Best keyboards of 2021 | CNN Underscored


Your keyboard is like your mattress: You might not think about it a lot, but you spend a significant chunk of your time with it — and if it’s uncomfortable, it can ruin the rest of your day.

That’s why CNN Underscored spent several weeks testing 14 different models, from gaming keyboards to ergonomic and travel-friendly boards, to find a keyboard that’s comfortable to type on, easy to connect with your computers and mobile devices, will work everywhere you do for as long as you need and offers customization to let you be more productive. After all that, we found two keyboards that rose to the top.

Best keyboard overall

The full-size, full featured Logitech MX Keys offers a terrific typing experience, easy device switching, and simple customization.

Best budget keyboard

The compact, portable K380 offers a typing experience that compares to keyboards twice its price, plus two years of battery life and pairing with three devices.

Eric Ravenscraft/CNN

Using the MX Keys felt almost too good to be true. From setup to typing comfort, the MX Keys met or exceeded our expectations. It’s a great keyboard out of the box, plus it offers a range of customizable options that are accessible to the average person.

Logitech’s MX Keys is a full-size keyboard with a number pad, navigation keys and a row of function keys that double as media and brightness controls. The keys’ rounded corners and center indentation made it easy to locate our typing position, and we found the matte finish made typing smooth and comfortable from the moment we started using it. An intelligent keyboard layout supports both Windows and Mac users (some keyboards we looked at combined the Alt and Option keys, making some Mac shortcuts difficult).

The keyboard is mounted in a satisfyingly sturdy metal case, and has proximity sensors that detect when your hands are nearby, automatically turning the backlight on (and off again to save battery when you move away). You never have to press keys in order to find out which keys you’re pressing, even if you start typing in total darkness, nor will you run down the battery by accidentally leaving the backlight on.

Fans of Logitech hardware will know that pairing is a painless process. You can use the included Unifying Receiver or pair via Bluetooth. If you plug the receiver into a USB port, it will pair immediately, with no other setup necessary. A single Unifying Receiver can pair with a compatible mouse (it supports up to six devices ), freeing up your USB ports.

Bluetooth pairing is just as easy — just long-press one of the three Easy-Switch buttons that sit above the navigation keys, and the keyboard will enter pairing mode. You can pair the MX Keys with three other devices (a laptop, tablet and phone, for example), and quickly switch between them with the Easy-Switch buttons.

The MX Keys is also compatible with Logitech Flow, if you’re also using a compatible mouse, which lets you control multiple computers and share files between them — even across platforms — with the same mouse and keyboard by moving your mouse’s cursor from one device’s screen to another.

If you’re after customizability, Logitech Options (a free app for Mac and Windows) lets you be more productive without overwhelming you. Once open, it highlights the 17 keys that can be customized. Out of the box these perform actions are marked on the key, like volume control or playback, but you can customize these to perform other functions, whether globally or within specific applications. The same key could activate a filter in Photoshop, launch a website in Chrome or apply a style in Word. The app automatically detects which program is currently in use. Unfortunately, Logitech Options doesn’t support complex macros like its more gaming-focused G Hub does, but for the average office worker, it’s plenty powerful.

Logitech promises the MX Keys will last for up to 10 full days or up to five months if the backlight is turned off, and in our testing, we never saw the battery percentage drop any appreciable amount. It’s also easy to charge via USB-C cable and keep working if the need arises.

After testing over a dozen other keyboards, the experience of using the MX Keys was so smooth and intuitive, we expected to find out that it was much more expensive than it was. But at $99, we wouldn’t consider anything else.

Eric Ravenscraft/CNN

The compact, portable K380 lacks the numpad and navigation keys of full-size boards, but its keys feature the same grippy, comfortable matte coating as the MX Keys that gives its keys just the right amount of grip. The round keys give it something of a typewriter feel, and it’s not quite as comfortable as the MX Keys, but for a compact keyboard, it’s still pretty cozy with satisfying resistance.

The case is sturdy plastic, and was stable on our desk. There’s no backlight, but not having that adds to the incredibly long battery life, which Logitech estimates at two years on a single pair of AAA batteries. Throw a couple extra AAA batteries in your bag and you’ll be covered well after the Olympics go to Paris.

Pairing the K380 with your devices is just as painless as with other Logitech keyboards, with support for the Unifying Receiver as well as Bluetooth. As with the MX Keys, three Easy-Switch buttons let you switch between multiple devices with ease, and if you have multiple Logitech peripherals, they can all connect via a single receiver. The K380 also supports Logitech Flow with a compatible mouse, so you can work on any combination of up to three Windows, Mac, Android, iOS or Chrome OS devices with a single keyboard.

Logitech Options is supported on the K380, but it’s a bit more limited. The keyboard has only four customizable keys, and they can’t be configured on a per-application basis.

While the small size and low price make the K380 attractive as a travel keyboard, it’s comfortable enough to use that it makes a fine budget desktop keyboard; its biggest drawback in that application would be the lack of a numpad and navigation keys. If you regularly enter a lot of numbers for work or use Home/End for navigation, the K380 might feel constraining, but if you don’t, you can save a significant chunk of change without sacrificing much else.

For each keyboard, we unboxed them, followed the included pairing instructions as written and connected them to a Windows PC as well as a Mac laptop for keyboards that supported multiple devices. We tested with an eye for how intuitive the setup process worked, which platforms the keyboard was compatible with and how easy it was to set up keyboard customizations.

We then spent at least one entire workday using the keyboard as our sole input, split between using the keyboard on both the Windows and Mac machines. We installed any customization apps (where applicable) and attempted to create a few customized shortcuts. We used the keyboards while wireless and while plugged in, if the option was available.

For tasks, we focused on productivity and general purpose tasks. For gaming-related tasks, you can check out our guide to gaming keyboards. A daily workload consisted of some combination of writing in a word processor, entering data in spreadsheets and chatting in communication apps.

We based our rankings on the keyboard’s comfort level, ease of customization, how well it translated between platforms, its rated battery life and price. Due to the exceptionally long battery life that most wireless keyboards have, we did not fully drain the devices to test for real-world performance. In lieu of this, we gave extra weight to how easy it is to charge the keyboard while using it, or how often a user can expect to replace any replaceable batteries.

We used the following categories to log and rank the keyboards we tested:

  • Setup: This category included how long it took to set up a keyboard and how intuitive the process was, whether the keyboard was Plug & Play, how much charge the keyboard had out of the box and how many platforms the device supported.
  • Design and comfort: This category consists of what the keyboard was physically built out of, how comfortable it was to type on for an entire day and special focus on how much wrist support the included hardware provided.
  • Customization: This covered whether the keyboard offered the ability to customize shortcuts and macros, how well any proprietary customization app works and whether the keyboard supports cross-platform customization.
  • Battery: Here, where applicable, we looked at what kind of battery the keyboard uses (integrated versus replaceable), how any batteries are charged, what kind of cable is required and whether it’s included in the box and how long the manufacturer rated the battery life.
  • Performance: We examined how the keyboard connects to the computer, how well it maintains that connection, whether it works as intended and how well the keyboard holds up to a full day’s worth of work.
  • Warranty: We also factored in how long the keyboard’s warranty lasts, what it covers and the overall price of the unit.

Apple Magic Keyboard ($99;

The standard keyboard for Apple users works well enough, but at $100, it doesn’t offer any multi-device features, and it asks users to pair using a Lightning to USB-A cable (even though many modern Macs don’t have USB-A ports). While the keyboard is comfortable and slick, it’s hard to recommend anyone pay this much when cheaper keyboards can do better.

Arteck Wireless Keyboard ($22.99;

The Arteck HW086 was the cheapest keyboard we tested, but it also felt the cheapest. Though it has a stainless steel case, it feels flimsier than that might imply. It lacks any multi-device features or customization tools, and charges through a Micro USB port that’s in the process of being phased out. For just a few dollars more, there are better options.

iClever BK10 ($29.99;

Like the Arteck model, the iClever BK10 feels flimsy and relatively cheap. However, it supports multiple devices and includes a numpad. It also uses the same Alt/Cmd keyboard layout as Logitch does, making switching between Windows and Mac convenient. At $30, it has more features than the Arteck for not a lot of extra money, but it’s also so close to the K380’s price that you’re almost better off just waiting for a sale.

Logitech K350 ($36.99;

The K350 feels like something out of the past. Because it is. With giant media keys (one of which is emblazoned with a logo for Windows Media Center, which was discontinued in 2015), an inwardly curved key layout and an early 2000s design aesthetic, this keyboard just defies every modern sensibility. And yet, it must have some appeal to keep being made more than a decade after its initial release. We think there are better ergonomic options out there, but perhaps this one will find a home somewhere.

Logitech Ergo K860 ($129.99;

This keyboard very nearly earned a top spot. It’s almost identical to the MX Keys, with nearly as many customizable keys, the same multi-device features and comfortable keys. There are only two major differences: It uses a split, ergonomic layout with an extra wrist rest that we found incredibly comfortable, and it costs an extra $30. If you’re looking for an ergonomic layout and the extra wrist support is important to you, this is an excellent choice.

Logitech K780 ($69.04;

We didn’t spend too much time testing keyboards with tablets, but the K780 deserves a special mention on that front. Its built-in tray can hold a phone, but it seems best designed for propping up a tablet, which is where it excels. This one’s otherwise similar to the K380, but with a numpad.

Matias Wireless Keyboard ($95.00;

If you like the Apple Magic Keyboard but wish it had the same kind of multi-device support that keyboards like the MX Keys have, the Matias Wireless Keyboard might be up your alley. It’s $30 cheaper than Apple’s full-sized Magic Keyboard with a numpad and can pair with up to four devices (more than any other we tested).

Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard ($49.99, originally $59.99;

The Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard is similar to the Logitech Ergo K860. Both feature a comfortable split layout, wide wrist supports and a numpad. Microsoft offers customizable keys through the Microsoft Mouse and Keyboard Center, which isn’t quite as intuitive of an app as Logitech Options, but it can do many of the same things. Best of all, this keyboard is a mere $60, less than half the cost of Logitech’s ergonomic keyboard.

Satechi Slim X1 ($69.99;

This compact Bluetooth keyboard is perhaps best for Apple users who want a less expensive, multi-device alternative to the Magic Keyboard. It can pair with up to three devices — by pressing Fn and one of the three device buttons, not quite as intuitive as dedicate keys — and charges via USB-C. It uses the slightly annoying Alt/Opt layout, which means switching back and forth between macOS and Windows might mess with your keyboard shortcut muscle memory. However, at $30 less than Apple’s keyboard, the Slim X1 makes sense as a budget pick for Macs.

Satechi Aluminum ($79.99;

For just $10 more than the Slim X1, this Satechi board comes with a numpad, navigation keys and, conveniently, three dedicated device buttons. The only real downside is the Alt/Opt combination that makes platform switching clumsy. But that aside, $80 is a reasonable price, especially when compared to the $130 Apple Magic Keyboard that also comes with a numpad.

SteelSeries Apex Pro ($192.99;

While this keyboard cleaned up in our best gaming keyboard guide, it’s harder to recommend for general use when other, cheaper options exist. The customizability of this keyboard is unparalleled — SteelSeries’ GG Engine customization software could even give Logitech’s G Hub a run for its money in terms of raw power — but it is aimed at gamers. At nearly $200, it’s twice the cost of the MX Keys, but if you want a keyboard that does double duty for gaming and productivity, this might be worth a look.

SteelSeries Apex 7 TKL ($129.99;

Nearly identical to the Apex Pro, the Apex 7 TKL lacks a numpad, but other than that it matches the Pro on nearly every point. The same incredibly powerful customization software, the same tall, mechanical keys, the same volume wheel and even the same digital display. This model is in the same price range as other keyboards we tested, but it’s still on the high end, and most of the extra features are gaming-specific, so we’d again recommend it only for gamers who happen to also need a productivity-minded keyboard.

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