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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | Keyboards | Keyboard Construction and Operation | Keycaps ]

Keycap Travel

A very important ergonomic and comfort design factor for keyboards is keycap travel. This refers to the distance the keycaps move when the keys are pressed. A keyboard whose keys move down a great deal (relatively speaking) is said to have a "long" travel, while one whose keys move relatively little has a "short" travel. Travel is determined in part by overall keyboard design, but is also a function of the keyswitch technology used.

Travel is an important consideration for touch typists and others who use their keyboards a great deal. Good keyboards, all else being equal, usually have a fairly long travel, about 0.15 inches or more. Less expensive keyboards, or keyboards used in applications where saving space is important, often have travel of less than 0.10 inches. The difference may seem insignificant, but it definitely is not. My regular PC keyboard has a travel of about 0.16 inches; my notebook keyboard is about 0.12 inches. I can use both, but the full-sized keyboard is much more comfortable on my fingers.

Tip: You can measure the travel of your own keyboard easily, if you are interested in doing so. Just use a thin ruler to measure the difference in position between the up and down positions of the keys. Or, stand a piece of stiff paper next to a key such as the <Space Bar>, put a pen across the top of the key touching the paper, and use the pen to press up and down on the key to make a line on the paper. Then measure the length of the line.

It's true that most typists prefer reasonably long travel in the keyboard, as it makes fast typing easier. That said, travel is very much a matter of personal taste, as well as what you are used to. People accustomed to a keyboard with a travel of 0.18 inches might say a keyboard with 0.12 inches of travel is "like typing on concrete". I've certainly experienced that myself. But many people (including myself) find keyboards with very long travel ponderous to use; they might say such a keyboard is "like typing on a sponge".

Notebook keyboards are notorious for short travel, and many touch typists find them very difficult to use for this reason. Notebook manufacturers are always trying to save space, and regular keycaps on a standard keyboard are large and travel a long distance. So the engineers reduce the height of the keycaps, and reduce their travel as well; both of these reduce thickness, but also make the "feel" of the notebook keyboard worse. The keyboard on my personal notebook is usable, but I still always use an external keyboard when I can. And my notebook is a full-sized model! "Super-thin" notebooks often have even worse keyboards, and this is one reason I don't generally like such designs (aside from not being able to see what the big deal is about saving a quarter-inch of thickness on a device that is so large in the other two dimensions anyway...)

It should also be noted that travel is not uniform across all the keycaps on a keyboard. Some keys will have slightly more or less travel than others. The differences are usually minimal, however.

Next: Keycap Attachment and Special Keycaps

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