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This year's been a rough one for a number of reasons. Celebrity deaths and the rancorous election season aside, 2016 will forever be known as the worst year ever for laptop keyboards.
In the race to make laptops as thin as physically possible, the first thing to get the axe seems to be a halfway decent keyboard. Now, I'm not saying that there isn't room to experiment with keyboards. The backlit laptop keyboard was an experiment and it should be a standard feature on every laptop.
But, if you're somebody who needs to write using a laptop, 2016 has been a complete travesty. Models from Apple, Lenovo, Asus, and others have tried too hard to fix what wasn't even remotely broken.
Take for instance the experimental Yoga Book. This tablet-y laptoppy thing almost defies definition. It's super thin, and has a big area that can be used with an included digital pen to draw and sketch. That's awesome, but Lenovo forgot something: an actual keyboard.
Instead, this touch-sensitive Halo Keyboard has light-up keys that you can use to "type" on. Of course, since the keys are just lit up squares on an otherwise hard surface you're not "typing" so much as you are blindly flailing your fingers around while silently praying, "Take the wheel, autocorrect!"
Lenovo also changed its stock keyboard layout on the top-tier Yoga 900 and 910 to reemphasize the arrow keys. That's awesome for people who demanded bigger arrow keys, but terrible news for anyone who likes punctuation and proper nouns, with the right shift key shoved all the way over to the right, behind the up arrow. When setting up these new Lenovos, I constantly think I'm going nuts mistyping everything.
The biggest offender of the lot? Apple's MacBook Pro. The Pro's keyboards were transformed this year, going from hands-down the best in the world to merely a love-it-or-hate-it proposition. Pioneered by the likes of Vaio, the buttery smooth chiclet-style keyboards perfected by Apple had become the norm across the industry on premium laptops. Now Apple's trying to squeeze every millimeter out of its laptops with a new "butterfly switch" keyboard much like what the ultra-thin MacBook sports.
The Pro's switch is better than the 12-inch MacBook, but it still feels uncomfortable when compared with older Macs. Just walk into your local Best Buy or Apple Store and use the new MacBook Pro and any older device. Alternatively, just start tapping on the nearest solid surface; it's basically the same thing.
User reports also indicate that the new keyboards are also significantly louder than before, which is awkward if you've ever been self-conscious while hammering away at meetings or in a lecture hall.
In a specialized model like the MacBook, a funky flat keyboard is fine; that laptop's whole purpose is to be as slim and light as possible. But, I don't think a lot of folks wanted thinner Pros and certainly not at the expense of a keyboard downgrade. After all, Apple didn't need to ruin the keyboard in the awesome MacBook Air, so why does the Pro have to suffer needlessly?
To add insult to injury, Apple has tried its hardest to spin these compromised, shallow butterfly-switch keyboards as a positive. I mean, it's better than the original 12-inch MacBook, but you don't get extra credit for breaking something and then fixing it halfway.
For instance, I'd never heard anyone mention key "stability" as a leading factor of typing feel until Apple started banging that drum. The Pro keyboards were said to have a "greater sense of travel" than the MacBook. Translation: the keys still barely move but you'll think they're moving a tiny bit more.
Typists of the world—are we going to settle for lackluster and downright uncomfortable experiences? Heck, no! I'm calling on all you laptop totin' keyboard lovers out there to stand up for a good old-fashioned typing experience. Because if these weird, occasionally bad keyboards become the norm, we'll have nobody to blame but ourselves.
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