERTY keyboards were designed to keep quick typists from jamming mechanical typewriters by slowing down their hands. Although faster layouts, such as Dvorak, are available, most people still learn on QWERTY keyboards.
Radio Frequency, a wireless communication method that uses low-frequency radio waves to exchange information between connected devices. RF devices typically require channel selection and tuning to operate, and while they do not require a direct line of sight, the signal can be interrupted by dense wood, concrete, brick or stone.
Universal Serial Bus, the common standard for connecting wired devices to computers. USB passes both data and power through the connection, allowing features such as lights to operate from the PC’s main power.
The first question to answer when shopping for a computer keyboard is whether you want a wired or a wireless keyboard. Wired keyboards are the most cost-effective option, but wireless computer keyboards are a better choice for Media Center applications (where the user wants to sit across the room and still control the computer), workspaces that need to be flexible and large workspaces where your computer keyboard is far from your computer.
If you choose a wireless computer keyboard, then pay attention to battery life. Some wireless computer keyboards include a charging dock that powers up built-in rechargeable batteries when the keyboard’s not in use. Less-expensive wireless computer keyboards may run on disposable batteries, and you’ll save money in the long run by investing in rechargeable batteries and a charger for these models.
Wired computer keyboards connect to your computer through a USB or PS/2 port. Before shopping for a computer keyboard, make sure you know what port type you have available. USB ports are faster than PS/2, which makes USB a better choice for gamers who need quick response. Adaptors are available to convert USB to PS/2, and some keyboards will include the adaptor at no extra charge.
If you choose a wireless computer keyboard, there are three wireless protocols to consider: Radio Frequency (RF), Bluetooth and Infrared (IR). Bluetooth computer keyboards have a range of around 30 feet, although some extended-signal models may go as far as 60 feet. Bluetooth computer keyboards do not require a direct line of sight connection, and are less prone to interference than RF computer keyboards. If you have a Bluetooth-enabled PC, these computer keyboards will work right out of the box. If not, you may find Bluetooth connections complicated to set up.
RF computer keyboards provide an average range of about 15 feet, and those using 2.4GHz band increase that range to about 30 feet. Many technologies and appliances, such as televisions, cordless telephones and music systems work on RF frequencies, so you may need to try several RF channels to find one that’s free of interference. RF doesn’t require a direct line of sight to its receiver, but dense wood or stone desks may block the signal.
IR computer keyboards typically require a direct line-of-sight connection and have a range of only 5-10 feet. They are not prone to any interference if the line of sight is clear, which can be a problem on cluttered desktops.
Computer keyboards come in a variety of styles, from the basic, budget keyboard for typing to multimedia, gaming and ergonomically designed models. All computer keyboards have varying degrees of operating noise and sensitivity to touch, and some users prefer highly sensitive keys to those that require as much pressure as typewriter keys. Until you try a keyboard in your home, there’s no way to be sure that it’s quiet and sensitive enough, so buy from a retailer with a no-hassle return policy.
There are two types of computer keyboard layouts: QWERTY and Dvorak. QWERTY uses the traditional typewriter layout that most people know, but Dvorak keyboards are favored by many programmers and network administrators. Studies have proven that Dvorak keyboards are faster, but there is a definite learning curve when switching from QWERTY to Dvorak. Dvorak keyboards are harder to find and may be significantly more expensive.
There are no real guidelines as to what makes a computer keyboard ergonomic. Some manufacturers put a wrist guard on their computer keyboards and call them ergonomic, while others split the keyboards, move the keys, and adjust the keyboard angle. True split-style ergonomic keyboards require an adjustment period, and you may need to try a few models to find the one that’s best for you. Again, buy from a retailer with a liberal return policy.
Consider choosing a computer keyboard customized for a specific task. Multimedia keyboards are the best choice for people who do a lot of Internet surfing or who use their computers as media centers and want to access them remotely for music or video applications. These computer keyboards come with specialty keys that can be programmed to check e-mail, launch programs, control volume or navigate software.
Gamers should choose a gaming keyboard. These have unique keys that can be mapped for anywhere from 10 to 50 in-game commands. Match the layout of gaming keyboards with the types of games that you play, as some models are built for the specific needs of shooters and role-playing games.
If you eat or drink near your PC, choose a spill-proof computer keyboard—it will last longer than traditional computer keyboards. These computer keyboards have either low keys or a sealed keypad surface, which is unappealing to those who prefer typewriter-style computer keyboards.
Internal lighting is becoming increasingly common, especially in gaming keyboards. Look for general back lighting if you want the entire keyboard illuminated or choose a computer keyboard that only lights a few common keys.
Some computer keyboards offer standard shortcut buttons for Office applications, such as cut, copy and paste. If you’re shopping for a wireless computer keyboard, look for on/off buttons or a power save feature that turns off the transmitter when the keyboard is not in use.
Computer keyboard and mouse packages are common at the bargain level. These are a good choice if you’re not too demanding, but advanced users will want to purchase a computer keyboard and mouse separately to get the best possible performance from both.