Most gamers are accustomed to full-size keyboards because they’ve been the standard for years. Recently, there’s been a slight shift toward compact tenkeyless (TKL) keyboards. TKL keyboards allow players to reclaim lost desk space and transport their keyboards to tournaments easily. The main difference between full-size and TKL keyboards is that TKLs come without the numpad. Since users still have access to numbers via the keyboard’s top row, they don’t lose much functionality.
TKL keyboards often come with mechanical switches, which are more precise for gaming. The most common switches are the Reds, Blues, and Browns, which follow the standard set by a company called Cherry. Whether the switches are Cherry MX originals or another brand, the Reds have a linear feel, the Blues are clicky, and the Browns are a mix of both.
These are the five best TKL keyboards of 2021.
The SteelSeries Apex Pro TKL tops this list because of its innovative features, like an OLED screen and its unmatched per-key sensitivity customization.
Compared to the other keyboards on this list, the Apex Pro TKL uses Omnipoint switches, allowing users to set each key’s actuation to their preference. Users can set the actuation point between 0.4 and 3.6 millimeters. Users can set a profile for gaming with high actuation points and have another profile for typing with less sensitive actuation points.
Another innovative feature of the SteelSeries Apex Pro TKL is the OLED smart display. This screen displays system information and allows users to customize the keyboard without opening the SteelSeries Engine 3 app. It’s also possible to upload custom images to the display for a more personalized appearance.
Many other features of the SteelSeries Apex Pro TKL, like the build quality and customization, are top-notch. Similar to the Huntsman Tournament Edition, SteelSeries’ TKL has an aircraft-grade aluminum frame, ensuring durability and a premium feel. The SteelSeries Apex Pro TKL also has five onboard profiles and per-key RGB lighting to add to the customizable switches.
While the SteelSeries Apex Pro TKL boasts an impressive feature set, it might be overkill for some users. The keyboard costs a fortune, and it’s only worth it for users who’ll use the customizable switches and OLED screen.
Razer’s Huntsman Tournament Edition uses optical switches instead of mechanical switches, meaning the opticals use a beam of light instead of mechanical actuation. When the user presses a key, the beam passes through an opening in the stem of the switch to register the keypress. This system allows optical switches to be more responsive than traditional switch types.
The Huntsman Tournament Edition comes in two switch types. Users can go for linear switches that require 40 grams of operating force and have a one-millimeter actuation point or clicky switches that require 45 grams of force and have a 1.5-millimeter actuation point.
Apart from the switches, the Huntsman Tournament Edition has impressive all-around build quality. It has a durable aluminum top plate and double-shot Polybutylene Terephthalate (PBT) keycaps. These keycaps are made from two pieces of high-quality plastic joined together and are more resistant to fading and wear than the cheaper Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) variety. The included detachable USB-C cable also adds durability by allowing users to replace it when it gets damaged instead of buying a completely new keyboard.
Razer’s Huntsman Tournament Edition is fully compatible with Razer Chroma. Users can download Razer’s Synapse software to sync the keyboard with other RGB peripherals and configure the per-key RGB lighting. Synapse is also the go-to software to set up different gaming profiles.
While the Huntsman Tournament Edition doesn’t come cheap, it still offers value to buyers, thanks to its performance and build quality. This Razer keyboard’s optical switches are some of the fastest available, and the aluminum top plate and PBT keys ensure it will last for many gaming sessions.
Best hot-swappable TKL keyboard
Logitech’s G Pro X is the company’s first hot-swap keyboard, and users get to choose between three types of switches. The available options include the GX Blue Clicky switches, GX Brown Tactiles, and GX Red Linears. All three options require 50 grams of operating force, with the GX Browns and Reds having a 1.9-millimeter actuation point and the GX Blues having a two-millimeter actuation point. Having hot-swap functionality allows users to change the switches without soldering, but it’s a time-consuming process most buyers won’t want to do often.
Considering its high price tag, the G Pro X is disappointing in certain areas. Instead of a more modern USB-C cable like on the Huntsman Tournament Edition, it uses an older Micro-USB cable with a clip on the end to secure it tightly. For a high-end keyboard, the G Pro X has a fully plastic case instead of aluminum like the Apex Pro TKL and Huntsman Tournament Edition.
Like all the keyboards listed here, the G Pro X has per-key RGB lighting. Users can customize the lighting and sync it with other devices using Logitech’s G Hub. The software also includes the color and keyboard profiles of professional esports players who regularly use the G Pro X.
The main reason for users to get the G Pro X is its hot-swapping capability. Those who aren’t going to swap out the switches may be better served with an alternative on this list or the regular G Pro without hot-swap functionality.
Best wireless TKL keyboard
Wireless keyboards are easy to transport and reduce clutter. Logitech’s G915 TKL combines a TKL design with wireless connectivity and a slim design to deliver a compact keyboard, that allows users to sit near or far from their monitor.
This keyboard has multiple connection options, including Bluetooth and 2.4GHz wireless connections. Bluetooth doesn’t require a dongle and works on laptops and mobile phones with built-in Bluetooth capability. While Bluetooth may be fine for typing and casual gaming, it isn’t the go-to for competitive games. Conversely, the wireless connection uses Logitech’s Lightspeed technology to offer a strong and stable connection. When the G915 TKL is used with the maximum brightness settings, it has an expected battery life of 40 hours.
While there’s no hot-swap functionality like the G Pro X, users can still choose between three switch types. The G915 TKL is available with Logitech’s low-profile GL Tactile Brown, GL Linear Red, and GL Clicky Blue switches. These switches have similar functionality to the GX range used on the G Pro X, but they have a more compact design.
Wireless keyboards tend to be quite expensive compared to their wired counterparts, and the G915 TKL is no different. Despite the high price, the G915 TKL still offers value by giving users multiple connection options and switch options.
Best budget TKL keyboard
Many TKL keyboards have a high price that puts off prospective buyers. The HyperX Alloy FPS Pro is an affordable alternative for users who’d like a TKL keyboard without spending a fortune.
Despite its low cost, the HyperX Alloy FPS Pro has decent build quality. The top plate is metal, and the base also has metal reinforcement. Like the G Pro X, it has a detachable braided Micro-USB cable for easy transportation.
The HyperX Alloy FPS Pro is available with three options. It gives users the choice of genuine Cherry MX Red, Blue, or Brown switches. The Red and Brown switches require 45 grams of force, but the Reds have a 1.8-millimeter actuation point compared to the two-millimeters on the Browns. Cherry MX Blue switches require 50 grams of force and also have a 1.8-millimeter actuation point.
HyperX dropped certain features to keep the price down. Instead of per-key RGB lighting, like the other keyboards on this list, the Alloy FPS Pro only has red backlighting. There’s also no software for users to configure profiles or macros.
The Alloy FPS Pro is a basic TKL keyboard without all the bells and whistles of all the other options on this list. It’s still worth a look for buyers looking for a budget-friendly keyboard because of its build quality and switch options.
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