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How to Choose the Right Ergonomic Keyboard

Comparison Chart: Keyboards

Choosing the right keyboard is very important as it is your main input device to the computer and the wrong keyboard with incorrect usage can lead to discomfort and possibly even injury. The right keyboard can greatly increase productivity, and make using the keyboard more enjoyable. Please review this buyers guide on a few things to consider when making your purchase:

Keyboard Layout

There are numerous different styles of keyboards on the market from which to choose from, from the standard corporate layout, multimedia layouts, compact or folding keyboards, natural ergonomic keyboards, split keyboards, keyboards with 'waves' in them, and alternative keyboards which look rather confusing but can be rather beneficial. Remember no matter what style you choose there will be a learning curve from the standard layout, but with a short amount of time and the right keyboard for your tasks, you will find a major productivity improvement and feel comfortable achieving those results.

Compact or folding keyboards are compact by removing the numeric keypad section, and squashing some of the Command keys (enter, control, page up, delete, etc) together, or changing the layout slightly. These keyboards are good if you have very little desk space, do not use the keypad and prefer more room for the mouse, or need a keyboard for travelling.

Alternative keyboards are contoured and offer recessed keys to better fit the natural placement of the fingers. They can take a long time to get used to as there are generally less keys, by using combinations or shortcuts, but can improve efficiency once you are used to them.

Soft touch or standard keys

There is a big difference between standard keys and soft touch keys. The soft touch is a 3/4 sized key and requires less effort to action the key with each press, and have a slightly wider surface area on each key for each key press. The other benefits are that pressing the keys aren't as noisy and as the keyboards are flatter than standard sized keyboards, your fingers do not have to reach over as far to use the keyboard.

Features & Shortcuts

A lot of the keyboards available have special function keys and shortcuts for the most common tasks. Multimedia keyboards have dedicated keys for email, messenger, volume, Internet browsers, etc, making it easier to use your computer without having to move the mouse as much. Please see below for a keyboard shortcut PDF for the most commonly used tasks.

Keypads

If you use the keypad a lot you may wish to consider purchasing a dedicated keypad which allows you to have more range for positioning, or if you don't have enough room or you find yourself reaching too far for the mouse if you are right-handed. Evoluent make a mouse friendly keyboard which positions the keypad on the left hand side for right handed people. Some keypads have built-in USB ports for extra functionality.

Cables & Connections

With all input devices you should always check that the cable will be long enough as some people have the computer under the desk and further away from where they are sitting. Usually cables are around 1.5 metres in length. If you find the cable is not long enough, you can purchase USB extension cables, or think about investing in a wireless keyboard, which will remove any cable clutter on your desk and free up some space. Wireless Infrared (IR) keyboards usually have a 1.5 metre range of sight, but Bluetooth keyboards have a range anywhere from 10 metres to 100 metres away. The other benefit with Bluetooth over IR is that the one USB dongle can handle up to 8 devices so multiple devices won't use all your USB ports. Wireless keyboards use batteries for power so it is a good idea to check the battery usage before purchasing.

Resources

The Importance of Ergonomic Input Devices in the Workplace – Microsoft Corporation (2006)