Despite all the hype about tablets replacing computers, most business people remain tethered to their desks most of the workday – and most of that time is spent with fingertips moving around a mouse and keyboard.
The default mouse and keyboard that ships with your desktop computer may be just dandy for most users, but third-party peripherals have always been popular because they generally offer more powerful, comfortable, or ergonomic options that satisfy a range of individual preferences.
Some users want to replace only the keyboard or mouse; others want to replace both. Many keyboards and companion mice are sold as a set. But even those who want to replace both may have specific preferences.
In that case, it's optimal to buy each piece separately. If your desired keyboard is only available as a set with a mouse you don't want, well, it never hurts to have an extra mouse handy in case you need it one day.
What to look for
Wired or wireless
Keyboards come wired or wireless, and there are advantages and disadvantages to both. When you plug a wired device into an operative USB port on your computer, hub or monitor, expect nearly 100 percent plug and play but also an unsightly mess of wires on your desk. Wireless keyboards and mice require some kind of connection: RF or Bluetooth. RF (radio frequency) peripherals require a receiver, generally a small USB dongle that eats up a USB port, whereas Bluetooth pairs with a receiver that's built into the computer. Each wireless RF device requires its own receiver so if you mix and match wireless device brands, you may need a different USB receiver for each one. Combos will connect with the same receiver.
Many people replace their mice and keyboards to get a more comfortable mousing or typing experience. Variations of the shape, size and weight of mice, in addition to various buttons and controls, can make mousing less stressful on your hands. Keyboards, likewise, come in a variety of adjustable key configurations to lessen the risk of repetitive stress injury.
Most wireless keyboards and mice are battery-powered, but some are rechargeable or even solar-powered. Depending on your use, wireless keyboards can last from 15 months to three years on a single set of batteries. Wireless mice last eight months to two years.
It's surprising that even today, with both wired and wireless integration taken for granted, there are still some keyboards and mice that do not work with a Mac. Each product should explicitly state which OS it can work with. If you are buying for a Mac and your preferred keyboard and mouse does not have a Mac symbol on the box, or only references the PC in its notations and system requirements, take that seriously. In reality, some Windows-only peripherals will work with a Mac, though with some limitations.
If you want to outfit a desktop or laptop with the best and most comfortable accessories, you could pay up to $100 or more. Always buy the best you can afford, because this is something you will live with every minute of every workday.
Most wireless mice have textured or rubber side grips with some shape contouring for added hand comfort. Most work well for righties or lefties, but some mice are specifically designed for one hand or the other. Consider the size of the mouse in relation to the size of your hand – you don't want something so big that you are stretching your hand around it or so small that your fingers cramp into a claw. There are many tiny travel mice designed to be small and light enough for toting around, but rarely are they a great fit for daily desktop use.
Buttons and wheels
The mainstream desktop mouse generally has two buttons: right and left. Today, common features also include a scroll wheel (technically a button) that can either ratchet or move smoothly through documents and multiple thumb buttons that let you navigate forward and back in your browser, expose your desktop or application windows, or magnify webpages and documents.
Ergonomic designs all try to place your hand in a neutral position to reduce carpal tunnel and repetitive strain injury. In addition to size, consider weight. Some users seek a heavier mouse that anchors the hand, while others prefer a lighter instrument with less resistance to wrist movement
Keyboards with adjustable height and tilt are always a good idea, because you can get it at just the right level for comfortable typing. It's also great when a keyboard includes a wrist rest, but you can also buy these separately if needed.
Many keyboards come integrated with a numeric keypad and a range of program hotkeys letting you assign certain buttons to open frequently used apps or utilities. Some keyboards also come with multimedia keys that let you adjust computer volume, playback and screen brightness.
Unless you feel like you're banging on a piece of tin or pushing your fingers through mush, a keyboard's key construction may not be part of your thought process. But key technology is behind what most keyboarders associate with tactile feel and comfort level. Most keyboards are made of one of three major types of key switches: silicone dome, scissor and mechanical. Silicone dome switches may feel mushier, because you must press firmly on each key for it to register a stroke. Alternately, many short-travel keyboards use a scissor switch, which requires a lighter touch to not impact joints and tendons. Mechanical keyboards tend to be larger, bulkier, sturdier, springier and more audible, also more comfortable.
For keyboards, ergonomic features can include padded wrist rests or curved or sloped keyboards, which place your hands in a neutral position to mitigate the risk of joint and tendon pain or carpal tunnel syndrome.
Here are our picks for the best keyboards and mice, both individually and in combination.
Microsoft Wireless Desktop 2000 ($35.17)
If you're on a budget, the Wireless Desktop 2000 is a respectable pick with a classic design and textured palm rest that will dress up any office decor. Programmable keyboard shortcut keys let you access apps with a tap. The mouse is a full-size, ambidextrous design complete with four-way scrolling and Blue Track technology, which provides precise control on most surfaces and a tilt wheel for horizontal scrolling. The transceiver works with both keyboard and mouse. It features Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) technology to protect your information by encrypting your keystrokes.
Logitech MK550 Wireless Wave Keyboard and Mouse Combo ($42.99)
This ergonomic combo features a wave-shaped keyboard frame, a contoured palm rest and adjustable height options that promise a more tailored fit for your fingertips, designed to ease the stress on your wrists. The laser mouse sports contoured sides and a soft rubber grip with precise tracking on most surfaces. The tiny Logitech Unifying receiver connects both and is encrypted with 128-bit AES encryption. Battery life for the keyboard and mouse are three and two years respectively. While the keyboard and mouse are designed for Windows, they work with the Mac, except for some specialty keys like Volume Up, Down and Mute.
Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Wireless Desktop Keyboard and Mouse ($87.99)
An ergonomic split keyboard, the Sculpt is designed to keep wrists and forearms relaxed and provides a textured palm rest for more comfortable typing. Shaped to encourage a more natural hand, wrist and forearm posture, the Sculpt Ergonomic Mouse with Microsoft BlueTrack Technology is designed to prevent repetitive stress injuries while providing precise control on most mousing surfaces. The keyboard features AES tech to protect your information by encrypting your keystrokes. While advertised for Windows 8, Mac users report the Sculpt works well on the Mac OS for the most part, excluding certain special keys like the calculator and the Menu key.
IOGEAR Long Range 2.4 GHz Wireless Keyboard and Mouse Combo ($26.63)
The Iogear long-range 2.3GHz combo expands your capabilities by allowing you to operate your keyboard and mouse more than 33 feet from your computer and control volume with hotkeys. The elegant design, which neatly tucks the receiver into the body of the mouse, is spill-resistant so that liquids just drain out of the hardware. An ergonomic five-button mouse DPI switch lets you adjust mouse sensitivity, while an optional second battery gives the mouse more weight, if you prefer. Two batteries double the battery life to one year.
Logitech MX Master 2S Wireless Mouse ($59.99)
The Logitech MX Master, the company's flagship mouse, has some very unusual talents. It lets you control multiple devices: You can copy and paste text images, files and documents between different computers, giving you the flexibility to copy and save files without relying on the cloud. Logitech Options software sets up the Flow and custom functions. Auto-discovery finds and configures your computer, while data gets transferred with secure SSL and AES-256 bit encryption. You can control up to three computers with one mouse and automatically switch between screens by moving your cursor to the edge of the screen – even between Windows and Mac. Its 4,000-dpi precision sensor tracks on most surfaces, even glass. A speed-adaptive scroll wheel shifts from click-to-click to hyper-fast scroll and can also scroll horizontally.
Logitech Wireless Performance Mouse MX ($47.46)
This is an all-around favorite for many office environments. The sculpted design fits naturally around your hand for comfort with every control positioned right at your fingertips. The mouse tracks movements by producing a detailed micro roadmap of the work surface, so you can mouse on clear glass, lacquered wood and marble. One tiny wireless receiver connects up to six unifying compatible devices, including a wireless keyboard, without having to manage multiple USB receivers. Use the USB cable for charging through your computer.
Evoluent VerticalMouse C Right Hand Ergonomic Mouse (Wired) ($94.44)
If you are suffering from wrist pain or wish to avoid that fate, consider the Evoluent VerticalMouse. Its ergonomic shape supports medium-to-large hands in an upright neutral position that eliminates forearm twisting. A new shape is more relaxing to grip and fits the hand even better while a larger lip offers better support for the pinkie. Top-mounted LEDs indicate pointer speed from low to high, while a pointer speed button behind the wheel lets you adjust speed without changing your grip on the mouse. Mouse Manager software for PC and Mac enables configuring five buttons for performing actions without moving the mouse or touching the keyboard. Variations of this mouse come in left hand and wireless and a Mac version.
VicTsing MM057 2.4G Wireless Mouse ($9.99)
Despite its low price, the VicTsing is one of the most versatile and comfortable mice with a contoured shape and sweat-resistant finish. A ring and pinkie rest offers added support while the scroll wheel ensures that your hand stays put as you move the mouse. There are five adjustable CPI ratings from 800 to 2400 with added customizable adjustments to cursor sensitivity. With 2.4GHZ wireless tech, the VicTsing lets you operate your mouse up to 33 feet but will go into sleep mode if inactive for eight minutes. The mouse works fine with the Mac OS, for the most part.
Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 ($40.33)
Microsoft's Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 is gently sloped with a split design for comfort, ease of use, and natural hand, wrist, and forearm positioning. The palm rest and lift offers support, keeping your wrist at a relaxed, natural angle with the keyboard's curved key bed, ergonomic arc, and reversed slope. Customizable hotkeys make it easy to access files, folders, mail, webpages, search, favorites and more. The zoom slider, smack in the middle of the keyboard, lets you zoom in and out.
Anker Ultra Compact Slim Profile Wireless Bluetooth Keyboard ($21.99)
If you have a small, crowded desk, the Anker Ultra Compact Slim keyboard can, among many other attributes, help you conserve space and keep your office desk looking presentable. This keyboard, with its low-profile, matte keys, connects wirelessly via Bluetooth, and can also be used with your iOS and Android devices in addition to Macs and Windows PCs. It offers a six-month battery guarantee, partly because the keyboard automatically goes into power-saving mode after 30 minutes of inactivity.
Matias Backlit Wireless Aluminum Bluetooth Keyboard for Mac ($159.99)
Matias Backlit Bluetooth keyboard is an elegant alternative to Apple's own keyboard, offering a wireless Bluetooth connection and a comfortable typing experience, complete with numeric keypad and backlighting. You can control how much backlighting you need by using the +/- Backlight key to adjust the brightness or hold down the key and type a number from 1 to 100 for specific brightness levels. You can pair the keyboard with four different devices, including Mac and MacBook, iPad, iPhone, Android, and, yes, your PC. The battery lasts for a year without recharging.
Das Keyboard 4 Professional ($169)
The Das Keyboard 4 Professional is a high-quality mechanical keyboard that, unlike some other keyboard constructions, provides a combination of tactile feel and audible click-clack associated with old-time typewriters. Made for both Mac and PC and featuring an anodized aluminum top panel, the keyboard is designed with gold-plated Cherry MX mechanical key switches the company says last up to 50 million keystrokes. It features a dedicated media control with a large volume knob, a two-port USB 3.0 hub, N-key rollover over USB for you lunchtime gamers, instant sleep button, and more. Neat, unusual touches include a foot bar to raise the keyboard, which doubles as a ruler, and a 6.5-foot USB cable with single USB type-A connector.