Wireless keyboards are the norm now for most computer users.
But are they really a better choice, or are you using one just because it looks cool?
You probably never stopped to ask yourself that question.
Wireless = Modern and therefore = Good.
That’s not necessarily the case though.
At least not for every everyone.
Let’s look at what that might be the case.
Which is better – a wired or wireless keyboard?
Wired mechanical keyboards are preferred by professionals who need consistent and fast response times and gamers who cannot tolerate input lag. Wireless keyboards are cheaper to manufacture, and tend to be preferred by home and office users.
But there’s a lot of nuance to cover here.
Bluetooth vs. RF Keyboards
We need to cover this before we get any further into the “wired or wireless” keyboard debate.
Bluetooth is a wireless technology that was very popular in the early days of the new millennium.
But it never took off with PC peripherals except for headphones and a small number of input devices.
RF technology is what’s used in the majority of peripherals described as being “wireless”.
They use radio waves to communicate via a radio frequency (RF) with the USB receiver plugged into your desktop or laptop.
Way too many people think that Bluetooth and wireless RF is the same thing.
Most modern wireless keyboards communicate in the 2.4GHz frequency range, which allows them to communicate with a PC that’s up to 30 feet away.
Bluetooth devices also use a dongle but their effective range is usually no more than 10 feet.
What you can take away from this is that the vast majority of wireless keyboards are RF keyboards.
Okay, so that’s the technical stuff taken care of.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of wired vs. wireless keyboards.
Reduce Desk Mess
The real selling point for wireless peripherals is that you don’t have to worry about cables snaking across your desk, behind your screen, etc.
That means you could free up some extra desk space by not using a wired keyboard.
So that’s a definite plus in favor of wired keyboards.
But are those cables actually getting in your way?
Wires can mess up the visual Feng Shui of your desk, but do they actually get in your way…or do you just “feel” they do?
If you’re a total neat freak, then you’ll opt for using a wireless keyboard.
If you’re not then those cables might be kinda ugly, but how big of a deal is that in a home office?
Are you trying to create a neat working environment or a productive one?
Wireless Device Range
Wired keyboards usually come fitted with a 6-foot cable, which should be more than enough for the 99.9% of people who sit at arm’s length to their screen.
Bluetooth devices have a range of up to 33 feet, but line-of-sight is a factor here.
RF wireless peripherals, such as a wireless keyboard, have a range of between 6 and 30 feet, depending on the communication technology driving them.
The question to ask yourself here is how far away do you need to be from your desktop or laptop computer?
Do you know anyone who sits more than 6 feet from their PC or Mac while they’re working?
If so, drop me an email to explain why.
Any type of wireless technology can suffer from signal interference, no matter what the manufacturers say.
Wireless devices communicate using radio waves, and radio waves can and do get scrambled.
Or other wireless computer peripherals in your home or office.
This is a major downside to wireless keyboards when compared to their wired counterparts.
What can cause interference with RF devices?
The problems usually come from other RF devices like headphones, printers, or anything else sharing the same 2.4GHz frequency.
Sometimes it can be something as random as a microwave oven in the next room – these emit electromagnetic fields (EMF) that can play havoc with wireless devices.
If this interference/signal drop happens while you’re listening to Spotify, then you won’t care.
But when you have the same problems with a wireless keyboard it’s beyond infuriating.
Your keyboard can simply stop working, or work intermittently, and you’ll have no idea why.
This is something wired keyboards never, ever suffer from.
So that’s a plus point for wired keyboards in this comparison.
Keyboard Response Times
Tech product “reviewers” always bring up keyboard response times.
Because input lag can be a real headache at times.
Basically, there can be a lag (delay) between what you type on a wireless keyboard and when that information appears on your screen.
The same goes for wireless mice.
This delay is measured in milliseconds, so the average human being won’t notice.
Unless something goes wrong, in which case you’ll find yourself shouting at the screen because the keyboard is duplicating everything you type.
Or you have to wait for the PC to catch up with the data wobbling over the RF connection to your computer.
This can be caused by local interference, failing batteries, or messed up driver software.
A wired computer keyboard doesn’t have this problem unless there’s something seriously wrong with it.
Like they’re totally borked.
Response times matter when it comes to gaming keyboards or those with optical switches.
But the average computer user will never be able to tell the difference.
One of the single most frustrating aspects of owning a wireless keyboard is you need to have spare batteries on hand at all times.
They have a separate power source.
The same thing applies to computer mice – wireless mice can be a real pain in the ass.
I can guarantee that at least a few of you reading this have taken that 1am drive to a grocery store because your keyboard died just as you were in the middle of something important.
What most people suggest is buying two sets of rechargeable batteries and a battery charger.
That’s an environmentally friendly option…as long as you remember to keep your spare batteries charged.
Which most people don’t.
So maybe get a charger with a digital readout so you know exactly where you stand.
A wired keyboard never needs to be recharged (nor do wired mice).
And more importantly, they never run out of power at midnight on Sunday…while you’re putting the finishing touches to an important presentation.
When it comes to power requirements, a wired USB keyboard wins another point in the “wired vs. wireless” debate.
But, to be fair, wireless peripherals can have a battery life measured in months.
USB Ports Used
Every wired device needs its own USB port to work properly.
So your keyboard and mouse will take up two ports out of the total you have.
Most modern desktop PCs come with more USB ports than you’ll probably ever need, so this usually isn’t a huge issue.
But if you’re using a laptop then being able to connect both your keyboard and mouse via a single USB dongle is a better solution.
Your dongle only takes up one port but connects two devices.
Wireless devices win in this category because they can actually reduce the number of USB ports you use.
So this is a win for the wireless models.
Fewer Moving Parts
When you’re troubleshooting issues with a PC, you have to take every component in a device chain into consideration.
What this means is that if I have to troubleshoot a wireless keyboard I need to consider the following:
- USB dongle
- Driver software
- Physical device
- RF interference
When I compare this to a wired keyboard my troubleshooting gets a lot easier:
- USB driver issue
- Physical cabling issue (is it plugged in)
Don’t get me wrong – a typical modern wireless keyboard is rock solid, and probably won’t ever give you a day’s trouble.
But if they do, that’s when the real work starts, and it’s never, ever fun.
At face value, there’s very little price difference between the two.
So, there’s no point in splitting hairs on price, right?
Plus…you kinda forgot to include the rechargeable batteries and a charger for them.
That adds an additional $14 to your overall costs, so the wireless keyboard now costs at least $32.
This matter only if you only plan on buying the cheapest keyboard you can find.
Which is usually a terrible idea.
Here are a few of my mid-range favorites of the different types you could buy:
Best wired keyboard under $50
The Logitech MK120 – this is a scaled down version of the Logitech MK280 I currently use.
Best wireless keyboard under $50
You basically have to get a keyboard and mouse combo here, but that’s just the way it works with the Logitech MK345.
Best mechanical keyboard under $100
And this is complete overkill, but it looks amazing. Ladies and gentlemen – the Razer Huntsman mechanical keyboard with optical switches.
Gaming keyboards are an entirely different story – you already know you’re spending $100+ on one.
In terms of cost, there’s very little in the difference between wired vs. wireless keyboards.
Can a wireless keyboard be hacked?
Did you ever stop to ask yourself can wireless keyboards be hacked?
Yes, it can.
Any wireless device can be hacked.
Anyone telling you otherwise either doesn’t know what they’re talking about.
Wireless keyboards can most definitely be hacked.
And it can be done from hundreds of feet away if the hacker used a drone to bounce their signal off.
Here’s a pretty exhaustive whitepaper on the subject of RF device security risks from the team at Bastille.
Data entered with a wired keyboard can also be hacked.
But that means using a virus, a physical device like a key logger, or a combination of the two.
Something else you probably didn’t consider is the additional software you need to get your wireless keyboard up and running.
Windows 7 onward does a pretty decent job detecting USB keyboards.
But that’s not always the case with their wireless equivalents.
They usually need some kind of proprietary software installed, which can result in a stack of bloatware on your PC.
A wired keyboard only needs to be plugged in to a functioning USB port, and Windows will set it up with the standard HID (Human Interface Device) driver.
I prefer to keep my Windows install as lean as possible, and that includes installing the bare minimum of drivers and other software.
Plus, I always had to keep a wired keyboard around for reinstalling Windows on my PC…because a wireless keyboard is just a paperweight without its drivers.
So that’s my take on the whole wired vs. wireless keyboard debate.
It really comes down to what you need the keyboard for.
If you’re a gamer you’re going to use a wired mechanical keyboard, and you won’t need me to tell you that.
The average home office user can choose between wired and wireless technology depending on their preferences.
There’s a keyboards for pretty much any task you can think of.
But there’s a lot to be said for using an input device that doesn’t need a battery, doesn’t suffer from interference, and does the exact same job.
So the best advice I can give is get the keyboard that best suits your needs.