What Size is a Full Size Keyboard?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A full size keyboard usually refers to some of the larger keyboards that are purchased with computers. They typically include all alphabet keys, most often arranged in the QWERTY configuration, which include the row of numbers and symbols above the letters, function keys, shift, space, directional keys with arrows, and a number pad located to the right of the keys, which may be helpful in ten-key and data entry operations. Such keyboards are generally at least 17 inches (43.18 cm) wide and about 6 inches (15.24 cm) or more deep.

Many people prefer smaller keyboards because they are lighter and easier to set in the lap.
Many people prefer smaller keyboards because they are lighter and easier to set in the lap.

There are distinct advantages to a full size keyboard because it contains all the extra keys, and plenty of space to type with generous spaces in between keys. It’s roughly similar to key space and width of typewriters, though a bit smaller, and it may be appreciated by those who learned to type on a typewriter instead of smaller computer keyboards. Smaller keyboards are certainly widely available, and they may save space by eliminating some keys, shrinking space in between keys or doing both. These may not be as easy to work with for those used to full sized keyboards, though they have their advantages too, and have been particularly appreciated for use with small-sized laptops. Shrinking the keyboard can mean reducing overall weight and size of a laptop, though there’s been some movement back toward larger ones, especially for people who want larger screens or larger keyboards.

A full size keyboard.
A full size keyboard.

With some of the very small devices that require keyboards, it may be easier to use a mini keyboard or at least a smaller plug in. Those who do want access to a full size keyboard for things like texting from a personal organizer or cellphone do have some options. There are now laser keyboards that project keys onto a surface and sense which keys are being touched. Another option are flexible or foldable keyboards which are fairly simple to use and easy to pack.

The function buttons are at the top of a standard keyboard.
The function buttons are at the top of a standard keyboard.

Even though a full size keyboard may be desirable, many people prefer smaller keyboards. They may be easier to set in the lap, they’re usually lighter and they take up less space on a desk. They pack quickly into laptop bags, and this may be helpful for those who prefer a keyboard larger than one that comes with their laptop and yet not a full size version. Some feel that elimination of certain keys on smaller keyboards is no problem because they don’t routinely use things like direction pads or 10-key pads in any case.

A person texting on a miniature keyboard.
A person texting on a miniature keyboard.

There is another definition for this term. A full-sized keyboard can also refer to synthesizers or electric pianos that contain a certain amount of keys or that have key size and spacing similar to that on most pianos. This may be a little confusing since a synthesizer called full size might only have 61 keys, while the average piano has about 88. However what is meant by full size here is that key size and space between keys is close to standard piano size.

Caps lock is a function key on a full size keyboard.
Caps lock is a function key on a full size keyboard.

How Many Keys Are on a Full-Size Keyboard?

There are 104 keys on a full-size keyboard. These include a number pad on the right side, arrow keys, Home cluster keys, function keys, and the main cluster of letters and a number row.

A full size keyboard may refer to a musical instrument's keyboard.
A full size keyboard may refer to a musical instrument's keyboard.

Compare this to other types of keyboards. For example, the 1800 compact keyboard, sometimes called a 96% keyboard, is slightly smaller than a full-size keyboard and can be considered an alternative type of full-size keyboard because it contains the same number of keys. Space is saved by placing the number keys below the Enter key, for instance, and the Home key cluster rests higher up near the number pad.

A third type is the Tenkeyless or TKL keyboard, sometimes referred to as an 80% keyboard. A TKL keyboard does not have a number pad and contains 87 keys. Because many people have little need for a number pad, they may prefer the smaller size of the TKL.

The 75% keyboard is slightly smaller than a TKL. The arrangement on a 75% keyboard is modified to fit the smaller size. Gaps between keys are omitted, and the arrow keys are placed directly beneath the Enter key. The Home key cluster, which typically has a horizontal alignment, is placed vertically. Some 75% keyboards lessen the size of the Shift key.

There are even smaller types of keyboards, such as the 65%, 60%, and 40%. 60% keyboards have 61 keys. In addition to the number pad being removed, the Home cluster and arrow keys are omitted. Function keys are subtracted. With 40% keyboards, there are only 47 keys that contain only the main cluster keys.

Which Keyboard Is Right For You?

The size of your keyboard is totally up to you and depends on your needs. Many prefer full-size keyboards for the sake of convenience or productivity. Others find smaller keyboards more comfortable and like to save space on their desk. Smaller keyboards tend to be lighter and also less expensive.

Your profession matters, too. If you’re an accountant or in any job involving data entry, you probably would prefer to keep the number pad. Gamers may benefit from 60% keyboards, which omit keys that are generally not used in games.

What Is the Difference Between Membrane and Mechanical Keyboards?

Membrane keyboards use silicon-based elastic devices to register keystrokes. Unlike a mechanical keyboard, which uses individual switches to register keystrokes, the membrane is all one piece. Mechanical keyboards use springs installed underneath each key. Because they’re individual keys, those on a mechanical keyboard can be replaced and customized. However, if one key fails on a membrane keyboard, the entire keyboard will need to be replaced.

There are pros and cons to each type. Membrane keyboards are less expensive than mechanical keyboards. They’re also quieter, with no “click” with each keystroke that a mechanical keyboard has. They tend to be both lighter and smaller.

Mechanical keyboards are the older type but are still very popular today. To best understand the difference between a mechanical and a membrane keyboard, one merely needs to type on each. The feel is very different, and many prefer the more tactile sensation of the mechanical keyboard. While the distinctive “click” of a mechanical key being pressed is louder than a keystroke on a membrane keyboard, some may prefer this louder sound, as it offers an audible feeling of the key being pressed. While mechanical keyboards are heavier and larger than their membrane counterparts, they are sturdier; if a key fails, one can replace the individual key without needing to replace the entire unit.

Not all mechanical keyboards have the “click” feature. Two subtypes of mechanical keyboards, linear and tactile, do not have a “click” sound on the keypress. Tactile mechanical keyboards have the “bump” feeling just like “clicky” mechanical keyboards do, but linear mechanical keyboards have neither a bump nor a click. Thus, if the loudness of a traditional “clicky” mechanical keyboard is a downside for you, there are quieter mechanical keyboards available.

Gamers, in particular, tend to appreciate mechanical keyboards, as they are highly customizable, durable, and have a less “sticky” feel than membrane keyboards. Higher-end mechanical keyboards, while expensive, offer a multitude of functions that can’t be replicated on a membrane keyboard.

Ultimately, it comes down to preference. If you’re used to membrane keyboards, you may find a learning curve switching to mechanical. On the other hand, mechanical keyboards offer distinct advantages and are generally considered superior to membrane keyboards, the latter’s advantage primarily being price.

Sources:

https://www.aptrio.com/keyboard-sizes/

https://www.easytechjunkie.com/what-is-full-size-keyboard.htm

https://www.msn.com/en-us/sports/esports/keyboard-sizes-what-size-of-keyboard-is-right-for-you/ar-AAMummK

https://digitalworld839.com/what-is-a-membrane-keyboard/

https://techguided.com/mechanical-keyboard-vs-membrane-keyboard/

Many laptops feature smaller keyboards, but some are available with a full-size keyboard.
Many laptops feature smaller keyboards, but some are available with a full-size keyboard.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent EasyTechJunkie contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

anon996108

I am used to QWERTY and non-ergonomic, but my hands are large and I often hit an adjacent key or multiple keys, so I am looking for a larger keyboard. I see many that have large keys for kids and for people with eyesight problems to see them better but not really"larger" or more widely spaced (greater than the 19-mm cited above, good info). I do not want a toy, but just one that larger hands can use without cramping up into a dead spider form or mis-typing. Any suggestions? With so much of the population large or tall, I would think there would be a bunch of these! Nope...

Oceana

If you first learn to type using a full size keyboard, then you will want to use one forever. I did, and I can't use anything else.

I am very quick at typing, even when it comes to using numbers. I'm quick with both the number pad and the numbers above the letters, as well as everything you have to press shift to get to.

I don't think a full size keyboard is too large at all. I think that anything else would be too small and would make my fingers feel cramped.

seag47

I have short fingers, so full size keyboards are quite a stretch for me. I got used to working on a portable keyboard, so that is what I prefer.

giddion

@StarJo – Yes, they definitely are nicer. However, the smaller music keyboards usually have more functions to make up for the lack of keys.

I had a small keyboard that had dozens of recorded rhythm tracks to choose from, so I could play to a pre-recorded beat. I could choose from Latin, jazz, and a variety of other rhythms.

I could also record myself playing. This was convenient for when I wanted to write a song, because I could record both the rhythm and the music and play it back so that I could concentrate on the melody and the lyrics later.

I think I actually preferred this small keyboard to my friend's full size keyboard. His did have recording functions and beats, but figuring out how to use them was much more complicated, and the manual was much thicker.

StarJo

I automatically thought of a musical keyboard when I saw the title of this article. Even though the full size has less keys than a piano, it definitely feels more like playing the real thing.

I've played on small keyboards before, and I never seem to have enough keys available for what I want to play. I tend to use the entire keyboard, because I like to do a range of octaves in just about every song.

Full size keyboards are significantly more expensive, but you get what you pay for. They don't cost as much as actual pianos, but they cost more than smaller keyboards.

anon226733

Clear answers to the problem?

This is anything but clear. It's a wishy-washy, generalized mess.

How about this:

A full-sized keyboard is one where the distance between the center of adjacent keys is 19mm.

That is the key metric. The rest is just general, e.g.:

Generally speaking, they have from 88 to 105 keys .... etc, etc, etc.

googlefanz

What would be some good tips for choosing a full size portable keyboard if you can't afford one of the fancy holographic ones?

I've heard that they also make some flexible full size keyboards out of silicone that roll up for easy transport, but I really don't know that much about it.

Are there any good portable full size keyboards that are reasonably light and well constructed, so I could take one along with me when I travel with my netbook?

That thing is totally awesome for surfing the web, but I can't for the life of me type on it. It's like when I try to text people, just never works out.

So do you have any good tips on buying a portable full size keyboard that's pretty easy to travel with? Any input appreciated.

FirstViolin

I have always wanted one of those full size digital hologram keyboards that can just tell when you're typing on it.

I have absolutely no idea how that works, but its so cool -- just like something out of Star Trek.

I bet that that kind of keyboard is really useful for people who travel a lot too. That way you can always have a full size portable keyboard with you without actually having to carry a huge keyboard around in your luggage.

I wonder if it's picky about surfaces though -- that would be my only concern, that you would have to project on a perfectly flat surface to use it, which could be a little inconvenient.

Do you know if this is true, or if portable hologram keyboards are going to hit the regular consumer market any time soon?

naturesgurl3

I have a netbook that I use for everyday work, but when I need to do major typing projects with it then I definitely turn to my full size USB keyboard.

I couldn't type thousands of words on that tiny little keyboard -- it's hard for me to even see the keys, much less hit them.

Although the netbook's small size is a definite lifesaver when I need to carry it, I don't think I could ever use it for all the work I do if I didn't have a full size keyboard to use with it -- it's just too small.

What about you guys, do you have an extra keyboard that you use for your notebooks and netbooks?

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