My franchise keyboard is on a laptop

My franchise keyboard is on a laptop

Summary: Writers, be they world-famous novelists, prolific bloggers or business report writers, can appreciate how important it is to have a great keyboard. When this group hears that the best keyboard ever made is on a laptop, it raises a few eyebrows.


I am a professional writer, so this post definitely reflects my bias of how important a good keyboard can be to getting work done. I write 2,000 - 3,000 words a day on average, so the instrument for getting those words on the screen is very important. Writers, be they world-famous novelists, prolific bloggers or business report writers, can appreciate how important it is to have a good, no a great keyboard. When this group hears that the best keyboard ever made is on a laptop, it raises a few eyebrows.

Good keyboards have several attributes that set them apart from the wannabes, notably key travel, spacing and layout. To become one with the writing process, a keyboard has to simply be, and not be in the way. It must feel completely natural with hands resting on the keys, pounding for all they are worth to meet the deadline or finish the article.

Like sports teams with their franchise players, I have a franchise keyboard. The Lenovo ThinkPad x200t is the laptop, no, the keyboard that I grab when the rubber needs to hit the road. Sure it has a screen and computer attached to it, but it's the keyboard that keeps me coming back when the pressure is on. I have used the x200t for several years, and I will be using it for years to come strictly because of the keyboard.

ThinkPads have always been famous for having good keyboards so this isn't that big a stretch. But of all the standalone keyboards and those integrated into laptops I have used, the x200t is easily the best, and by a wide margin. The key spacing is perfect, and the key tops are gently sculpted to fit the fingertips just so. The key travel, the distance the key must be pressed to generate a click, is just right; not too far requiring too much pressure (which slows me down), and just as importantly not so short a distance that results in inadvertent clicks.

The x200t keyboard layout is outstanding, and designed to facilitate rapid typing. All of the keys are where the touch typist expects them to be, with good design features like oversized Shift keys. The right Shift key is perhaps the biggest I have ever seen, and this translates into fast typing. The bottom line is everything on this keyboard just feels right, which is rare for keyboards.

The ThinkPad x200t is also a multitouch Tablet PC that in addition to touch accepts input from a special pen for writing on the screen. That screen swivels around to form a tablet, so it has a lot of utility over most notebooks. But the single feature of the ThinkPad that keeps me coming back to it when my back is to the wall, is the keyboard.

The old school design of using real keys and not namby-pamby chiclet keys (which are all the rage), is key to the ThinkPad being my franchise keyboard. Don't misunderstand me, I can type decently on chiclet keyboards; but the real keys on the ThinkPad never cause misspelled words like the chiclet keyboards due to hitting the wrong key.

Lenovo now sells the ThinkPad x201t, and while the keyboard looks the same as the older x200t I haven't kept up with it closely enough to tell if it's been changed. Laptop makers have a tendency to "improve" keyboards when refreshing a model, and when you already have a franchise keyboard that's a step backward.

Keyboards are very personal things, so you may not agree with me that this one could back your franchise as it does mine. Leave a comment and share your favorite keyboard and explain why. We'll all learn something from the exchange.

Topics: Hardware, Laptops, Mobility

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Nah

    The best keyboard every created was the Keytronics 101. Cost $115 back in 1984, but that keyboard was simply the best of the best.

    Mechanical switches, with break-away (soft push to start, but to actually register a keystroke required more pressure, and there was a distinct feeling of "breaking" as the key became easier to press again).

    Quiet operation, too. None of this nostalgic "clicky" sound. That keyboard lasted me a good ten years too. Wish I could find those kinds of keys in a split layout keyboard.

    • TRS-80, IBM, ThinkPad....

      @wolf_z <br>I never used that keyboard, but it sounds good. I can't say which keyboard is the best....kind of like saying which car is the best. However, my favorite keyboards in no particular order: <ul><li>TRS-80 Model 4D: I could easily type 60+ WPM, amazingly responsive, comfortable (I could type for hours on end). Make fun of me if you will, but it really did rock.</li><li>IBM's PC's old standard 101 keyboard: They had that beautiful mechanical clickety-clack and amazing tactile feedback. It is also heavy as anything, reliable as nothing I've seen since (15+ years and still works perfectly). I'm not allowed to use it anymore, since I share an office with my beautiful wife and she can't stand the sound.</li><li> Any and every T-series ThinkPad keyboard, including the one I'm typing on now (T410s). Except for not having the numeric keypad, these have been the most amazing laptop keyboards ever.</li></ul>I have been tempted to try out the Das Keyboard, which is reminiscent of the old IBM keyboard....hmmmm.....
      • your IBM is a keytronics...

        @matricellc I still use mine... and the markings are all still legible. Thing sounds like a local freight running on stick rail!

        When I need to type a lot fast, there's nothing better than the audio feedback that keyboard provides. I can tell if I've made a mistake more from the sound than by sight.
    • d@mn skippy!

      @wolf_z I still use an original IBM KT101, absolute perfection. I'm a bad typist, so the heavy pressure and audio clues are very helpful.

      The only keyboard I liked more was on the Tandy 101, one of the first "laptops" released. (8086 processor)

      I used the heck out of mine, then gave it to a friend who put it in charge of switching for a phew phones. As far as I know it's still at it.

      I wish I never gave that beauty away. But of course I was lured by the siren song of my new TandyHD120 laptop, with 80286 and utterly limitless 10 MB hard drive!

      Here's what the 101 looks like:
  • I love the HP EliteBook 6930p

    My work laptop is an HP EliteBook 6930p. Awesome keyboard as well, exactly the way I like it.
    Daniel Breslauer
  • RE: My franchise keyboard is on a laptop

    Research machines 380Z circa 1982 was my favourite. The casing could stop a bullet and the keys looked like they'd been lovingly hand carved from some kind of exotic black stone (obviously they were actually plastic!). Perfect travel, feedback and spacing. Never once had my hands cramp up.
  • RE: My franchise keyboard is on a laptop

    Personally I think they all stink, hve gotten repetitive stress injury (carpal tunnel) on every bloody one of 'em.
  • I hate those chicklet keys, too!

    Topping my list of deal-breakers:
    Having to double-stroke home, end, pg up, and pg dn
    Having them and/or delete and insert relocated
    Chicklet keys!
    Lack of backlighting
    Cursor-keys too low, too small, especially those half-size up/down keys

    The HP dv3510nr keyboard is the best I've ever used, so good, I bought two of them.

    I really just don't get why laptop makers are so hell-bent on using us as guinea pigs for for their silly ideas of what's cool, or what fits. When are they going to get just how important the keyboard is to us? Create a standard, and stick to it!
    • RE: My franchise keyboard is on a laptop

      @Gaius_Maximus "Having to double-stroke home, end, pg up, and pg dn"

      Or worse, not having them at all. Got an HP netbook, and they're nowhere in sight. VERY annoying.
  • RE: My franchise keyboard is on a laptop

    you are 100% right. it took a while for me to finally give up my thinkpad years ago. i even bought a 2nd one so i wouldn't have to give up my "dot" (trackpoint). then i used the old one as parts until i couldn't cobble frankenstein together anymore. dell's older laptops had the "dot" for a while. *sigh* goooood times, good times.
  • RE: My franchise keyboard is on a laptop

    My favorite keyboard is the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000. I started using Microsoft split keyboards back in the early 90s when they first came out. Once you get used to a split keyboard, you'll never go back to a regular one.
    • RE: My franchise keyboard is on a laptop

      @jsanko ... HEY ... me too! And I'm not a died in the wool "softie" who always goes with whatever MS makes. As a writer and techno-weenie, I've tried hundreds of keyboards over the 30+years I've been using PC's and other computers ... I've hated many and loved a few. I was getting into serious wrist troubles several years ago when I tried my first split keyboard. To my delight, the wrist problems quickly and completely stopped and never came back. The Natural 4000 is my current favorite of the splits I've had, but I can't say I'd recommend it to everyone.

      As James says in his article, keyboards are very personal things, perhaps even more so than some other aspects of personal electronics (though I think there's a high degree of personal preference in most aspects of our tech toys). As with all things, "best" depends on the interaction between the user and the device as used by that particular individual.

      Take James's personal preference on the Think Pad. I haven't used a Think Pad in several years, but back in the days when I did, I hated mine with a passion, not because of the keys (they were fine) but because of the hard, sharp-ish corners on the upper near-side portion of the unit which dug into my wrists horribly while I was trying to key. I can only hope they've long since ditched those corners. Other folks may have loved them, but not me.

      What works for MY finger spacing, my keying style and my body ergonomics may be all wrong for you. I only recommend one thing to writers who want a great keyboard ... "find a way to give the ones you're thinking about a good, lengthy test drive."
      Trep Ford
      • Ergo 4000

        @Trep Ford <br>I'm a die hard fan of the Ergo 4000, too, and I agree that they're not for everyone. However, I've had very few users ever give one back after they've had it for a couple of days.<br><br>My wife is a paralegal and lives on a keyboard. A few years ago, her wrists were really bothering her so I put a MS Natural Keyboard Pro on her home PC (the Ergo 4000 wasn't close to being born yet). In response to her fussing about it, I told her to use it for a week and I put her straight keyboard back on her PC. After three days, she made her employer buy her the same keyboard for the office and she's never used a straight keyboard since. She now takes her own Ergo 4000 to new assignements so there's not hassle about it.<br><br>I do wish, however, that Microsoft would come up with a better way of putting the letters on the key caps. I've got half a dozen that users in my office have worn to smooth black. I don't recall ever seeing that happen on other keyboards, including other MS keyboards.
      • Cheaper has lead to fewer double-injection moulded keys

        Expensive keyboards of old, like the Honeywells, had double-injection moulded keys, where the key is made of two different moulds of plastic, with the key symbol on the inner one. Like rock candy, the lettering cannot wear out.

        Many netbooks have very spongy keyboards, renting on flimsy plastic. Pay more and you get a keyboard like on the Sony Vaio P series, which while slighly undersized, is still very typable.
      • RE: My franchise keyboard is on a laptop

        @Trep Ford Yup. Got mine right now, and thankfully I'm a touch typist as I'm wearing the caps off of several of them :D. The only replacement I'm gonna get is another split/ergonomic keyboard.
    • Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000

      @jsanko Just flipped my keyboard over - yep! It's an Ergo 4000. I love this keyboard. It's my second one of this model, and my third split Microsoft keyboard.

      I tend to replace them when the lettering comes off the keys. On my first Ergonomic Microsoft keyboard - some white model with USB ports built in - the keys got louder and louder with age. Hasn't happened on the 4000 yet.
    • RE: My franchise keyboard is on a laptop

      @jsanko :) Funny you should mention that (to your reply to my reply, below). I've only had my 4000 since March of 2010 and several of the letters are already almost completely worn away. As a touch typist, it's not a big issue, but it does look rather tacky. I remember the "old days" when letters were sometimes inlaid into the keys. That was very cool looking, pretty classy and lasted forever. A thing of the past, I suppose.

      As someone with oily skin, I have seen this "where did the letters go" happen before, though not so quickly. It's not a problem that bothers me or effects my keying, but the look is less than great.
      Trep Ford
    • RE: My franchise keyboard is on a laptop

      @jsanko Can't say that I have ever gotten into the MS Ergo line. However, I have the MS Comfort 5000, and I love it. It is a modified ergo keyboard, that curves instead of being split. I thought that I would hate it when I received it as a gift. Then I started using it. It is actually very natural feeling, even for touch typing.

      The only problem is that it is very difficult to go between the Comfort 5000 and a regular keyboard. Solution: by a second for the office!
    • Always make me think they are made for muscle-bound bodybuilders...

      ..., whose arms cannot fold in close to their bodies!
    • RE: My franchise keyboard is on a laptop

      Yep, I'm with all you folks who love the split, curved keyboards. Back in the '80s my carpal tunnel and tendonitis problems caused me to try a number of the very earliest ones, even before Microsoft came out with their first Natural keyboard. The adjustable ones were kind of neat. But if you didn't get them adjusted just right it was nearly as painful as going back to the flat rectangle. I tried the Natural when Microsoft released it and I've never gone back. I'm currently using the Natural Multimedia Keyboard 1.0A. I've had it for a few years and it has a lot of miles on it. The letters are all still in place. I'm not crazy about the newer ones, like the 4000 because of the color. I very much prefer light colour keys over black keys. This preference has increased as I've gotten older and my eyesight poorer. I'm a touch typist but occasionally I need to glance down to reposition or catch a key that I don't use often.

      another ken