Keyboard sizes are measured in relation to the full-sized keyboard. Current keyboard sizes in descending order are full-size, 1800 Compact, TKL, 75%, 65%, 60%, and 40%.
This article will explain the benefits and disadvantages of the various keyboard sizes. It will also discuss the specifications of each keyboard size and how functions are altered as keyboard size becomes smaller.
Full-Size Keyboard (100% Keyboard)
Full-size keyboards have 104 keys which are composed of the main cluster keys, such as the letters and number row; the function keys; the arrow keys and Home cluster keys; and a numpad on the rightmost side.
This all-purpose keyboard size is convenient for data input due to the integrated numeric pad and function keys. As such, full-size keyboards are often the staple keyboard in offices.
Usually, gaming keyboards derive their design from the full-size form factor because gaming keyboard manufacturers can put media and macro keys along with dedicated knobs for extra functions. However, full-size keyboards can suit all users including gamers, typists, programmers, or casual users. Thus, despite the rise of other keyboard form factors, full-size keyboards are still a popular choice.
The primary downside to full-size keyboards is the non-ergonomic design which widens the gap between the hands when using the keyboard and mouse at the same time. Prolonged use can result in strain to the neck and shoulders.
Furthermore, full-size keyboards are often more expensive than other keyboard form factors because of the greater number of switches and keycaps needed to manufacture the product.
1800 Compact Keyboard (96% Keyboard)
1800 compact keyboards or 96% keyboards are smaller than full-size keyboards. However, the size difference is not as distinct as compared with other form factors. Thus, the 1800 compact is often considered as an alternative full-size keyboard.
This keyboard form factor reduces the keyboard size by engineering a more compact key arrangement to fit the same number of keys on a smaller frame. Oftentimes, the arrow keys are placed below the Enter key while the Home key cluster is placed above the numpad.
1800 compact keyboards are good for people who want smaller keyboards but still want to keep the numpad for data input. However, users need to adjust and accustom themselves to the new key arrangement.
This keyboard form factor reduces the size of the keyboard for comfort and convenience without removing any of the functions from the full-size layout. The 1800 compact keyboard is a good middle ground for people who are undecided in getting a full-sized keyboard or a tenkeyless keyboards.
TKL Keyboard (80% Keyboard)
Tenkeyless or TKL keyboards, only measure to up to 80% of full-size keyboard. For consistency with other keyboard form factors, TKL keyboards are also referred to as 80% keyboards. It reduces space covered in the working space by removing the numpad on the right side of the keyboard.
These keyboards only have 87 keys composed of the letters, number row, function keys, Home key cluster, and the arrow keys. It balances between size and functionality and is more ergonomic as it reduces the shoulder separation and elbow distance.
For a lot of people, TKL keyboards are the sweet spot in terms of keyboard size because it frees up sufficient space for the mouse by removing the numpad, which most people do not use regularly. Oftentimes, TKL keyboards are cheaper than full-sized keyboards because of the fewer switches and keycaps.
However, for people working in the business sector such as accountants, TKL keyboards might not suit the demands of the job, which often requires the numpad.
An alternative solution, aside from retaining the full-sized keyboard, is to buy a separate numpad and to place it on the left-hand side of the TKL keyboard. This allows users to use the TKL keyboard and mouse conveniently while still having the option to use the numpad with the mouse simultaneously.
The 75% keyboard is a compact version of the TKL keyboard. It removes the key gaps to push the keys together and reduce the keyboard’s overall size.
This keyboard form factor retains all the functions of the TKL keyboard but alters the key placements. Laptops users will easily adapt to using 75% keyboards because laptops often do not have key gaps.
The 75% keyboard moves the arrow keys directly below the Enter key instead of having a separation between the main cluster and the arrow keys and Home key cluster. It also places the Home key cluster on top of the arrow keys but with vertical alignment instead of the usual box configuration.
Other 75% keyboards also have smaller Shift keys to accommodate the arrow key placements. The non-standard size of the Shift key can be a problem for people who like to customize their keyboards because of the difficulty of finding non-standard key cap sizes.
The 65% keyboard is a compact keyboard that follows some of the design features of the 75% keyboard such as vertical placement of the Home key cluster and blending of the arrow keys to the main cluster. However, it removes the function keys on top of the number row. It also features reduced key gaps to less than the standard 3.3mm as well as the key sizes to less than 15mm by 15mm.
While it does not have function keys, which are rarely used, it still provides the option to use these function keys through key layering toggled using the Fn key.
The 60% keyboard is another compact form factor that leaves only the main cluster of the keyboard. It removes the arrow keys and the Home key cluster in the 65% keyboard to reduce keyboard size. Most 60% keyboards are only composed of 61 keys in total.
Due to the reduction of the arrow keys and the Home key cluster, the 60% keyboard uses layers to allow the main clusters to serve another function through the Fn key. Usually, keys in 60% keyboards have printed legends to guide users on the function key combinations to use the removed key functions.
For most people, the 60% keyboard is the smallest they’re willing to use, especially when coming from full-size or TKL keyboards. However, people who need the arrow keys and are bothered by regularly using the function layers to access the arrow keys should stick to the 65% option at a minimum.
With only 47 keys composed of the main cluster keys without the number row, this keyboard size is the smallest and most barebones form factor.
To compensate for the lack of number row on this keyboard, it has several toggle keys and combinations of the Shift button and toggle keys to switch between different layer configurations such as the numbers, punctuation marks, multimedia functions, Home key cluster functions, and special characters.
The 40% keyboard is often programmable using the Pn key. It allows users to change the programming of the keys to correspond to the user’s needs.
However, the 40% keyboard can be challenging to learn and master given its complexity and the necessity of combining various keys to access different layers or program specific keys.