Looking for the best keyboard to use with Excel?
This post explains things to look for in a keyboard that will make it easier to use the most common keyboard shortcuts in Excel for Windows.
As you use Excel, you quickly realize that using keyboard shortcuts will save you lots of time and improve your productivity. This means that the layout of your keyboard is crucial to performing many of these shortcuts.
Not All Keyboards Are Created Equal
Keyboards come in all shapes and sizes, with a lot of variation in the actual layout and location of the keys. This is especially true for laptop keyboards. Some laptop keyboards have keys completely missing. Others create multi-purpose keys which requires a function key to be enabled before the key can be used.
This will slow you down when trying to perform a keyboard shortcut in Excel. Whether using an external keyboard or laptop, there are many things you will want to consider when purchasing a keyboard.
The following is a list of the keys you will use most often when working with Excel. I explain what to look for when purchasing a keyboard to help make you more efficient and save time. Many of these comparisons are a matter of personal opinion, and this should be used as an informal guide on what to look for.
Copy (Ctrl+C) and Paste (Ctrl+V) are probably two of the most common actions in Excel. There is a shortcut for almost every letter and number on the keyboard when combined with Ctrl. So the Ctrl key is used frequently, and the placement of the Ctrl key is important.
On most external keyboards the Ctrl key is at the bottom left corner of the keyboard, making it easy to find with your left pinky finger. However, not all laptop keyboards share this layout. Often times you will find a Function (Fn) key in the bottom left corner, and the Ctrl key located to the right of it. This can make the Ctrl key a bit more difficult to find and takes some getting used to. The location of the left Ctrl key is definitely something to consider when purchasing a laptop.
Here are a few other commonly used keyboard shortcuts with the Ctrl key:
- Ctrl+Z – Undo
- Ctrl+A – Select All
- Ctrl+S – Save
- Ctrl+F – Find
- Ctrl+1 – Format Cells
- Ctrl++(plus key) – Insert Rows
- Ctrl+-(minus key) – Delete Rows
- Ctrl+P – Print
- Ctrl+Space Bar – Select Entire Column | Shift+Space Bar – Select Entire Row
A lot of time is spent selecting cells in the worksheet. Whether selecting a range of cells to copy/paste or navigating around the worksheet to enter formulas, you will find the arrow keys can be a fast alternative using the mouse.
This means that your keyboard should have a dedicated set of arrow keys in a location that is easy for your fingers to find and press. Again, this is pretty standard on external keyboards, but laptop keyboards are a different story. Many laptops have condensed the arrow keys to save space, making the keys very small and hard to press. So it's best to consider the size and location of the arrow keys when purchasing a keyboard.
Here are some commonly used keyboard shortcuts with the Arrow Keys:
- Ctrl+Any Arrow Key – Jump to the last cell before a blank cell
- Ctrl+Shift+Any Arrow Key – Select a range of cells from the current selection to the next non-blank cell
Page Up & Page Down
I frequently use the Page Up and Page Down keys to navigate through the worksheets in a workbook.
- Ctrl+Page Up – Select previous worksheet
- Ctrl+Page Down – Select next worksheet
For these shortcuts you can use your right thumb on the right Ctrl key, and right index or middle finger on the Page Up/Down keys. The location of the Page Up/Down keys is pretty standard on an external keyboard, but NOT on a laptop keyboard. Many laptop keyboards do not have Page Up/Down keys, or they are multi-purpose keys requiring you to first press a function key.
Home & End Keys
These keys can be used to navigate and select cells in the worksheet.
- Ctrl+Home – Navigate to top-left cell
- Ctrl+End – Navigate to last used cell
- Ctrl+Shift+Home – Select range of cells from current cell to top-left corner
- Ctrl+Shift+End – Select range from current cell to last used cell
The Home & End keys are usually located next to the Page Up/Down keys, but this can be different on a laptop keyboard. These keys are really important to have, especially when you are working with large spreadsheets that require you to navigate to the top/bottom of the sheet quickly.
Escape and Function Keys
I frequently use the Escape and Function keys when writing formulas. Pressing the F2 key when a cell is selected jumps into formula edit mode. This opens the cell for editing and displays the formula text in the cell. Pressing Escape exits formula edit mode without modifying the formula.
The F2 and Escape combo is great when you are reviewing or auditing formulas. Pressing F2 will jump into formula edit mode and the cells/ranges referenced in the formula will be highlighted on the sheet with colored borders around them. This lets you quickly check the cell references for any inconsistencies.
Therefore, I like to have a keyboard that has prominent Escape and Function keys. The keys should be the same height and width as all the other keys on the keyboard. Many keyboards, both external and laptop, make these keys smaller and slimmer. I do not like this because it makes the keys harder to find and press with my big fingers. 🙂
You will also want to make sure that the Function keys are enabled in the default state of the keyboard. Most laptops make the Function keys multi-purpose keys, meaning you might have to press a function button before using the function key. I believe this is true on the Mac Books, and it can really slow you down when working in Excel.
The Menu Key can be used to convert text to numbers, ignore formula errors, and access paste options like paste values. Checkout my recent post on the Menu Key for more details. This key can also be used to display the right-click menu when cells are selected in a worksheet.
Not all keyboards contain a Menu Key as you can read in the comments at this post on Chandoo.org. I would consider this a “nice to have” key, and it is not critical if it is missing from your keyboard.
The numeric keypad is pretty standard on most external keyboards. I use the “+” and “-” keys on it the most when adding/deleting rows and columns (Ctrl+”+”/Ctrl+”-“). Some laptops contain a numeric keypad, but it tends to make the laptop bigger and heavier.
I have owned laptops that contain a keypad, but honestly didn't find it to be worth the weight. It will depend on how much numeric data entry you are doing. External keypads can also be purchased and used with a laptop. These can be handy if you are just need it for a specific task, but don't use it all the time.
These are both good and bad. Recently keyboard manufactures have started adding all kinds of additional media keys to keyboards. These include keys for volume, opening new emails, hotkeys to open applications, enable/disable wi-fi, external monitors, etc. I'm still looking for a keyboard with a key that will make a cup of coffee. 🙂
Some of these keys can be very handy, but a lot of times they take up space that would otherwise be used for the more the important standard keys. I recommend looking for a more classic looking keyboard that does not overwhelm you with media keys, unless you really feel you need them. You want your fingers to navigate across the keyboard as fast as possible, and often times the media keys can slow you down.
Keyboards come in all shapes and sizes, and having a keyboard that is conducive to Excel keyboard shortcuts will make your life a lot easier. It is best to look for a more traditional looking keyboard that does not contain too many bells & whistles. These additional features tend to get in the way, and can sometimes cause the most important keys to be left off the keyboard entirely. This is especially true when purchasing a laptop.
The diagram below outlines all of the keys you will be using the most to perform the most commonly used keyboard shortcuts in Excel.
The following are a few keyboards I would recommend based on the criteria above. Again, this is a matter of personal opinion and it is best to try a keyboard to see if you like it. The links are to Amazon.com and they have a great return policy/program if you don't like the product. These are affiliate links, which means I make a small commission from any sales generated from a purchase after the link is clicked. You still get the same low prices that Amazon offers. This just helps support the cost of maintaining this website and I want to thank you for your support.
Logitech K270 Keyboard – This is the keyboard I used for all of the “Good” images above and the diagram. I have personally used this keyboard for over 7 years, and really like it. It has a very simple and compact design that makes it easy to perform Excel keyboard shortcuts. The keys are very quiet when pressed, which your neighbors will appreciated.
Logitech's Wireless Unifying Receiver technology works really well. The mouse and keyboard both connect wirelessly through one very small USB plug (image below), and you can quickly connect them to any computer that has a Unifying Receiver plugged in. The USB plug can be stored in the mouse, which makes it great for travel.
I should also point out that you can find the MK270 keyboard cheaper on Amazon. The MK270 has the same layout, but does NOT include the Unifying Receiver. It still has a wireless receiver, but that receiver cannot be paired with other Logitech mice. So you are stuck using the included mouse, or plugging in an additional receiver. This might change in the future, so check the product description on Amazon to see if it has the Unifying Receiver. The Unifying Receiver has an orange circle/gear logo.
I like the Unifying Receiver because I use either the MX Master Mouse or M510 Mouse. Both of those mice also use the Unifying Receiver, so you only need one USB port to connect both the mouse and keyboard wirelessly.
Checkout my article on The Best Mouse for Excel to learn more about the cool features of the MX Master.
Microsoft Wireless Desktop 3000 – This is another keyboard & mouse combo that I have enjoyed using. Compared to the Logitech, it is a bit larger in size and the keys feel more spread out. It is not as quiet when pressing the keys, and has too many media buttons for my liking. The only thing I really don't like is the size of the Escape and Function keys. The keys are smaller and sometimes hard to find and press. The mouse is a nice size and overall the combination works well for Excel.
Microsoft Wireless Comfort Desktop 5050 – I have not personally used this keyboard yet, but have co-workers that rave about these curved style keyboards. They are supposed to be more ergonomically fitting for your hands. This combo from Microsoft is the most popular online and gets pretty good reviews. The only thing I'm not crazy about is the size of the Escape and Function keys. Again, they have been shrunk down to make room for the media keys. It's something to consider, but not necessarily a deal breaker for me.
Purchasing a laptop is a much tougher decision. I consider the keyboard to be one of the most important features to consider. Most of the hardware and memory inside the laptop can be upgraded/modified depending on the manufacture, but the keyboard is permanent and you have to live with it. I highly recommend testing out the keyboard before making a purchase. I have made the mistake of not doing this, and paid for it.
The Lenovo keyboards are very comfortable and it's easy to find the keys. They meet most of the criteria listed above, with the exception of the location of the Ctrl key. Most Lenovo keyboards have the Fn function key to the left of the Ctrl key. The Fn (function) key can be locked so that the F1-F12 keys are pressed by default without having to hold Fn. This is a big plus. On negative side, the keyboard also lacks a Menu Key.
Even with those two drawbacks, I still find the Lenovo laptop keyboards to be the easiest to type on. The nice part is that you can always attach an external keyboard to the laptop when you are doing some labor intensive keyboard work.
What do you think?
Did I miss anything? What are some of your most commonly used keys and shortcuts? What is your favorite keyboard or laptop? Please leave a comment below.