Whether you're a gamer or work at an office, there's a good chance you spend at least a few hours per day with a keyboard at your fingertips. The typing experience with a keyboard is one of the most important aspects you'll want to consider when choosing a keyboard.
Our Typing Experience category comprises four tests: Keystrokes, Typing Experience, Typing Noise, and Latency. While much of what makes up a keyboard's typing experience is subjective, the following tests can help you determine whether a keyboard might be right for your needs.
The Keystrokes test provides details about the switches in a keyboard. This test isn't scored because different people appreciate different switch characteristics.
We use a Mecmesin MultiTest-i System Test Stand to measure each keyboard we test. We manually align the test arm to be centered on individual alphanumeric keys. We test eight different keys and use the average of the results for our 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 the 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 the key requires more pressure to actuate and has a heavier feel. In comparison, a lower operating force makes for a lighter, more sensitive-feeling keypress. Regarding the pre-travel distance, a shorter result means the keys require less movement before registering an input. A low travel distance can be great for fast-paced gaming, but it may be too sensitive for typing as you may register accidental keystrokes more often. These values vary between different kinds of switches and switch types.
The measurements we record for this test are represented on a graph in this test box that plots the tactile, actuation, and reset points of the keystroke.
The typing quality of a keyboard is a subjective experience. You may not enjoy typing on linear switches, while a colleague may only use linear switches. But it isn't just the switches that make the typing experience: it's the combination of the keycaps, the stabilizers, the switches, and the overall comfort of the keyboard. We look at these aspects in detail, then assign a score based on the whole picture.
For keycaps, we note their material, profile, and overall feel. Typically, higher-quality keycaps are made of double-shot PBT, whereas lower-quality keycaps tend to be ABS. ABS keycaps score worse than PBT since they're prone to becoming slippery and developing shine from finger oil over time. ABS keycaps are typically a bit thinner and may be less durable in the long run.
We also note how stable all the keys feel. Different switch types, keycaps, and other factors also contribute to how stable a key feels when you use it. Many keyboards have stabilizers, which are small pieces of plastic or metal that help to balance some of the larger keys, including the Shift, Enter, and Backspace keys, and we consider the performance of these stabilizers in our score. A keyboard with very stable keys scores better than a keyboard with wobbly-feeling keys.
Next, we investigate the feel of the switches with a typing test. During the typing test, we evaluate tactility, smoothness, and sensitivity. We also make a note of whether the overall feeling between switches is consistent, whether the switches feel heavy or light, and whether they're satisfying to use or mushy-feeling.
Lastly, we evaluate how comfortable a keyboard is to type on. We perform a standard typing test and assess the speed, accuracy, and comfort level while typing. We also note whether using the keyboard was fatiguing for the fingers, wrists, or elbows or whether these issues would be likely for most people after more extended periods of use. Some keyboards with a compact layout may have the keys closer together, which can feel cramped while typing, while other keyboards may use heavy switches that require a lot of force to press, causing finger fatigue, which impacts the assigned score.
We measure the noise a keyboard makes in two different ways, and the results can help you determine if a keyboard is right for your needs. If you're interested, check out our dedicated Typing Noise article.
Latency is the time it takes to press a key on your keyboard and then see the corresponding action appear on your screen. Latency is most important for gaming, but it can also affect the experience of using a keyboard for work or everyday browsing. Measuring the latency of a keyboard isn't as straightforward as it seems, so we have a dedicated article with all the details of our keyboard Latency test.
There's no secret formula for finding a keyboard that provides the typing experience for your needs. It all depends on what you plan on doing with it. For gaming, low latency and pre-travel distance are the most crucial factors in ensuring your gameplay experience feels responsive.
If you're looking for a more typing-oriented keyboard, comfort takes center stage as you'll want a keyboard that won't cause fatigue and will be satisfying to use for long stretches at a time. The type and characteristics of your keyboard's switches are also important, as heavier keys can get tiring more quickly. At the same time, keys that are too light may be easy to actuate accidentally and could increase the number of typos you make. While less expensive rubber dome and scissor-type keyboards are popular choices for office keyboards, mechanical keyboards are gaining in popularity because they offer a more premium-feeling and customizable typing experience that you can tailor to your preferences. Ultimately, as far as mechanical switches go, it all comes down to preference. If you want to learn more, we have a dedicated article that outlines how to choose mechanical switches.
Overall, keyboards are very similar to mice in that much of what determines whether a keyboard is a good fit for you comes down to your personal preferences. There are a lot of different keyboards available, so be aware of where you're planning on using your keyboard and what you're planning on using it for, and then concentrate on narrowing down the keyboards that best align with your preferences from there.