We can’t get enough of 40 percent keyboards and other adorably small — yet surprisingly effective — layouts
If you have any interest in mechanical keyboards, you already know the seemingly simple act of typing on a computer goes much deeper than some may assume. Your choice of switches, keycaps, lighting, and other concerns can have a big impact on the way you type. But the ocean of hobbyist keyboards isn’t just deep — it’s broad too, with sizes and shapes that range from roomy full-size keyboards to svelte 60% keyboards and beyond.
Let’s just say that things start to get a little odd once you get down to 40 percent keyboards and smaller. Odd doesn’t mean bad, though — we can’t get enough of these unusual layouts that redefine typing in the pursuit of minimalist perfection. Here are some of the weird and wonderful keyboard sizes you need to know about.
Find the perfect keyboard size for your desktop or on-the-go setup with our guide to everything from full-size to 20% boards.
What are 40 percent keyboards?
40 percent keyboards are much like 60 percent keyboards, in that they don’t have a numpad, arrow keys, the navigational cluster, or even function buttons. Now take this already quite honed-down form factor and lop off the number row, too — yep, the entire number row — and you have a 40 percent keyboard.
Unless you’re an immaculately accurate typist, you may have realized that the number row is also typically home to one of the most-used keys: backspace. 40 percent keyboards combine multiple functions onto a single key (that’s how they do numbers too), letting users swap between which functions are active by pressing a key: for instance, the common Planck layout surrounds its smaller space bar with keys to “raise” and “lower” the current layer, offering access to lesser-used keys such as the number keys on the higher layer and tilde on the lower. It’s a clever way to get a lot of use out of a very limited space.
Want to give a 40 percent keyboard a try for yourself? Here are two fan-favorite options.
Did You Know?:There are many ways to rethink the traditional keyboard. The HHKB layout repositions the Control key for a faster and more ergonomic typing experience.
Two of the best 40 percent keyboards
Planck EZ: The Planck EZ’s unique appearance is due in part to its ortholinear key layout. This means its keys are stacked up in linear columns rather than being staggered from row to row. Not only does this make for a unique typing experience, it also allows the Planck to pack more keys (such as dedicated arrow keys) into a smaller space. This unique take on keyboard minimalism doesn’t come cheap, with prices starting at $230.
Vortex Core: The Vortex Core has been around for a while, but it remains a favorite among 40% keyboard aficionados thanks to its solid and practical design with a thumb-friendly split spacebar. Unlike the Planck, it isn’t ortholinear, so the main thing your muscle memory will have to get used to is not having the number row — and having so much more space where all that extra keyboard used to be. You can pick one up for $89.
What are 30 percent keyboards?
30 percent keyboards are computer input devices that almost exclusively feature letter keys. They omit all the same elements as 40 percent keyboards and keep on cutting; no modifier keys like shift or control, and no spacebar. How do you write capital letters, or perhaps more importantly, anything that isn’t an unbroken string of characters? Much like with a 40 percent keyboard, the answer is that you get creative with the keys you do have by pressing multiple ones at once to generate different inputs.
The demand for 30 percent keyboards is niche enough that few major manufacturers create pre-built models that fit the form factor. But if you’re looking for a fairly approachable project to get started with custom keyboards, you could pick up a DIY kit and hit the ground running — just don’t forget to bring a compatible controller (the brain of the board), switches, keycaps, and soldering gear.
Did You Know?:The HHKB Snow Collection brings an elegant new look to the latest version of a fan-favorite keyboard — you can even opt for a pure white, legend-free aesthetic.
What are 20 percent keyboards?
20 percent keyboards are standalone numpads, typically speaking, sometimes with additional macro keys built in for extra functionality on top of what you’d typically find on the right-hand side of a full size keyboard. Why call them 20 percent keyboards? Well, another common name for tenkeyless keyboards is 80 percent boards — so the tenkey cluster they leave off makes up the remaining 20%.
Though it may sound counterintuitive for folks who are trying to go as minimal with their keyboard as possible, adding a standalone numpad to your setup gives you the option for faster data entry and calculating when and where you need it. When it’s time to browse, game, or do anything else that doesn’t require punching in lots of numbers, you can simply tuck the numpad away and enjoy your extra desk space. Depending on how you use your computer, a 20 percent keyboard could be one of your most practical peripherals.