Why Buy a Wireless Keyboard?
Many consumers simply stick with whatever keyboard came with their desktop, but there are benefits to choosing the right keyboard. The keyboard is the second most used computer peripheral. Think about it: You sit down at your computer, turn it on and your hands go right to the keyboard, often staying there until you leave your desk. Because of this, it makes sense to choose the best possible keyboard for you.
Ideally, you need a wireless keyboard that has fast, reliable performance and the right feature set to make your gaming or work sessions more efficient. The keyboard you choose should also have an ergonomic design to protect the long-term health of your joints and nerves, and it should be comfortable to use in the short term. For more information, read our articles about wireless keyboards.
What to Look for in a Wireless Keyboard
Many people just don't realize how much the right keyboard can improve performance, whether they are using it to type important documents or plough through enemies in games. If you're going to invest in a new keyboard, you need to make a few key decisions, such as whether you want a Bluetooth or radio frequency (RF) model, what type of key switches you want, and which ergonomic features you need.
Connectivity is one of the primary considerations when buying a new wireless keyboard. It determines how the keyboard interacts with your computer and whether you can connect other peripherals to the keyboard rather than to the computer.
RF or Bluetooth
Most wireless desktop keyboards connect to your computer via 2.4GHz radio frequency. You simply take a tiny USB dongle and plug it into an available USB port on your desktop. These plug-and-play keyboards are easy to set up and generally have better battery life than Bluetooth keyboards, with the exception of Bluetooth 4.1 low-energy standard.
Yes, RF wireless keyboards take up an extra USB port and can be subject to interference, but they perform well and come at a reasonable price. In addition, they usually have secure 128-bit encryption to ensure your keystrokes can't be read. Some models, like
those in the Logitech Wireless Desktop and Logitech Illuminate lines boast compatibility with Unifying technology. This lets you connect up to six wireless devices on a single Unifying receiver – you plug in the single tiny dongle receiver and can then use a keyboard, mouse, headset and three other wireless peripherals without plugging in additional dongles. Keyboards that use 2.4GHz wireless technology are compatible with more computers than Bluetooth keyboards.
New Bluetooth keyboards may not be backward compatible with some older systems. Even if the old computer has some form of Bluetooth support, it may not support newer Bluetooth standards, so it's important that you check compatibility before purchasing a Bluetooth keyboard. These models aren't plug and play. Instead, you have to go through a number of steps to successfully pair your keyboard with your computer. While it's a reasonably simple process, it's not quite as easy setting up an RF keyboard, and it's a more involved than pairing a Bluetooth device to your cell phone.
Bluetooth keyboards are often more compact than RF models, making them portable. Additionally, Bluetooth models are popular with those who want to connect their keyboards to a range of devices, including tablets, game consoles and even cell phones.
USB pass-throughs are USB ports on the keyboard, much like those found on your computer. You can use these pass-through connectors to connect USB peripherals like flash drives, headsets and a wired mouse. While it typically isn’t a deal breaker if a computer doesn’t have pass-throughs, they keep your desk clear, and you don’t have to use an external USB hub.
Some keyboards have headset or headphone and microphone ports. When you hook your headset to your keyboard rather than your PC, you have more reach and the peripherals are easier to maneuver, since your keyboard is closer to your body than your computer tower.
Many people don't know there's any difference, but there are three distinct types of key switches. Key switches sit under every key cap on a keyboard. The type of key switch you choose directly influences the usability, feedback, responsiveness, lifespan and durability of your keyboard.
Silicone dome key switches are usually found on budget keyboards that come as part of a standard desktop bundle. Beneath the keys there is a silicone membrane, under which lays a series of small domes, one located beneath every key cap.
While silicone dome keyboards usually cost less than other types and are more than adequate for light use, they lack sensitivity. Because of their construction, you have to fully depress each and every key to register the keystroke, which can significantly slow down typing speed. When you're involved in a serious bout of button-mashing gaming or otherwise need to make a quick succession of precise commands or button sequences, you may find yourself frustrated if you don't press every key hard enough and end up not registering a quarter of your strokes.
In addition, silicone dome key switches don’t provide any tactile feedback, though some soft models do provide quiet audible feedback. Good quality silicone domes are suitable for light to moderate users.
Scissor switches are the middle ground between dome and mechanical switches. Good quality models, like some HP wireless keyboards, provide tactile feedback – this lets you know when your keystroke registers. This can speed up touch typing, gaming and general productivity.
Scissor switches have a central plunger and a scissor-style durable plastic switch beneath each key, and it depresses to register your keystroke as you press a key. These keyboards tend to have low-profile keys for shallow typing. Because of their switch construction, each time you press a key, the pressure is spread evenly over the surface of the key and the switch beneath, which helps to maximize lifespan. These keyboards are popular choices among all types of users who want durable, reliable, long-lasting and affordable keyboards.
Mechanical keyboards, like the wireless Razer Turret models, are the choice of power users. Gamers, touch-typists and heavy-duty daily users, along with general users who prefer the look, feel and typing experience, choose mechanical keyboards. Beneath each key cap is a spring-loaded key post. This makes the keys particularly sensitive, and they require only light key presses to register strokes. Their responsiveness improves keystroke or typing speed.
As you press each key, you get tactile feedback, and some models provide audible feedback in the form of the old-school clack sound as you press each key. Although mechanical wireless keyboards are often more expensive than other types, they have long lifespans, are reliable and responsive, and the keys and keycaps are easy and inexpensive to replace.
While most keyboards have the standard QWERTY layout, some models have a range of other keys to improve performance.
Many keyboards, such as those found in Microsoft’s Desktop and Sculpt series, have special function keys. You can find models that have media player controls, a browser launch button and search bar launch, as well as screen adjustments and volume controls. Some also include keys that open specific programs like your calendar, calculator, email and word processor.
Not every wireless keyboard features a full 10-key number pad, so consider whether or not you need one. If you enter a lot of numeric data, for example, a built-in number pad is an important feature. You can purchase a separate number pad if you want to quickly enter numerals while still having a compact, portable keyboard.
Programmable keys are a nice addition. They let you set macros or commands to specific hot keys. For example, you can take your gaming to the next level by setting a complicated combo series involving eight separate keystrokes to a single hot key to deliver an awe-inspiring mega beatdown combo that sends your enemies reeling and gives you a definite edge in your favorite game. Alternatively, you can set each hot key to open a different program, select and copy text, paste text, launch your choice of browser, or anything else that improves productivity and speeds up tasks. Programmable keys aren't strictly essential, but they do make life a little easier, and a good quality wireless gaming keyboard always has at least a handful of programmable keys.
With extras like an ergonomic layout for comfort and ghostly blue backlighting that is both fashionable and functional, there are a variety of different features to consider when buying a wireless keyboard.
Wireless ergonomic keyboards are designed for comfort and the long-term health and well-being of your joints and nerves. There are differing levels of ergonomic design, from lightly curved boards with wrist rests to split-board types with misaligned keys and odd shapes. Each one aims to keep your hands and arms in a neutral position, which improves blood flow and reduces musculoskeletal stress. While some keyboards, like the Microsoft Sculpt wireless keyboard line, are laid out like regular keyboards with a lightly sculpted shape and foldable rear legs, others with more unfamiliar designs can take a while to get used to.
While ghosting happens to anyone who types quickly, it mainly happens to gamers and touch-typists. When you make a number of keystrokes simultaneously or very quickly, one or more of them may not register, and if you're a gamer, your opponent can quickly vanquish you. That's ghosting. This is annoying for those who need to use their keyboards with any speed. To avoid this, look for a keyboard that can handle between five and 10 simultaneous keystrokes. Gamers may find they only need a keyboard with an anti-ghosting zone over the WASD/QEZC keys.
Polling rate is a feature primarily used by gamers. It's the frequency with which the keyboard communicates with the computer. As standard, most keyboards have a polling rate of 125Hz, which means that the keyboard touches base with the computer 125 times per second, and this is adequate for most tasks. Serious gamers require a higher polling rate so that every keystroke is accurately logged in a precise manner. In this instance, look for a polling rate of 500 to 1,000Hz for the best results.
Profiles aren't essential, but they are nice to have. If your keyboard supports profiles, it lets you set different sets of macros. For example, you could have a whole set of hot keys or macros stored specifically for Microsoft Word or Excel functions to speed up your word processing or spreadsheet tasks. Then, when you're in another program creating a presentation or editing videos or images, you can switch to an entirely different profile with macros you've set for task-specific functions. If you're a gamer, you can set profiles for different games. For example, you can have your keys programmed for World of Warcraft on profile one, profile two set for The Elder Scrolls and profile three set for GTA V.
A backlit wireless keyboard isn't strictly necessary, but it does have a few uses, and it gives your setup a distinctive look. Some keyboards let you change the color and brightness of your backlighting and even set the lights to change color in sequence. Aside from the visual appeal, having a backlit keyboard helps you quickly get your fingers back in the right position if you're working or playing in low light.
There's more to choosing a new wireless keyboard than most people realize, and there are definite advantages to purchasing a feature-filled keyboard rather than continuing to use the low-end model that came bundled with your PC. Choose a wireless keyboard that has the combination of features, key switch type and connectivity options that best suit your needs. Whether you're an avid gamer, a writer, a business professional or a transcriptionist, the right wireless keyboard can make all the difference to your performance.