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Keyboard and Mouse Considerations

Written on March 19, 2018 by Jeff Stubbers
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Introduction

Finding a keyboard and mouse may not get much thought, however, these devices are integral for use with your system and really deserve more attention than they typically get. These devices need to fit well in your work space, and help you get your work done effectively.

Connectivity

The most important factor is whether or not you can connect the device to your system. After all, the "best" peripheral in the world will be of no use to you unless you can connect it to your system. Most modern keyboard and mouse options will provide USB connections, as USB ports are fairly ubiquitous on systems these days. However, is it possible that you may find a keyboard or mouse with a PS/2 connection instead. These are the small round connectors, where PS/2 keyboard connections would be purple, and PS/2 mouse connections would be green. If your system does not have PS/2 ports, it may be possible to find PS/2 to USB adapters, but it is always best to avoid adapters when feasible to prevent any potential issues that may arise from the use of adapters.

Wired or Wireless?

There are wired keyboard and mouse options as well as wireless. If you have a preference of one over the other, this is something to consider. The benefit of wireless is there are less cables connecting to your system to worry about, which certainly sounds nice. If you get a wireless keyboard or mouse, they should come with wireless dongle (external connection device) that plugs into an available USB port on your system. This will allow the wireless connectivity between your USB Adapter (dongle), and your wireless keyboard or mouse. At the outset of this technology you would have needed a separate wireless dongle for each wireless device, but peripheral companies are now including wireless dongles that allow you to connect to both a wireless keyboard and mouse using a single dongle. Logitech is one such company that offers what they call a "Unifying USB receiver" which works with up to 6 of Logitech's wireless mouse and keyboard devices at once using the single "Unifying" dongle. One potential downside is that wireless devices can have batteries that need to be replaced. This can be a concern for landfills and the recurring costs of replacing batteries over the lifetime use of a keyboard or mouse.

The benefit of a wired mouse and keyboard is the lack of battery costs, and landfill concerns over replaced batteries. Some users have noted there is a little lag with wireless mouse or keyboards, but I have not found that to be the case. However, the use of a wired mouse or keyboard should alleviate any of those concerns.

For those so inclined, it is possible to mix a wireless mouse and a wired keyboard to a system, or wireless keyboard with a wired mouse. Your system should not care which type of devices you are using. It is really just a personal preference if you decide to go one route over the other.

Mechanical or Membrane?

Keyboards can be make of different key types. The most commonly found are membrane keyboards. Membrane keyboards do not have separate switches for keys, but rather are made up of a substrate material that activate when the materials are pressed together in certain sections to indicate which key has been pressed. An example of this is pictured to the right. Typically, a rubber mat is placed on top of that substrate to accept pressure from the depressed key and activate the membrane in that given location.

In general, the benefit of a membrane keyboard tends to be a lower cost, and while there are some exceptions, they tend to have quieter keystrokes as well.

Mechanical keyboards on the other hand, use individual switches per key to detect when a key is struck. There are different types of mechanical keys that could possibly be in a mechanical keyboard. Some of the most common mechanical switches used are by a company named Cherry, with their MX Series of mechanical switches. The Cherry MX switches are available with different characteristics, and these characteristics are differentiated by color. Some quick examples are as follows:

Black switch: Without pressure point, linear easy actuation. Switching function with a defined force of approximately 60 centinewton (cN) without contact feedback.

Grey switch: Without pressure point, linear firm actuation. Switching function with a defined force of approximately 80 cN without contact feedback.

Blue switch: Click pressure point, a key stroke with tactile and audible contact feedback.

Brown switch: Soft pressure point, a key stroke with soft tactile contact feedback.

There are many more colors and styles, but this is just a quick over view of some of the differences in mechanical switches.

Keyboard Style

There are various keyboard options available for one to choose to use with their system. There are too many options to list them all, in fact. However here are a few of the more common options to get the broad strokes of what is out there.

For starters, there are "basic" keyboards that contain the minimal main keyboard keys and top row numbers. The benefit of this type of keyboard layout is that it uses up less desktop space.

Adding arrow keys and a 10-key number layout to a "basic" keyboard results in a "full size" keyboard. Most "full size" keyboards add the arrow keys and 10-key layout to the right, however some place these to the left of the basic keyboard layout. Typically added to these "full size" keyboards are separate Insert, Delete, Page Up, Page Down, Home, End, Print Screen, and Scroll Lock keys.

Backlit keyboards became available to the marketplace, which added LED backlighting to the keys of a "full size" keyboard. While these types of keyboards may not be necessary for most people, the benefit of such a keyboard would be the ability to see the keys in dimly-lit environments. This would seem to be more of a feature useful to people who utilize their system at night. Additionally, if you have the need in a specific work environment, the LED backlit keyboards can be helpful for finding the right key.

After LED backlit keyboards became available, the ability to change the color of those LED backlit keys came soon after. RGB LED backlit keyboards became available to allow you to choose the color of LED backlighting as you see fit, and allowing you to change the backlighting as often as you like. You can even choose different colors for different sections of your keyboard if you wish. This may be helpful for some, or simply a design preference for others.

There are curved keyboards as displayed in the image at the top of this page, designed to be more ergonomic for how ones wrists are angled towards keyboard to avoid strain. In a move to alleviate this strain even further, concaved keyboards and vertical keyboards have been manufactured. These types of keyboards may take a little longer to get used to if you have started on a "standard" keyboard, but can be well worth it to avoid wrist strain.

Mouse Style

Similar to how there are different keyboard styles and options, there looks to be just as many mouse style options to choose from, each with their own specific features and benefits.

We will begin, of course, with the "basic" mouse. Like the "basic" keyboard, the approach is minimalistic offering just the main components for navigating on your system. This mouse is simple, without the many gadgets that many people do not need.

There are mouse offerings that add more feature buttons, and have macros that allow you to assign functions to each button. These can range from one or two extra mouse buttons to several additional buttons. It can seem that some of these mouse options can have enough buttons to be a small keyboard!

For those wanting an alternative way to use a mouse, there are trackball mouse options. These may take some time getting used to if you have previously only used the typical mouse offerings. However a nice benefit of the trackball is that you don't have to move the mouse around on your desk. Instead of sliding a mouse around all over your desk, you simply move the trackball, and the trackball mouse stays stationary on your desk. This can be a benefit for those with little desk space for moving a mouse around.

Along with the ergonomic keyboards, there are also ergonomic mouse options. This type of mouse is tilted to the side, so instead of placing your hand directly on top of the mouse and moving it around, your hand is said to be at a more natural vertical position, as your wrist naturally lays by your side when standing. This avoids twisting your arm or wrist when utilizing the mouse.

Recommendation

With the above information in mind, I do recommend going to a local store such as a Best Buy or Fry's where you can try the keyboard or mouse out in person. I find this to be very helpful, as these devices just have to "feel right." These are the devices that you use every time you interact with your system. They should be nice! So go ahead and do those companies the justice of purchasing those accessories from them. They are the ones spending the money on these devices by taking them out of their packaging to have them available for you test. They are the ones taking up valuable shelf space to display these devices for you to try out. Pay back their generosity by purchasing these devices from them. If we don't support the companies that go out of their way to assist us, those companies or offerings will eventually go away, leaving no places like this that allow us to see and feel these devices in person before purchase.

Tags: Keyboard, Mouse, Wired, Wireless, Connectivity, Membrane, Mechanical, Ergonomic, Style, Recommendation
Eloi

The best combination for me is: Logitech MX Master 2s + any mechanical keyboard with Brown switch or stealth/silent mechanical keys (Corsair K70 is always a good choice)

Posted on 2018-03-19 20:47:48
Jeff Stubbers

Those look like nice mouse options. The idea of extra palm support is welcome. I may have to check those out! I really like the Das Keyboard with MX Blue mechanical keys. The downside I suppose is the noise they generate, but they sure do feel great! :)

Posted on 2018-03-19 22:59:39
pillybilly

Yes Logitech Mx crapper if you want to change a mouse every 6 months because they use crappy switches. A mechanical keyboard for what? If you are into graphics you don't use the keyboard so much to spend 10 times for for a mechanical keyboard. For video or graphics editing there are better and more specific interfaces, you don't use a keyboard.

Posted on 2018-03-31 00:59:53
Dave W.

The "basic" keyboard—aka 60 percent board—has two advantages more significant than a small footprint. The narrowness of the board brings the user's mouse arm to a more natural position, closer to the body, which you can definitely feel after several hours at the keyboard. And by putting the navigation cluster under the user's right (or left) hand, it makes navigation a lot easier, at least when the function key (in effect, a second shift key) is next to the space bar and so is thumb-operated. Instead of operating the arrows, home, and end by moving your whole hand, you just curl the thumb in and leave your hand where it is. The "shift-home" and "control-shift-home" combinations, for example, are easier with this set-up. (Of course a full size keyboard could do this, too; it could have both standard nav keys and under-hand nav keys, but this has not been done.) For some reason, putting the function key in the thumb's domain, next the space bar, is not standard even on 60 percent boards, including the one illustrating Jeff's article; that board has Fn on the far right. Of course there are different user needs as well. A 60 percent board is a great choice for writers and editors and is a greatly underappreciated innovation. On the other end of the user spectrum, there are video editors and the like, for whom specialized keys are not a mysterious vestige but their bread and butter and who tend to have the work desk equivalent of a Wurlitzer organ.

Posted on 2018-03-20 01:29:27
Jeff Stubbers

Good points, Dave. Thank you for sharing them!

Posted on 2018-03-20 02:16:10
arcorion

Great article, Jeff! Regarding mechanical key switches, I definitely want to second your recommendation of trying them out beforehand. If you can't go to a store, at least consider searching for a "key switch tester" online. They can be had for $10-20 and provide a way of trying out different key switch styles individually before splurging on a quality keyboard. Also keep in mind that there are now several brands which produce mechanical key switches. Cherry has been around the longest and has a strong reputation, however there are Kailh and Gateron style switches, as well. They typically cost less but may have a slightly different feel to their Cherry-comparable switch colors.

Posted on 2018-03-30 03:32:19
Jeff Stubbers

Great point on the "key switch tester"! That is a great way to try several different key types at once, without having to go to a local store, which may or may not have the different types of key switches you may wish to test. In any situation, it is best to try these out before making a purchase if possible. You will be happy you did!

Posted on 2018-04-05 21:47:01

Something you don't mention are gaming keyboards and mice. My use is purely content creation, but I love the additional programmable G-keys on the mix of Logitech and Razer hardware I have settled on. G-keys are only as good as the software they use, and Logitech's Gaming Software has a big edge over Razer's Synapse because you can paste long strings into a key definition. With Synapse you have to type it in character by character, and if you make a mistake, the only option is to delete and start again. In fact I like those extra keys so much, I also use a keypad, although I was forced to buy a Razer Orbweaver because Logitech G13 keypads are hard to find nowadays. The G13 preference was because of the software, although Razer Synapse does has one advantage, in that its application specific programming is fully automatic, and simply needs your cursor inside an app's window. LGS has to be switched manually.

As you say in the article, and has been reflected in the comments, it comes down to horses for courses. I love the Shuttle PRO V2 I use for Premiere Pro, and I'd feel like I'd lost an appendage if I had to use SketchUp without my little 3D Connexion Space Mouse. Throw in the obligatory tablet and it can be a problem finding desk space. My solution is to use monitor arms for the periphery screens, which free up space beneath those screens, and to place the keyboard on wedges that the tablet slides between. This only works with large keyboards that can span a medium size tablet.

Posted on 2018-04-19 11:13:52