Our favorite laptop keyboards: Lenovo ThinkPad Edge / x100e
The ThinkPad Edge represents a new direction for Lenovo: a redesigned raised "chiclet" keyboard for its ThinkPad products. While ThinkPad traditionalists might balk at messing with established design, the great news is that the new keyboard excels just as much in its new design. With slightly concave keys that cup the fingers and good key spacing, it was one of our favorite parts of the new budget ThinkPad line released this winter.
The Netbook-like ThinkPad x100e adopts the same keyboard design with stunning success; it manages to be both full-sized and economically compact.
Our favorite laptop keyboards: MacBook Pro 15-inch
Apple's flat-topped island-style keyboard is the same one the company has used on the previous couple of generations of the MacBook Pro. We especially like its large Shift keys, the uncrowded arrow keys, and the reversed function on the row of F-keys at the very top. Coupled with the large multitouch trackpad, it's a winning combo.
Our favorite laptop keyboards: HP Mini 5102
We were concerned when HP ditched its closely packed, wide, flat Netbook keys for a redesigned island-style keyboard. We quickly got used to the new version, however, and now like it even better, making it arguably our favorite Netbook keyboard. Important keys, like Shift, are nice and large, and the extra space between keys makes for a less-cramped-feeling experience.
Our favorite laptop keyboards: Lenovo ThinkPad SL510
There's a reason why countless people stick by the tried-and-true (and frequently boring) ThinkPad design: the computers are pretty comfortable to use. The classic ThinkPad keyboard, as seen on the ThinkPad SL510 among many others, has tapered keys and a generous feel that dates from an age when keyboards weren't shrunk down to flat, plastic tabs. If only that red nubbin weren't in the middle, we'd call it classic perfection.
Our favorite laptop keyboards: Sony Vaio E
Like Apple, Sony makes fantastic raised-key keyboards for its higher-end Vaios. The keys tend to be sturdy with little wobble; they press down cleanly; and they have good spacing and ample room on the side for your hands to rest. The midrange/budget Vaio E series adds a full number pad beside its keyboard, stretching the whole set of keys edge-to-edge across the Vaio E's sizable width. Compared with previous Vaio models that had good keyboards but lacked number pads, the new solution maximizes all available space, which we appreciate.
Honorable mention: Alienware M15x
This keyboard has a more traditional tapered key design, rather than the wider, flat keys many laptop makers are partial to these days. For the hardcore PC gamer target audience, these tapered keys offer more space between the individual letters, which is better for first-person shooter games that make heavy use of the WASD keys.
Honorable mention: HP Envy 13
This sunken keyboard is made up of widely spaced, flat-topped keys, and vital keys such as the Backspace, Tab, and Shift buttons are, thankfully, full size. The up and down arrows are on the small side, but the entire keyboard feels solid and a pleasant matte finish makes it very comfortable.
Honorable mention: Acer Ferrari One
Most of the interior real estate of this 11-inch Netbook is taken up by the large keyboard, with flat, nearly edge-to-edge keys. We appreciated the large Tab, Shift, and Function keys, even though there was a tiny bit of flex around the center of the keyboard.
Dishonorable mention: Gateway EC14D07u
This keyboard may seem nearly identical to the one we liked on the Acer Ferrari One, but the end result is very different. The keyboard on this system has so much give that it almost feels as if it is a glued-on Palm Pilot portable keyboard that escaped from our basement. Despite the generous key sizes, the keyboard literally bounces under your fingers and feels cheap and insubstantial.
Dishonorable mention: Toshiba Satellite series
We'll hand it to Toshiba for its sturdy construction and well-engineered overall designs, but that makes the company's decision on keyboards seem even more like a thumb in the eye. Found on most mid-range and higher-end Satellites, the keyboards nearly all have a greasy-feeling surface that's overly shiny and awkward to touch. Extra demerits for one of the shortest space bars we've ever seen on a laptop.
Dishonorable mention: Sony Vaio W
There's a lot to like about this eco-friendly Netbook, but the keyboard isn't a highlight. Although the keys are widely spaced, they're too small to type comfortably on. Function, Tab, and right Shift keys are especially tiny--and that misplaced right Shift key is especially aggravating when doing any kind of serious writing.