Chiclet Keyboards – The New Black for Writers?

January 27, 2010

QWERTY computer keyboards have been accessible by consumers since the dawn of PCs (personal computers).  Sure, desktop keyboards have become more ergonomic and sleeker, but the shape of the keys has remained consistent until  now.  Well…sort of.  The new chiclet keyboard is mimicking fashion - meaning you have to go way way back to find the design in certain gadgets manufactured in the 80′s. 

What’s the difference?
The difference between a chiclet and a standard computer keyboard key is the individual keys no longer have slanted edges, but rather straight edges.  When you take away the slant what’s left is the finger pad landing in the shape of square – a chiclet.  The square shape leaves more space between keys and more room for fingers to spread out.
 
My experience…
I’m due for a new laptop this year and so I’ve been busy testing various models.  I really like the space chiclet keyboards offer in  a laptop layout.  Although I’m not overwhelmed with the key responsiveness (kickback after compression), I find my fingers are less cramped even on a full-size laptop keyboard, and my speed and accuracy are just a tad better.  Albeit tertiary, I have to admit, the chiclet keyboard has become a feature in a litany of features I am factoring when determining my next laptop purchase.

 

Laptop vs Desktop Chiclets
To date, Apple is the only computer manufacturer that has embraced the chiclet keyboard for its entire computer lineup. I’m a fan of the Mac - and love it "til death do us part".  However…. I absolutely do not care for the modern style keyboard in Mac’s desktop design.  There’s just not enough ergonomics to account for the time I spend at a computer pounding away on the input device.  I don’t care about looking cute, I care about being efficient. 
 
Is the chic here to stay?

I said I like the chiclet, and I do, but did I mention the keyboard I love? Lenovo’s ThinkPad keyboard is without a doubt the best non-ergonomic keyboard I have used.  The key responsiveness is perfect and the sound it makes is music-to-my-ears.  I use the touchpad rather than the pointing stick.  I have it in a desktop set up as a dock extension from my Tablet PC. If I were Lenovo I wouldn’t touch a thing…(The sound of screeching breaks before a CRASH!) Too late…  Guess what walked through the door at this years 2010 CES show?  Yep, an all new chiclet keyboard design on the new ThinkPad X100E and Edge series.  (BTW… the X100E is a great affordable ultraportable laptop, but hold out until spring/summer for the duo core version.)

Therefore, given that Apple is 100% married to the chic, and Lenovo dumped perfection to embrace it, I guess you know where I’d place my bet on whether the chiclet is here to stay.  Given how long it took the computer industry to "somewhat" circle back in fashion, I would say the chiclet is here to stay. That is until NUI (Natural User Interface) become the next hot thing.

In summary,  chiclet keyboards are not revolutionary by any means. In fact, they are probably more of a fashion statement.  However, as mobile keyboards go, anything that offers more typing space is a good thing.   To the contrary I think the whole "space issue" on a desktop keyboard is arguable or gratuitous at best. Desktop keyboards should be focused on ergonomics.  I think the desktop manufacture who manages to pack uber ergonomics into a minimalist design with ThinkPad-like key responsiveness will win the writer’s prize.  To date, it really doesn’t exist, but give it some time.

 

Images Courtesy of Hothardware.com, Apple.com and Lenovo.com respectively.

  

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Karen February 20, 2010 at 12:35 pm

I’ve been wondering about these new keyboards that are out. I tried a Toshiba chiclet keyboard and the kickback was pretty good. I didn’t buy it for other reasons.

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Cheena July 25, 2010 at 10:31 am

I agree about it should be functional over how it looks if you are writter this would be your main concern.
I do think that the chiclet keyboard looks as tho it would bfe easer to clean if you should spill crums on kit. Unlike the theo ones we have now if crums get in your have to dig it out with pins or take the keys off.
The only other thing is somtimes too with the keys being so close togeather you it 2 keys at the same time. Depending  I guess how big your fingers are too. I myself have not  tried the chiclet keys  yet so I can't kreally say kyet kwhich I would prefer for typying. Functionality first!

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Scoox September 2, 2011 at 8:41 am

I may be wrong but aren't slanted key edges (as in older keyboards) preferable to vertical edges (as in the chiclet keyboard)? I have used both, and I like the way my fingers glide onto neighbouring keys. For example, if I were to type "juice", I would press J then slide my finger onto the U without having to fully depress the J key. On chiclet keyboards this is not possible because my finger would hit the bottom edge of the U key if I don't lift my finger high enough. I always feel that traditional keys "guide" my fingers around the keyboard and not having to lift my fingers excessively makes it more comfortable to use. The trade-off is that with chiclet keyboards it is harder to hit the wrong key because the keytops are bigger, so it's a compromise between accuracy and comfort.
PS: I have seen some chiclet keyboards where the lower edge of the keys has a small slant, which looks like a very sensible design.

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Robin September 2, 2011 at 10:13 am

Scoox – Your post is very interesting.  The trade-off indeed is that chiclet keys are positioned closer so there's less area for your fingers to cover.  I'm also guessing that the size and strength of your hands may factor into the type of keyboard that's perfect for you. 

I have found that Apple chiclets have a great deal of kickback. In other words, if the key doesn't offer slight resistance on both the strike and the uptick then it requires more effort to move across the keyboard.  There needs to be tension…for me.

My gripe is that I have yet to see a chiclet keyboard incorporated into an ergonomic design with a slanted/cushioned wrist-rest or split keys. If you know of a specific design please link.

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Jacqueline R. September 16, 2011 at 10:32 am

Love your article. Wanted to add that Asus has the chiclet keyboard on its netbooks and i love it. I have two of the Eee PC netbooks and the chiclet keyboard's help me type faster and I don't feel like the keys are crammed together. Hope Asus doesn't switch like Lenovo did. I think that keyboard design is the best for laptops and netbooks.

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Kim December 4, 2011 at 6:56 pm

Hi,
Can you tell me what brand/model of the keyboard is at the top of this post?

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Robin December 4, 2011 at 7:21 pm

I believe it’s an Asus laptop: http://www.asus.com/Eee/Eee_PC/Eee_PC_1201T/

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