Updated: The best keyboard 2016: top 10 keyboards compared
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Keyboards matter more than you might think. Sure, they are among the most prosaic of peripherals, so we tend to take them for granted. But given the sheer percentage of our lives that we spend clicking away away at them, finding the right ones can be surprisingly beneficial – may even chip away at the rough edges of our daily grind.
When you set out to buy a keyboard, you’ll be confronted by a surprising amount of diversity – there are cheap and pricey ones, mechanical and membrane ones, wired and wireless ones, wacky ergonomic ones and downright retro ones on sale. So we’ve picked out ten of the best, designed to suit multifarious needs and pockets.
How to select the right keyboard for you
It’s worth noting that if you demand the feel and feedback only offered by keyboards with mechanical keys, rather than keys that press a membrane, you might want to peruse our top 10 best gaming keyboards round-up.
Gamers more or less demand mechanical keys, but mechanical keyboards tend to be very noisy, so can be frowned on in office environments – hence the fact that most non-gaming keyboards take the membrane route.
Note that the keyboards below were provided to TechRadar by UK-based keyboard reseller The Keyboard Company:
- Topre Realforce 87U Tenkeyless
- Topre Realforce 104 UBS Silent variable
- Filco Majestouch-2 Tenkeyless
- Unicomp Classic 104
1. Topre Realforce 87U Tenkeyless
Serves up a satisfying "thock" and fantastic PBT keycaps
Interface: Wired | Keyboard backlighting: No | Switches: Topre electrostatic capacitive (30/45/55 grams variable, 45 grams, 55 grams)
Made by the Japanese Topre Corporation, the Realforce is, as its name suggests, a force of nature in the keyboard world. It’s all down to the Topre switches inside, which contain springs that sit on top of the keyboard’s PCB and are enveloped by a rubber dome. In contrast to Cherry’s MX switches, which (for the most part) feel much grittier under the fingers, Topre switches are super smooth to type on and are often compared to playing weighted piano keys.
The most popular Topre board sold by distributors such as The Keyboard Company in the UK, which supplied our review sample, the 45-gram version of the RealForce (pictured above in black) offers a great combination of a fluid typing feel with high-quality stock PBT keycaps. It’s also available with heavier 55g switches that some swear are superior due to their weightier feel and more reassuring "thock" sound when pressed. For first timers, however, the 45g model is the ideal entry point. Oh, and we should probably mention that neither come cheap.
2. Topre Realforce 104 UBS Silent variable
Buckling spring switch for typing nostalgia
Interface: Wired | Switches: Topre electrostatic capacitive silenced (30, 45 and 50 grams)
So long as you don’t mind losing some of the "thock" sound associated with a regular Realforce keyboard, opting for a silenced model like the 104 UBS lets you reap real benefits. Hitting the 104 UBS’s keys produces sound on a par with membrane keyboards, so it’s perfect for busy offices or shared bedrooms. The "dampened" feel of Topre’s silenced switches can feel a little bit like typing on sandpaper compared to non-silenced Topre, but we found that it’s worth the trade-off if you want a much quieter keyboard.
3. Filco Majestouch-2 Tenkeyless
Built like a tank and compact
Interface: Wired | Switches: Cherry MX (Brown, Blue, Black, Red)
Filco’s keyboards tend to be built like tanks, and the Majestouch TKL is no different. This space-saving mechanical keyboard features a compact tenkeyless design that has less than 1cm of space between the edge of the keys and the keyboard. Its durability doesn’t simply allow it to stand up well to knocks and scrapes – it has a positive impact on its typing feel too. You can hammer away on it at speed, even bottoming out to your heart’s content, and the Majestouch 2 will take every bit of punishment.
4. PFU Happy Hacking Professional 2 (HHKB2)
A coder’s dream and typist’s treasure
Interface: Wired | Switches: Topre electrostatic capacitive (45 grams)
Somewhat legendary in keyboard circles, the PFU Happy Hacking Professional 2 (or HHKB2 as it’s usually referred to) is that rare beast – a 60% Topre keyboard. Aimed at coders but fantastic for document warriors too, it foregoes traditional arrow keys, instead making use of function keys and key combinations to provide such functionality. It only takes a short while to get used to, once you’ve got there the huge benefit is that the HHKB2 is small and light enough to take anywhere, giving you access to that sweet Topre "thock" sound and feel anywhere, anytime.
5. Leopold Fc660c
A portable board with an incredible typing feel
Interface: Wired | Switches: Topre electrostatic capacitive (45 grams)
Leopold’s Fc660c is more portable than the Realforce 87u, but less so than the lighter and more compact HHKB2. However, the Fc660c benefits from its extra heft and feels like the more solid board. Despite having the same 45 gram actuation force as the HHKB2, the Leopold’s keys feel slightly weightier – somewhere nearer to 50 grams. It results one of the most satisfying "thock" sounds on a Topre board.
6. Unicomp Classic 104
The ultimate keyboard for typing nostalgia
Interface: Wired | Switches: Buckling spring
Remember IBM’s legendary Model M keyboard? That’s what the Unicomp Classic 104 sets out to imitate. Available in USB and PS/2 versions, it uses a buckling spring switch that takes more effort to depress than just about every other switch type. You’re rewarded with a tactile response that recalls the classic mechanical keyboards of old, along with a noise that would drive your co-workers insane.
7. Cooler Master NovaTouch TKL
Topre switches with a Cherry MX twist
Interface: Wired | Keyboard backlighting: No | Programmable keys: No
Cooler Master has achieved a number of firsts with the NovaTouch TKL. It’s the first affordable keyboard to use Topre switches, a hybrid variation that feels halfway between using a membrane and mechanical keyboard.
Though linear, rather than tactile, the NovaTouch TKL’s keys have a typewriter-like quality and make ‘bottoming out’ (striking the key so it depresses all the way down) curiously satisfying.
It’s the first affordable Topre keyboard, with other models retailing at twice the price. It’s also the first of its type to use stems compatible with Cherry MX keycaps, allowing you to chop and change keycaps at your leisure. We’re quite keen on the stock ones, funnily enough, but the choice is great to have.
8. Cherry MX-Board 3.0 Wired Professional Keyboard
One of the best keyboards for long typing sessions
Interface: Wired | Features: Cherry MX Red or Brown switches, low-travel design, Included wrist rest
Some keyboards just ooze class, and the Cherry MX-Board 3.0 is one of them. Its low profile makes it much more suitable for marathon typing sessions than conventional mechanical keyboards, and comfort is increased by the included wrist rest. With Cherry’s MX Red or Brown switches under the keycaps, you’re given a choice between linear and non-linear offerings with a range of actuation points.
It’s a poor option for media enthusiasts due to a lack of dedicated keys, and its lack of backlighting is unfortunate. But if those aren’t deal-breakers, the MX-Board 3.0 is one of the best keyboards for ardent typists – and one of the more affordable on our list.
9. Logitech K780
A great option for mobile device owners
Interface: Wired | Keyboard backlighting: No
According to a government survey, the average British household owned 7.4 internet-connected devices in 2015. Logitech is targeting smartphone and tablet owners who prefer to see their device’s display while sat at a computer with its latest keyboard, the K780. If you liked its predecessor, the K380, there’s more to love here. (Literally thanks to its added numberpad.)
The K780 can still pair with up to three devices using Bluetooth or wireless, allowing you to chop and change between them, and it features the same comfortable rounded keycaps that remain a pleasure to type on. The star of the show, however, is the keyboard’s base, which can hold mobile devices up to 11.3mm thick in an upright position. This places them within arms’ reach to make anything from replying to WhatsApp messages or reading a digital magazine easy as pie.
10. Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard
A compact, Surface-like keyboard
Interface: Bluetooth | Features: Compact, USB charging, works with Android, Windows Phone and iOS
Like a Surface Pro 3 Type Cover that can convert to a tent, Microsoft’s Universal Foldable Keyboard is among the most "fun-sized" on our list. Fold it closed and you have one of the most travel-friendly Bluetooth keyboards around, barely larger than a pack of cards.
Also reminiscent of the Type Cover, the Universal Foldable Keyboard is equally uncomfortable for typing on your lap (then again, most keyboards are). Nevertheless, USB charging and simple Bluetooth syncing makes the Universal Foldable Keyboard a preferred option over touchscreen display inputs – so long as you have a flat surface handy.