The best (and worst) laptop keyboards

Click through to the gallery below to see close-up photos of the best and worst laptop keyboards, plus a handful of honorable mentions.

Chances are you're pretty familiar with the keyboard on your laptop. Despite any design flaws, you've mastered its intricacies and acclimated to its limitations. But when it's time to look for a new laptop , unless you're sticking to essentially the same model, there'll be a whole new keyboard to get used to--and a rash decision could saddle you with a layout that leaves your fingers twisted in a knot.

If only you had access to a couple of experts who regularly try out several new laptops every week. Then they could use their wide-ranging laptop experience to provide some basic ground rules for what to look for, and what to avoid, in laptop keyboards. Even better, they could cook up a brief cheat sheet with some of the best and worst recent examples.

Well, we thought we'd make that dream a reality.

Really, the formula isn't that complicated. Having been groomed on full-size desktop keyboards and their well-established key placement, laptop keyboards can be a challenge for touch-typists or those of us with some form of advanced hunt-and-peck technique. Keyboards that have condensed or oddly placed Enter, Shift, comma, period, or direction-arrow keys are especially frustrating (here's a hint, pay extra attention to the right Shift key).

And though a full-size, well-spaced keyboard is a welcome luxury, the quality of the key construction matters just as much. Classic tapered keys, like the ones that dominated keyboards for decades, have comfortable, cupped surfaces for fingertips and wide bases with good travel. Newer laptop keyboards are made with a wide array of materials, varying key heights and shapes, and quality that can range from crisp to wobbly to fragile, all of which seriously affects the usability of a laptop. After all, the biggest difference between a tablet and a laptop is the presence of a keyboard, so it better be good.

Click through to the gallery below to see close-up photos of the best and worst laptop keyboards, plus a handful of honorable mentions. This is by no means an all-encompassing list--rather, it's a selection of highlights and lowlights from currently available laptops (most new since the start of 2010). Naturally, we want to hear about your favorite and least-favorite laptop keyboards, so let us know in the comments section below.

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