I’ll admit it. I’m a keyboard snob. There are two reasons for that. My mind races much faster than most people can type, and on a good keyboard I could type at insane speeds in my prime. Secondly, I’ve had repetitive stress injury, and after a day of typing on cheap keyboards, I can feel it. I’m an extreme case, but if you’re asking about a specific kind of keyboard, that’s probably the opinion you want. So are tenkeyless keyboards good? I thought I’d hate them, but I was wrong.
Tenkeyless keyboards offer at least three advantages over a traditional keyboard. They’re cheaper, they take up less space, and they allow a better position for the mouse. If you’re not an accountant, they’re worth a look.
Why I thought I’d hate a tenkeyless keyboard
I decided to give a tenkeyless keyboard a chance because I needed a small keyboard for a small desk. The last computer keyboard I owned that didn’t have a keypad was a Commodore 64, so it had been a while. I thought I used a keypad enough that I couldn’t live without it.
It turns out I overestimated how much I use the keypad. Now, if you work with numbers a lot, you may use the keypad quite a bit. If you don’t, you may overestimate how much you use the keypad too. A better way to gauge how you’d do with a tenkeyless keyboard is to consider a laptop. Most laptops don’t have keypads. If you use one of those for a few days, what bothers you the most about it? For me, the lack of a keypad wasn’t it. It’s always the way the keys feel, the responsiveness, or the position of the special keys. If I notice the lack of a keypad on a laptop, it’s a good laptop keyboard.
Why tenkeyless keyboards are good
You almost never see membrane tenkeyless keyboards because of cost. Omitting the keypad doesn’t save you much money. It might reduce the cost of the whole keyboard by a couple of dollars, at most.
Mechanical keyboards are different. Eliminating the 17 keys on the numeric keypad (tenkeyless is a misnomer) allows a mechanical keyboard to sell for $15-$25 less than a full 104-key keyboard. Each key on a mechanical keyboard adds about a dollar to its cost at retail. The tenkeyless route might make a mechanical keyboard affordable when it otherwise wouldn’t be. I paid $70 for a Hyper X tenkeyless board in 2017 with nice Cherry MX red switches that feel nice to type on while not making a ton of noise. It was expensive, but the full 104-key model cost closer to $90.
Leaving out the keypad also lets you position the mouse closer to your typing area, so you can mouse at a more natural angle. I find it reduces strain on my shoulder. Tenkeyless keyboards are more ergonomic than their bigger siblings.
I still use full keyboards sometimes. I own more than one IBM Model M. But I use that Hyper X more than any other board, and I’d buy it again if I had a do-over.