A wireless keyboard frees you from more than a cable. It frees you from the crummy slab you got for free with your Windows PC—does anyone like that one?—and it gives you options. The models we’ve reviewed vary in size, weight, key design, and compatibility with other operating systems and devices.
This is one category where it really pays to head to a store and try out a model you’re interested in. When we had our stack of keyboards in for review, people couldn’t help but touch and play with them. They all came with different needs and biases. There’s truly no one size to fit all, but our reviews aim to give you enough specifics to make a sound decision. See below for more on how we tested.
Best wireless keyboard
Iogear’s Quietus RF Desktop was quieter than some of the models we tested, though not all of them, so don’t focus on that selling point as much as the overall package: a nicely designed, well-equipped keyboard with the bonus of a wireless mouse, all for a very reasonable price.
Typing on this chiclet-style model, we enjoyed terrific travel and a satisfying (and fairly quiet) clicking sound. The 12 hotkeys, including instant access to track management, volume handling, and sleep mode, are especially handy.
It uses just one AAA battery, which is supposed to last for up to a year.
[$39.95 MSRP; available from Amazon]
Despite its higher list price compared to the Iogear Quietus RF Desktop, Microsoft’s Wireless 900 Desktop costs basically the same if you shop around. Like the Iogear model, this one also bundles a wireless mouse.
It’s the runner-up primarily because it doesn’t have as many hotkeys as the Iogear model, although it does have eight programmable keys. The other downer for us is the spacebar, which emits a loud thwack when pressed. Considering this button’s constant use, that thwack could get annoying fast.
We’d criticize its use of two AAA batteries versus the Iogear’s one, but the Microsoft keyboard also is supposed to last twice as long—for up to two years.
[$49.95 MSRP; available through Amazon.]
Key things to know about wireless models
Wireless keyboards connect to a PC in one of two ways: via Bluetooth or a USB receiver. Some older Windows 7 machines may not support Bluetooth. On the other hand, if you need a keyboard to work across different platforms on newer devices, a Bluetooth-enabled model is what you need. The latest Bluetooth 4.0 specification features low-energy technology to save battery, too.
All the USB receiver-driven models in this roundup were flawless examples of plug-and-play keyboards. Pairing Bluetooth keyboards (compared to Bluetooth headsets, let’s say) requires a few more steps, and only one of the models was slightly flaky in maintaining its connection.
Bluetooth keyboards tend to cost a little more but also offer longer battery life. As you’re shopping (particularly if you have big fingers), keep in mind that some hardware makers sacrifice the keys’ size and spacing to give you portability.
How we tested
It was hands-on all the way with our keyboard testing. We spent at least one full workday typing exclusively on each model we tested, with follow-up time to allow for a learning curve. We assessed the primary typing experience: key design, typing feel, and even noisiness. We also tried the secondary features: hotkeys, switches and dials on multi-platform models, and even the ability to adjust the angle or other comfort characteristics.
We considered the size, weight, and durability of each model against its purpose—whether it was designed to be portable or desk-bound, and compact or fully featured. For instance, we balanced the rollable, water-resistant Adesso Antimicrobial Waterproof Keyboard's resilient design against its unusual look and feel.
What to consider when shopping
You’re going to use this keyboard every day, so make sure it fits your typing habits and your needs. Here’s what to keep in mind as you shop.
Size: A model that will always sit on your desktop can be bigger and heavier, and usually some other advantages some with that. As more of us carry laptops or tablets, however, we’ll look for models that are compact or portable. These will sacrifice some features but be easier to take with you.
Keys: Look for keys that are sculpted and spaced for typing comfort. This is why we encourage trying before buying: We’ve had very different experiences with traditional keys vs. chiclet-style vs. flatter key designs, and it’s surprising how little things like the texture or the amount of dimple will make or break a choice. Most mainstream keyboards use membrane technology, which is adequate for most users, but heavy-duty users and gamers will likely prefer keyboards with mechanical switches (which are not reviewed here). Windows hotkeys, or even programmable keys, are great bonuses, especially for power users.
Adjustability: Some keyboards offer no adjustment for angle or height. Look for models with adjustable legs or feet. We haven’t included ergonomic models in this round of reviews.
Battery needs: All wireless keyboards use batteries. Check closely for the type and number of batteries you need, and whether a starter set is included. We note the vendors’ specified battery life at the top of each review.
Price: When it's so easy to get a keyboard for free, it can be hard to justify actually buying one. The good news is, you can get a solid model for as little as $40, including some of the ones we've reviewed. We show the MSRP for each model, but of course you can often find it for less at online or brick-and-mortar stores.
All our wireless keyboard reviews
Keyboards are a very personal choice. Whether you want big or small, desktop or portable, with more or fewer buttons and adjustments, you can find it in one of our other keyboard reviews here.
This story, "Best wireless keyboards: Cut the cord with Bluetooth and USB models offering extras galore" was originally published by PCWorld.