not my type
June 17, 2015 6:24 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a new Windows laptop, but pretty much everything that I've tried out has a keyboard that just suuuuuucks for me. Please hope me find something I won't detest typing on? Because, um, typing strings of words in succession is sometimes relevant to my interests.

The computer I'm replacing is an HP Pavilion from a few years ago. It's a pretty crap-o computer in most other regards, but its keyboard has always felt really great to me. Before that I had a string of Dells that also felt fine. These all have had the kind of keys where there is a gap in between them, kind of like a traditional desktop, and I think what I particularly hate is the "chiclet" style keyboards? If I had to to try to describe what drives me nuts about the keyboards I've seen on offer these days is that they both provide too much resistance and don't feel like they push down far enough.

I type at a normal-to-fast speed, but I never learned to touch-type the standard way and so my hands move around the keyboard a lot more than a normal person's-- maybe that's affecting my apparent intolerance of pretty much anything on the market.

I'd be super amenable to a computer that actually detaches or fully bends into a tablet, but I have no interest in paying extra for those regular-style laptops that also happen to have a touchscreen.

I know the most obvious route is to just look into the newest version of my current computer, but I would strongly prefer to avoid HP this time around for political reasons.

posted by threeants to Computers & Internet (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Lenovo still has the best keyboards I've used, although they seem to be doing their best to change that. Also they did some super-shady stuff earlier this year that would make me think twice about buying from them again.
posted by grouse at 6:27 PM on June 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

Are you super mobile? Because I use a bluetooth keyboard for both my computers (among other things, it lets me put the display up higher in my actual eyeline instead of breaking my neck looking down) and that solves the problem for me. I can pick one of the size/shape/clickiness I prefer instead of worrying about $2 of plastic tacked onto the computer.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:30 PM on June 17, 2015

Look at the Lenovo Thinkpads. The pro model business laptops (T, X and W series) still have the fantastic keyboards that IBM was famous for.

Stay away from their consumer offerings though, as they are generally not so good. Rule of thumb is that if it's black and angular and looks like the Deathstar, your fingers will probably like it.
posted by Anoplura at 6:30 PM on June 17, 2015 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Mm. Yeah, this might be useful context: I actually bought a Lenovo Edge 15 (I think?) recently, expressly because the keyboard felt closest to acceptable out of everything I tried on display at Best Buy. I returned it to the store when after a few days of fairly sustained use (to control for the "getting used to it" phase), typing on it still sucked so much that I found myself actively avoiding using the computer.
posted by threeants at 6:30 PM on June 17, 2015

Maybe an older Lenovo -- I have a T420 from work and It's my favorite laptop precisely because it's easiest to type on. (So, what Anoplura said about the pro models)
posted by clone boulevard at 6:38 PM on June 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

If tabletiness and non-chiclet keyboard are more important to you than a fast processor or a lot of memory, you could probably score an X220 pretty cheap. I haven't used one myself though.

Any more recent Lenovo will have a chiclet keyboard; my rating of the T440s's keyboard is "fine, but not great" (mine also has a dead spot in one key and I need to ship it back for a repair, but I concede I might have just got a lemon). Also, the T440/X240 touchpad is pretty bad for a Lenovo: with lots of tweaking I now have something I'd consider "usable" but definitely not good or seamless. I'd give that series a miss and skip to the most recent T450/X250 series, which restores physical buttons to the touchpad, to everyone's relief.
posted by en forme de poire at 6:53 PM on June 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

I have an X220 and an X240. I like the keyboard on the X220 better. The X240 one is tolerable if you install SharpKeys and convert the Insert key into an End key. Otherwise you can't use the F1-F12 keys and End at the same time, which is maddening. I almost always use the TrackPoint though.
posted by grouse at 6:59 PM on June 17, 2015

FWIW: I bought a Lenovo G510 a year or so back, and so far one of the keys fell off and then the keyboard stopped working so I had to ship this hunk of junk away for a few weeks to get repaired. The edge of the keyboard is also weirdly sharp, so I can't rest my wrists on it for long without getting some painful marks on my skin. Also, just recently the little G510 logo sticker next to the pad has started to leak this gross toxic glue goo that never ever drives.

Not a fan, would not buy again.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 7:13 PM on June 17, 2015

I just bought an 11" Lenovo Yoga 3, which as you say is one of the kind that can be bent into a tablet and so on. It has the gaps between keys, which are plastic but feel a bit better than most I've tried, and the bottoms are rounded which definitely helps in discerning the borders. YMMV, though, since I am definitely a touch typist. I haven't spent all that long using it, but I'm really liking it so far. I already like it much better than the keyboard on my 15" Retina PowerBook, which I never really acclimated to at all.

That's all speaking as someone who as I say is definitely a touch-typist, but also a mechanical keyboard purist who basically hates the everloving shit out of laptop keyboards in general and prefers to never, ever use them.

There's apparently a Thinkpad/Yoga hybrid, which I didn't look into because I wanted maximum lightness, but Thinkpad keyboards in general have done well by me over the years.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 7:29 PM on June 17, 2015

You don't just want a Lenovo, you want a Lenovo Thinkpad - their business line - something with a T, and X or a W as the first character of the model number. The Lenovo outlet website will frequently have sales that bring the price on these down to a tolerable level, or if you are less dedicated to performance than to keyboard quality, there are lots of off-lease used ones out there. I'm not a huge fan of recommending used laptops, but these are built like tanks, and something with a four digit (ie 2400, 2600) i5 or i7 chip from four years ago isn't much slower than a new laptop with similar specs.
posted by wotsac at 7:35 PM on June 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

I have a Lenovo X Carbon. I thought I'd hate the chicklet keyboard 'coz I'm a touch typist, but I got used to it pretty quickly.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:52 PM on June 17, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks all, this is really helpful so far. Should have added-- my current screen is 15.6" and while I realize that's on the big side, I wouldn't be thrilled to go more than an inch or two smaller than that.
posted by threeants at 7:53 PM on June 17, 2015

Since you're avoiding HP for political reasons, you might (or might not) want to consider Lenovo's recent Superfish shenanigans.

I've given up on laptop keyboards; are you at all interested in just carrying/using a separate keyboard? It can be better ergonomically.

Here's a very cool portable angled stand ("Free yourself from laptop neck") that will let you position your laptop so that the screen is at a reasonable height (Kickstarter project I'm supporting - open for 18 more days).
posted by amtho at 7:56 PM on June 17, 2015

Ain't gonna be cheap or tiny, but this year MSI came out with a cool laptop with a mechanical keyboard. 18" screen!
posted by rhizome at 8:44 PM on June 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Get the laptop you like and buy an external keyboard. I use a laptop riser and an additional MS ergonomic keyboard with awesome keys that go "clunk" when you type on them.
posted by Nevin at 9:24 PM on June 17, 2015

TLDR: get the lenovo x220 if you can deal with an older/larger laptop. otherwise.....

I have similar problems to you with keyboards - I have a sony vaio flip 14a, which I've been somewhat happy with the keyboard on (not enough travel, though, so you will probably hate it, given your description, but nice level of resistance), as well as a samsung ATIV 700T, which has a surprisingly nice keyboard (lots of travel, not too resistive) but an utterly, utterly abysmally bad trackpad.

BUT, both of these are chicklet (hereafter "scrabble keys"), and I agree with you that the vast majority of those are unusable - but it's very much "try it and see". Also, both of these are about 18 months old now. If you really want traditional keys, the lenovo X220 is awesome (a few of my friends have them), however I do find them a bit bulky, and every newer lenovo than that has been terrible. Also, the trackpad is ordinary, and the tablet version is nearly unobtanium, if that's something you want. The bulky part may not matter to you! (I do a lot of business presentations on my laptop, and so I do a lot of the cast-to-projector-and-draw-on-screen, which is probably not a requirement you have :)).

When I'm at a desk, obviously external keyboard all the way (IBM model M for me), however that's not a great option on the move. My strategy for this, sadly, has had to involve walking into a store and typing on everything. Keyboards are such a personal item that any advice you get here will almost certainly be terrible.

If you can stomach it, the Mac Pro has a pretty decent keyboard - however, I found the Macbook Air to be unusable for me - again, walk into a store and type on one. To be fair, you pay a thousand odd dollars of premium for the pro vs the air, which is why it gets to be better. Again, it is scrabble, but it's another example of "not all scrabbles are created equal".

I really can't emphasise enough that you need to walk into a store and type on everything. I really don't think you can get out of this any other way, sadly.
posted by jaymzjulian at 11:43 PM on June 17, 2015

(also: now I read that your last showrooming experience was bad :(. I know those feels.... I did the same when I bought an MSI a few years back. Ugh.)
posted by jaymzjulian at 11:45 PM on June 17, 2015

Consider the lenovo yoga 3 14" or the lenovo yoga 3 pro. The keyboards appear to be decent for slim laptops.

Probably not a nice as a heavier and thicker X, W, or T Lenovo thinkpad, but decent.
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:18 AM on June 18, 2015

Note that the non-thinkpad(and "edge") lenovos are a vastly different beast than the thinkpad ones. Especially the T, X, and W series. Those are the Serious Machines.

The yoga 3/pro has a terrible keyboard and that's usually called out in reviews.

Dell latitudes, the better ones at least, and precisions have nice keyboards. I actually miss my latitude keyboard. A lot of them still have real, non island style keyboards too.

The thinkpad x1/carbon has a really super awesome keyboard and i love that thing to death in general because it looks like darth vaders macbook air and is built like a toolchest. It's sort of stealth-good, the keyboard i mean. It LOOKS crappy, but it's not. You can also get it with a "retina" screen *and* a real cpu while being thin and having a good keyboard. Something apple, and others, still won't sell you.

Lenovo knows it though, and it's kind of expensive. I'd check out lenovo outlet. The good ones start at ~$500. At least for the not-x1 basic x series, like the x240(which despite the protestations of other in here, is fine, and has a good keyboard).
posted by emptythought at 4:32 AM on June 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ditto those saying to try a real letter-number Thinkpad. We had an Edge 15 as my wife's previous computer and the best I can say about it was that it was a failed experiment by Lenovo. They keyboard was indeed terrible by Lenovo standards. Their current T-series, their workhorse line, has a much, much better keyboard. We bought a Y-series one for my wife's use last year and its keyboard is also better than the Edge, though I wouldn't put in in the same class as the T440 I have for work.
posted by bonehead at 5:56 AM on June 18, 2015

Install windows on a macbook? That's another option if you like their keyboards.
posted by oceanjesse at 9:21 AM on June 18, 2015

The keyboard on my T540 has a pretty nice feel, much better than previous iterations mainly in terms of longer travel and stiffer resistance. On the other hand I go pretty hard on the keys and one occasionally pops out, so room for improvement I guess.
posted by Dr Dracator at 11:03 AM on June 18, 2015

I think the trend to thinner laptops with reduced key travel is largely responsible for this. No other laptop keyboard has ever come close to the ones on the T40 through T60 series, IMO. But they were bricks compared to modern laptops.
posted by bonehead at 1:31 PM on June 18, 2015

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