Choosing a computer keyboard

There are dozens of keyboard models on the market -- many of which have seemingly similar model numbers and features -- and choosing one is a highly personal decision. To help narrow down your choices, it's best to determine the type of keyboard you want up front. Some keyboards are sold separately, while others are packaged with companion mice. Keyboards come with varying tactility, so each feels different.

As far as keyboard layout, most adopt a standard QWERTY arrangement, which refers to the first six letters in the top left row; others split the keyboard in two halves for a more ergonomic design. Most keyboards come with a numeric keypad on the right, although a few drop that feature for a smaller footprint. For example, Apple has settled on small, wireless QWERTY keyboards without number pads for their most recent iMac revision. Beyond that, here are some tips reviewers offer about shopping for a computer keyboard:

  • Ensure the keyboard software is compatible with your operating system. Many keyboards feature programmable keys and other special functions that can only be customized by downloading the latest version of the operating system.
  • Know what type of computer port you have. Many keyboards are USB-only, so make sure you have a free USB port on your PC. If you don't have a free USB port, some basic keyboards still connect with an older PS/2 port. You can also get an inexpensive USB to PS/2 adapter.
  • Wired or wireless keyboard? Unless you find a wireless keyboard that offers rechargeable batteries, you may go through several sets per year, making wired keyboards the more cost-effective option. In addition, wireless keyboards occasionally lose connection with the host PC or have a flaky Bluetooth configuration. But home theater enthusiasts and users who need more flexibility find wireless keyboards more convenient. Most gamers, however, prefer wired keyboards for quick and reliable connectivity.
  • If you are considering a specialized ergonomic keyboard, try it at home. Some of the more unusual models have a steep learning curve, which is why it's best to try the keyboard out at home before fully committing to a purchase. Make sure the retailer has a generous return policy, as it can take more than a brief store visit to find an ergonomic keyboard that's comfortable for you.
  • If you need a keyboard and a mouse, consider a desktop set. These cost less than buying each separately. However, reviewers say that often one component or the other in a set is a subpar performer.

Back to top