Small form factor keyboards have taken over the custom and prebuilt mechanical keyboard market in recent years. Out of all the available sizes, the two that have caught everyone’s attention are the 75% and TKL layout. Given how split the opinion of consumers are on these keyboards, lots of people are asking which one of these is the better form factor.
TKL and 75% are two compact keyboards that have lots of similarities. They have the same number of keys. However, 75% keyboards offer a smaller overall footprint. They also have a more interesting design with additional features such as volume knobs. Aside from those, the better keyboard will depend on the users’ aesthetic preferences.
In this article, we will be discussing the differences between TKL and 75% keyboards. We’ll be talking about the strengths and weaknesses of each of these form factors. And by end of this comparison, consumers should have a good idea of which form factor will suit them better.
What is the Appeal of Compact Keyboards?
For the past few years, smaller keyboards have mostly dominated the market. Most prebuilt and custom keyboards found on the market are compact keyboards. Let’s start with TKL keyboards to describe how these compact form factor keyboards surpassed full-sized keyboards.
The TKL keyboards pioneered the concept of compact keyboards. This inspired manufacturers to create even smaller keyboards. However, the TKL keyboard concept was originally designed to be a less expensive alternative to full-sized ones.
Since the success of TKL keyboards, a number of smaller keyboards to TKL have appeared. The 75% keyboard is one of them. This is a compact keyboard with all of the keys packed into a small case. It features most essential keys that are also found on TKL keyboards.
Small form factor keyboards allow you to have a smaller footprint, more ergonomic form factor, and more room for wider mouse movement for FPS games. It is also the best option for those with less space on their table.
Consumers of these compact keyboards have found more benefits to these kinds of keyboards, compared to the full-sized ones. It was easier for gamers to use smaller keyboards which only gives them access to the keys they needed.
However, the problem with some compact keyboards is the need to sacrifice some of the functionality. Some important keys may need to be removed to fit in the small keyboard. However, this is not the case for all compact keyboards.
Not all keyboards that are small sacrifice functionality. All of the fundamental elements, such as the home row cluster, arrow keys, and F-keys, are included in 75% and TKL keyboards.
These keyboards are designed for persons who desire to transition from full-sized keyboards to smaller ones. Adjustment is easier compared to switching from full-size to 60% or other smaller keyboards.
Summary of TKL Keyboards
TKL Keyboards, also known as Tenkeyless, are very similar to full-size keyboards. The only difference is the absence of the Numpad. It has 87 keys and is also referred to as the 80% keyboard.
TKL keyboards are widely available both for custom and prebuilt variants. This form factor has been around since the late 80s and is proven to be a more ergonomic version of full-size keyboards. Today, almost every prebuilt keyboard manufacturer makes a TKL version of their keyboards.
This size serves as a good introduction to those newer to small form factor keyboards. This is because TKL keyboards do not sacrifice functionality to achieve a smaller form factor. Users also do not need to adjust to this layout since it is exactly the same as the one used on full-size keyboards.
Despite all the great aspects of TKL keyboards, it still has some issues, which is why smaller form factor keyboards exist. Compared to smaller variants, TKL keyboards are still generally bulky. There is a lot of wasted space, especially on the right side of the keyboard.
FPS players who use TKL keyboards are known to tilt their keyboards to create more space for mouse movements. This is despite the fact that TKL keyboards already give enough room for right-hand movement.
In addition, TKL keyboards have started to look dull for a lot of consumers. This is because they have existed in the market for quite some time and users are looking for something new. But aside from these small issues, the TKL form factor is a very safe size that is perfect for any type of user.
Pros of TKL Keyboards
- Smaller than 104 Full-Size
- Retains all essential keyboard functionality
- Widely available for both custom and prebuilt variants
Cons of TKL Keyboards
- Missing Numpad may be essential for some tasks
- Still bulky compared to 75% keyboards
- Generally expensive when it comes to custom keyboards
Popular TKL Custom and Prebuilt Keyboards
- Razer Huntsman TKL
- Hyperx Alloy Origins Core
Summary of 75% Keyboards
75% is a newer form factor that has only gained traction in the past couple of years. They aim to provide the same level of functionality as TKL keyboards but present it in a smaller form factor.
In a lot of ways, 75% keyboards are very similar to 65% keyboards. The only difference between the two is that 75% keyboards retain the F keys which are not present in 65% keyboards.
Just like TKL keyboards, 75% keyboards are perfect for users transitioning from full-size keyboards. However, unlike TKL keyboards, users may need to readjust their typing style with 75% keyboards. This is because of how compact this layout is.
Unlike TKL, most of the keys are closer to each other. There aren’t any noticeable gaps that separate the F-keys from the alphas. The right side of the keyboard has also been completely redesigned to fit into this smaller form factor.
Another problem with 75% keyboards is that there is no universal design. Unlike TKL keyboards, 75% keyboards can potentially look completely different from one another. The most popular version of the 75% layout is the exploded 75% layout. However, this can easily change if another trend becomes popular.
What makes 75% keyboards unique is that they give lots of creative freedom to the designers. Some 75% keyboards feature a knob while others have a badge or even a small OLED screen. These fresh designs help make the 75% form factor stand out from other layouts.
Pros of 75% Keyboards
- Virtually the same number of keys as TKL keyboards
- Smaller footprint compared to TKL keyboards
- No loss in functionality
- Interesting features such as knobs, badges, and OLED screens
Cons of 75% Keyboards
- Not as widely available as TKL or other form factors
- Limited to no aftermarket case options
- Keycap compatibility issues
- No standard layout
Popular 75% Custom and Prebuilt Keyboards
- Satisfaction 75
- GMMK Pro
- Keychron Q1
TKL and 75% Keycap Compatibility
TKL keyboards are fully compatible with all key sets. Any 104 set that is made for full-size keyboards should also be compatible with TKL keyboards.
On the other hand, 75% keyboards need specific keycaps such as the 1.75U right shift, 1U modifiers, and more. Keycaps sizes, as well as keyboard plates, varies for each kit. Some keycaps are made smaller to fit other keys, such as the arrow keys, on the board.
GMK sets and other high-end keysets should work perfectly with 75% keyboards. However, consumers should be more careful when purchasing more affordable 104 kits since those may lack some of the needed keys that we have mentioned.
Which is the Better Keyboard Form Factor?
Both TKL and 75% keyboards are excellent options. They have all the essential keys, meaning they can both be used in a wide number of situations. The better keyboard layout will largely depend on what you want with your mechanical keyboard.
TKL keyboards are perfect for those looking for a traditional-looking keyboard. They have proven to be a reliable form factor and are already perfect for many scenarios.
However, users who want a unique-looking keyboard with lots of interesting features such as knobs, badges, and screens should opt for 75% keyboards. They may present a bit of a learning curve and will require more effort in hunting down keycap sets.
Overall, they are currently hotter and more sought out than TKL keyboards. But again, it all depends on the user’s aesthetic preferences.
The KBE team is dedicated to sharing our knowledge and creating useful resources about computer keyboards. This article was written as a team collaboration, combining our knowledge and years of experience using, building and modding keyboards. Meet the team here.