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Types of Keyboards: How to Choose the Right One

Your laptop's built-in keyboard may not always be the best choice to suit your comfort or productivity needs. Find out which of the many types of keyboards — wired, wireless, ergonomic and more — fits your work style.

Updated March 18, 2020

Even though we no longer hear the click-clack of typewriter keys when we type on modern computers and laptops, it can still be immensely gratifying to feel our fingers flying across a keyboard when we are in the writing zone. In order to maximize your everyday typing experience, consider the wide range of keyboards now available. Typing comfort and convenient, efficient key layout are two main areas that may factor into your decision about which type of keyboard to purchase. Consider these different types of keyboards to meet your typing, comfort and convenience needs.

Different Options in Keyboards and Keypads

Computer keyboards typically can be grouped into two main categories: basic or extended keyboards. Within these two classes are many different types of keyboards, which offer a variety of features. Different types of keyboard technology also exist, such as scissor switch keyboards (common on notebooks and netbooks) and full press membrane keyboards (common for desktop computers). The different keyboard technologies allow for varying user experiences, such as how hard a key must be pressed to convey the message to type a character.

Qwerty Keyboards    

Designed in the likeness of old-fashioned typewriters, QWERTY is the most common keyboard layout. Generations of typists have come to know the QWERTY keyboard, and most students learn to type with this kind of keyboard layout.

Where It Excels

The QWERTY keyboard layout is comfortable, familiar and time-tested, ideal for everyday typing needs. If you are happy enough with your word-per-minute typing rate using QWERTY, you won't need to learn a new system on a keyboard with a different layout.

Choose This If:

You don't like change, and you're happy with your current typing experience. You can also feel good about having a QWERTY keyboard on a shared family computer, as children usually first learn to type using this keyboard configuration.

Wired Keyboards    

Wired keyboards offer an affordable and effortless swap if you want to find a keyboard style that suits your needs.

Where It Excels

USB keyboards connect conveniently to an existing USB port. These add-on devices also have lower latency than their wireless counterparts.

Choose This If:

You can live without one of your USB ports long-term and appreciate the ability to draw from your computer's own power source rather than batteries that will eventually need to be replaced.    

Numeric Keypads    

Not all computers come with keyboards that include the number pad. The numeric keyboard is an easy solution for that.

Where It Excels

This convenient gadget bridges the gap between a built-in minimalist keyboard and what you really need to accomplish your work.

Choose This If:

Your existing keyboard is missing the number pad, and you want to have easy access to numbers and mathematical functions on demand.

Ergonomic Keyboards

Ergonomic keyboards refer to any keyboards designed to reduce strain on the body from typing. These kinds of keyboards are often laid out so that you can rest your hands in a more comfortable, natural position as you type.

Where It Excels

Because ergonomic keyboards are designed to reduce strain on your hands, arms and wrists while you type, they can be a great choice for those concerned about posture, hand, arm or shoulder pain, or the possibility of developing typing-related medical conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome.

Choose This If:

You care about reducing strain on your body while you type, and you’re willing to spend a bit more for a comfortable typing experience.

Wireless Keyboards    

Relying on a radio frequency antenna or infrared to keep you connected, wireless RF keyboards offer a bit of freedom in your computing activities.

Where It Excels

Wireless keyboards offer flexibility to move about while working on a computer without the clutter of excess wires. Because these keyboards are wire-free, they can also be a great option to take on-the-go because there won’t be any cords that can tangle in your work bag.

Choose This If:

You want the freedom of a wireless keyboard, but a pricier Bluetooth keyboard model seems too costly.

USB Keyboards

This variety of wireless keyboard connects to your PC using a small device called a dongle, which you plug into one of your laptop’s USB ports. The dongle transmits a signal between your laptop and the keyboard to enable wireless typing.

Where It Excels

Because a USB keyboard does not require WiFi or Bluetooth connectivity, that means you can connect it to your device at any time.

Choose This If:

You’re seeking an affordable wireless keyboard option that does not require internet connectivity to work. USB keyboards can be a great choice for those that want to take a keyboard on-the-go.

Bluetooth Keyboards    

A bit pricier than other wireless keyboard models, Bluetooth keyboards offer numerous features and benefits. As you might be able to guess by the name, these keyboards sync up with a laptop using Bluetooth connectivity.

Where It Excels

Bluetooth keyboards offer great flexibility with a sizable range of use and versatility. These keyboards also won’t tie up a USB port on your computer, meaning you can use that to connect to other devices.

Choose This If:

You are comfortable spending a bit more for a convenient keyboard that gives you untethered flexibility. With a Bluetooth keyboard, you also won’t have to worry about keeping track of a dongle; you can connect the keyboard to your laptop at any time without any additional equipment.

Magic Keyboards

Offered by Apple, the Magic Keyboard brings a polished look and rechargeable battery to the table. These Bluetooth-enabled keyboards connect to Mac computers automatically. As with any other Apple product, however, the “Magic” comes at a price; these are some of the most expensive everyday keyboards on the market.

Where It Excels

The Magic Keyboard works as efficiently as possible, offering good economy in the realm of battery power and conveniently pairs with your Mac automatically. For Mac lovers, Magic Keyboards can be a great choice as they’re designed for optimal functional with your beloved Apple computers.

Choose This If:

You have a Bluetooth-enabled Mac and a fondness for simple, sleek computer accessories.

Backlit Keyboards    

An ambient glow from your keyboard makes it easy to type in the dark or in low-lighting, and can also deliver a stunning “wow” factor.

Where It Excels

Backlit keyboards bring radiance to your gaming and computer work in both wired and wireless designs. While backlit keys may not be a necessity, they can be a great option for those with vision issues as they make it easy to see all of the keys on the keyboard.

Choose This If:

You want maximum visibility on your keyboard, and the ability to see your keys in low-lighting. Backlit keyboards are also an aesthetically-pleasing option to take your online gaming to the next level.

Gaming Keyboards

These types of keyboards are designed for avid PC gamers, offering extra durable and the quickest key response times for split-second action.

Where It Excels

Gaming keyboards are designed to be used for long sessions so you can enjoy your favorite games without interruption. These keyboards often incorporate enhanced elements from other keyboard types, such as backlit keys and ergonomic configurations.

Choose This If:

You want a keyboard that’s specifically designed to meet your gaming needs, and you’re willing to pay the price for that optimal experience. Game on!

Flexible Keyboards

These keyboards offer the same features as standard QWERTY keyboards, but they’re designed for maximum portability. Flexible keyboards are usually made of silicon, so you can roll them up and take them anywhere.

Where It Excels

Flexible keyboards are specially designed for easy transport and durability. The silicon material also means they’re easy to clean and resistant to water and dust.

Choose This If:

You want a keyboard that you can take with you wherever you go without fear of damaging it.

Membrane Keyboards

Membrane keyboards are designed without space between the individual keys. The keys are pressure-sensitive, with the different characters outlined on a flat surface.

Where It Excels

Membrane keyboards can be quite affordable as the materials used to make them are inexpensive. They’re also quieter relative to mechanical keyboards, which makes them a great choice for users that don’t enjoy the “click-clack” of keys.

Choose This If:

You’re looking for a quieter typing experience on your keyboard that’s still affordable.

Mechanical Keyboards

Mechanical keyboards feature separate keys and use individual springs and switches to deploy each key.

Where It Excels

Mechanical keyboards can be sturdier than standard membrane keyboards. They’re also a great choice for gamers or fast typists who prefer the physical sensation of keys pressing into the keyboard.

Choose This If:

You want a tactile typing experience on your keyboard, and you’re willing to invest a bit more to make that happen.

Deciding on the Best Keyboard for Your Needs    

When computer shopping, few things can be as frustrating as ending up with a brand-new laptop with a noticeably awkward keyboard. Whether you don't like the key layout or you want to try to improve your productivity, a new keyboard can offer plenty of benefits. Thankfully, today's technology makes it easy to connect a different keyboard to your computer through Bluetooth or a wireless USB connection. Finding the right keyboard may take a little time and research, but the results are sure to be worth it.

Sometimes the easiest way to choose a keyboard is to go with what you know and purchase one that carries the same features and layout as a recent model that you had and liked. Other times, it's best to dig deep into the possibilities and consider all the available options. Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you work to determine the best keyboard for you:

1.    First things first: Do you prefer a wireless keyboard or a wired one?

2.    What are your main tasks to complete using this keyboard?

3.    Is the keyboard compatible with your existing computer system?

4.    Will you be most comfortable using a standard, gaming or ergonomic keyboard?

5.    Are there any essential features needed, such as a touchpad or special function keys to create shortcuts?

6.    What is the budget for this new keyboard?

Consider the different types of keyboards and how each improves your user experience. Remember that many keyboards are designed with specific functions in mind, such as gaming keyboards, or ergonomic keyboards that work well for those who do a large amount of typing, like writers and programmers. Keep all of these aspects in mind, and be sure to read through some reviews to understand your options and the performance you can expect from any given model on the market.

What are some keyboard options?