If you're a gamer or work at an office, chances are you spend a few hours per day with a keyboard at your fingertips. There are a lot of different keyboards available on the market right now, and it's important to choose your peripherals accordingly to your needs. Since typing experience is the most important thing when choosing a keyboard, we created some tests to better help users find the right keyboard.
However, since the typing experience varies a lot across users, most of our tests aren't scored, and we simply give users the data from our tests. There are still a few things to keep an eye out for: the keycap quality, the clickiness and noise of the switches, even the force needed to be applied to actuate a key, and to a certain extent, the latency as well. Therefore, while most of our tests are subjective, they should be representative of a typical user experience.
Our Typing Experience category is made out of four different tests: Keystrokes, Typing Experience, Typing Noise, and Latency. However, with keyboards, just like with mice, the general feel and experience are very subjective and differ from person to person. This is why we decided not to score the keystroke and typing noise tests. Some people may like some switches that others won't stand, and vice-versa, so we aren't able to provide accurate data on what's better and what isn't. On the other hand, we use some of these tests and score them inside usage ratings. For example, a loud keyboard is scored worse than a silent keyboard for an office environment, while that same keyboard might be scored better for gaming thanks to its lower keystroke pre-travel.
Note that we do score the Typing Quality test, which is subjectively assigned. However, there are multiple people giving their input for this test, as we don't want a single person's opinion, which may differ from the users', to make up the whole score for a certain keyboard. We do plan on making those tests even more precise and useful to the users, so don't hesitate to leave us feedback on what we can improve.
Our Keystrokes test is useful to compare the feel of the keypress. We measure the operating and actuation force required to actuate a key, the pre-travel distance that the key travels before actuation, and the total travel distance. This is very subjective to each use; something can be good for gaming, but won't be the best for typing. We provide data to help compare keyboards so it's easier for the user to know which keyboard might better suit their needs.
We use a Mecmesin MultiTest-i System Test Stand to measure each keyboard we test. We position every keyboard in a very specific way and manually align the test arm to be centered on a key of the alphanumeric area. We test eight different keys and use the average of the results for the pre-travel and travel distance, as well as the actuation and operating force. A graph is then generated from one of the keys. The difference between operating and actuation force is that the operating force is the maximum force needed to get over the tactile bump, while the actuation force is the force needed to actuate the key.
A higher operating force means that the key requires more pressure to be actuated, which results in a heavy-feeling keypress, while a very light keypress has a lower operating force. When it comes to the pre-travel distance, a shorter result means that the keys require minimal movement to register an input. This can be great for gaming but can be too sensitive for typing, as typos are more frequent. This varies from switch to switch, and we do plan on doing another article on the differences between mechanical switches. Rule of thumb: the red switches feel linear with a low operating force, the brown switches have a tactile bump and are usually heavier than red switches, and the blue switches are very clicky, noisy, and also have a bump before actuation.
What makes great typing quality may vary from person to person; this is why our test is subjective. However, we look at very specific aspects for each keyboard, to keep our results comparable across products. To make sure that the keyboard typing quality scores aren't the opinion of a single tester, at least three different people go through the typing tests and give their feedback.
We first look at the keys themselves. We start by inspecting the material used and the stability of each key. A keyboard with a nice finish like double-shot PBT keys should score higher than single-shot ABS keycaps. Stable keys also feel more durable and won't wobble around when typing, which is preferred. We check alphanumerical keys, but also inspect the Shift, Ctrl, and spacebar keys as well.
When it comes to typing on the keyboard, we use the same test we use for our subjective ergonomics score. We use an online typing test and look at our typing speed, the number of typos made, and the fatigue felt. A well-built keyboard that offers a nice typing experience allows you to type faster than usual without making too many typos. Some keyboards have very light switches or have very low pre-travel. This means that you might accidentally hit a keycap, which may easily register an unwanted input. Such keyboards might have deducted points for the typing quality. A keyboard that has good spacing between keys might also help reduce typos and it may score higher.
As for fatigue, this is highly subjective per person. However, heavier keys might feel more tiring as you need to put more pressure to actuate them. A 60% keyboard might also feel more cramped than a full-size keyboard, which may result in a different arm positioning than what you're used to, making it more tiring.
The typing noise test is fairly straightforward. We have the same typing sequence for each keyboard. We start by typing "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog", which is a sentence that uses every letter of the alphabet, and then we hit the 'Enter' key, followed by the top numerical keys row, and also test the 'Shift' and 'Backspace' keys. We do this twice; the first typing test is a loud one, while the second run is with a lighter typing, as silent as possible.
We use an audio recorder to measure the noise level of a keyboard. It doesn't give an exact decibel level, but it helps us understand how loud a keyboard gets. A rubber-dome keyboard is generally silent, while most red switches are fairly quiet, and the clicky blue switches are very loud and aren't suitable for an office environment, for example. We don't give a score to this test as some people might be looking for a very quiet keyboard, while others might prefer the clicky and audible feedback of blue switches. However, the noise is scored in the office usage rating, where a quiet keyboard scores higher than a loud one.
The whole testing procedure sound is recorded with a Zoom H6 microphone. We also film the test and provide a video embedded in our review page for users to be able to compare the noise levels of each keyboard.
Keyboard latency is most important for gaming, but it also has an effect on typing experience. A keyboard with very high latency can be annoying to use if you notice a delay from when you click the key to when it appears on the screen. Most keyboards are good enough for office use, but some entry-level Bluetooth keyboards may have such high latency that you see that delay. We test keyboard latency using a slow-motion camera, and you can read more about it here.
There's no secret formula for finding the best keyboard for your needs. It all depends on what you plan on doing with it. Thankfully, there are some general rules of thumb that you can follow to help you make your choice. If you're looking for a gaming keyboard, you'll more than likely need a mechanical keyboard. Linear keys are usually preferred as they go straight to the actuation point, without having a bump like the brown or blue switches. However, red switches aren't clicky like the blue ones and don't offer a satisfying and loud clicking noise. It all comes down to preference when you decide which switches you're going with, but be sure to read up on the differences before choosing. If you want to learn more about mechanical switches, you can read our article here.
If you're looking for a more typing-oriented keyboard, there are also multiple things to look at. The spacing on the keys can be important, as a cramped design may make it easier to hit unwanted keys. Also, a keyboard with heavier keys might get tiring more quickly than a keyboard with light keys, but again, lighter keys mean that they might be easier to actuate accidentally. You can also try ergonomic designs, that usually help with making typing a lot more comfortable and reducing the strain on your forearms and wrists.
Overall, keyboards are very similar to mice; it usually comes down to personal preference. There are a lot of different keyboards available and the first thing to do is be aware of where you're going to use it, and what you'll be using it for. Informing yourself on the different types of switches is very important before choosing a keyboard, as they're different from one to another. Again, we're working on something to help users know the differences between most mechanical switches.