In this Keyboard Buying Guide, we’ll explain some of the keywords you’re likely to see when shopping for a new keyboard, and include tips on what to look out for that makes each keyboard type best in specific situations whether it be for the home or office, for work or play.
Find the right size for your desk
Finding the right size for your space is the best place to start, buying a keyboard for the small desk has a very different set of wants vs a keyboard for use in the lounge or meeting room.
The keywords to look out for in terms of size are as below.
This keyboard puts 100+ keys at your command and this includes an integrated number pad, typically on the right side but you can get left-handed Numpad keyboards, which is great if you’re inputting numbers frequently or you need the maximum number of keys at your disposal.
Tenkeyless or TKL is the most common compact keyboard layout, This is just a full-size layout without the number pad, resulting in 87 or 88 keys with about 80% of the width of a full-size keyboard - alluding to the alternate names for TKL being percentage values like 87%, 80%, 75% and 60%.
Tenkeyless keyboards are a popular choice for a smaller deskspace or meeting room because the layout is often just missing the additional number pad on the right which though handy for entering numbers rapidly, isn’t essential or likely to be used in the boardroom environment. By giving up the number pad, you get several advantages: the keyboard takes up less space on your desk, giving more space for your mouse. The reduction in size also means a reduction in weight, making it easier to pass the keyboard around. With 75% keyboard most of the space saving is done by reducing the gap between different areas of the keyboard and placing keys like Insert, Delete and Home in a single column on the right side of the keyboard. 60%, on the other hand, removes the F-key row at the top and the arrow keys on the right, these missing keys are still accessible thanks to the Function (Fn) key, which is usually near the bottom right side of the keyboard. Generally, the F keys are accessible by pressing the corresponding number key (e.g. Fn + 1 = F1), arrow keys are accessible via WASD (Fn + W = Up).
Wired vs. Wireless
Wired keyboards have the advantage of being powered by the device it’s plugged into, wireless keyboards, of course, have the advantage of no cables, making it perfect for the lounge or boardroom.
For wired keyboards you can use our filter options as shown below to choose from a range of keyboards with the desired connection type, USB is the common wired options compatible with USB 2.0 all the way to USB 3.1, depending on which keyboards are in stock at PB when you’re searching you might also see filter options for PS2 and USB Type C in the list.
Wireless includes two different types but this can be separated into two distinct categories as well, Wireless / USB means keyboards which include a dongle that plugs into your PC for the wireless signal. Bluetooth means the keyboard is able to connect wirelessly only if the PC has Bluetooth functionality available.
Special Keys for Windows or Apple
Now is a good time to think about any special keys you might need. If you’re using a mac you may want a keyboard with an option or command key, instead of the usual CTRL+ALT buttons, if that's the case check out these Apple Keyboards.
How do you want the Keyboard to feel? What sounds will it make?
Mechanical vs. Membrane
Mechanical and membrane keyboards differ is in the way keystrokes are registered.
Membrane keyboards are very basic; all keys are connected with what are essentially pressure pads. You have a keycap and a spring under there that makes it go up and down, and when you push down on a key, it pushes down on a rubber dome that will flatten out and make a connection with a circuit board, telling the computer that a key has been pressed. The only way for your computer to know you have pressed a key is when the key cap has been pushed all the way to the bottom.
Mechanical switches, on the other hand, have individual mechanical mechanisms under every key that moves up and down to make a connection with its own circuitry. The actuation point, or the point where the computer knows the key has been pressed, is made inside the switch itself. So in most cases, you don't have to fully press the key all the way down, and also is most cases the key doesn’t even have to come all the way back up before you can make another keypress and have it register inside your computer.
Now, I say in most cases because the beauty of mechanical switches is that the consumer is given many options when it comes to various levels of resistance, tactile feedback and audible noise. These are all differentiated by colour to make things easier.
In your local PB Tech store, we have a little keypads setup in the keyboard departments with the six different colours of Cherry MX switches available to try out, which is by far the most common make of mechanical switch. These little boards are helpful because you can really feel the difference between them when they are all laid out in front of you.
Click vs. Tactile vs. Linear
For this section of buying a keyboard the noise each key type makes is really important, so please check out the video below to hear for yourself the difference between each type.
The three most common mechanical switches you will find are Cherry MX Blue, Brown and Red. The Cherry MX Blues are clicky, and require only 50grams of force to actuate. It has an audible click, and a tactile bump. So when you push the key down you will feel a little bump and hear the switch click, this is where the key actuates.
Cherry MX Browns are similar, they still have that same tactile bump you can feel but don’t have the audible click, making the switch feel similar but is much quieter.
Finally, the Cherry MX Reds have a smooth or linear switch, which means the key travels smoothly from top to bottom and you can't feel the actuation point of the switch like you can with the other two.
The Cherry MX Green, White and Black switches fall into the same categories as the 3 above.
The Green, like the blue, is audible with a tactile bump, but instead takes 80grams of force to hit the actuation point. Which makes the key feel stiffer.
The White is the same as the brown, tactile with no click but takes 85grams of force, which is considerably more, and the Black is linear like the red, but requires 60grams of force to actuate.
Someone who wants to focus mainly on typing will most likely prefer blue's or greens due to the tactile feel and the satisfaction of the click letting you know your key has been registered. Once you get used to it you can swiftly glide your fingers over the keys and use the audible click to let you know when to move onto the next. Improving speed and accuracy. Just note that these switches are quite loud, so if you're in an office environment the brown or white switches might be a little more courteous.
For gaming, most people tend to lean towards the browns or the reds depending on whether or not you want that tactile bump. The Cherry MX Reds actuation point and release are a lot closer together so you can bounce your finger in the middle of the switch for much faster key presses.
Now there are a few companies making their own switches and colours out there, but as long as you understand those 3 category’s the switches fall into (Clicky, Tactile and Linear) you will know what they should feel like.
For example, Razer Green switches are clicky and tactile, and take 50grams of force to actuate this makes them identical to Cherry MX blues. The only difference is the actuation point is slightly shorter on Razer’s Greens then Cherry MX Blues, so you only have to push down 1.9mm for the key to register compared the MX Blues 2.2mm.
Logitech G has options available in both the classic Cherry Switch types and also their own special designs named the ROMER-G switch, which provides us with shorter actuation points for faster response to movements, these are available in both Tactile and Linear versions with the tactile giving subtle bump feel during actuation while the linear keeps it smooth, making it ideal for fluid double tapping while gaming.
In the end it all comes down to the feel you prefer the most, and with clicky, where you'll be using it in consideration to noise.
Backlighting and RGB LED
Having LED lights on a keyboard first came about as a way to see the keys in the dark, and while that's still it's primary reason for use, many gaming keyboards now offer an excessive array of RGB lighting options both on the keys, and onboard, with patterns and effects that can dance to music or react in specific ways when programs are run - the most common uses being to use the RGB lighting to make the keys you're using light up in a special way so you can find them easily.
There are some exceptionally good software packages included with some brands like Logitech, Razer, SteelSeries & Cooler Master which has the ability to automatically highlight the keys you can use automatically when a game is run, and now you can even the keyboard LED react to events happening in the game, such as being chased by the Police in GTA V.
These software packages go well beyond just lighting modes too, if you’re a Windows 10 gamer you might want to disable the start button - certain keyboards also have these functions built into the hardware of the keyboard, so no software needs to be installed to program handy macros and access lighting controls, others have features enabled when a program is run on your PC.
We hope this guide helps you to choose the best keyboard for your needs, we'll continue adding more information to it as new keyboard designs and technology becomes available to us all!