Help Me, LAPTOP: I Want a Notebook with a Classic-Style Keyboard

In the past few years, we’ve seen a huge movement toward island-style (aka chiclet) keyboards on laptops. While most users seem to either like or at least tolerate keyboards with a larger gap between keys, reader Mary is not one of them. In a comment, Mary writes:

I am literally going insane trying to find a 12″ – 14″ laptop with a traditional keyboard. I tested a chiclet keyboard in the store and it was uncomfortable and painful. My wrist and fingers hurt terribly within 2 to 3 minutes of constant typing. The keys were too far apart from one another, flat, and harder to press; which is an absolute nightmare for a touch typist. The manufacturers can’t even decide on single name for these horrible and recently widespread keyboards (chiclet, island style, premium raisied tile, isolated style keys).

The keyboard is one of the most important and under appreciated parts of any notebook. If you’re comfortable typing, you can work more quickly, effectively speeding up the human part of the computer interface.

Mary is right to place a priority on typing accuracy. However, in our experience, island-style keyboards are not necessarily less comfortable than ones which have little or no space between the keys. For example, our favorite notebook keyboard of all-time is the island-style unit on the Lenovo ThinkPad X1, which provides the best tactile feedback in the business.

In most cases, island-style keyboards have the same 19 to 21mm of travel, which is defined as the space between the middle of each key and the key next to it. To keep travel the same and increase the space around the keys, manufacturers sometimes make each key a little smaller, but the shape of the keys usually matters more than their size. Keys with a concave surface are easier for touch typists to feel so that they avoid adjacent letter errors.

The palmrest is another important, but often-ignored part of the notebook typing experience. A nice soft-touch palmrest cradles your wrists and makes long typing sessions more comfortable, while a short palmrest that leaves your wrists hanging over the lip can put additional strain on your shoulders. 

Ultimately, the most important thing is that you are comfortable with your keyboard. If you are uncomfortable with island-style keyboards, a number of notebooks still come with classic-style keys. Budget notebooks like Toshiba’s Satellite L755 and HP Pavilion G6 use traditional keys as do business notebooks like the Lenovo ThinkPad T420 and Dell Latitude E6420. We particularly like the ThinkPad T420′s keyboard because it includes oversized delete and Esc keys that are easy to hit.

If you have a question about fixing a technical problem or buying a new product, drop us a line at helpme@laptopmag.com and we’ll respond to the most interesting questions in this section.

AUTHOR BIO
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
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  1. Chris Says:

    It’s all well and good, “Help Me Laptop” that YOU like them, but you didn’t answer the poor lady’s question about what models are not chicklet keyboards, a quest I share. Thanks.

  2. AC/DC Adapters for Notebook Says:

    I have an Acer Aspire 1640 laptop (2004), The keyboard is stillas brand new as the day I purchased it and has been through some harsh scenarios and still functioning. I have seen, hundreds of desk top keyboards in the trash and have personally added to that collection many times. P.S. I hav’nt spilled any water on it yet !!
    thanks, @Willow from DC Adapters

  3. Angel Bennett Says:

    You’ve got to be kidding me – is anyone a touch-typist here?! The Chiclet keyboard is a NIGHTMARE! I just recently got a computer with a Chiclet keyboard – which I was not even aware existed – and I feel as though I’m crippled when using it! That ‘spacing’ between the keys IS a MAJOR HINDRANCE to any experienced typist! My fingers are all over the place, I make constant typing errors, I’m completely unable to use the lower row of keys, as well as the shift & control keys; I accidentally send unfinished emails & FB posts, and have permanently deleted important documents… Nor can I correctly use the numeric row without having to look at it, as I am relinquished to do now with everything I type; as a professional touch-typist for over 30 years, with an avg. typing speed of 90 wpm, I am beyond mortified by this! I can no longer type accurately, nor am able to maintain my typing speed and efficiency – I truly HATE the Chiclet keyboard! It has taken away any pleasure in using my computer. It was obviously created for the ‘hen & peck’ or text-typing’ generation! I’ve searched high and low and cannot find a budget priced personal notebook – or any for that matter with a traditional keyboard. If the manufacturers would at least create a traditional keyboard REPLACEMENT for their Chiclet computers then their customers would at least have the choice, and not be stuck with these abhorrent things! (And a plug-in external keyboard is not conducive at least for me, as I travel with my notebook and have to use it in many confined spaces – besides, for what I pay for my notebooks, I shouldn’t have to spend even more money on extra parts to replace incompetent ones.. And the Chiclet keyboard is TRULY INCOMPETENT!!

  4. Pamela Kelt Says:

    I agree with Mary and Angel. I tried some chiclet keyboards today, and I was all over the place. I couldn’t manage whole words and my hands and fingers protested at the effort. Do they even test these things with people who touch type?

    I’d be happy to pay extra for a traditional keyboard. Honestly, I would.

    Re laptops with trad keyboards, I’m struggling. The HP Pavilion seems to have gone for the chiclet too, according to UK specs anyway. Are there any others? Or any laptops out there where it’s easy to swap the new for the old?

    Thank God I’m not alone in this. It’s driving me crazy. I’m supposed to be updating my old PC but I’m stuck – and furious!

    Any other suggestions?

  5. Dianne Says:

    Yes! The new laptops are for the hen and peck generation of texters who don’t even care about spelling or capitals or anthing else except for writing OMG! BRB! etc. It’s appalling that there are no laptops for people who actually KNOW how to type properly. Sad thing is, if the manufactureres would make a laptop with a traditional keyboard, I would buy it. I won’t buy another with an ‘island’ one whatever that is, no thanks, I know how to type.

  6. James Says:

    I’ll agree with everyone who hates these island/chiclet style boards, they are terrible. I’ve been typing for years and am reasonably fast. These stupid things have slowed me right down, and they are very uncomfortable. I’d buy the first good laptop that has the traditional keyboard because they simply are better.

  7. Gary Says:

    I just want to echo the sentiments of everyone else here who dislikes the island/Chiclet style keyboards. I’m 74 years old and learned to type “properly” in the military. Upon seeing the newer style keyboards out there, I can only hope this “getting old” laptop I now have, lasts me the rest of my life. I’ve tried the newer styles and I can barely type my own name! And on a good day, I am certain I can hit over 90 words a minute on this one. I’m as comfortable with a wrench in my hand as a keyboard. But, if it’s a Chiclet or island style keyboard? It’s fit for only a trash can.

  8. Ray Says:

    I just bought a Dell Inspiron 15R. I do not know how anyone uses one of these chicklet keyboards. Even more so I cant believe its the new standard, and that Dell doesn’t make non-Chicklet keyboard. I’ve been a database developer for 12 years and am totally struggling with this keyboard. The spaces between the keys are the worst for me. My hands are sore from having to stretch my fingers. Ive read that “I will get used to it.” But that simply isnt true. My gf bought a Lenovo laptop w chicklet keyboard in January, and I never got used to that one, and neither has she. In the end, I’ll be returning this new laptop and buying something like the Dell XPS 18. I’m really in shock that this type of huge change to the laptop has been accepted by the masses. I just dont understand it. Seems like big steps backwards in productivity. Please Dell, offer an option to this chicklet keyboard. I would pay $100 not to have it.

  9. Rebecca Says:

    Wow — I must have man hands, because I am definitely a “touch typist”, and I just purchased the Dell Inspiron 15 VR with the “island” keys — and I love it! I think it’s super fast and less annoying because the corners don’t like…pull up when you are typing super fast. love love love love love

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