I often get laughed at for having such a fondness for keyboards – cheap keyboards. While the elite and more polished tech-savvy types may love touting their super-expensive keys, those with a thousand extra buttons letting power-users virtually pre-map every function for maximum clickability, give me a sub-$20 keyboard any day of the week and I’m a happy camper.
So this makes my weekly jaunts to the computer isles an endless journey of discovery for my next set of keys. Sadly, if you share my enthusiasm you probably already know this can be a fool’s errand as most cheap keyboards are just that – inferior products that prey on the desperate and financially challenged. Yes, you can type on them and for most people this will be more than enough. But keystrokes become inaccurate and it isn’t long before sticky keys mean a – yup, you guessed it – return to the store to replace the replacement.
And few brands are as associated with ‘cheap’ than Best Buy’s own Insignia, maker of just about everything under the sun, and one that I’ve typically had good experiences with. Enter Insignia’s budget-friendly USB Keyboard, a surprisingly good replacement set of keys for those who don’t want to break the bank for a quality typing experience for little cash. Try ten bucks.
There’s no rubberized, programmable, or otherwise extra-functional keys or buttons anywhere here. This is entirely predictable and functional experience, right now to the QWERTY layout and and full number pad on the right. Insignia’s designers clearly aped the low-profile style of modern Logitech and Dell keys to great effect as key spacing is perfect, with enough distance between keys to make those key-combos work like a charm (great for you designers and gamers out there). Apart from the standard layout there’s a row of media-centric keys sitting on a slightly raised top that add basic controls for volume up/down/mute, forward/back/ play/pause, stop, as well as sleep-mode and browser hotkeys for home/refresh.
The plastic may be cheap (and feels every bit of it) but it’s well-molded plastic, and the body is well shaped and spaced. Key spacing is perfect, with enough distance between standard keys to make them all reachable for those of us with programmed muscle memory. The heft is also just right, enough to sit comfortably on desks and other surfaces, and two flippable legs can alter the typing angle just enough to satisfy purists like myself. Don’t laugh – many cheap keyboards nix the legs, so it’s nice to see them here.
Installation is simple and couldn’t be easier. Plug the USB cord into your Windows/Mac/LInux machine and you’re good to go. The drivers used here are so basic that I wouldn’t be shocked if this keyboard worked with every other operating system (that accepts USB) under the sun, so if you’re worried about compatibility, I wouldn’t be.
For those of us who switch back and forth between Windows / Mac there’s a small niggle that may/may not affect your browsing skills. On a full-fledged Windows 8 machine the keyboard works flawlessly – every media key does as the designers intended. Run the keyboard on a Mac – or virtual Windows – and you’ll lose some of the browser-centric functionality like ‘Home’ and ‘Refresh’ on both machines. There isn’t additional software or drivers to restore them, but if you’re like me this won’t be much of a dealbreaker.
So how’s the typing experience? In a few words: good enough. Often with these cheap-o keyboards the travel distance between strokes is mediocre, or mushy to the point where your typing speed creeps to a crawl. This isn’t the case here as the plastic keys were more than up to the challenge of being pounded on incessantly, and even after weeks of aggressive use my typing speed never suffered.
My only issue would be the cheap plastic build, which extends to the keys themselves, makes for an inelegant tap-tap experience when you’re really blazing along. There’s a distinct noise that cheap plastic makes when it’s clacking against fellow cheap plastic that’s unique to some keyboards (much like a good mechanical keyboard’s clicking), and this wont’ endear itself to some. It never bothered me, to be honest, but don’t expect a whisper-quiet experience as you click your way into the night.
Insignia’s NS-PNK5001 USB Keyboard is exactly what it looks and feels like; a super cheap replacement keyboard that costs little and works like a champ. Its closest equivalent, in quality and value, would be Logitech’s K120 (a personal favorite whose only flaw would be a price that continues to climb). But there’s great value here, especially if you reply on a good set of keys to get work done. The typing experience is surprisingly good, the keys hold up, there’s a number pad, and the cord is long and generous enough for most setups. What more do you want for ten bucks?