Searching for the perfect laptop keyboard

Laptop keyboards these days depress me – no pun intended. Many manufacturers favor navigation keys that rely on modifiers to free up space for other keys.

There are two keys that are invaluable to my day-to-day use of a computer. Not just for use when coding, but when simply browsing the web and reading content. If a laptop doesn’t have these keys, I feel like I wouldn’t want to use it:

Being able to simply press one single button and have the screen do a page up or page down is so efficient and relaxing. With one finger, on one hand, you can perform this operation.

On a Mac, and many other laptop designs, you have to press Fn + Down to get a page down. What could be done with a single keypress now requires timing and coordination of two different keys using two hands. I’ve been considering buying a Mac laptop, but I’m not sure if I’ll regret having single-key access to my favorite navigation keys.

Home and end keys are also very important to me. I use those keys frequently when doing all kinds of text editing work.

The keyboard I’m typing this on right now is on my Dell Latitude E7470. I think this is one of the best laptop keyboards I’ve used, right up there alongside the Thinkpad.

Dell Latitude E7470 laptop keyboard

As you can see, there are page up and page down keys, and they’re located conveniently next to the arrow key cluster. Navigating documents with this key layout is a breeze. The only drawback to the Dell design is that home and end keys are FN-modifier driven. But, they’re part of the same arrow key cluster, so you never need to move your right hand away from this area in order to perform any navigation operation.

Today I found out about Uperfect phone docks and noticed they had full-sized keys for not only page up and page down, but home and end, also. This gave me the idea to write this blog post and to compare and contrast different laptop keyboard layouts.

I’m impressed that Uperfect found a way to get all of these keys on a 13.3” device. (Maybe they shrunk down all the other keys slightly to make room? Not sure.) They also made room for four full-sized arrow keys, by shrinking the size of the right shift key. I think this is a very clever and professional key layout.

Uperfect phone dock keyboard

The only change I’d make to this keyboard is to remove the right-click context menu key and increase the size of the spacebar.

This keyboard reminded me of some 13-14” HP laptops with the row of navigation keys in a vertical column on the right. I like this design, but I’m not a fan of the tiny up and down arrow keys next to the full-sized left and right arrow keys.

HP laptop keyboard

Microsoft Surface devices have somewhat-dedicated navigation keys, but there are two possible hang-ups. One, the navigation keys share the F1-F12 row, so you have to decide if you want to be able to use the F1-F12 keys or navigation keys. Secondly, since the keys are along the top side of the keyboard, there’s more reaching involved than if they were closer to the arrows, where your hand would naturally be while navigating.

Microsoft Surface keyboard

ThinkPad keyboards are very well constructed. In their layout, page up and page down are right next to the arrow cluster. There are dedicated home and end keys, but they’re higher up on the keyboard beside the F1-F12 keys.

Lenovo ThinkPad laptop keyboard

I’m such a fan of my current laptop’s keyboard that it is tough for me to even think about using a laptop that didn’t have dedicated page up and page down keys. Linux purists may point out that editors like VIM have mapped page up and page down to regular alpha keys on the keyboard, but I only use VIM for some of my editing work. Those same keyboard shortcuts don’t apply system-wide, so you can’t use them in web browsers, office software, etc. Having a laptop without dedicated page up and page down keys feels like taking a huge step backwards usability-wise, and I don’t know if I can bring myself to own a laptop that is without those keys.