Mechanical keyboard: layouts and form factors
A mechanical keyboard’s form factor refers to the physical shape, size, and the number of keys. This is distinctively different from a keyboard’s layout, which refers to which keys are in which slot – for example, the key placement of QWERTY, the standard keyboard layout. Almost all keyboards have the famed QWERTY layout so in this article I’ll go in-depth into the different sizes, shapes, and option you can expect from a typical mechanical keyboard.
Intro To Form Factors
Full Size Mechanical Keyboards
A full-size keyboard is the standard form factor you’ll see in the majority of keyboards (especially non-mechanical keyboards). This keyboard form factor typically has 104 keys, though some mechanical keyboards will come with additional media control keys or macro keys that would up the key count.
Some distinctive characteristics of a full-size mechanical keyboard include a separate numpad and arrow keys, a full set of function keys above the numbers, and dedicated keys for Print Screen, Scroll Lock, etc. You can compare the best backlit mechanical keyboards here. As a comparison, many built-in laptop keyboards may be a tad smaller as some don’t have numpads. That being said, most of the top-of-the-line modern mechanical boards a usually full sized as gamers and everyday typists like to have the extra space (and a numpad).
A tenkeyless mechanical keyboard form factor is the same as a full size – without the numpad, bringing the key count to 87 keys. There’s many advantages to this smaller form factor.
- Takes up less real-estate on the desk
- Gives you more ergonomic typing – centered more to the body and keeps your mouse closer to your body
- Easier to transport
If you’re working with numbers a lot, you probably don’t want to give up your numpad. Otherwise, it’s a great option for your daily work horse. Almost every game that I’ve ever played doesn’t require a numpad – this is when tenkeyless boards come in to play. The extra space and lightweight feel of a tenkeyless board makes it easy to transport and can be much more comfortable for those who only care about the characters and not the numbers.
These keyboards are currently the least popular form-factor. These shave off 5 more keys (leaving 82 total), leave no large gaps between keys, and require you to use the function key to access some keyboard functions (End, Insert, etc).
These are a great mechanical keyboard for those that need to save even more space on their desk or need even more portability than a tenkeyless form factor offers, but don’t want to lose their arrow or function keys. Check out our Deck 82 keyboard review for one such keyboard.
Why would someone want such a small keyboard? Similar reasons as to why one would want a tenkeyless board and for those minimalistic people who need someone very compact to transport around. This may make a difference if you’re the type of person who travels a lot and needs something easy to carry. A full-blown mechanical keyboard can be quite heavy. In fact, most of the best keyboards are actually quite heavy due to the materials (usually metal) that they’re made of. For example, the Tesoro Gram Spectrum that I’m typing on right now is a full form keyboard that is actually pretty damn heavy to carry around.
The 60 percent mechanical keyboard form factor typically has around 60 keys and is the ultimate in portable mechanical keyboard form factors. A great choice for taking in and out of the office or placing over your laptop keyboard.
The downside of this form factor is significant and would take some time to adjust to. You’ll be missing your dedicated arrow keys, function keys, and navigation keys. You’ll be required to hold down a function key and press another key to access those functions, so that’s something to be aware of before switching to this form factor. Check out this Deskthority article if you’re interested in learning more about 60% keyboards. For those looking for a compact and easy to carry keyboard, a 60% is probably your best bet. Once you learn how to use the hotkeys properly, it’ll feel like typing on a normal keyboard in no time.
Ergonomic form factors come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, all aiming to make the keyboard work with your body for a more comfortable typing experience. These keyboards usually involve radically different key placements, so these would require some serious adjustment. For examples, see the Truly Ergonomic model above, or something like the Freestyle which is split into 2 separate pieces. Many ergonomic mechanical keyboards have very interesting designs. All ergonomic boards have the goal of trying to make a mechanical board that is the most comfortable to type on. There are different builds for different kinds of people. If you feel like you have an awkward typing hand or that many of the standard mechanical boards out there are slightly off, I strongly suggest you try an ergonomic keyboard. I’ve heard nothing but positive things about some of these boards. The biggest caveat is that you must try the board before you buy because each ergonomic board is different. Make sure it has a return policy so that you can have some time with the keyboard to ensure it’s a right fit for you.