Laptops already have keyboards…why would you need another one?
The truth is that you don’t need an external keyboard.
But owning one can make using your laptop a whole lot easier on you, and on the laptop itself.
And also be better for your health.
So should you buy a keyboard for your laptop?
The short answer to this is “Yes”, because the advantages of increased productivity, ergonomic comfort, and reduced health risks, far outweigh the marginal costs involved in purchasing an external membrane or mechanical keyboard.
Laptop vs. external keyboards
The keyboard that comes built into your laptop is absolutely fine for most tasks.
They’re usually pretty comfortable and are enough to get the job done i.e. basic data entry.
But they’re never really as comfortable or as functional as a regular full-size keyboard.
Or at least not in my experience.
This can lead to a number of annoying problems.
Let’s look at why this happens and the types of issues you can run into.
Reduced number of keys
A standard desktop keyboard has 104 keys, whereas a typical laptop has 84 keys.
So you’re minus 20 entire keys in your keyboard layout.
But having fewer keys means laptops have a smaller footprint and are just way more compact than a regular desktop PC.
The downside of this is also ironically that you don’t have access to a full-size keyboard.
So you have to work around not having a numpad or having to use key combos to access certain functions or characters.
There’s also the fact that laptop keys are typically “Chiclet” types .
It’s not just that you have fewer keys to work with but the keycaps themselves are also much smaller.
And they tend to be low profile, so the entire keyboard is just one flat surface.
That’s why typing on a laptop can feel so “alien” when compared to typing on a regular keyboard.
You’re typing on much smaller keys that are basically a different shape and there are fewer of them.
Prevent strain injuries
External keyboards are designed with prolonged use in mind.
Which means they’re also designed to specifically reduce the amount of strain on your wrists and fingers when typing.
You can’t get a laptop with an ergonomic keyboard, for example.
Basically because your laptop’s footprint would then be larger than that of a regular keyboard.
Cut down on typing errors
I don’t have particularly large or chunky hands.
But that doesn’t stop my typing from devolving into gibberish on a laptop.
The keys are far closer together so they’re less forgiving.
And I’m also a bit of a rush typist and creature of habit.
So the touch typing positions my fingers have been trained to follow on my desktop keyboard don’t exist on a laptop.
Which slows down my typing speed.
It’s not a big deal.
But I also generate way typos because of it when using any laptop.
Less strain on your eyesight
We’ve all worked with that person who types while hunched over their laptop, their eyes just inches from the screen.
That’s not good for you.
It doesn’t matter that laptops don’t emit a lot of radiation – you’re going to mess up your eyesight.
An external keyboard allows you to sit back at the required arms-length from your computer screen.
You can also adjust your sitting position relative to the screen, so that you can find a typing position that’s comfortable for you.
It’s better for your laptop
All those crumbs and dribbles of coffee encrusted onto an external keyboard are unsightly.
Those crumbs will eventually get stuck under a key preventing it from moving.
Which will be annoying for you…and the IT help desk people.
But a minor coffee spill on a laptop will almost definitely kill it stone dead.
Which will annoy the IT help desk people and…your manager.
Or your partner, if you happen to work from home – because it means budgeting for a new laptop.
So from a health and safety point of view, having an external keyboard is a much smarter choice.
What should I look for when buying a keyboard?
Your first consideration is budget – how much can you afford to spend?
If you only have $20 – $40 in your budget, then a basic membrane or rubber-dome keyboard will be enough.
But if you have a larger budget – and want a superior typing experience – then splash $50+ on a mechanical keyboard.
Yes, they can make more noise than a membrane keyboard, but they’re also way more comfortable to type on.
And they also last much longer.
Next up is whether or not you’ll go wired or wireless.
The simplest solution here is to go wired because the keyboard can simply be connected to a free USB port.
Using a wireless keyboard means installing driver software and dedicated a USB port to the RF dongle for the keyboard.
And then your final consideration is brand – keep this simple by going for a Logitech, Microsoft, Razer, or other major brand.
There’s nothing necessarily “wrong” with cheaper/no-name keyboards, but their warranty isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.
How to connect an external keyboard to a laptop
You have two basic choices here.
You can connect your new keyboard directly to a spare USB port on your laptop.
This is the easiest way to connect things up.
But you could also use a docking station or port replicator.
The difference here is that a docking station not only allows you to hook up your keyboard, but multiple other devices too.
Here’s an example of a typical docking station.