What is your ideal switch for a laptop keyboard?


12 Aug 2019, 22:34

It is quite easy to find peoples preferences for desktop keyboards. But if you were to design a laptop. What key-switches would you use then?

Laptop keyboards have to make a lot more compromises than Desktop keyboards. Usually because they need to be short so the laptop can be thin and portable. I'm wondering which compromises you would be willing to make.

Would you put Model F switches in a laptop keyboard even if it means making it probably over 2 cm thicker? What about noise levels if you use it on a train for example? Or would you pick some more modern key switch with a smaller foot-print, even if it has slightly worse key feel?

Just interested in what your ideal laptop keyboard key-switch is.

User avatar

13 Aug 2019, 00:02

Topre short throw maybe? I’ve never tried them, mind. Real Topre would be gorgeous, but yes it would make for quite the chunky beastie by modern standards…


The original, 1991 PowerBooks weren’t equipped with mechanical keyboards either. But this is the kind of thickness I’m talking about! And I doubt I’d want it.


13 Aug 2019, 00:35

I think the 2005-2010 ThinkPad keyboard is the gold standard.
As someone who prefers silent tactile keyboards, I'd even choose a rubber dome/scissor switch keyboard over a linear or clicky full-travel mechanical as long as it has reasonable key travel (~2mm), shaped keycaps (not chiclet) and is not mushy.
The only problems with them are durability (because of tiny domes and plastic clips), rollover and lack of availability of discrete modules for DIY projects, but I think those could be overcome.

By the way ...
When tablet PCs first arrived, I had great hopes for them as laptop replacements together with any keyboards. Then users wouldn't have to compromise on key feel vs. portability.
Unfortunately, almost all tablets got very few USB ports, which has made tablet + mech setups less practical. Most tablets have only one USB port for data and charging.
I've been thinking that now that USB Type C is getting common both on tablets and keyboards, and starting showing up on mice, it might be practical to revisit this idea and put basically a USB C hub/"docking station" into a keyboard. Then users could get around the stupid lack of ports by connecting the keyboard to a USB C charger, and charge the tablet from the keyboard!

User avatar

13 Aug 2019, 13:25


For what it’s worth, a major setting for doing my writing the last few years has been an iPad and Hasu Bluetooth HHKB. The two of them are delightfully portable, slung together in a shoulder bag, and spare my back, shoulders and neck a lot of strain when writing; laptops are devilish for me, as I slide into a curve whenever typing with a screen so low. Tablets are a breath of fresh air, as I have the display separated from the keyboard. And yes, the keyboard is thicker than the computer, yet, as it’s separate, no problem!

Before my wireless HHKB upgrade, I only dabbled briefly with wired keyboards and the iPad. Way too messy for my liking. Cables hanging off the side of the display are no good for me. Indeed, I’m easily annoyed by cables now, full stop. Wires are for charging (even wireless chargers have a wire to the wall), end of story.


13 Aug 2019, 14:29

Muirium wrote:
13 Aug 2019, 13:25
Wires are for charging (even wireless chargers have a wire to the wall), end of story.
When I travel, I tend to install my tablet and keyboard in the hotel room and use it mostly there, even if I sometimes take one or two with me.
There is typically only one wall socket available, and I have brought only one charger and one plug adaptor for all devices (UK plugs are huge so one adaptor is more than enough).

While wireless keyboard and mice (typically) last long between chargings, laptops/tablets, smartphones (and wireless headphones) don't and need to be topped up every day.
If I could connect them all up at once when I go to bed at night, I would prefer to do that and not have to worry about battery running low on either of them.

If I had a laptop, I would use it as the charging hub. Many laptops also have red USB ports that are powered when the laptop is otherwise "off", just for charging.
The idea is that in the tablet/keyboard use case, the keyboard's USB hub would take over that role.
Muirium wrote:
13 Aug 2019, 13:25
Cables hanging off the side of the display are no good for me.
That's because Apple had not put much thought into where the iPad's USB port is located but only followed convention from the iPod (2001) — which had been designed to be charged standing up (portrait mode) in a stand.
The headphone jack is in the lower/left corner, so that it would be close to the desk when the tablet is propped up (landscape mode) by its cover. A tablet's USB port belongs on the opposite side close to the desk: not halfway up the side.


13 Aug 2019, 14:35

My argument is why use wireless when cables will do! The wireless spectrum is already a mess of old standards and overlapping spectrum that mess with each other and you want to add MORE !!! ( just ask the weather station guys how happy they where when 5ghtz PTP wireless links came out and messed up there radar)!

Wireless has its place but we should avoid it if we can !

User avatar

13 Aug 2019, 16:39


I hear you on the position of that USB / Lightning port. Apple has subsequently added their own proprietary ones, along the long sides of the iPad Pros. The one to charge the 2nd generation Apple Pencil is very smart indeed. It’s one example of a proprietary port put to good use. Only one use, so be it, but the Pencil is greatly improved thanks to it.

But even if the iPad had a general purpose port in the right place, it would still be a display with a funny wire popping out. Frankly, I’d prefer a socket on the back, so it’s as out of sight as possible. But wires are always the same problem in the end. A silly tether trailing off my knee that I’ll forget about soon enough and rediscover in dramatic fashion when I get up!

Keyboards are the lowest bandwidth devices of the lot. Ad hoc, low power, short range wireless is perfect for them. The only downside, right enough, is charging / pairing: never an issue with a wire. But I charge everything off a multi port USB charger (sitting in a single UK plug) so I don’t need to think about it.

Cable tripwires, however, are a constant menace at least for me.



User avatar

16 Aug 2019, 14:59

Part of what made old laptops so chunky, as well, was that a lot of thick components were underneath the keyboard. Note how those PowerBooks had a whole floppy drive underneath the keyboard.

Modern designs tend to avoid putting anything thick underneath the keyboard - batteries and hard drives are typically under the palmrest, heatsinks and fans tend to be as thin as possible, and the smallest screen designs tend to not be practical as the ports are pushed out to the sides (or in the case of the MacBook, the USB ports are pushed behind the keyboard instead), beside the keyboard (where in 2000s designs, they were often under the keyboard). Outside of Apple, the keyboards aren't really that much thinner than they were in the 2000s (they are a bit thinner, through reducing travel, but not much).

Similarly, look at something like the MSI GT80 series, which has a full Cherry MX-based keyboard. It's thick, but it's not 1980s thick (which is when full-stroke keyboards were last common in laptops), because they pushed the keyboard all the way to the front of the chassis and didn't put anything underneath it AFAIK.

If you apply those principles to a laptop with a longer-stroke keyboard, it will be thicker... but not 1990s thick.

Now, all of that said, I'd say something with 2.5-3 mm travel would be about right for an ideal laptop (modern scissor-stabilized rubber dome laptop keyboards tend to be in the 1.5-2.3 mm ballpark, with 2.5 mm being the old default), and I am always all about heavy tactility on light springs. (Guess that's why I bought some Box Jades for a TEX Shinobi build... so maybe Choc Jades would work well?)

Post Reply

Return to “Keyboards”