Few things will affect your interaction with your computer more directly than the keyboard and mouse. These are your primary input devices. We tend to forget about them because the manufacturer often includes a free pack-in keyboard and mouse with a desktop PC—and a laptop has the keyboard and trackpad built in. However, in most cases your computing experience will improve considerably if you invest a little in a keyboard and mouse that are optimized for your needs.
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Having the right keyboard makes a huge difference in typing accuracy and speed. It can give you a significant competitive advantage when gaming. The keyboard also makes a big difference in how much noise you make while using your computer—really! Typing can range from being nearly silent to driving nearby people mad with the clacking.
Features to consider before making a purchase include backlighting, adjustable tilt, key shape and size, and whether you need a full-sized keyboard with a numeric keypad, or something more compact. There are also several important choices that are worth exploring in more detail.
Wired or wireless
The single biggest choice that most people face when picking a new keyboard is whether to go with a wired or wireless model.
Generally speaking, wired keyboards are often less expensive—at least for basic models. They connect to the PC with a USB cable (make certain the cable is long enough for your setup), and they have the advantage of never having to worry about batteries. Because of that USB connection, some wired keyboards offer a USB port or two so the keyboard can act like a mini hub to connect additional peripherals to your computer.
Wireless keyboards are extremely popular because they eliminate the USB cable that would otherwise be cluttering your desktop. Most use Bluetooth connectivity, but some connect using a small 2.4 GHz USB receiver. Power is typically supplied by built-in batteries (charged with a USB cable), but some wireless keyboards still use AA batteries. Some wireless keyboards can be paired with more than one device, so they can be used with multiple computers or tablets.
Wireless keyboards are also popular accessories to use with PC-based multimedia devices such as video streamers.
Most keyboards sold over the past several decades have keys that use a variation on a rubber dome membrane design. This keeps costs down, and makes them virtually silent to use when typing.
However, when upgrading their keyboard, many people choose to go with one that uses mechanical switches. These use a similar design to the computer keyboards form the 1970s and 1980s, with spring-activated key switches. Mechanical keyboards provide much more tactile feedback, and many people find traditional keyboards feel “mushy” in comparison. There is variation within mechanical keyboards as well, depending on the switches used. Some require more force to activate than others, and some result in keys “clacking” more loudly than others. Mechanical keyboards are especially popular for applications that require precision: gaming, writing, and coding, for example.
The mouse is what helped to kickstart the personal computer era, including the graphical user interface (GUI) that we all take for granted. The right mouse will make a world of difference in your computing experience.
Features to consider include the size and shape (not all mice are ideal for all hands), whether it is left-handed or right-handed (or both), extra buttons or scroll wheels for enhanced navigation or automation, and the accuracy of its tracking. Casual users won’t care about accuracy so much, but someone who does precision work like image editing will want a mouse with high resolution tracking.
You’ll also want to invest in a decent mouse pad. Many mice are able to track on virtually any surface, but they always perform best on a good quality mouse pad.
Wired or wireless
As with keyboards, computer mice are available as wired or wireless versions. The key advantage of wireless is the same: one less cable cluttering the desktop. And one less USB port being used on the computer. Most wireless mice these days use built-in batteries that charge via USB, and they can also be used while connected with a USB cable; some use replaceable AA batteries. A wired mouse is generally less expensive, and there are no worries about charging or batteries.
Like a wireless keyboard, some companies offer wireless mice that support being paired with multiple devices.
PC gaming is a special use scenario that needs to be looked at separately. Gamers have very different requirements for both keyboards and mice than typical PC users.
Response time is critical in gaming, and a fraction of a second delay can be the difference between winning or losing. Because of this, most keyboards and mice aimed at the gaming market are wired rather than wireless. This eliminates any risk of input lag.
Gaming keyboards and gaming mice also offer other features aimed at reducing time needed to trigger an in-game action. This includes programmable buttons that can be mapped to specific games. Gaming keyboards will offer N-Key rollover, in support of multi-key combos. Both keyboards and mice aimed at this market frequently employ multi-colour LED lighting, which helps gamers to find keys in low lighting conditions and can also be used to illuminate specific keys used by a game.
Finally, gaming can take a toll on everyday input devices. Keys and buttons are hit repeatedly, and sometimes with force. So gaming keyboards and mice are built to withstand more abuse. Gaming keyboards (which are often mechanical to both improve accuracy and extend life) will typically list their lifetime keystroke rating in their specifications.
You can also use a gaming keyboard and mouse for everyday computing—some people simply like the colourful LED lighting effects—but these peripherals will be more expensive than standard versions.
When using a keyboard and mouse for an extended time, an ergonomic version is a wise investment. There peripherals are specially designed to reduce strain on a user’s wrists that could cause repetitive strain injuries. Ergonomic keyboards in particular can take some getting used to at first, but have the potential to make extended computing use far more comfortable.
What about laptops?
When you buy a laptop, an integrated keyboard and trackpad are part of the package. And they do the job nicely when the laptop is being used as a portable. But … In many cases, laptop owners actually sit at the same desk and use their laptop as though it were a compact computer. And in this sort of scenario, the built-in keyboard and trackpad experience can be underwhelming.
First of all, laptop keyboards are often smaller than their standalone counterparts, or have slightly different key placements. That slows you down. More importantly, the keyboard and trackpad are often awkwardly positioned for extended use at a desk. Buying a standalone keyboard and mouse to use at the desk will significantly improve the laptop experience, and allow you to position the display wherever you like without worrying about how that will affect your typing.
Tying into the usefulness with laptops (and tablets), some manufacturers now offer portable wireless keyboards. These are small enough to tuck in a bag or backpack, but make typing on your laptop more comfortable anywhere—at school, in a cafe or at a hotel.
Keyboard and mouse combos
A number of manufacturers offer keyboard and mouse combos. These are designed to offer the same look and level of functionality. If you hate having mismatched accessories, or you have a preference for a specific brand, then a keyboard and mouse combo is worth considering.
Mac vs. PC
Finally, the question often arise about whether there is a difference between keyboards and mice when it comes to Windows PCs and Macs. The short answer is yes. But it’s not quite that black and white.
Windows recognizes left and right mouse clicks, while Apple’s macOS is designed for a mouse with a single button. Apple’s own Magic Mice also include a top surface that recognizes multi-touch (swiping and scrolling) gestures.
Windows and Mac keyboards also have some differences, specifically in special keys. For example, there is no “Windows” key on a Mac keyboard. The “backspace” key on a Windows keyboard is “delete” key on a Mac keyboard, although both keys do the same thing.
With the exception of using a Mac-specific mouse on Windows (that single button is tough to work around), most keyboards and mice can be used on either platform. Both operating systems have provisions for mapping a keyboard and mouse. You may end up with a speciality key that doesn’t do what its label indicates, but the core functionality will be there. But when in doubt, check the product description to ensure compatibility.
Other accessories to consider
If you’re shopping for a new keyboard and/or mouse for your computer, don’t forget there are other related accessories worth considering. First, a good mousepad always makes for more accurate mousing. If you are working with software that would benefit from being able to mark up or even draw, then a graphic tablet and stylus accessory will offer a far superior experience. And a wrist guard can help to relieve wrist strain when typing.
Take the next step
No matter what your computing need, Best Buy has the perfect keyboard and mouse for the situation. From productivity to gaming, Mac or PC, or to make your laptop more comfortable to use for extended sessions, upgrading to the right keyboard and mouse will take your computing experience to the next level.