I switch keyboards all the time, but after buying something new every few months to give it a try, I have a new rule: I’ll never buy a full gaming keyboard again. I’m a changed man, free from the shackles of a number pad and media buttons, and I’m finally ready to go all-in on small form factors.
The best gaming keyboards have been dominated by full-sized options for years, but that is beginning to change. More mainstream keyboard builders release TKL, 65% and sometimes even 60% keyboardsso now it’s time to jump on the small form factor train and give it a try.
I spend more time at my desk than most other things, so I invested in a large desk years ago to make sure I never had to worry about desk space. At 80 inches, my desk is far from cramped. But I can still appreciate how much extra space I have without a full keyboard.
Space only matters if you can actually use it, that’s why it’s much friendlier TKL and 65% keyboard sizes eventually work better for gaming. With a full-sized keyboard, I had to constantly bump my gaming mouse against the side of my keyboard as I scrolled across the screen, even with a high DPI setting. Slap your thumb against the side of a keyboard often enough and you’re ready to play a †
Large keyboards also have an unintended consequence of pushing your arms outward. It’s bad for your posture and downright uncomfortable. This is an even bigger problem when you play as many games as you type. Typing requires the keyboard centered on your desk, while gaming requires it shifted to the left (or right). A full-sized keyboard won’t give you a lot of movement errors to move around, which will be the case on an 80-inch desk, not to mention a smaller desk space.
The next step down from a full keyboard is a TKL, or tenkeyless, form factor. That means a TKL keyboard will only cut off the numeric keypad, but that usually isn’t the case. TKL keyboards also trim extra macro buttons and media keys in most cases, greatly reducing the size compared to the full version.
Logitech’s G915 TKL is a striking example. The TKL version trims the numeric keypad, but also removes nine macro keys. In addition, the volume wheel is smaller and the media buttons have been moved to take advantage of the free space at the top of the keyboard. The result: The TKL version is more than four centimeters shorter and measures 14.5 centimeters compared to 18.7 centimeters on the full model.
Many full-size keyboards come with extras that also get bigger, such as the AniMe screen on the Asus ROG Strix Flare II Animate or the OLED screen on the SteelSeries Apex Pro. Smaller keyboards displace most of these extras, also repurposing the keys on the keyboard to provide functionality in a smaller size.
I don’t need the extra keys, and neither do most gamers (unless you’re determined to get banned with some macro). A numeric keypad is great for certain professional uses — including Adobe apps and Chief’s Pro Tools — but most games only require a few keys on the other side of the keyboard.
Smaller keyboards are cheaper than their full-size counterparts almost everywhere, so spending the extra for more keys you don’t use is a waste of money. For years I’ve spent the option of maybe one day finding a use for the extra keys. But a few years have made one point abundantly clear: I threw money I could spend on a gaming mouse or headphones down the drain.
Look at the SteelSeries Apex 7 as an example. The TKL version is $30 cheaper than the full model. Other keyboard builders have even more aggressive price cuts. For example, Razer’s Huntsman V2 costs $200, but the Razer Huntsman Mini is only $120 in comparison.
Buying a smaller keyboard won’t always save you a lot of money – the TKL version of the Corsair K70 RGB Pro for example, is only $10 cheaper — but it’s still a nice perk. If you settle for a smaller form factor, you can also find yourself in a completely different world of keyboards. The Akko 3068B and Keychron Q1 are both cheap, for example, and they only come in smaller form factors.
Smaller keyboards are becoming more common, so if you’ve been sitting on a full-sized keyboard and want to get out of the box, now’s the time. the recent SteelSeries Apex Pro Mini is the first 60% keyboard the company has ever released, and Razer and Corsair both double down on their pair of 60% and 65% options.
While smaller keyboards do remove some essential keys, such as dedicated function buttons, the trade-off is worth it. After years of banging my thumb and spending a lot on keyboards that I wouldn’t fully use, I’m finally ready to focus on small gaming keyboards in the future.