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Keyboard Buying Guide

The use of a computer can be broken down into two actions; i...
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Keyboard Buying Guide

The use of a computer can be broken down into two actions; input and output. We manipulate variables and objects and are presented with an output. Be it a document, website, computer game or anything else you can do on a computer, you are generally giving input and receiving some form of output. Two of the major ways we provide input to a computer are with the keyboard and the mouse – something standard on every home computer. Some people see a keyboard as nothing more than the sole means of typing things into the computer where as others see it as a much more advanced form of input; something that requires more than just your basic alphabet and flat design. You can buy a new keyboard for a single digit price tag or you can spend upwards of a three digit price tag on one. So what's the difference?

One thing that's the same on all keyboards is the layout of the keys themselves. All keyboards have letters, numbers, F keys and the necessities like shift, alt, ctr, etc. etc. The design and placement of these keys is what manufacturers are getting creative with. In an attempt to provide better ergonomics than a flat keyboard, we're seeing not only the arc of these keys being played with but also the angle and key depth as well. Some keyboards are designed with a split down the middle and each half of the keyboard slightly angled back in an attempt to keep our hands in a more “natural” position. That's just one example though, I've seen nearly half a dozen unique attempts at ergonomics on the market and some are comfortable while others are not. You'll also want to keep and eye open for keyboards that no longer have a num-pad. Although it's something we've all grown up with on a computer, many manufacturers are choosing to remove this on certain models in an attempt to make smaller and lighter keyboards (handy for home theatre computers). In addition to the basic keys, extra function keys are standard on almost every new keyboard as well. These keys add features like media control, application launching/switching and programmable favorites keys. Most will have default actions to correspond with what they are labeled to do, but if you want you can usually change the actions of most of these keys with the included software.

The next major decision you'll have to make is what interface style you need and whether you want a wired or wireless keyboard. This is a good time to mention that a lot of keyboards are sold as what's called a “desktop set” which means you're getting not only a keyboard but a mouse as well. These will both be the same interface and both wired or both wireless. Unless you're buying for an older computer, you will probably want the avoid the PS/2 interface. Being as dated as it is, very few brand new computers and motherboards even have this interface anymore. Wired or wireless is really a personal choice for you since I can't say what you will personally prefer. Wireless technology has come a long way from what it used to be and wireless keyboards using AA batteries can now get over a year from a set of batteries and mice that use AA batteries can go as long as five to six months! For that reason wireless no longer needs to be a technology where you worry about constant and costly battery replacement. You can now see wireless as a means of reducing cable clutter and giving you a little more freedom.

For power users and enthusiasts there are a growing number of more expensive keyboards out there with many more advanced features to offer. My keyboard, Logitech's MX5500, has a small display screen that shows me either media info, room temperature, hot-key choices, key counter or how many unread emails I have. All of this is done in a low-power manner as to keep the keyboard still wireless running off 4-AA batteries! Gamers might be familiar with the forms of customizable keyboards starting to emerge. These will let you physically remove and re-arrange extra keys to further enhance your speed and key accessibility while gaming. Those in the professional video and audio editing fields will be familiar with keyboards being designed and printed that are specific to the applications they use. By printing not only the regular key design but also an alternate design that outlines all the software shortcuts, they help to reduce the time wasted by clicking through menus to accomplish a task.

For those who are used to a plain keyboard or the one that their pre-built system shipped with then it might be a bit of a dive to try something new and seemingly more advanced looking. I'll admit, remembering to use all the extra keys on keyboards these days does take some getting used to! The positive side is that once you get used to everything offered by your keyboard you can speed up productivity and greatly reduce the number of clicks used to access your applications. When it comes down to it, check out all the keyboard offerings at your local computer store then go from there and decide how much you're willing to pay for what you really need in a keyboard.


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