QWERTY, Bluetooth or Gaming: Keyboards are Essential
Keyboards are a fixture in everyday life. In fact, they are so common that we’ve come to take them for granted, even as they are being challenged by new ways to control digital devices. If you are the kind of person who still only feels comfortable with a QWERTY keyboard in front of you, this buyer’s guide will provide all the guidance you need to buy a cutting edge keyboard model.
Controlling Computer and Smart Devices
If we take a keyboard to mean a set of buttons used to input letters, numbers or symbols, then they have been around for almost 150 years. The first typewriters emerged in the 1860s, and soon became a popular way to compose professional documents, letters and even books.
But the keyboards we are talking about in this buyer’s guide are more recent. Here, we are dealing with keys that are linked to computing devices, and this type of keyboard is much more recent.
The first computer with a QWERTY keyboard was created in 1948, when the Binac system linked an electric typewriter to a processing system. In the 1960s, as computers became smaller and incorporated cathode ray tube monitors, engineers started to integrate keyboards into a single unit – an arrangement that remained common for fifty years.
In the 1980s, keyboards were complemented by the development of mice, trackballs and laser stylus tools, but they remained the most popular way to control computers. However, they are becoming less dominant thanks to the introduction of smartphone touchscreens and voice recognition systems like Alexa in the Amazon Echo.
Nevertheless, keyboards are still everywhere (I’m using one right now), and there are plenty of advanced models for buyers to choose from. With wireless, Bluetooth-enabled keyboards, fold up mobile keyboards, tiny keyboards and heavy-duty models all on offer, you can pick a type that matches your needs perfectly.
The Different Types of Modern Keyboards
All keyboards have some features in common. They are capable of connecting to external devices; they possess alphabetical keys and numbers; they transmit signals from keys to CPUs, and their keys tend to be arranged in a way that hasn’t shifted much since 1868.
However, beyond those similarities, there’s quite a lot of diversity. Here are some of the main keyboard types and what they are commonly used for:
Standard keyboards – The type that we all grew up with (or most of us, anyway). Most standard keyboards have 104 keys (including the Windows key), as well as tabs, shift, control, alt, return, backspace, page up, page down, insert, delete, escape, print screen, end, home, caps locks and space bars. There’s no single size, but standard keyboards tend to be about the same length as a laptop screen, not much more.
Flexible keyboards – A much more recent innovation, flexible keyboards are designed to be folded and unfurled by people who are on the move and can be used with tablets or smartphones to enhance their functionality. Generally made from silicone, flexible keyboards have to be stable enough to provide a comfortable typing surface (so check them before you buy if you can), and are usually extremely waterproof and easy to clean.
Handheld keyboards – The smallest external keyboards around, handheld keyboards are usually integrated into other devices like gaming controllers or communications devices (such as Blackberries). They seek to save space by limiting the size and number of keys but retain their functionality by allowing users to combine key presses to imitate the functions of standard keyboards.
Those are the basic varieties of keyboards, but you’ll also find a variety of sub-types that are designed for specific activities:
Gaming keyboards – Plenty of games require keyboards to play them properly, including action titles that are mainly controlled by handheld devices, and you can purchase specialist gaming keyboards. High-quality gaming keyboards allow you to customise the “actuation depth” (basically the distance keys need to travel downwards before they create a signal), let you set up macros to carry out certain complex actions with one key press, and feature extras like multi-coloured backlighting. Some also feature wrist rests to prevent fatigue during long gaming sessions.
Wireless keyboards – When you come to purchase a keyboard, you’ll have to choose between corded and wireless varieties. These come in RF and Bluetooth variants. There’s not that much to choose between them, but RF (Wi-Fi) keyboards tend to be compatible with slightly more computers, while Bluetooth devices are often more compact. Remember to check for battery life – as this is the most critical factor with all wireless devices. It applies particularly acutely to keyboards, where no-one wants to be left without charge in the middle of writing a crucial email.
Smartphone keyboards – It’s not essential, but many smartphone users who rely on their phones for work like to add external keyboards to their accessories collection. Before you decide to buy one, it makes sense to consider other options first, though. Sometimes you’ll be better off downloading a new keyboard app (for Android users) instead of carrying around a separate device. Remember to buy a keyboard that is compatible with your phone too, as not all of the options on the market are universal. Other than that, go for a durable, well laid-out keyboard that folds up neatly and delivers enough battery life. Again, not all of the keyboards around do, so consider your options wisely.
Ergonomic keyboards – Keyboard use can sometimes take its toll on your muscles. If you are the kind of person who finds themselves slaving over a keyboard for hours, then rubbing their wrists at the end of the day, what you need could be an ergonomic keyboard. These devices are increasingly common in homes and workplaces around the UK and have been specially designed to provide support for the user’s hands and fingers, hopefully avoiding muscle strain and joint problems further down the line.
Razer Ornata Chroma Keyboard
Keyboard Tips for Apple Users
We noted above that smartphone users can add separate keyboards to their accessory collection, or choose to change the app they use to deliver the keyboard function. This isn’t just applicable to Android devices. If you are an iPhone user, and you don’t like the keyboard tool supplied by Apple, there are alternatives to make your phone easier to use.
Apps like Gboard, SwiftKey, Fleksy and Swype have all appeared on the App Store, and provide a genuine alternative to the slightly clunky auto-correct found on the standard keyboard. These apps have plenty of advantages over the standard keyboard, including a much slicker use of emojis, better auto-correct, foreign language support and more attractive themes. They are all free of charge, so there’s no harm in giving them a try.
Then there’s the Apple keyboard. Designed to be used with iPhones, iPads and MacBooks, the Apple Keyboard looks the part (as all Apple accessories tend to do). It pairs up automatically with Apple devices, so you can use it with your phone, computer and even your iPod. It has good battery life too and is a handy addition for Apple users.
How to Protect and Clean Your Keyboard Safely
Whenever you purchase a keyboard, it’s easy to damage it via spills or impacts, but there are some ways to extend the life of your device as long as possible. There are also some accessories that might be worth searching for on the HotUKDeals listings when you come to make a keyboard purchase.
The most important accessory to purchase is probably a keyboard cover. These products are usually made from ultra-thin plastic and lay directly over the keys of the keyboard, providing a protective layer. Make sure you buy a protector that fits your keyboard layout (obviously) and think about opting for a custom fit if you are really concerned about the health of your keyboard.
Aside from that, try to keep food and drink as far away from the keyboard as possible. That’s not always easy to achieve (we all need our regular caffeine injections, after all), so factor in the chance of a spillage. If spills occur, don’t panic. Just shut down your computer, unplug it and let the keyboard dry off. This will often resolve minor spills. If it still doesn’t work, keyboard repairers can work wonders with damaged devices, so it’s probably worth giving them a call.
Dust and dirt can also accumulate underneath the keys of conventional keyboards (although this isn’t a problem with flexible models). Because of this, it’s a good idea to carry out a regular dust removal. To do so, unplug your keyboard and use cotton wool dipped in isopropyl alcohol to clean the surface and edges of every key, before wiping it off with a lint-free cloth. You can purchase special dust removal cloths and cleaning solutions, and it’s well-worth buying these instead of using home remedies.
If you have invested in a flexible keyboard for your smartphone, it should be fairly robust. However, it’s easy to forget about its presence in bags or cases, so beware of sitting on it inadvertently. And don’t get casual with liquids, as they can seep through some models, particularly at the edges. Don’t assume your keyboard is totally waterproof.
Important Accessories for Keyboard Owners
When people buy keyboards, they don’t usually just buy the keyboard, and many of the deals you’ll discover on HotUKDeals feature a combination of devices, not just the keyboard on its own.
For instance, you might want to look for keyboards with a stand included. These fold-up products tend to pack away as small as possible and are made from lightweight aluminium. When erected, they act as a platform to place your keyboard, allowing you to type out emails or give presentations at a comfortable standing height.
You can also find plenty of keyboard and mouse combination deals. Whether you are setting up a home office or creating a gaming rig, you can save money by purchasing the two devices together, and they often come as a pair in any case. For example, Microsoft makes the Sculpt desktop set, which features an ergonomic wireless keyboard, a wireless Microsoft mouse and a separate numerical pad that you can hold in your palm.
You can also add accessories to make the experience of using the keyboard more comfortable. A great example is the memory foam bars that rest in front of keyboards, propping up your wrists as you type. So, why not plan ahead and save your hands some discomfort in the future?
What About Piano Keyboards?
Of course, PC and smartphone keyboards aren’t the only type of keyboard on the market. When you search the HotUKDeals listings you’ll encounter a vast selection of music keyboards as well. So, if you want to unleash your musical creativity or need an upgrade on an ageing Casio to beef up your band’s sound, there should be plenty of bargains to be had.
Here are some things to keep in your mind when you are buying a piano keyboard:
Firstly, you’ll need to decide whether you want to go for a piano keyboard or an electronic keyboard. Pianos are also electric, but tend to imitate the look of classic pianos and have more keys (88 compared to 61). Playing them also feels very different, as piano keyboard incorporate much more inertia into their mechanisms, mimicking the sensation of playing a normal piano. This makes them a great tool for novices learning the piano (who aren’t advised to learn on electronic keyboards).
If you are a serious musician and you want to buy an electronic keyboard, you’ll probably prefer a model with touch sensitivity included. Basic keyboards just create a single tone no matter how hard you press the keys, but advanced models produce a much richer range of sounds, making them ideal for composers and recording artists.
Nowadays, connectivity is also vital. If you want to use your keyboard with a laptop or desktop computer, look for devices with Bluetooth compatibility, USB sockets and MIDI signalling. You can also find keyboards with Android and iOS compatibility – allowing you to record compositions straight onto your smartphone, before sharing them with your contacts.
Then there are additional features like sequencing, arpeggiators, samplers and internal storage. Most home users won’t need all of these to enjoy their keyboard, but serious musicians may well do. Think hard about how much you need your keyboard to do. The price rises steeply when you start adding top-of-the-line functionality, but good electronic keyboards can be purchased for relatively little.
Go for a reputable brand as well, and avoid also-rans. For piano keyboards, Korg, Roland and Yamaha are market leaders, while Williams and Casio also make excellent electronic keyboards. Even better, you may want to head down to UK music retailers like Richer Sounds or John Lewis, where staff will let you try them out at your leisure.
The Cheapest Keyboard Deals
As with all electronic devices, keyboards are always being discounted by major UK retailers. To find the most recent discounts, all you need to do is visit the HotUKDeals keyboard pages, which include everything from ergonomic office keyboards to gaming keyboards and apps for smartphones from brands like Corsair, Logitech, Razer or Cherry.
Keyboard deals appear all the time, but you are more likely to find steep reductions around Black Friday and Cyber Monday in November – when retailers look to kick off their Christmas efforts. But check back regularly in any case. You can never tell when manufacturers or retailers will stage flash sales. When they do, you can be sure that they will be featured at HotUKDeals, the number one site to follow for keyboard discounts.
Keyboards for Sale and More - Best Prices at HotUKDeals
Keyboards are a computing essential, allowing us to turn our thoughts into words, to control games and apps. Even though touchscreens and voice commands have come around, keyboards are more vital than ever. If you need a new keyboard for your computer or phone, you’ll find a huge range of discounts at the HotUKDeals keyboard listings.