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Keyboards are expensive pieces of hardware, and one of the areas that laptop manufacturers often cut costs. As a result, keyboard quality is one of the differentiators among laptop makes and models.

Do you think laptop manufacturers will ever use traditional keyboards again or are chicklets here to stay?

Laptop keyboards run the range from cheap chicklets to more robust keys, but few if any match the quality of a desktop PC's keyboard. Fortunately, there are alternatives, if it's important.

In this audio segment from an Ask Leo! webinar, I'll discuss laptop keyboards and your alternatives.

Listen:
Download the mp3 (2M)

Transcript

Do you think laptop manufacturers will ever use traditional keyboards again or are chicklets here to stay?

You know, it really depends. Gosh. If you need a real keyboards like something you see on your desktop, I'm gonna say no. It's very unlikely you're gonna see that in a laptop.

That being said, certainly when you take a look at the wide variety of laptops that are out there, one of the differentiating factors often between a high-end, potentially one of the ruggedized machines and the low-end more inexpensive machines is in fact, the keyboard.

Keyboards are expensive. There's a lot of hardware associated with keyboards. There's a bunch of switches, a bunch of things that have to make contact over and over again. and they have to last for a long time because it's such a pain to replace. So, it's one of the places where a laptop manufacturer can save money. Will you ever see a real honest to goodness 'external like' keyboard? Probably not.

Will you see some keyboards that are significantly better than others? Sure. But that's one of those things where you end having to go hands on with the different laptops and seeing which ones really do or don't appeal to you or what you're looking for and you know to be 100% to cover all our bases here; it's you know almost every laptop now has a USB plug and you can certainly plug in a real keyboard and have it work.

A laptop is just a PC and it will recognize all the same USB devices that your desktop will and that includes a keyboard and there's absolutely nothing wrong with having one keyboard attached to your machine. So, in fact, it's one of the very common ways that I recommend people deal with keyboard failures in their laptops if they're not in the position to be able to have the laptop keyboard repaired. It is very workable to simply plug in a USB keyboard and have it become the keyboard for that machine.

Article C5476 - June 20, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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13 Comments
Egbert Zijlema
June 22, 2012 8:43 AM

When working with a laptop or netbook, I sometimes use a plugged-in keyboard, mostly depending of the type of work I'm going to do on that box. Only for a few routine jobs (reading my e-mail for instance) it's not necessary to do so but especially when I have to do a lot of typework, I prefer the external one above the ergonomically "wrong" built-in keyboard.

John Ohannessian
June 22, 2012 8:46 AM

This is an open letter to laptop manufacturers:
Please stop making the inferior and user unfriendly chiclet keyboards, give us useful and full keyboards. I have a Dell XPS 15z, and even though there is plenty of room to include a full size keyboard Dell stupidly has chosen to infuriate its customers by supplying a chiclet keyboard which I hate.
My reasons are that the keys are slightly smaller and I tend to mis hit and therefore mistype, wastes a lot of my evaluable time. Many keys are now grouped together with other functions, and to use them I am forced to hit the Function (Fn) key along with the newly designed appropriate key. For example: before the irritating chicley model I could hit with one finger on the Home key to go to the top of my web page. Now I have to use two hands, left for FN key and right for Left Arrow+Home, very aggravating and time wasting.
Chiclet model keyboards should be included only on 11 inch models, not on 13 or larger models. My old XPS 13 has a full size keyboard.
I hope Dell and other manufacturers will read this and listen to their unhappy users.

Chuck
June 22, 2012 9:15 AM

I've given up on laptop computers, mainly because in order to do typing of any length I've got to plug in a keyboard. If I'm going to do that I might as well have a nice tablet, preferably with a case that will stand it upright, and carry a bluetooth keyboard around for those times I have to type more than a few sentences. All other times I just use the on screen keyboard. If computer manufactures want to know why the traditional notebook is dying, this is one reason.

Neil
June 22, 2012 10:00 AM

Just got a new Lenovo laptop, specifically chosen because it's got a fantastic keyboard. Concave keys, a decent amount of travel, just right. I also have a Macbook Air, looks pretty, keyboard is about the best of the chiclet types, great for travelling but not a patch on the Lenovo when I want to type something.

A Richter
June 22, 2012 10:03 AM

Nothing wrong with the keyboard on my HP Pavilion ZD-7000. It has a numeric keypad as well, which was one of the reasons for purchasing it. Come to think of it, it is so good I may have it refurbished once it breaks down (it is over eight years old).

Bob
June 22, 2012 11:21 AM

I often recommend to my clients that they use an external keyboard on their laptop, unless they're traveling, because the keyboard is often the first component to wear out, and they're expensive to replace if you can even get the part.

actionjksn
June 22, 2012 1:23 PM

There is in fact one model out there that still uses a real keyboard. It is the Lenovo T series ThinkPad laptop. I have a ThinkPad T410 that looks almost the same as a 10 year old IBM ThinkPad only it's not as thick. These are generally regarded by many if not most as the best keyboards in the business. And the wonderful thing is, you can spill a glass full of liquid directly into the keyboard and the computer will keep on working. You could literally pour an entire glass of water into the keyboard with the laptop running and then immediately type a 5 page word document. They just don't change the T series ThinkPads because they're that good and if they did change it and put a stupid Chiclet keyboard on it, there would be a revolt because a lot of loyal customers would be very unhappy. It's the only laptop I know that puts function ahead of style.

Scott
June 22, 2012 3:41 PM

I have an Acer Aspire 1640 laptop (2004), The keyboard is stillas brand new as the day I purchased it and has been through some harsh scenarios and still functioning. I have seen, hundreds of desk top keyboards in the trash and have personally added to that collection many times. P.S. I hav'nt spilled any water on it yet !!

Roger
June 22, 2012 6:50 PM

If you buy a quality laptop then the keyboard should last. My main laptop is a Comapl HEL80 and it has survived nearly 6 years of daily use, with the keyboard still like new. Even the lettering on the keys is still all in place except for the left Ctrl key.

Mika
June 23, 2012 5:01 AM

I have a Toshiba Satellite L745-S4210. The keyboard has been awful from out of the box. Even pressure on the area on either side of the touchpad does strange things to the screen. I plug in my external keyboard a lot, just to keep my sanity.

Mark J
June 23, 2012 7:04 AM

@Mika
I had troubles with my keyboard and got it replaced under warrantee. If your laptop is less than a year old you might try it. That sounds like something that simply shouldn't happen.

James M
June 24, 2012 6:53 AM

I am doing what Leo recommended. I have an old HP laptop with a decent keyboard but I needed a bigger monitor for proofreading, etc. I attached a large external monitor which worked great but the problem was that it and the laptop took up too much space. I was typing with the laptop lid half closed. It worked but looked and felt unnnatural.

I then bought a cheap external USB keyboard and a 3-shelf metal rack (total cost under 40 dollars). I placed the laptop on the top shelf of the rack and the keyboard and the monitor on my work table. In essence, I have created a 'virtual' desktop PC which is faster and more reliable than any computer I have used to date!
(As an added bonus, the laptop, keyboard, and monitor can all be placed on the rack, allowing to me free up my work table for dinner and other activities!)

Brad
June 30, 2012 8:09 PM

I had a couple of keys that were acting up, I sprayed a few shots of canned air on the sides and that worked like a charm.

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