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Friday, June 14, 2024

Would you ever use a tiny keyboard?

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THE PCG Q&A

Find all previous editions of the PCG Q&A here. Some highlights:
Have you learned a real-world skill from a game?

Number keys or scroll wheel weapon switching?

Worst PC-building catastrophes?

The venerable IBM Model M remains a cultural and design touchstone for what a computer keyboard looks like, and with good reason—they really got it right the first time. Still, enthusiasts and manufacturers have been getting kinda nutty with it in recent years, producing various ergonomic keyboard designs and even tiny keyboards that minimize cost and maximize your desk space.

I used to think I was function keys and number pad guy for keeps, but for the past year I’ve been living that 65% life and loving it. If you’re unfamiliar, that means my board has 65% of the layout of a standard QWERTY, meaning no function row or number pad. Accessing my missing quick save, quick load, and Steam screenshot keys just requires a simple two-key combo press.

I’m sure it’s not for everybody though—Alt codes only work with the num pad, so I’ve had to get creative in Gdocs to access my beloved em dash. Likewise, if your work involves anything computational or requires a lot of numerical entries, fuhgeddaboudit, you’re gonna want the pad. Meanwhile, there are layouts even smaller than 65%, astounding exercises in minimalism and key combo memorization that stretch the limits of my credulity. But for gaming and writing? 65% suits me just fine.

Would you ever use a tiny keyboard? Here are our answers, as well as some from our forum.

Robin Valentine, Senior Editor: I’m the kind of guy who always wants to feel like they’ve got all the options available. Just the thought of needing a key and it not being right there on the board makes me sweat. I do like the look of small keyboards, but the functionality makes no sense to me at all. What are you even using that extra space for – an enormous mouse?

Lauren Aitken, Guides Editor: I’m currently using Everest 60 because I have tiny hands and it is perfect. I have a detachable numpad I keep to the right and programmed my own shortcut keys so it’s super easy to use, not to mention very comfortable to write with given I am a smol gal. Whenever I try to type on a full-size keyboard I feel it takes me ages and I’m as clumsy as a swan trying to open a packet of crisps. It’s comfortable for gaming as well—again, the small hands thing doesn’t stop being a problem when I’m using a mouse and keyboard to play games. It’s cute and pretty and makes nice sounds and my carpal tunnel has all but disappeared: get on the 60% hype train!

Lauren Morton, Associate Editor: I downsized to a tenkeyless keyboard a while back and, like Ted, there are a couple Alt codes I really miss with the loss of my numpad. I’ve developed a highly codependent relationship with the website emdash.fan, highly recommend. I also sometimes miss having a PrntScrn button in highly specific cases that I cannot presently recall. I could definitely never go down to those adorably small compact keyboards I see the minimalism fans using that do away with all the function keys and arrow keys. I’ve been on my Steelseries Apex Pro TKL for around a year and I’ve still never really settled into the loss of my numpad.

Dave James, Hardware Lead: I’m in the Lauren A. camp with my Everest 60 keeb, and I love it. Though what the hell are you doing sticking the detachable numpad on the right? The left side is where it’s at. Then you can calculate stuff and use a mouse with the other hand; how else do you deal with spreadsheets? I know some people are ultra-dependent on alt-codes, but I’m such a dimwit I’ve never managed to get them to work on my machine for some reason. Instead I’ve become very adept with the Windows emoji pop-up keyboard (Win+.)—it’s really handy when grabbing the old emdash, particular characters, or slapping emojis into articles to really wind people up. I’ve also set Google Docs up to always give me an em dash when I double-strike the standard dash. Easy.

But for me, the mini keyboard is absolutely the way to go for gaming. No-one needs F keys in 2023 and the extra space afforded to your mouse hand by a small form factor board really works for me. Those lunatics who go super-minimal and pick a board without even a set of cursor keys? Man, those people are a lost cause.

Andy Chalk, News Lead: I’d like to try one, because my current keyboard is large and heavy and sometimes I think to myself, man, it would be nice if my keyboard wasn’t so large and heavy. Maybe it would be, anyway. This is why I’d like to try one, because who knows? Maybe it’d suck! (I think the truth is that sometimes I’d just like to try a different keyboard.)

The one thing that would likely keep me from switching to a tenkeyless permanently is—just like everyone else—I use alt codes more regularly than you might think. When doing currency conversions for Steam sales, for instance, it’s nice to be able to just blap out £ and € alongside $ without having to click into a dropdown menu, or whatever it is that people do when currency symbols aren’t a regular part of their lives. The em dash is a big one too—(see, there it is)—I have OpenOffice set to auto-convert — to — but I rarely use it because it doesn’t work anywhere else (like Thunderbird, for example), so my reflex move when I need one is to use the alt code. I think I’d have a hard time giving that up.

Mollie Taylor, Features Producer: I swapped to the Razer Huntsman V2 tenkeyless a few months back and I can’t lie, I’m only sticking with it because the sound of the keys on my Razer Huntsman Quartz was starting to irritate me (and had been irritating the rest of my household for two years). I miss my numpad so much, it ruled! Especially as an MMO player, having access to as many keys as possible keeps my brain happy. There’s no way in hell I could ever go smaller than a tenkeyless. What about your arrow keys? Your PrntScrn key? Those sweet sweet Alt codes? Only agents of chaos go for anything less than a 90% keyboard.

Phil Savage, UK Editor-in-Chief: Lotta small keyboard advocates up in here, and I’ve got to say: nah, I’m good thanks. As someone with such terminal MMO brain that I’ll rebind inputs to fill up all available space, I just get too much use out of the default layout to consider cutting down. I could probably get by without F8. And ‘ins’ is doing nothing for me. But otherwise most of my keys are doing work as a timesaver for some niche MMO or sim. To be honest, my current keyboard doesn’t feel uncomfortably big, so I’ve never felt the need to even try to live life without a number pad. Would a smaller board feel even better? Maybe. But if I never try one, I’ll never know what I’m missing out on. 

From our forum

Kaamos_Llama: I had a 75% keyboard from 2014 or 2015 until a couple years ago, would still have one if the USB cable hadn’t broke. I like having the extra desk space a lot. I used to miss a numpad occasionally but its been so long since I had one I’ve forgotten about them at this point.

The 2 I’ve had since then have been TKL, which are great, but there was something pretty sweet about having a really tiny keyboard too. It would take some time to get used to having a full size board again, and probably a bigger desk.

Brian Boru: Answer to your question is a big no—if that’s not clear, let me clarify: NO.

I use my KB a lot, so every ounce of efficiency I can squeeze out of it makes a difference—mostly psychological of course, but hey, the inside of my head is where I live.

My KB is even bigger than 100%, got an extra row of media keys above the F keys, and an extra column on the left. I don’t use all the extra keys, about 50%—cheap and programmable were the main draws.

[later in the thread] It’s not in me to skimp on where I spend a lot of time. Can’t see myself trying to sleep in a 65% bed.

Zloth: If I don’t use an ergo-keyboard, my wrists start hurting after a few days. That means a big keyboard for sure.

EM dash? (google google) Oh, you mean the long dash! I guess the minus sign isn’t good enough for some people.

Pifanjr: I’ve used a laptop without numpad before and I didn’t like it. There were bigger problems with that keyboard than the missing numpad though.

I use the numpad of my current laptop quite a lot, but that’s mostly because I lost the regular 6 key…

Colif: Sort of, I used one of these [Sidewinder X6 keyboard with modular numpad] for about 5 years and most of the time the numpad was unplugged.

Numpad could be attached to left or right side. I normally had it off. But ever since then I have used normal size keyboards

Lutfij: I have both, the X6 and X8, loved it so much that I wanted to complete the set with an X3 and X4 as well, the latter 2 are unused and even in their original packaging waiting to be unboxed.

Yep, the numpad when attached to the left, would double as a macro, made your keyboard feel like a pseudo TKL, move the mouse closer to the keyboard. This was before Asus decided to jump into the keyboard scene.

Currently, this is my daily driver; Keychron Q1v2(in Shell White), with a Retrogaming XDA profile keycap set that I sourced nearly a year ago.

PCG Dash: I use this tiny mechanical set from Logitech and have never run into any problems!

For games like The Sims 4 or Arma 3 (which need a few numpad keys by default for camera controls etc.) I can get by binding those functions to the emoji buttons down the right hand side.

DXCHASE: I love how some of the smaller compact keyboards look esp. the custom designed ones like the ones at computex this year I also like really clean looking setups with these wireless keyboards and mouses.

BUT need a 100% full sized keyboard (WIRED!) with sound controls and all. It needs to be heavy duty too. I’m a big rough and tumble gamer and need my peripherals to match. Corsair K70 gang!

mainer: My answer is no. I’ve never considered using a tiny keyboard, and from my personal perspective, I just don’t see any practical use for them. I prefer a full-sized keyboard with a padded wrist rest and numpad. I use the numpad constantly, especially outside of gaming, and a solid, padded, and attached wrist rest is important for me, in gaming as well as being a touch-typist (though I don’t know if it’s the “proper” form, I always rest my wrists on the wrist rest).

I also like the weight of a full-sized keyboard, especially if it has a metal frame, as I can “spaz-out” a bit in a real time action game without knocking the keyboard halfway across the desk. My current keyboard (and has been for the last 5 years or so) is the Corsair K95 RGB Platinum. Solid as a tank and has no issues, though the ICUE software from Corsair can be a bit flakey.

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