The Right Keyboard Makes A Big Difference. We Tested 14 To Help You Find The Best One

The Right Keyboard Makes A Big Difference. We Tested 14 To Help You Find The Best One

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CNN —  

Your keyboard is like your mattress: You might not think about it a lot, but you spend a significant chunk of your time with it — and if it’s uncomfortable, it can ruin the rest of your day.

That’s why CNN Underscored spent several weeks testing 14 different models, from gaming keyboards to ergonomic and travel-friendly boards, to find a keyboard that’s comfortable to type on, easy to connect with your computers and mobile devices, will work everywhere you do for as long as you need and offers customization to let you be more productive. After all that, we found two keyboards that rose to the top.

Best keyboard overall

The full-size, full featured Logitech MX Keys offers a terrific typing experience, easy device switching, and simple customization.

Best budget keyboard

The compact, portable K380 offers a typing experience that compares to keyboards twice its price, plus two years of battery life and pairing with three devices.

Eric Ravenscraft/CNN

Using the MX Keys felt almost too good to be true. From setup to typing comfort, the MX Keys met or exceeded our expectations. It’s a great keyboard out of the box, plus it offers a range of customizable options that are accessible to the average person.

Logitech’s MX Keys is a full-size keyboard with a number pad, navigation keys and a row of function keys that double as media and brightness controls. The keys’ rounded corners and center indentation made it easy to locate our typing position, and we found the matte finish made typing smooth and comfortable from the moment we started using it. An intelligent keyboard layout supports both Windows and Mac users (some keyboards we looked at combined the Alt and Option keys, making some Mac shortcuts difficult).

The keyboard is mounted in a satisfyingly sturdy metal case, and has proximity sensors that detect when your hands are nearby, automatically turning the backlight on (and off again to save battery when you move away). You never have to press keys in order to find out which keys you’re pressing, even if you start typing in total darkness, nor will you run down the battery by accidentally leaving the backlight on.

Fans of Logitech hardware will know that pairing is a painless process. You can use the included Unifying Receiver or pair via Bluetooth. If you plug the receiver into a USB port, it will pair immediately, with no other setup necessary. A single Unifying Receiver can pair with a compatible mouse (it supports up to six devices ), freeing up your USB ports.

Bluetooth pairing is just as easy — just long-press one of the three Easy-Switch buttons that sit above the navigation keys, and the keyboard will enter pairing mode. You can pair the MX Keys with three other devices (a laptop, tablet and phone, for example), and quickly switch between them with the Easy-Switch buttons.

The MX Keys is also compatible with Logitech Flow, if you’re also using a compatible mouse, which lets you control multiple computers and share files between them — even across platforms — with the same mouse and keyboard by moving your mouse’s cursor from one device’s screen to another.

If you’re after customizability, Logitech Options (a free app for Mac and Windows) lets you be more productive without overwhelming you. Once open, it highlights the 17 keys that can be customized. Out of the box these perform actions are marked on the key, like volume control or playback, but you can customize these to perform other functions, whether globally or within specific applications. The same key could activate a filter in Photoshop, launch a website in Chrome or apply a style in Word. The app automatically detects which program is currently in use. Unfortunately, Logitech Options doesn’t support complex macros like its more gaming-focused G Hub does, but for the average office worker, it’s plenty powerful.

Logitech promises the MX Keys will last for up to 10 full days or up to five months if the backlight is turned off, and in our testing, we never saw the battery percentage drop any appreciable amount. It’s also easy to charge via USB-C cable and keep working if the need arises.

After testing over a dozen other keyboards, the experience of using the MX Keys was so smooth and intuitive, we expected to find out that it was much more expensive than it was. But at $99, we wouldn’t consider anything else.

Eric Ravenscraft/CNN

The compact, portable K380 lacks the numpad and navigation keys of full-size boards, but its keys feature the same grippy, comfortable matte coating as the MX Keys that gives its keys just the right amount of grip. The round keys give it something of a typewriter feel, and it’s not quite as comfortable as the MX Keys, but for a compact keyboard, it’s still pretty cozy with satisfying resistance.

The case is sturdy plastic, and was stable on our desk. There’s no backlight, but not having that adds to the incredibly long battery life, which Logitech estimates at two years on a single pair of AAA batteries. Throw a couple extra AAA batteries in your bag and you’ll be covered well after the Olympics go to Paris.

Pairing the K380 with your devices is just as painless as with other Logitech keyboards, with support for the Unifying Receiver as well as Bluetooth. As with the MX Keys, three Easy-Switch buttons let you switch between multiple devices with ease, and if you have multiple Logitech peripherals, they can all connect via a single receiver. The K380 also supports Logitech Flow with a compatible mouse, so you can work on any combination of up to three Windows, Mac, Android, iOS or Chrome OS devices with a single keyboard.

Logitech Options is supported on the K380, but it’s a bit more limited. The keyboard has only four customizable keys, and they can’t be configured on a per-application basis.

While the small size and low price make the K380 attractive as a travel keyboard, it’s comfortable enough to use that it makes a fine budget desktop keyboard; its biggest drawback in that application would be the lack of a numpad and navigation keys. If you regularly enter a lot of numbers for work or use Home/End for navigation, the K380 might feel constraining, but if you don’t, you can save a significant chunk of change without sacrificing much else.

For each keyboard, we unboxed them, followed the included pairing instructions as written and connected them to a Windows PC as well as a Mac laptop for keyboards that supported multiple devices. We tested with an eye for how intuitive the setup process worked, which platforms the keyboard was compatible with and how easy it was to set up keyboard customizations.

We then spent at least one entire workday using the keyboard as our sole input, split between using the keyboard on both the Windows and Mac machines. We installed any customization apps (where applicable) and attempted to create a few customized shortcuts. We used the keyboards while wireless and while plugged in, if the option was available.

For tasks, we focused on productivity and general purpose tasks. For gaming-related tasks, you can check out our guide to gaming keyboards. A daily workload consisted of some combination of writing in a word processor, entering data in spreadsheets and chatting in communication apps.

We based our rankings on the keyboard’s comfort level, ease of customization, how well it translated between platforms, its rated battery life and price. Due to the exceptionally long battery life that most wireless keyboards have, we did not fully drain the devices to test for real-world performance. In lieu of this, we gave extra weight to how easy it is to charge the keyboard while using it, or how often a user can expect to replace any replaceable batteries.

We used the following categories to log and rank the keyboards we tested:

Setup: This category included how long it took to set up a keyboard and how intuitive the process was, whether the keyboard was Plug & Play, how much charge the keyboard had out of the box and how many platforms the device supported. Desig

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