Tuesday, 2 Jun 2020

The best gaming and media keyboards, according to Polygon staffers

It probably comes as no surprise that we at Polygon have strong opinions about the keyboards we use every day. It also may not shock you to learn that those strong opinions often vary wildly from person to person. Some of us prefer that our keys sound as clicky as possible, while others dream of typing silently. Many of us are dedicated to our personal curated aesthetics, with custom keycaps or all-pink accessories. Still others just want something functional and inconspicuous.

Product recommendations aren’t one-size-fits-all. What one person is looking for in a keyboard for their flight simulator cockpit might be totally wrong for someone who wants a new keyboard for playing Overwatch.

Consider the Polygon staff a small sample size of experts, here to recommend our favorite keyboards for each of our specific needs.

Best gaming keyboards

Corsair K70

Photo: Corsair

The Corsair K70 is pretty much my go-to recommendation for solid gaming keyboards. (While I haven’t yet tried the second-generation MK.2 model, I’ve every confidence that it’s just as good or better than the original.)

The feature that I enjoy the most is the aluminum frame, which raises the keys up a fair bit and makes for easy cleaning underneath. There’s also a metal rocker for volume, a full slate of media keys, a big friendly mute button, and built-in dimmer switches so you don’t have to futz with the software when it gets dark. It’s also available in a full range of Cherry MX switches, including the smooth and quiet Cherry MX Silent switches, also known as the Pink switches. The software has also been very reliable over the years.

– Charlie Hall

Corsair K70 keyboard

HyperX Alloy FPS RGB

Photo: HyperX

I have flirted with the idea of getting a tenkeyless (a keyboard without a numeric keypad) over the years, but I’m just hooked on using that right hand number pad and word processing buttons that come with a full-size board. However, playing spacefaring games and flight simulators as much as I do, desktop real estate comes at a premium. Gotta make room for the stick and throttle, after all. That’s why I opted for the HyperX Alloy FPS RGB for my recent trip to the edge of the universe in Elite: Dangerous.

It’s a full-size board, but with an extremely small footprint. The bezel is almost nonexistent. It’s also got the same raised keys as the K70, and it weighs a ton so it’s not as likely to move around on you while in VR. I’m not as big a fan of the software, unfortunately, which can be a bit inconsistent from version to version.

– Charlie Hall

HyperX Alloy FPS RGB keyboard

Best customizable aesthetic keyboards

Akko and Ducky keyboards

Photo: Akko

Akko and Ducky keyboards are perfect for people who want to cater something to their tastes.

They have keyboards in a wide variety of styles. You can get a small version with no number pad, a bigger board with a number pad, or an even smaller board with scrunched up arrow keys. There’s also a pretty nice variety of switches, so if you want a specific type of clicky sound or feel, Akko and Ducky probably have what you need.

I use the Akko 3087s 87-key in Sakura Pink, which is a collaboration between the two companies, but there’s such a variety of boards, you’re bound to find one that suits your fancy. Just don’t blame me if you end up spending a lot of money on artisan keycaps.

– Julia Lee

Akko 3087 keyboard

Razer BlackWidow Chroma – Pink Gaming Keyboard

Photo: Razer

This keyboard is definitely a Gamer Girl accessory in the “just make it pink!” trend, but I’m a gamer girl, gosh darn it, and I like this bright pink keyboard. (Literally all of my other gaming accessories are angular and black with some neon green accents, and they’re perfectly functional but they’re not very fun.)

I programmed this dream Razer BlackWidow Chroma keyboard with a variety of lighting effects. At rest, it’s light orange with a few select keys (WASD, volume up and down) highlighted in neon violet. When I’m typing, the keys light up with a vibrant ocean blue, delayed so that they flare up and disappear as I type.

In addition to being — and I cannot stress this enough — extremely aesthetic, the keys are super responsive and satisfying to clack, and it’s got a built-in wrist rest that is comfortable and ergonomic. It has all of the comforts of a high-quality keyboard with none of the drabness.

– Jenna Stoeber

Razer BlackWidow Chroma pink keyboard

Best media keyboard

Logitech K400 Plus

Photo: Logitech

I often stream video from my PC to my TV, but I got tired of having to walk over to my desk every time I wanted to use the mouse and keyboard. Plus I’d have to crane my neck to see the cursor on the TV — uncomfortable! Eventually I picked up Logitech’s Bluetooth keyboard with a built-in trackpad that was specifically built for this exact purpose, complete with easy access media buttons.

While this cheap little guy would be a nightmare to use for gaming, it’s just right for browsing YouTube on my TV from my couch.

– Emily Heller

Logitech K400 Plus media keyboard

Best mechanical keyboards

Keychron K2: the best entry-level mechanical keyboard

Photo: Keychron

I can’t justify my fascination with mechanical keyboards in any practical way. They aren’t meaningfully better at typing than the alternatives. But they do look cool, and they do sound great, and I don’t know, man, that just presses a little pleasure button in my brain and makes me marginally happy.

It’s happening now, those marginal bursts of pleasure, one tap at a time, as I write this on my fairly new, fully beloved Keychron K2, about as simple and inexpensive as entry into the world of mechanical keyboards as you could reasonably expect for Windows PC or Mac.

Mechanical keyboards can be an expensive hobby, but the Keychron K2 will get you started at $79.99 (which is inexpensive, comparatively). It’s an 84-key or tenkeyless design, which is a fancy way of saying that it doesn’t have a (10-key) number pad (get it? tenkeyless!), which is important to me because I don’t work at a bank anymore, so I don’t need that, and I’d rather have my mouse closer to my keyboard. It also has, as you can see, full-size arrow keys, which I’m always a fan of, and function (or media) keys, too.

I have the brown switch version, which is totally a dorky mechanical keyboard thing. Kychron uses Gateron brand switches, and brown is clicky without being obnoxious and piercing. The word people tend to describe brown switches is tactile, which means you don’t have to press too hard to type, and also it’s not so loud that it’ll hurt anyone’s ears. They should put me on marketing.

One last bit of warning, if you’re thinking of dipping your feet into the world of mechanical keyboards: They can take some getting used to. You may spend a week (read: I did) or more (re)learning how to type accurately on them. It was worth it to me.

OK, I lied. Another bit of warning: Watch your wrists. If you like to type with your wrists on the desk, you’ll need to transition to floating wrists or buy some pads to lift your wrists up off of the table. Or buy a keyboard tray. Or adjust the height of your desk, if that’s an option. Otherwise, the angle will wind up hurting your precious wrists. And that would be very bad. But also probably don’t type with your wrists resting on anything.

– Dave Tach

Keychron K2 keyboard

Anne Pro 2: the best small form factor / 60% keyboard

Photo: Anne Pro

Getting into smaller mechanical keyboards is an exercise in delicately balancing performance, price, and compromises. There may not be a keyboard that will check off all the boxes you need, but the Anne Pro 2 is the one that has come closest to hitting the mark for me.

The Anne Pro 2 is a 60% keyboard so it cuts off the entire numpad, function row, other operation keys, and even removes the arrow keys which may be a dealbreaker for some. But each key on these smaller units can be remapped, have multiple functions, or even have different properties depending on how you press the keys.

Everything about the Anne Pro 2 can be tweaked to your preference with software, including a new update that adds a fun but unnecessary feature that lights up the keyboard to the beat of my music. Either way, I arrived at the altar of small keyboards first with a bit of fear, but I’m a convert now. I can never go back to anything larger than a 60%, and I’ve come to fully believe the adage that less is more.

If you’re ordering the Anne Pro 2 on Amazon, you’ll have the option for three different key switches depending on your preference. If that’s a choice that gives you some analysis paralysis, go for the Gateron browns, which are the perfect balance between the options. Also, it’s worth knowing that this keyboard works great as a wireless keyboard too, but it has problems with repeating keys. With the amount of typing I do all day, it can be pretty annoying, so for the time being I have it wired.

– Jeff Ramos

Anne Pro 2 keyboard

Bonus: Best macro pad

Koolertron macro pad

Photo: Koolertron

If your keyboard doesn’t have macro keys or if you need more of them, this three-by-three macro pad will do the trick. Its software stores the data in the hardware, which means you can set it up, plug it into other laptops and PCs, and it’ll remember what it’s supposed to do. You can customize the lighting, the commands, and all that good stuff. I have a key macroed just to type “é” since I don’t have a numpad anymore. Useful stuff!

– Julia Lee

Koolertron macro pad

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