If all you’ve ever known is a standard full size keyboard, you’re in for a treat. Smaller keyboard sizes like the popular Tenkeyless (TKL) and 60% layout are more space-efficient and can also look pretty neat. In this article, we’ll explain the appeals of the many different keyboard sizes and cover all the tradeoffs you should be aware of.
First of All, Why Go Small?
Compare all the different keyboard sizes using the dropdown below and see for yourself.
Besides the obvious differences in scale and key layouts, you probably noticed that smaller keyboards leave a lot more room for the mouse — and this can translate to better ergonomics.
How often do you move your keyboard around? Frequent typists often shift their keyboards to the right so their arms can extend straight towards the alphanumeric keys. But this leaves their mouse in an awkward far off position. In contrast, gamers shift their keyboards to the left for a more comfortable mouse position.
It’s difficult to achieve an ergonomically efficient position for your arms and shoulders with a full size keyboard and mouse, but that’s not the case when you go smaller. As demonstrated below, the compact 75% keyboard allows for a centered typing position and still plenty of room for mouse movement.
In addition to space efficiency and ergonomic benefits, smaller keyboards also look pretty neat. But that’s just our opinion. Browse our setups gallery to see some decked out, fully custom keyboards.
The only downside to smaller keyboard layouts is the learning curve of unfamiliar key locations. Depending on the keyboard size, certain keys are moved to more space-efficient locations/shapes or omitted entirely into a function layer.
What’s a Function Layer?
If you’ve owned a laptop, you’ve probably already used them. You press a function (Fn) key in combination with another to access keys in a different “layer”. Most smaller keyboards will have toggles you can switch to access multiple customizable function layers.
Is the potentially steep learning curve worth it? That depends on what you value. Our list below details what you get with each keyboard size. Perhaps you’ll find a layout that ticks all your boxes.
Before we get into the different layouts, here’s a quick note on naming convention:
Certain keyboard layouts like the 1800 Keyboard and Tenkeyless (TKL) have specific names, but keyboard sizes are also commonly referred to in percentages. An 80%, 60%, 40%, and so on refer to how many keys it has compared to a full size (100%).
Full Size Keyboard (100%)
Typical dimensions: 17.5” x 6”
Number of Keys: 104-108
Omitted Keys: None
Full-size keyboard layouts have it all: alphanumeric keys, a number pad, navigation keys (Insert, Home, etc.), arrow keys, the top function row (F1-F12), and modifiers (Shift, Ctrl) in their traditional clustered locations.
This standard keyboard layout is familiar, widely available, and will give you the most options in terms of product selection.
Typical dimensions: 15.5” x 7”
Number of Keys: 104-108
Omitted Keys: None
1800 keyboard layouts are technically full-sized since none of the keys are omitted, just rearranged and condensed. The navigation keys are stacked above the number pad, and the entire cluster is shifted closer to the main set of alphanumeric keys with the arrow keys wedged in between.
Because of this rearrangement, 1800 keyboards typically take up less horizontal space than standard full-size keyboards but are slightly taller.
96 Key Keyboard (96%)
Typical Dimensions: 14.75” x 5”
Number of Keys: 100-104
Omitted Keys: Some navigation keys, PrtScn, Scroll Lock, and Pause
96% keyboards aim to fit as many keys as possible in the least amount of space, and is the smallest you can go while still having a number pad. Only a few navigation keys are lost in the process.
Why is it commonly referred to as a “96 key” when it usually has around 100? We don’t know. Aside from the confusing name, the main downside to this layout is you lose the clustered groupings of keys you’d get in a full size keyboard, which may make it more difficult to touch type.
Tenkeyless Keyboard (TKL, 87 Key, 80%)
Typical Dimensions: 14.1” x 5.35”
Number of Keys: 87
Omitted Keys: Number Pad
The only difference between a full keyboard vs a Tenkeyless is the number pad. This layout is for you if you value keys being clustered in familiar positions and never use the Numpad anyways. As an added benefit, the TKL keyboard size is incredibly popular and widely available for purchase.
75% Keyboard (84 Key)
Typical Dimensions: 12.75” x 5”
Number of Keys: 82-84
Omitted Keys: Number Pad, Some Navigation Keys
75% keyboards are the condensed version of Tenkeyless. All keys are bunched up into one cluster and a few more navigation keys are omitted. This is the smallest size you can go to and still have the F1-F12 keys.
Typical Dimensions: 12.6” x 4.25”
Number of Keys: 67-68
Omitted Keys: ~ Key, Function Row (F1-F12), Number Pad, Some Navigation Keys
65% keyboards are similar to 75% keyboards except you lose the function row and the ESC key often replaces the ~ key. If you have no use for a number pad or the function row, this might be a good size for you.
65% is the smallest you can go while still having dedicated arrow keys and has the benefit of many prebuilt options.
Typical Dimensions: 11.5” x 4”
Number of Keys: 61
Omitted Keys: Arrow Keys, Navigation Keys, ~ Key, Function Row (F1-F12), Number Pad
Most 60% keyboards omit arrow keys and navigation keys, which will affect your keyboard usage more than you would expect. Function layers are commonly used with this layout.
Typical Dimensions: 11” x 3.15”
Number of Keys: 49
Omitted Keys: Number Pad, Function Row (F1-F12), Arrow Keys, Navigation Keys, Many Modifier Keys, ~ Key
The keys available on a 40% keyboard will vary widely depending on the model and the user’s needs. Many keys are altered in shape, omitted, and combined in a keyboard this small. Function layers and key combos are a necessity here.
We wouldn’t recommend this keyboard size unless you’re willing to put in the time to map out your function layers and master them. If that sounds your kind of challenge, you will likely enjoy the highly customized experience, all keys being within reach, and the ultra-small footprint.
My Goodness, Are There More?
Absolutely. We still haven’t gotten to split keyboards, ortholinears, southpaws, or the other percentages that fall somewhere in between. Perhaps we’ll expand this list when they gain in popularity.
For now, this list should be a great starting point for your first non full size keyboard. Which layout shall you try out first?