Choosing a keyboard for your PC may be quite a task given the various options and features that come with each model
“From day one, the wireless keyboard that came with my PC refused to co-operate. Now, I think it has typed the last letter. What are my options?”
Buying a keyboard for a PC is beginning to resemble buying the perfect car. A simple search shows a variety of categories, looks, features and price tags. There are no-nonsense machines built for banging away, and those with ergonomic designs for joint-stress relief. Start by asking:
Wired or wireless? “Wired, if you want trouble-free performance,” says Arun at a gadget store. “They are easy to set up, and don't suffer from frequency interference. You don't have to change batteries. Gamers prefer these for low latency and minimal lag.” But wireless connections allow me to move the keyboard around and keep my table uncluttered. However, the wireless keyboards on W7 computers seem to be flawless.
Soft or hard touch? “I use a KeyTronic keyboard with an integrated trackball located below the space bar,” says a gamer. “I operate it with either thumb.” He uses the “heavy” touch, since “touchpads don't work well for me even with “tap-to-click” features disabled.”
Silicone-dome, scissor or mechanical switches? Mechanical keyboards have spring-loaded switches that are “clacky”, durable and expensive — a favourite of keyboard enthusiasts. Budget keyboards (bundled with new desktop PCs) usually use silicone-dome switches. Their springiness makes for a soft, mushy feel as you press each key. The Logitech Washable Keyboard K310 uses this style because it's water-proof. But there’s no tactile feedback, complain users. And eventually, they lose their springiness and responsiveness. Some keyboards that adopt the chiclet-style keys use a scissor switch, which adds a mechanical stabiliser and a plunger for shorter key travel. These are more durable than a rubber dome, but more expensive.
USB dongle and Bluetooth
Companies give you their own USB dongle (plug-in-and-forget) to connect keyboard/mouse to their PC promising optimal battery life. They connect more than one keyboard/mouse of the same brand. Bluetooth frees the USB port, syncs with tablets/smartphones. But the battery life takes a beating, and the range is less than 30 feet.
Keyboard and O/S: “My Mac works with Linux, Microsoft doesn't,” says Arun. “Most work with all operating systems. Check on the outside of the box.”
It all taps down to the good-old QWERTY keyboard — attached to PCs/phones/tablets — and wired into our brains. (Dvorak has only niche users.) Qwerty has endured, taking on additional features. Keyboards made for Windows 8 often have special function hotkeys (Home, Search, Share, Settings, Device shortcuts, as in Charms Bar). Others have media playback controls. Gaming keyboards include customisation software that allows you to programme complex commands (macros) even during a game. For a gaming addict, this feature means “life-or-death” competition edge. Gaming keyboards pulse with backlight, dramatic colours and brutal functionality.
When you buy a keyboard
Pay attention to lay-out, features. Some 50 per cent of the keyboards have a 10-key numeric pad, ideal for tallying numbers, entering data into a spreadsheet. Look at the arrow keys, Page-Up/Down, Home and End buttons. See if it allows your hands to be in neutral position — to keep off carpal tunnel syndrome and repetitive stress injury. Ergonomic features range from padded wrist rests, angled, “split” configuration to curve-and-slope boards. Check: 100 per cent keyboard pitch (7.5 inches for row of 10 keys); concave key surfaces; tactile feedback; quiet key action. “I use a Goldtouch keyboard,” says techie Rajesh. “Its shape can be adjusted.”
But we have glimpsed keyboardless computing. Touchscreen technology is chipping away the dominance of traditional keyboards, and brain/voice/gesture controls are replacing them. Guger Technologies released a system designed to help paralysed patients type by highlighting letters on a grid. In “tangible computing”, you use physical things instead of a keyboard (move a piece on the chessboard to play chess on-screen). Keyboards have been displayed on flat surfaces like tabletops, walls and your palm.
There is also software to access a Windows 8 machine through Kinect. (Watch Tom Cruise's character flaying arms to swipe information on multiple virtual screens in Minority Report). Using Leap's 3-D motion-sensing device you can browse, play games, try apps with finger-and-hand movements. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N6hCwjwzUHg). With eye-movement tracking systems you can “stare” at the monitor for the latest e-mail! May not be safe in an open office, but people like Steven Feiner, professor at Columbia University, believe eye-tracking interfaces will become commonplace.
Flexible? Holographic? “Gimmicks, not productive,” says Arun. “Just stick with regular keyboards. As with a car, the best keyboard is one that fits your needs. Look for comfort, efficiency and overall satisfaction.”
* A state-of-the-art take-off is the “spongy” ROLI Seaboard. It works on sensitivity to depth, pressure, vibration and texture.
* Premium gaming keyboards use high-grade mechanical key switches, sculpted keycaps, macro commands, adjustable backlight and WASD keys.
* Anti-ghosting allows multiple keystrokes to be registered simultaneously.
* There are pass-through USB ports or audio connections on the keyboard.
* Check out PCMag's top ten keyboards.