How to Choose a Computer Keyboard

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A computer is much more than a typewriter with a screen, so a computer keyboard needs to be more than a set of letter and number keys. A specialized computer keyboard can give gamers an edge, simplify your Web browsing or just make typing e-mails faster and more comfortable.

Wired or Wireless?
The first question to answer when shopping for a computer keyboard is whether you want a wired or a wireless keyboard. Wired keyboards are the most cost-effective option, but a wireless computer keyboard reduces desktop clutter and is a better choice for Media Center applications (where your computer controls home entertainment), workspaces that need to be flexible and large workspaces where your computer keyboard is far from your computer.

If you choose a wireless computer keyboard, pay attention to battery life. Some wireless computer keyboards include a charging dock that powers up built-in rechargeable batteries when the keyboard is not in use. If you choose a less-expensive computer keyboard that runs on batteries, go green and save money by investing in rechargeable batteries and a charger.

Connectivity
Wired computer keyboards connect to your computer through a USB or PS/2 port. Before shopping for a computer keyboard, make sure you know what port type you have available. USB ports are faster than PS/2, which makes USB a better choice for gamers who need quick response. Adaptors are available to convert USB to PS/2, and some keyboards will include the adaptor at no extra charge.

If you choose a wireless computer keyboard, there are three wireless protocols to consider: Radio Frequency (RF), Bluetooth and Infrared (IR). Bluetooth computer keyboards have a range of around 30 feet, although some extended-signal models may go as far as 60 feet. Bluetooth computer keyboards do not require a direct line of sight connection and are less prone to interference than RF computer keyboards. If you have a Bluetooth-enabled PC, these computer keyboards will work right out of the box. If not, you may find Bluetooth connections complicated to set up.

RF computer keyboards provide an average range of about 15 feet, and those using the 2.4GHz band increase that range to about 30 feet. Many technologies and appliances, such as televisions, cordless telephones and music systems work on RF frequencies, so you may need to try several RF channels to find one that’s free of interference. RF doesn’t require a direct line of sight to its receiver, but dense wood or stone desks may block the signal.

IR computer keyboards require a direct line-of-sight connection and have a range of only 5-10 feet. They are not prone to interference if the line of sight is clear, but keeping it clear can be a challenge on cluttered desktops.

Computer Keyboard Design
All computer keyboards have varying degrees of operating noise and sensitivity to touch, and some users prefer highly sensitive keys to those that require as much pressure as typewriter keys. Until you try a keyboard in your home, there’s no way to be sure that it’s quiet and sensitive enough, so buy from a retailer with a no-hassle return policy.

There are two common types of computer keyboard layouts: QWERTY and Dvorak. QWERTY uses the traditional typewriter layout, which was originally designed to slow down fast typists so that mechanical typewriters wouldn’t jam. Dvorak keyboards, favored by programmers and network administrators, improve the position of letter and symbol keys. Once they get past the learning curve, most people find a Dvorak computer keyboard faster than a QWERTY one.

There are no real guidelines as to what makes a computer keyboard ergonomic. Some manufacturers put a wrist guard on a computer keyboard and call it ergonomic, while others split the keyboards, move the keys and adjust the keyboard angle. True split-style ergonomic keyboards require an adjustment period, and you may need to try a few models to find the one that’s best for you.

Specialized Computer Keyboards
Consider choosing a computer keyboard customized for a specific task. Multimedia keyboards are the best choice for people who do a lot of internet surfing or who use their computers as media centers and want to access them remotely for music or video applications. These computer keyboards come with specialty keys that can be programmed to check e-mail, launch programs, control volume or navigate software.

Gamers should choose a gaming keyboard. These have unique keys that can be mapped for anywhere from 10 to 50 in-game commands. Match the layout of gaming keyboards with the types of games that you play, as some models are built for the specific needs of shooters and role-playing games.

Extra Features
If you eat or drink near your PC, choose a spill-proof computer keyboard-it will last longer than traditional computer keyboards. These computer keyboards have either low keys or a sealed keypad surface, which can be unappealing to those who prefer a computer keyboard with a typewriter feel.

Internal lighting is becoming increasingly common, especially in gaming keyboards. Look for general back lighting if you want the entire keyboard illuminated or choose a computer keyboard that lights only a few common keys.

Some computer keyboards offer standard shortcut buttons for Office applications, such as cut, copy and paste. If you’re shopping for a wireless computer keyboard, look for on/off buttons or a power save feature that turns off the transmitter when the keyboard is not in use.

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