There are a lot of keypads on the market. Each with their own pro's and cons. This is our buying guide for the best gaming keypad.
Keypad vs. Keyboard
Mechanical Keyboards are all the rage in the gaming world these days, so it makes sense that the format of the keyboard would one day evolve. Playing most games today requires less and less use of the full keyboard. In fact, some keyboards take up a good portion of the desk when you only use a few keys more than WASD. Add to this that laptop keyboards cram together all the keys into a small form factor and you have an archaic way to game. Few games have keys that reach past the left hand and often those become neglected as it’s just too hard to hit different keys in a fast-paced competitive game (We’re looking at you PubG with your terrible use of Page Up and Page Down for setting scope distance).
The Gaming Keypad has been around for a long time but over the years they’ve honed the features to make them convenient, programmable, have great feedback, and suitable to replace your normal keyboard for everyday gaming. In the last month, Steam has also introduced a fantastic app that allows you to stream PC games to Android and iOS devices (Although apple support can be finicky). The catch? No touchscreen feedback, meaning without a controller, some games won’t work. With a portable keypad though, you can literally game on your phone or tablet as you would a full-scale gaming PC.
Things to look for in a Gaming Keypad
The number of buttons on a Gaming Keypad can vary dramatically, from around 15-25 or more. These buttons aren’t always traditional keys either as they can include specialized buttons specifically for gaming. A normal keyboard has 80-100 buttons so even the largest keypad will be lacking in that category but the addition of programmable buttons more than makes up for the difference. Design can look unique or even mimic the left half of a normal keyboard. Also remember that buttons are not always programmable for every keypad so that is important to note.
Gaming Keypads can have immensely different designs and even be made to help with a specific genre of game, or even game. Because of this, it’s important to get an understanding of what will feel best and work well for your gaming setup. Keypad design normally removes some of the more unused buttons that mess with gameplay such as capslock and add more useful buttons such as commonly pressed keys. Those who just want a slice of a normal keyboard layout can find that too.
There is no universally accepted size for keypads so you can find a multitude of tactile feels available. For instance some users prefer the small cramped size of a laptop keyboard and would love a Gaming Keypad designed for small hands. Others rarely find a full-sized keyboard to be comfortable and want the biggest keypad on the market. We recommend considering this beforehand and reading up on what product would work best for your hand size.
A decent keypad will have a very comfortable rest for your wrist and other features that make using the keypad for long hours enjoyable and minimal in pain. Some even have a palm-rest as well.
One of the most important aspects of typing is the feel and responsive feedback of the keys themselves. Keys generally fall into two broad categories, Mechanical and Membrane. A Membrane Keyboard or Keypad uses a large sheet of rubber that registers different hits from different parts of the keyboard. Most cheaper technically less functional keyboards fall into this category. A Mechanical Keyboard or Keypad has an individual mechanism for every single key on the board. This involves a cap being mounted on a stem that presses down on a spring and flips a switch. The feeling of a Mechanical Key is clearer, precise, and louder than a Membrane key. The individual pieces often create a clicking noise as well as take less force to register as the device does the heavy pressing.
Mechanical keys, also known as switches, fall into three broad categories. Linear, which produces a consistent and smooth feeling. Tactile, which has a bump that you feel around the actuation point. And one that Clicks, where you hear a crisp Click as soon as the switch gets to a certain point.
Switches are divided by type and each type is divided by color. So a Keypad with Cherry MX Red as opposed to Cherry MX Blue, will have a different feel and purpose. There are numerous switch brands and types so make sure to read up before making a purchase. Some prioritize FPS style gaming while others simply help typing feel awesome. For a Gaming Keypad, typing usually takes a backseat so we recommend any fast style switches with minimal resistance.
Like most modern technology, RGB plays a factor for some in selecting a Gaming Keypad. Only a few offer absolute control down to the key, but many offer a few great presets. RGB really comes in handy when you are in poorly lit settings and need to see your keys. The best RGB keypads will allow you to color each button and you can use that accordingly when you are playing to make important keys pop up at you.
One of the most important features of a Gaming Keypad is the ability to map keys out and program them to do what you want. It’s important to pick a manufacturer who includes high-quality software because this simplifies the process and ensures compatibility with a wide range of products. One of the other neat features is that this allows you to “Map” keys out in games that lack good key binding by simply programming different keys to mean a different things I.E. if a game won’t let you change a button such as pressing E to use an object to F, you can simply program a button (Including the E button) to return the value of F in your given game. Some software is easy and works on every OS while other software is relegated to windows or you need to use freeware found on the internet. Generally brands like Razer and Logitech will offer great support though.
Which games work best with a gaming keypad?
MOBA’s and MMORPG’s often benefit from Gaming keypads as they usually require a large number of specialized buttons. Some Gaming Keypads are designed to make activating powers and using abilities feel natural instead of a rushed or tedious process. Several if not all keys on a Gaming Keypad can usually be programmed to do a defined task (Also known as a macro). So suppose you often press several buttons in a specific order with specific timing to use an attack in World of Warcraft. Programmable buttons allow you to simplify that process. This is useful for a whole host of features. Some program buttons to change outside aspects like mouse sensitivity on the fly (For instance in some games, a macro may lower sensitivity when you scope in with a sniper rifle). Others might use a very repetitive command such as buying in CS:GO and replace that complex command with a set buy macro. Keypads also have different layouts so it may make actions such as using a potion or crouching simpler and more convenient once you map out the keys. Yet another aspect is the ability to assign text messages to macros for easy communication or deactivate keys that you accidentally press in the heat of combat. Spamming chat with a button sucks for everyone around you but it can be useful in some situations or gaming setups.
Are there any drawbacks to the limited button number?
Rarely but there are a few old school games such as Deus Ex that relied on the whole suite of F1-F12 to control your character. Games with convoluted control schemes or older games that didn’t age well may not benefit from a Gaming Keypad. These are minor hiccups though as most older games have either a fan-created mod that will fix it or the buttons that are missing are not important enough to kill the gaming experience. A good Gaming Keypad will allow you to override the internal controls of a game by simply changing the value of your keys as well, this means no conflicts.
Mechanical Vs. Membrane
A common factor in picking a modern keyboard is whether or not the keyboard is mechanical. While debate rages about the practical gaming benefits of a mechanical keyboard, most people would agree that the tactile feeling is superior when using a mechanical keyboard. It’s hard to describe but since mechanical keyboards are more reactive, you don’t need to fully press a key down to get a result. Some feel this speeds up everything from gameplay to typing since they don’t need to press as hard and the sensitivity is higher. The biggest drawback is that Mechanical keyboards do create a lot more noise. There has also been some differing opinion on whether or not the added software and complex mechanical structure creates more input lag. In reality the difference is small enough that any input lag from a keyboard difference isn’t why you lose a match, you’re just not as good as your opponent.
Avoid mistakes that cost you dearly
Does this sound familiar? You are about to buy at the beginning of a round on Mirage and you accidentally press the wrong key buying a scout instead of the gun you want. With $1700 blown in a matter of seconds, you now go without body armor into the fray. This small move costs you 2-3 turns of income. The match ends 14-16 and you look back wondering if perhaps, one slight button press did cost the match.
Or perhaps you go to hit your usual combination of moves in combat but accidentally trigger a high-level spell. It takes 30 seconds until you can recharge and costs you dearly during combat.
Switching between multiple games where E is now F and CTRL is now C show just how important muscle memory is when playing at even amateur competitive levels. It may not cost money to lose a match but people get ridiculously angry in games like Dota 2 when a newbie mistake costs them dearly. Adding insult to injury, some games like Dota are decided fifteen minutes into the match but you must then play for an hour just to finish the round being harassed by angry teammates. Mistakes happen.
A Gaming Keypad helps minimize those mistakes, especially if you game on a cramped laptop keyboard with shortened command buttons.
Consider using one to up your competitive gameplay
Using macros and simply mapping out the keys in your games can GREATLY enhance your ability to win and also make the slight annoyance of playing with mismatched muscle memory significantly easier. A Gaming Keypad also eliminates weird toggle buttons like Num Lock that bizarrely enough may get turned on and just annoy you for hours. The benefit of having your own settings mapped out is that you can often play in ways opponents can’t. For instance
What about Xbox One?
Traditionally Xbox has struggled to play well with keyboard and keypad peripherals. Recent leaks show that in the coming months, Microsoft will roll out compatible devices and driver updates for the Xbox One but unfortunately as of today, it’s best to wait. PS4 though has an excellent option that we covered up above.
Thanks for reading our guide!
We hope that this guide helped illuminate the oft-forgotten keypad and even helped you decide to pick one up. If you need a mobile solution or love games that could just benefit from a decent macro, pick something up like the Orbweaver. No one initially likes to change how they game but after a few sessions of gaming, you’ll never want to go back. As always we hope you like, share, comment and subscribe for more great content on gaming devices and technology! We want to help you play better and fall in love with gaming and we love knowing that we’ve had a part in that.