Mamie would like to replace her old keyboard and mouse with something better. There are plenty of options …
My Dell desktop’s wired optical mouse and keyboard are getting a little long in the tooth, and I’d like to replace them. What do you recommend? Are wireless devices worth it, or do you continually need to recharge them and replace endless batteries? I can touch-type, but my skills are a little rusty. Mamie
Keyboards are partly a matter of taste, and habitual use overcomes many objections. In other words, if you use a flawed keyboard for long enough, you’ll get used to it. You may even come to like it.
To generalise, there are three major tastes, with some overlaps between them. These are: traditional keyboards, isolated keyboards, and ergonomic keyboards.
As a touch typist, I’m a big fan of traditional keyboards with mechanical keys that click and have lots of travel. This comes from having learned to type on an ancient upright Remington that was built like a tank, then spent a couple of decades with an IBM Model M, which some claim is the finest keyboard ever made.
Other people are equally big fans of isolated keyboards with flat keys that have very little travel. These first appeared on Sony laptops (unless you want to count the Sinclair Spectrum’s “dead flesh” version), but Apple produced a fine aluminium example for its all-in-one Macs.
There is no doubt about which way the keyboard world is going. Mechanical keyboards are bulky and expensive to manufacture. Isolated keyboards are much smaller, and very cheap to make. They’re ideal for laptops that are even thinner than mechanical keyboards. Most people now learn to type on these isolated keyboards – or even on-screen keyboards – so I expect them to become almost everyone’s favourite.
Nonetheless, mechanical keyboards are still popular and easy to find, especially if you don’t object to fancy multi-colour lighting effects. They are being kept alive byPC gamers, for whom rapid responses and N-key rollover are a matter of (virtual) life and death.
The major drawback with both types of keyboard is that you have to twist your wrists to use them. Ideally, your wrists should be in line with your arms. The ergonomic solution is to split the keyboard so that each hand has its own set of keys.
Many ergonomic keyboard users are older people who have suffered from arm or wrist problems such as RSI (repetitive strain injury) and/or carpal tunnel syndrome. Ergonomic keyboards are much cheaper than the loss of work, or the weeks of expert physiotherapy, that often follow such afflictions.
Having enjoyed two courses of physiotherapy, I urge people to use ergonomic keyboards before problems arise, rather than afterwards.
You’re a Dell user so you could consider another Dell keyboard. For example, the Dell SK-8115 has an excellent reputation, and you can find new ones cheap (eg £6.99) on eBay. Dell’s newer keyboards, such as the KB-212-B and similar models, are also serviceable alternatives.
Otherwise, I’d suggest visiting shops that sell keyboards, such as Maplin and Currys PC World, to try a few and pick one you like. Both Logitech and Microsoft offer lots of options. The Logitech M20 is reasonably priced at £18.99, including a mouse. The Microsoft equivalent is the Wired 600 at £24.99, including mouse.
If you want a flat, Apple-style keyboard, look at the Cherry Strait JK-0300GB at £29.99. There’s also a Cherry Strait in black for £34.17. The wireless version, the Cherry DW 8000, costs a bit more (£54.65) but still looks reasonable value. At least, it’s cheaper than the alternative from Matias (£84.98).
If you feel like investing in something more traditional, the Cherry G80-3000 is cheap (£60 or so) for a keyboard that with clicky keys, and would be my pick. The Corsair gaming keyboards – available at Maplin’s shops – are also worth a look. There are, of course, many more expensive options, including the Filco Majestouch-2 (£114) and Das Keyboard (£127.67).
Incidentally, you can still buy IBM Model M-style keyboards. IBM spun off its printer and keyboard businesses to form Lexmark, and when Lexmark moved to cheaper keyboards, some former employees carried on the old business as Unicomp. In the UK, you can buy these and many other fine keyboards from The Keyboard Company. They’re the experts.
If you decide to try an ergonomic keyboard, the Microsoft Comfort range provides a baby step forward. I started with a Comfort Curve 2000 but today’s Microsoft Natural Ergo Keyboard 4000 (£36.48) is a better choice. After a while, I wanted to increase the split so I picked up a new Fujitsu KBPC E (£56.18, but I paid £30 on eBay). Over time, the split naturally got wider, and I’m now ready to replace it with a Kinesis Freestyle2 (£80.68), which has mechanical keys.
When the Wirecutter website looked for the best ergonomic keyboard, it picked the Microsoft Sculpt (£61.18 including mouse). The review provides a good guide to picking a keyboard, and your personal preferences may lead you to a different conclusion – as mine did. However, the Sculpt is a good choice for anyone who doesn’t know what to buy, and is willing to adapt to an ergonomic layout.
I’m not too fussy about mice nowadays, and tend to use whatever comes with the PC or keyboard. When they fail, I pop into a local shop and buy something in the £10 to £15 range. I’m currently using an HP 5-button Optical Comfort Mouse, and I do find HP’s Comfort Grip comfortable. Of course, both Logitech and Microsoft also make decent mice, though most of them are wireless models.
Someone with smaller hands might well prefer a smaller mouse design, but again, it’s a matter of taste.
As before, the serious money is in gaming mice, which can cost over £100. I might be tempted by the Razer Abyssus (£34.99) or the fierce-looking Corsair M65 RGB (£45.50) with back-lighting, but I can’t see the point for my humble purposes, such as playing FreeCell.
Ergonomic mice have also passed me by, usually because they feel unnatural – at least at first – and cost silly money. However, I’ve just noticed that Anker Vertical Ergonomic Optical Mouse prices start at around £10, so I’ll add one to my Amazon Basket.
Wired or wireless?
Most gamers use corded mice and keyboards, and the accepted wisdom is that wired peripherals work better. With my typing and reaction speeds, I can’t tell the difference. However, wired peripherals are generally more reliable, in that they never drop the Bluetooth connection, and they never run out of juice.
Under normal working conditions, your keyboard and mouse will not be very far from your PC. It should be possible to route the cables to avoid any snagging problems. If so, I can’t see the point in paying extra for wireless versions.
However, if distance is a problem, it may be better to use a wireless keyboard and mouse. Also, you may prefer wireless peripherals for other reasons, including aesthetics. That’s up to you.
Have you got another question for Jack? Email it to Ask.Jack@theguardian.com
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