Backlit keyboards are pretty popular right now.
And if you’re in the market for a new keyboard you might be considering getting a replacement with RGB backlighting.
But are backlit keyboards actually useful, or are they just another fad in PC gaming?
Let’s look at the reasons why you might, or might not, want to buy a backlit keyboard.
What is a backlit keyboard?
A backlit keyboard is a membrane or mechanical keyboard with a lighting system behind the keys.
Some backlit keyboards provide diffuse illumination of the keyboard i.e. the light shines around the keys so you’re not typing in the dark.
Other, more typical, backlit keyboards provide direct backlighting directly underneath each key, which are also etched so that the actual outline of each letter, number or symbol is clearly backlit too.
Are all backlit keyboards RGB?
Cheaper, sub-$20 backlit keyboards often only use plain white LEDs as a light source for the keys.
Is a Backlit Keyboard Necessary?
If you often find yourself working or gaming in low-light conditions, backlit keyboards are easier to see because the keys are illuminated.
The issue here is that there’s absolutely no need to work in low-light conditions. It’s much better to get up and switch a light on.
Gamers however are a different breed and often prefer to game without much (or any) natural or artificial light.
Because the external glare can be really, really distracting from what’s happening on the screen – being immersed in the gaming environment is what gamers are looking to achieve.
Does that mean that only gamers should own or use a backlit keyboard?
Nope, because one of the main reasons I use a backlit keyboard is longevity – the etched backlit keycaps on my current SteelSeries (or Logitech depending on the day of the week) never fade.
Lettering on non-backlit keyboards can wear down more quickly on frequently used keys, leading to a mismatched appearance between glossy and matte key surfaces.
So, backlit keyboards have a longer lifespan, offering far better value for money.
Which is not something you can say of any non-backlit keyboard.
What Does It Mean When a Keyboard Is Non-Backlit?
A non-backlit keyboard is a type of keyboard that does not have a light source underneath its keys.
Unlike its backlit counterpart, the non-backlit keyboard does not provide illumination for its letters or symbols, so it may be more challenging to use in low-light conditions or situations where it is difficult to see the keyboard without additional lighting.
Non-backlit keyboards may not have the same aesthetic appeal that backlit keyboards provide, as they don’t allow for customizable backlighting options, such as color-changing or animated lighting effects.
Does A Backlit Keyboard Affect Performance?
Overall, backlit keyboards have a positive effect on user performance, when used responsibly.
The main factors that impact a computer user’s performance are excessive:
Backlit keyboards do not produce any more noise than a regular membrane or mechanical keyboard. And because they use LED lights, keyboards with backlighting produce no additional heat.
So that brings us to light, and by the nature of their construction, they do produce extra light – and lots of it.
That light benefits the user though because they’re either a home office or office worker working in low light conditions, or they’re a gamer who prefers gaming in near-dark conditions.
Backlit Keyboards Advantages
- Easier to use in dark or low-light environments.
- Reduces eye strain in low-light environments.
- Mood-boosting lighting makes long stints at a computer more bearable
- The look and feel of the keyboard are highly customizable
- Easier to locate specific keys that are backlit with specific colors
Backlit Keyboards Disadvantages
- RGB and LED lights require more power than a non-backlit keyboard
- Can drain a laptop battery almost 20% faster than normal usage
- LED lights eventually fail so will require replacement
- Animated lighting effects on RGB keyboards can be distracting
Non-Backlit Keyboard Advantages
- One of the reasons users opt for a non-backlit keyboard is the reduced cost.
- Non-backlit keyboards often have a rougher key texture which provides a more tactile response for some users.
- Keyboards without backlighting consume less energy, which is a vital consideration for laptop users
- Are better suited to users who prefer a minimalist look for their computer workspace
Non-Backlit Keyboard Disadvantages
- Limited visibility of the keys in low-light conditions.
- Non-backlit keyboards may lack the visual appeal or customization options that backlit models offer.
Are Backlit Keyboards Distracting?
Some users find the illuminated keys to be helpful, particularly in low-light conditions, making it easier for them to locate specific keys and reducing typing errors.
On the other hand, some users may find the brightness and glow of backlit keyboards to be visually distracting, especially if the keyboard features animated lighting effects.
The level of distraction caused by a backlit keyboard may also depend on the specific keyboard model and its features.
High-quality backlit keyboards often come with options to control the brightness levels or turn off the backlight completely,
This allows users to adjust settings based on their personal preferences and surroundings
Is A Backlit Keyboard Good for Gaming?
The primary benefit is improved visibility in low-light or dark environments, making it easier for gamers to locate specific keys using just their peripheral vision.
Another advantage is they allow gamers to personalize their keyboard’s colors and lighting patterns.
This customization can match the lighting with the game’s theme or their gaming rig setup, creating an immersive atmosphere.
Backlit gaming keyboards often come with additional features designed for gaming, such as dedicated macro keys, customizable keycaps, and faster key actuation.
These features can enhance gameplay, providing gamers with more control and quicker response times.
Can You Make a Non-Backlit Keyboard Backlit?
While it is possible to upgrade a non-backlit keyboard to use LED backlighting, the cost, technical requirements, and amount of work involved means it would be easier to simply buy a backlit keyboard.
In the case of a laptop, yes, it is possible to upgrade many laptop keyboards to feature backlighting. This Reddit thread discusses the ideas and work involved in work detail.
Also, bear in mind that cracking open your laptop case and rewiring stuff immediately invalidates your warranty.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
How Long Do LED Backlit Keyboards Last?
LED backlit keyboards have become increasingly popular due to their enhanced visibility and aesthetic appeal.
The longevity of these keyboards is typically determined by the lifespan of the LED lights used inside them
In general, LEDs can last for 10,000 hours to even 100,000 hours or more.
That’s anywhere from 1 to 10 years of non-stop illumination of your keyboard, so it’s more likely that your key switches will fail before your LED backlights do.
Can Backlit Keyboards Be Turned Off?
Yes, backlit keyboards can be turned off when not needed or to conserve battery power for any laptop that features a backlit keyboard.
The process for turning off the backlighting varies depending on the keyboard’s manufacturer and model. In most cases, turning off the backlit keyboard involves pressing a combination of the “Fn” key and another specific key on the keyboard.
Consult your device’s manual or search for specific instructions for your keyboard.
Why are backlit keyboards so expensive?
Backlit keyboards tend to be more expensive than their non-backlit counterparts for several reasons.
The first factor is the additional cost of integrating LED lights into the keyboard design. These lights must be precisely placed to illuminate the keys while preserving the other keyboard functionalities.
And secondly, the vast majority of high-end backlit keyboards are also mechanical keyboards.