Keyboard Types: The Complete Guide
It has been a while since we graduated from typewriters to computer keyboards. However, our basic concept of a keyboard is still much the same. But this humble input device has evolved a lot over the years. And now, we have several different types of keyboards to choose from to meet our needs.
Today, when we buy a computer or a laptop, we get the keyboard with it by default. But with several different types of keyboards to choose from, it makes sense to consider buying a separate keyboard apart from the default keyboard. In this article, we will see each type of keyboard and its pros and cons.
Membrane Keyboards are the most commonly found keyboards. These are low-cost keyboards. They usually come inbuilt on laptops. If you are buying a desktop computer, the default keyboard is the membrane keyboard. It is a noiseless keyboard.
It features less to no space between individual keys. The ‘keys’ are outlined and printed on a flat surface. They are sensitive to pressure. They have outlines and the symbols are printed on them. When pressed, the keystroke is registered. Membrane keyboards have a short lifespan. They are also difficult to clean. These keyboards have no ‘N-key rollover‘. This means they can only register one keystroke at a time. It does not support multiple keys being pressed at the same time.
- No noise
- Low cost
- No N-key Rollover
- Short lifespan
- Difficult to clean
Chiclet keyboard is another name for island-style keyboards. They feature small, square-shaped keys made from rubber or plastic. These keyboards are what you usually see in laptop keyboards. They are extremely easy to use. They have a low profile and are sleek.
The keys are naturally comfortable to use. You don’t need to exert too much pressure to use this keyboard. Even though there is a click when you press the keys, it is a very low sound. Thus, you do get tactile feedback when pressing the keys but it is not too loud. These keyboards are relatively cost-effective and are quite efficient.
- Convenient and easy to use
- Susceptible to damage due if liquid is spilled
Mechanical Keyboards are the sturdy keyboards of the 1980s. They are made from high-quality plastic switches and other moving parts. Each key has its own individual unit. The moving parts mainly consist of a mechanical switch under a key. When the key is pressed, the switch is in ON position. The circuit is completed and the keystroke is registered.
Mechanical keyboards are expensive than regular keyboards. The ‘click-clack’ sound that comes from the keys is their distinguishing trait. Every time a key is pressed and released, the sound is heard. This sound helps users to recognize that the key has been pressed. This makes for better typing efficiency. It prevents errors in typing and mistyping.
Mechanical keyboards are very easy to use. They also provide great comfort. They can register every key pressed even if multiple keys are pressed together. These are durable keyboards. They are also easy to clean and maintain. They are a good choice for users who need some tactile feedback. Mechanical keyboards are highly durable and have a lifespan of up to about 50 million key presses. They are a solid investment for users looking for quality.
- Rugged keyboards
- Good comfort without pressure on fingers
- More accurate typing
- Easy to clean and maintain
- Many mechanical keyboards have a click-clack sound which could be distracting in some cases
- High-end mechanical keyboards are expensive
Flexible Keyboards (Roll-Up Keyboards)
These keyboards, as the name suggests, are flexible. They are regular QWERTY keyboards. However, they are made from a pliable material such as silicone that makes them flexible. They can be placed as required and can be rolled up, too. This makes it easy for them to be stored in your briefcase when you are on the move. Thus, flexible keyboards are a good option if you are looking for portability.
Flexible keyboards usually have good ingress protection. This means they are resistant to water and dust. They are also easy to clean. Most keyboards are even washable and can be cleaned with soap. In addition to this, they are lightweight and compact. Thus, taking this keyboard with you while traveling is convenient.
The keyboards are thin and compact. However, they are quite durable. Unique printing technology is used to mark the keys with letters and symbols. The ink does not easily fade and remains intact for a long time.
- High portability
- High durability
- The typing experience is compromised
- No tactile feedback
- Damage to one key needs replacement of the entire keyboard
A wireless keyboard offers good convenience without bothering with the clutter of wires. It makes it easy to move about while working. It gives the convenience of being able to work from any angle. Also, it reduces the strain of sitting in one place while working. They are compatible with desktop monitors as well as laptops. They are a good option to use with tablets, too. Wireless keyboards use Radio Frequency (RF) such as WiFi, Bluetooth, or Infrared.
Wireless Keyboards are all about portability. However, it is important to consider other factors that go into its usability. Wireless keyboards are built to be compact so that they can become more portable. This sometimes results in keys that are too small. Sometimes, the keyboard itself might be a little too compact for comfort. If you are used to bigger keyboards, for instance, you have bigger hands, this becomes an important consideration.
The below types of keyboards are all wireless.
- USB Keyboards
- Bluetooth Keyboards
- Magic Keyboards
USB Keyboards use Radio Frequency (RF) technology. It uses a transmitter and receiver pair for the keyboard to connect with the computer. The radio transmitter is inside the keyboard. The receiver is in the form of a small USB dongle device that connects to the keyboard. The device needs to be connected to the keyboard for the entire duration of usage.
These are easy-to-use keyboards with no installation required. They are easily compatible with different laptops and desktop computers. The connection is stable. However, you need to make sure you keep the keyboard within the prescribed range from the computer.
A USB keyboard can be a regular keyboard as well as a mechanical keyboard. The keyboard runs on batteries. These keyboards are not very expensive. However, the keyboards that are priced slightly towards the higher end provide a great comfortable experience.
- Plug and play system
- Stable connection
- Does not require internet connectivity
Bluetooth keyboards cost more than USB keyboards. The Bluetooth keyboards gained popularity during the last decade. It was a favored option because of the portability it provides. Bluetooth keyboards provide a good wireless connection between the device and the keyboard.
It is a very convenient option if you are looking for more mobility. Bluetooth keyboards are available for Android, macOS, iOS, Windows, and Linux. However, it is important to check the compatibility of the keyboard with your device. Not all keyboards are compatible with every operating system. Also, the function keys on the keyboard might be different depending on which OS it supports. Hence, care needs to be taken to check the compatibility before buying.
- No clutter of wires
- Stable connectivity
- Compatibility with the OS needs to be checked
- Cost is more compared to USB keyboards
Magic Keyboards are Bluetooth keyboards made by Apple. But they deserve a special mention because of their unique features. These keyboards are compatible with iOS and macOS. They have a built-in rechargeable battery. The battery life is good and the connectivity is very stable. The keyboard connects in mere seconds.
These keyboards are sleek and very thin thus giving them a very classy look. The keys have a low profile making them portable. Also, they are quite lightweight. The typing experience is one of the best when it comes to wireless keyboards. The keys are very responsive making for a superior typing experience.
- Stylish sleek design
- Great battery backup
- Pairs within seconds
- Highly responsive keys
- Comes with a high price tag
Ergonomic keyboards are made especially to reduce the strain on hands while typing. They have a layout that encourages comfort. It helps keep the hands in as natural a position as possible. The hands can be in a comfortable resting position while typing.
These keyboards are believed to reduce the risk of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and other injuries due to repetitive stress. However, there is no medical evidence for it. But, people who use ergonomic keyboards claim to experience much less stress to the fingers and wrists. There is a definite improvement in posture and less strain to the shoulders and back, too.
For those who need to use the keyboard for a long time, an ergonomic keyboard can be a good choice. However, since the layout differs from the regular keyboards, it might take some time to get used to these keyboards. Another thing to consider is the cost of these keyboards. They are much more expensive than their regular counterparts.
Switching to an ergonomic keyboard is not just a technical decision. It is a step towards better health. Having said that, choosing the right keyboard is key. Ergonomic keyboards try to minimize the strain on wrists as you reach out to keys that are on the farther side of the keyboard. It also has a tilt towards the side closest to you. Split keyboards (shown above) are also a type of Ergonomic Keyboards.
- Best typing comfort
- Reduces strain on fingers and wrists
- Improves posture
- Needs some getting used to
For avid PC gaming fans, specialized keyboards can be opted for. Gaming requires high precision and also usage for long duration. Thus, gaming keyboards are highly responsive and are made to be efficient during continuous use. Gaming keyboards draw from useful features of other keyboards such as having a backlight and being ergonomic.
Some gaming keyboards have only specific keys on them that are required for gaming. For example, only W, A, S, D, and the arrow keys. Graphics are also included in such keyboards. For the purpose of functionality, the keyboard can have all keys on it with W, A, S, D highlighted for convenient usage. It can also have a separate section for numeric keys for ease of use.
The standard QWERTY keyboards have a staggered layout. It is similar to the typewriters of the yesteryears. The Ortholinear Keyboards have a grid-like layout. It is usually a 12X4 matrix in which the keys are placed in straight lines. Since most keyboards are rectangular in shape, this layout makes the best use of the space. You can actually fit in more keys in the same area with an ortholinear layout.
The regular keyboards have keys that are arranged in a staggered manner. Also, certain keys such as ‘Enter’. Shift’, etc. take up more space than the others. Ortholinear keyboards have all keys of the same size. They have a naturally ergonomic design. Usually, ortholinear keyboards are mechanical keyboards.
These keyboards have keys that are placed closer together. This results in better typing speed. The layout is naturally comfortable for typing. With a good wrist pad to complement it, the ortholinear keyboard can compete well with ergonomic keyboards. It is a good option for people who have already developed issues due to long hours of typing on non-ergo keyboards.
However, since we have been using this layout for a long time, we have gotten used to it. Thus, the ortholinear layout might seem a little inconvenient at first. But once you get used to this layout you might notice that is a more comfortable way of typing.
- More keys in less space
- Natural angles for typing
- Faster typing once you get used to the layout
- Getting used to the new layout takes time
Vertical Keyboards are not something you see every day. But they do exist and have their own unique advantages. The 3-D shape might look like something truly hi-fi. But these are humble input devices that work like just any other keyboard, as far as input is concerned.
The vertical design aims to reduce the strain on the hands by letting them approach the keyboard at a more natural angle. However, we are so used to a horizontal keyboard that this positioning might seem weird. Since the keyboard sides are placed vertically, you cannot really see the keys unless you lean in and take a look, one side at a time.
The makers have tried to solve this problem by providing two built-in mirrors. These are quite like the rearview mirrors in cars. However, with regular usage, you might find your way around the keys without having to use the mirrors. But not everybody is impressed with this whacky idea. But to each his own. You might need to try it to see if it works for you. Here’s a review video.
- Ergonomic design with a more natural angle for the hands
- Difficult to use
Not to be confused with one-handed keyboards, these keyboards are for left-handed people. However, they are a good option for other people, too, who find the layout more comfortable. In regular keyboards that have a dedicated numeric pad, it is usually on the right-hand side. This might not be comfortable for left-handed people.
The left-handed keyboard has the numeric keys the left. This is more comfortable for people with a dominant left hand. It can also prove to be a good choice for people with an injured hand who are looking to make some data entry.
- Good for left-handed people
- Good for work that primarily involves entering numbers
These keyboards are smaller than the regular keyboards. But they have the functionality of regular-size keyboards. They are obviously great for portability. They are also a good accessory if you want to type on a tablet. Of course, they are compatible with laptops and desktop computers, too.
It has a slim and sleek design perfect for traveling. The full keyboard lets you do practically everything that you can do with a regular keyboard. However, the keys are much smaller. Though it cannot replace the comfort of a regular keyboard, it can definitely be a good accessory for use during travel.
- A small keyboard that is very portable
- Full-function keyboard
- Could be too small for fast typing
Thumb keyboards, too, are small keyboards. They are designed to be operated with the thumbs of both hands simultaneously. They are similar to the virtual keyboards that come with smartphones. These keyboards can also be likened to the QWERTY keypads that come with some slider mobile phones. They can be paired with a tablet or smartphone. They are also compatible with laptops and desktop computers when needed.
- Easy to operate
Foldable keyboards can be neatly folded after every use. This makes them a great option while traveling. It can be a good accessory for pairing with a smartphone or tablet when you want to type. When folded, the keyboard is roughly the size of a tablet.
These keyboards are often on the smaller side. However, they have all the keys on a regular keyboard. This functional keyboard is a great space-saver. It is slim in design. Thus even after folding it, the keyboard is compact enough.
- Compact keyboard
Laser Projection Keyboards
This type of keyboard trumps all kinds of keyboards in terms of portability. That’s because it can be created whenever you want! It is a virtual keyboard. The concept uses a small device to project an image of a virtual keyboard on a flat surface. It uses a red diode laser for the projection.
The device optically detects the movement of hands and fingers. It has a small infrared transmitter at the bottom. When your hands and fingers move through the infrared light, these movements are analyzed. Thus, when you ‘type’ using these virtual keyboards, the keystrokes are registered.
- Portable and convenient
- Keyboard on demand
- Due to the smooth surface, there is no tactile feedback
For those who love to play media on their computers, a multimedia keyboard is a great option. If you play music on your computer, the multimedia keyboard can give you the same functionality as a traditional CD player’s controls.
Typically, the extra keys are for volume control and track shipping. The keyboard also comes with background control. This means that even when you are working on something else, the multimedia buttons can be used to control the media. Some keyboards also feature the ‘mute‘ button to kill all sound immediately. Some variants also feature a button to instantly open or close the media player.
- Good functionality to play media in the background
One-handed keyboards are designed to be operated by one hand. They are a good choice for people who prefer to type using just one hand, for instance, senior citizens. It is also beneficial for people with disabilities or injuries which prevent them from using both hands while typing. This type of keyboard is also used for gaming purposes.
One-Handed Keyboards for Typing
One-handed keyboards for typing are typically smaller keyboards. This is so that people typing with one hand don’t have to move their fingers too much. There are also more user-friendly keyboards as shown above. These are especially for those who have to type a lot but can use only one hand for typing. The design is specially made to make one-handed typing faster and efficient.
- Good for typing fast using one hand
One-Handed Keyboards for Gaming
One-handed keyboards look like a full-size keyboard that has been cut into half. At first glance, they might not make much sense. But from a gaming perspective, they can have their own advantages. Once you get used to these keyboards, you can easily operate them without having to look at the keys.
As mentioned above, gaming keyboards need to have high precision and very responsive keys. This means expensive parts to make the keyboard efficient. However, gaming usually requires only specific keys. Thus, having only half a keyboard helps keep the costs in check. This is really the rationale behind having a one-handed keyboard.
- Economical cost for a premium keyboard
- Easy to use
- Not suitable for games that require keyboard shortcuts
When you use the keyboard, the keys should feel light and good to touch. Also, you should consider other factors such as the profile of the keys, backlight, the noise of the keyboard, and the overall size to suit the size of your hands. Choosing the right type of keyboard can go a long way in making your experience comfortable as well as increasing efficiency.