Top 10 Laptop Essentials

Home and Office: Input With Ease

Why would you need an external keyboard and pointing device when both are built into your laptop? To me, that's like asking why you would need a mattress when you already have box springs.

Typing for more than, say, half an hour on a laptop, especially one with a frustratingly small keyboard, can put undue stress on your neck, shoulders, and wrists. Pretty soon, you'll feel uncomfortable and cramped. And I don't know about you, but I loathe the eraser-head-type pointers typically found on IBM ThinkPads and some other laptops. They make moving the cursor about as efficient as jogging under water. Worst of all, typing on a laptop at length could cause you to develop repetitive strain injuries.

My advice: Raise the notebook's screen and attach an external keyboard and pointing device to avoid having to reach upward to type and click. Position your laptop on a desk so that its screen is just below eye level. That way you won't have to bend your neck to view the screen. For the most comfortable viewing angle, you can raise your laptop with a stack of old phone books or a laptop stand, such as The Plasticsmith's Lapvantage Dome ($80), an adjustable-height swivel stand.

How comfortable a keyboard or pointing device is for you is highly subjective. For instance, I swear by a split keyboard from Lexmark (long since discontinued) that others who have used my computer find absolutely heinous. So it pays to shop around and try out different devices whenever possible.

Kensington, Logitech, and Microsoft offer a good selection of both wired and wireless keyboards and pointing devices. The wired Kensington Comfort Type USB Keyboard (list price: $23) is among the most comfortable and least expensive ergonomic keyboards I've tried. The keys are positioned at a slight angle, which lets you place your fingers in a more natural position when typing.

Wireless keyboards and pointing devices, which connect to your laptop via an infrared or radio connection, are increasingly popular because they reduce cable clutter. If you opt for wireless input devices, consider models that include a battery recharger, such as Kensington's Comfort Type Rechargeable Wireless Optical Desktop, which includes a wireless keyboard and mouse (list price: $118). Otherwise, it's back to the laptop's built-in keyboard and pointing device, unless you have fresh batteries with you when the ones in your wireless devices give out.

As for pointing devices, I prefer trackballs because they don't require gripping, as regular mice do. You can easily position the cursor on your computer screen by using one finger to roll the trackball. As a repetitive strain injury sufferer, I have consistently found trackballs to be the most comfortable pointing device for me to use.

The Kensington Expert Mouse USB/PS2 (list: $128) is my favorite trackball. Its flat, four-button, no-nonsense design makes it delightfully easy to move the trackball, click, and double-click. Some trackballs, such as Kensington's TurboBall ($50), are curved in shape, which I find makes them harder to manipulate.

If you're a mouse devotee, consider the Goldtouch Ergonomic Mouse ($60), which comes in white or black. The contoured shape fits my hand better than other mice I've tried, and the shape keeps me from tensing my hand as much.

For more information about external keyboards and pointing devices for laptops, see "Mobile Computing: Safer Pointing Devices." To read up about healthy computing for your home office, check out "Home Office: Work in Comfort, and Treat Your Body Right." In addition, to help with your purchase decision, check out our advice in "How to Buy Input Devices."

Subscribe to the Best of TechHive Newsletter